AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez

SandBox: Examining Woody, Special Story On Brett Martin, Rangers Strategy And More

Jared Sandler
April 22, 2019 - 10:18 am

LEADING OFF

Every new manager basks in the bright sun of the honeymoon period. What’s not to love about a manager who has yet to lose a game or tick anyone off, right? Well, Chris Woodward met his first test before he lost a game. How did he fare? Let’s find out…

On Opening Day agains the Cubs, Chris Woodward’s first ever lineup did not include Shin-Soo Choo as his leadoff hitter—or in it at all. The Rangers faced lefty Jon Lester and “Woody” instead had Hunter Pence in Choo’s DH spot. He made sure we knew that Choo and Pence were not in a platoon—and his lineups since have supported that—but that he wanted to get Pence some early opportunities since the Rangers were slated to face a lot of righties early on in the season.

A place in an Opening Day lineup is viewed as an honor. Most players take pride in being a part of that lineup and Shin-Soo Choo is no exception. He was candid in admitting his disappointment (maybe infuriation would have been more appropriate) in the decision. Choo is the ultimate team guy and has done nothing but demonstrate that during his time here. He’s a respected veteran in the clubhouse and was the lone All-Star in 2018. Some fans hesitate to embrace Choo because of his contract but fail to remember that it isn’t his fault. He’s done everything in his power to deliver on that contract, including in 2013 when he fought through a bad back because of the contract. All that to share this: Pence’s history versus Lester and Choo’s were barely any different. Choo should have been in that lineup. He had earned it. As a player and as a respected leader. His disappointment, in my mind, was understandable.

This was Woody’s first test. The honeymoon period was over. He had disappointed a key veteran in his clubhouse. How would he respond?

Woody, over the next week, had a few conversations to discuss the matter with Choo and worked to gain a better understanding of how Choo felt about the situation and, in general, how he was wired. He was quick to admit fault in the matter and apologized to Choo. In talking with Choo, those conversations meant the world to him and, if Choo ever left the bandwagon—which wouldn’t be his style—he was right back on and ready to get to the front of the line in supporting his manager.

This might be minor for some, but to me, this was significant. For one, it probably isn’t easy for a first-year manager to admit a mistake in his first ever lineup made. And to quickly win back over a veteran prideful player through a series of conversations speaks to his authenticity and his communication abilities.

You can give your own grade on this test, but I give Woody an A and I think it bodes very well for the future.

 

ANECDOTE OF THE WEEK

Really special story about newly promoted LHP Brett Martin...

Martin grew up in Tennessee and formed a relationship with Joey Seaver, who started giving him pitching lessons when he was around 13. A few years later, Brett went to Walters State CC where Seaver was the pitching coach and the bond continued. Seaver went on to coach in the Rangers system for four years...including Brett’s rookie year with the AZL Rangers, thus deepening the bond. Sadly, Seaver passed away this off-season at just 55. When Brett found out about his big league promotion, one of his first calls was to Diana Seaver, Joey’s widow. They shared an emotional moment as Brett described his appreciation for Joey and his influence on his career. Martin debuted on Friday night with a perfect ninth inning. He and Diana shared an emotional exchange that next morning as Brett thanked her once again…and she thanked him for giving Joey something to watch up above.

 

STRATEGY NOTE OF THE WEEK

Chris Woodward said something during his weekly appearance on 105.3 The Fan with the GBag Nation that caught my ear. Listen in as he discusses hitters possibly adjusting their position in the box.

It makes too much sense, right? Hitters changing their positioning in the box to counter the pitcher’s plan of attack. Little adjustments, too. Subtle. Eventually if—or, maybe, when—everyone starts doing this pitchers will take greater note of these changes but I doubt many even consider it now unless it is drastic. Why have people never done this? I asked Woody in a follow up conversation about his message with G-Bag and he said what I anticipated: Hitters are creatures of habit and many would reject the idea without great reason. Now that we have all sorts of data to match a hitter’s strengths and a pitcher’s tendencies, there is more evidence to encourage a hitter to consider this. Some still might rebuke the strategic opportunity, but I guarantee some would be open to it.

This isn’t some revolutionary change that will engulf the game and the way we think about it, but it certainly could be a nuance that adds to the chess match between hitters and pitchers. I’m interested to follow whether or not this takes form with the Rangers or around the league!

 

AROUND THE TEAM

*I started in my role in 2015. There have been some good lineups over these five years. It’s early, but this year’s bunch is the most enjoyable to watch with the way they constantly wear down pitchers and make it difficult for them to not make mistakes. Some nights it’s jumping on them early like they did against Cole and McHugh. Other nights it’s more of a slow burn like their win over the Angels in the Matt Harvey-started game. They can attack you with the home run ball and they can attack you without it. They use speed and they use the walk. Their attack is versatile.

Speaking of that aforementioned win over Cole…

*Earlier this year Chris Woodward talked about his team not backing down against great pitchers. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are great pitchers. They're gonna get you more than you get them. Period. With that said, it is impressive that the Rangers have knocked out Verlander after 5+ IP and Cole after 4.1 IP this year. They just wore down Verlander slowly while they delivered an uppercut to Cole right away in the form of a 43-pitch, 5-run first inning on Saturday.

*I loved Woody’s move Saturday night pulling Adrian Sampson after 4.1 IP with the Astros threatening. Houston’s lineup, arguably the best in baseball, is capable of jumping on you quickly. Sampson was quickly wearing down and the Rangers’ 6-2 lead didn’t feel so tight with the Astros cycling through their lineup for the third time. Instead of allowing Sampson the chance at a win or holding on too long for whatever random reason, Woody went to Shawn Kelley, a high leverage reliever, in the 5th inning to help save the game. Kelley got a double play and the Rangers never looked back.

*Let’s talk Leclerc. He’s struggled this year. No doubt. Sunday against the Astros was definitely not a step in the right direction. So, what to do? The first step is to not panic. Leclerc’s velocity was still up there and what his strikeout of Carlos Correa was a reminder that the nasty slambio is still there. I’ve asked around to those much smarter than I am and the consensus is simply that he’s just overthrowing—trying too hard to erase his early season struggles with every pitch—and that taking his foot off the pedal just a bit is what he needs. Leclerc will remain this team’s closer as he should. If it doesn’t get better in the next week, maybe the Rangers relieve him closer duties for a week or two to get things right in a lower-leverage role, but I’m not concerned about Leclerc longterm. Then again, with the volatility of relievers, I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

*Shawn Kelley would be the obvious “next man up” if Leclerc surrenders his job but, even though Kelley’s been outstanding, that would hurt the team. Kelley’s willingness and ability to pitch as the team’s “stopper” in a variety of different spots is so valuable and by moving him into the closer role, Chris Woodward would lose that. Some relievers struggle when they enter in the middle of the inning and some especially struggle when they enter a game with runners on. Kelley thrives in those spots. He also doesn’t have an ego and will pitch in any inning at any point of the game. Sometimes the highest leverage relief spot is in the 8th. Or, as two notes above identified, sometimes it is in the 5th. Having Kelley as a swiss-army option is valuable and I’d hate to lose that by moving him to the closer role if it came to that.

*I finally got around to asking Hunter Pence about his Hunter pants. If you haven’t noticed, he wears them above the knees. Most “pants up” players wear them below the kneecap. Why does he do it? He says it started back in 2013 because his knees kept getting bloodied. He’s since found his method way more comfortable and practical.

*Happened to catch Shin-Soo Choo in the clubhouse holding onto these goggle-looking things. I decided to ask him about it and Choo told me he has been doing cage work with "swivel vision" goggles to help make sure he stays on an even plane with his stride. He said in Spring he was leaning towards the plate too much with his stride and getting jammed too easily. The goggles cut his vision but, in so doing, help keep them in line.

*Danny Santana has gotten off to a great start with the Rangers. It’s a small sample size, but he’s giving coaches and the front office plenty of reason to keep him around once guys get healthy. Since he’s able to play just about everywhere on the diamond other than behind the plate, it isn’t hard to find a role for him. What’s his path to remain on the big league club? Well, first of all, to assume total health is always a fool’s errand so if someone else gets banged up, that’s his first path to remain. But let’s say Odor and Guzman come back and no one else gets hurt, my guess is that the Rangers go from a 13-pitcher staff down to 12 and keep Santana. They could also choose Santana over Forsythe, but I don’t see that happening. For those wondering if Rougie is in jeopardy of losing his job? No. It makes no sense for a variety of reasons, including the fact that over Rougie’s career, he’s been objectively more productive and is four years younger.

*Want to get a sense of the Jeff Mathis impact? He caught Mike Minor’s complete game shutout on Tuesday. Afterwards, Minor said that Mathis aided in a critical strategic shift. Minor’s best pitch this year has been his changeup but Mathis noticed his former team was really sitting on that pitch. Mathis suggested they basically stop throwing the change, instead get them off balance with the fastball and paid that with Minor’s slider and curveball. Then, after a few innings, the plan would be to go back to the changeup to keep them totally guessing. That’s what they. Mathis virtually took away Minor’s best pitch—a gutsy move but one Minor agreed to due to his trust in the catcher—and that adjustment probably had a big impact on the outcome. Mathis has not just had an impact on the pitchers but his fellow catcher, Isiah-Kiner Falefa, as well. Check out Izzy’s thoughts on Mathis’s guidance in the A/V section below.

 

MAILBAG

@GTOPhil: How much rope do you think Miller will get? He’s taxing the bullpen every single start and can’t get any Ks.

I think the answer to that question is fluid based on the progress they are able to detect start-to-start in some of the little things. What I think they’re monitoring is the consistency in his delivery and how his pitches hold up from a velocity and spin standpoint as he gets deeper into games. My guess is that the Rangers at least give him April to work things out. Maybe they’d consider pairing him with an opener.

 

@LucasWearden: If this season goes down hill, do you see us trading Minor and Leclerc for more prospects for the future?

I don’t think they refuse any phone calls, but I don’t see trading Leclerc as a likelihood, especially after they extended him this Spring. For next week’s blog, I plan to write my opening statement on the strategy behind deciding to or not to trade Minor, but suffice it to say that he presents an interesting case. The short answer to your question is that I see them taking calls but not pulling the trigger on an offer, but I’m not any more than 51% certain on that and I’ll elaborate next week.

 

@McCarley1415: If you could get one free agent in the coming years for the new ballpark, who is at the top of your list?

Easy. Mookie Betts. I know this team needs pitching and this isn’t a stance against improving pitching, but if Betts does indeed become free after the 2020 season—and it seems like he might with how much money Boston already has locked up elsewhere—I’d back up the truck for him. He’s arguably the best non-Trout position player in baseball. At the very worst, he’s top-5, but realistically, not sure he’s lower than top 3. He’s a special player who impacts the game in all phases.

If not Mookie Betts, then I guess I’d say Gerrit Cole.

 

@Mattyiceeeee21: Who do you think will be the untouchables for us around the trade deadline?

If a team isn’t even willing to discuss a trade involving a certain player then, to me, that player is untouchable. I don’t believe there is a single player on the Major League roster the Rangers wouldn’t discuss with another team. With that said, I don’t think the Rangers are eagerly trying to trade multiple players, but there isn’t a single person whom they wouldn’t discuss. 

 

MOMENT OF THE WEEK

Coming back from injury is never easy. Mike Minor, a former 9th overall pick in 2009, underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in March of 2015. For a pitcher, labrum surgery is a much tougher comeback climb than Tommy John. Minor’s climb included a setback and two years away from big league action.

After a strong 2017 working out of the Royals bullpen, Minor got his crack at starting with Texas in 2018. It took him until the second half to find his stride and even then the Rangers, understandably so, kept him on a short leash. Minor went into this year wanting to show that he can not only be a quality pitcher, but a be a quality pitcher who can eat innings and keep runs off the board like an ace.

On Tuesday, Mike Minor delivered the first complete game shutout of his career, a big accomplishment for anyone, especially someone with Minor’s goals going into the year. It was a special moment for Minor, for sure: https://www.mlb.com/rangers/video/minor-mathis-on-shutout-win?t=t140-default-vtp

 

Here are some notes on what all he accomplished on Tuesday

*First time he's ever thrown a pitch in the 9th

*Second career CG (other was 8 IP)

*First time he's worked into and recorded an out in the 8th since Sept 2, 2014

*First time he's completed 8 IP since July 21, 2013

 

Minor’s performance was the first…

-CG SHO by a Ranger since A.J. Griffin @ SD, May 4, 2017

-CG SHO by a Ranger at home since Colby Lewis vs. OAK, Sep 11, 2015

-CG SHO vs. LAA at home since Kenny Rogers's perfect game, July 28, 1994

 

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“It means a lot." -Minor on going the distance Tuesday night considering what he's gone through physically over the last few years. He's said often how much he wants to go deep into games and show that he's an ace.

“He’s our number one right there.” -Chris Woodward on Mike Minor after his complete game shutout versus the Angels on Tuesday.

"I think if you hit a ball that high, it should be a homer." -Shawn Kelley on Joey Gallo’s 207 foot pop up-turned-RBI single in Sunday’s thrilling 11-10 win over the Astros.

 

STATS OF THE WEEK

*The Rangers are averaging 5.80 runs/game, 2nd best in MLB behind the Mariners (6.40). Texas is fueled by a .312 BA w/ RISP, best in MLB. Of all of their base runners, 18.7% of them have scored this year, also the best in MLB.

*Joey Gallo collected his first career sacrifice fly in his 1,337th plate appearance on Sunday against the Astros. He no longer has the record for most plate appearances without a sac fly, which has been tracked consistently since 1954. Now that distinction belongs to former pitcher, Larry Jackson, who went 1,192 plate appearances without one. Among position players, the still active Travis Jankowski has gone 953 plate appearances without one in his career.

*Joey Gallo ranks 2nd in the AL and 4th in MLB with 22 RBI

31-Yelich

28-Bellinger

26-Santana

22-GALLO

21-K. Davis

*Joey Gallo’s numbers (MLB ranks) since August 1, 2018 (64 games/216 AB)

.259 BA

.348 OBP

.639 SLG (2nd)

.987 OPS (7th)

22 HR (T-3rd)

55 RBI (T-5th)

9 GW RBI (T-2nd)

178 wRC+ (20th)

.446 wOBA (16th)

70.0% Hard Hit % (1st)

*The Rangers have put the first pitch in play just 59 times, lowest in MLB. However, their .458 BA and .831 SLG on the first pitch each lead the AL and rank 2nd in MLB. They’ve remained selective on the first pitch, swinging just 24.9% of the time, third lowest in MLB.

*Mike Minor’s spin rate by pitch (2018 vs. 2019)

4FB: 2543 vs. 2654

CH: 2197 vs. 2239 

SL: 2580 vs. 2753

CB: 2443 vs. 2511

…It’s gone up across the board.

His slider profiles as a much better pitch this year with a spin rate that’s gone from 2580 to 2753. What’s the impact? His whiff rate has jumped from 17.9% to 38.5%

Minor’s FB spin rate (2654) ranks 2nd highest in MLB among pitchers (min. 100 results). Only Corbin Burnes ranks higher at 2773 rpm.

 

*DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE!

The Rangers and Mariners lead MLB having induced 23 ground ball double plays so far this year.

Mike Minor leads the AL and is tied with Jake Arrieta for the MLB lead having induced SIX ground ball double plays so far this year. Minor induced just 12 in all of last year when he had a 35.1% GB rate, whereas this year he’s generated a 43.2% GB rate.

The Rangers have been the double play kings over the last several years. Since 2015 when they finished 5th in MLB and 1st in AL in double plays induced, the Rangers have lapped the MLB field in that department

 

636-RANGERS

579-Rockies

574-Cardinals

560-Orioles

548-Pirates

*Asdrubal Cabrera, 2019

Home: .283/.346/.717 (1.064), 6 HR, 16 RBI

Away: .118/.211/.118 (.328), 0 HR, 0 RBI

 

AROUND THE LEAGUE

*Congrats to former Ranger Hanser Alberto, who clubbed his first career MLB HR on Saturday night. He hit it off of another former Ranger, Martin Perez.

*That people are suggesting the Red Sox might consider trading Mookie Betts because they don’t believe Boston will be in a position to meet his financial market, it makes me wonder if Boston is regretting the Sale extension, especially since the timing of it made very little sense. Potentially dealing guys with (potentially) expiring deals like J.D. Martinez and Mitch Moreland, among others, would make sense in a quick one-year reset. But trading a franchise building block like Betts? Oy. I think I’d rather hold on to Betts for next year—the last year of his deal—and go for it with him in 2020 and then see how free agency plays out if an extension isn’t in the cards.

*Are the Tampa Bay Rays the best team in the AL East? Even after getting swept by the Red Sox, they’ve certainly gotten off to the best start. The Rays always appear to be at the forefront of cutting edge roster building strategy and their shrewd moves of late have helped put them in this spot. Trading away Chris Archer must have felt like a gut punch to the Rays’ fanbase, but not sure they’re complaining about the trade now. In return they received Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, two big contributors for them thus far. So while the Yankees can put together an IL team that could compete for some divisions and the Red Sox fight through early season slumps from several of their stars, the Rays are dominating on the mound (AL-best 2.85 ERA) and getting it done at the plate.

*It’s early, but we are yet again seeing home runs at a record rate of HR/25.33 AB, ahead of the current record set in 2017 of a HR/27.12 AB. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good home run and I think it’s better for the game if the trend is towards more, and not less, offense, but it’s at the point for me where the home run just give off the same special feeling. I miss seeing guys leg out triples or bang-bang plays at a base. Those still exist, but not nearly as much.

*Speaking of home runs…we spend a lot of time discussing home runs hit at a record pace…how about home runs surrendered at a record rate? They’ve already allowed 57 HR, easily the most in MLB. Milwaukee has allowed the second most and they’ve only allowed 41. The MLB record for most home runs allowed/9 innings was set in 2016 by the Cincinnati Reds when they allowed 1.61 HR/9. So far this year the Orioles are allowing 2.53 HR/9. Ouch

*Joey Votto did some for the very first time in his storied career: he popped out to the first baseman. It occurred at Dodger Stadium and landed in the glove of Cody Bellinger during a Wednesday afternoon game. He had gone 6,829 plate appearances without ever popping out to the first baseman, an uncanny stretch.

*I’m not falling for Seattle’s mirage of a start. Still think they lose 90+ games.

*Young Mets slugger Pete Alonso was on his way out to dinner with his parents following their Saturday game against the Cardinals but something was wrong. He was worried. His former college rival Dakota Hudson was scheduled to pitch that next day and Alonso wanted to make sure that, despite getting hit in the hand earlier that night, manager Mickey Callaway was going to have him in the lineup. He apparently begged Callaway to pencil him in so the former Florida Gator, Alonso, could face the former Mississippi State Bulldog, Hudson. Callaway obliged and Alonso delivered, hitting a 444 foot HR off of Hudson in his first at-bat.

 

 

MINOR LEAGUE

*Tough news for Bubba Thompson, one of the organization’s top prospects. The outfielder has underwent surgery to repair a broken right hamate bone and is expected to miss four weeks. After a great camp, Bubba got off to a slow start (.150/209/.200) trying to fight through some discomfort and they ultimately decided to bite the bullet. In his stead, the Rangers have promoted one of their other top prospects, OF Julio Pablo Martinez, who will come up from Low-A Hickory to Hi-A Down East.

*As of yesterday (April 21) the Rangers’ collection of minor league arms ranked 5th among MLB organizations in strikeout rate. While the big league side still ranks near the bottom in this department, the organizational emphasis on improving bat-missing ability is real and is starting from the bottom on up. So far, the results bare that out.

*Hans Crouse has made three starts this year. After his 6.2 IP performance on Wednesday, Crouse has now thrown 14.1 IP and posted a 1.26 ERA. What’s most telling is that opposing batters are hitting just .102 against him and thanks to a K:BB of 19:0, he’s produced a scintillating WHIP of 0.35.

*Speaking of impressive pitching, we’ve got to talk once again about RHP Tyler Phillips (Down East). After 7.0 IP of shutout baseball on Tuesday, he’s now gone 19.0 IP without giving up a run this year. Again, what impresses me most is the command and control. He’s posted a K:BB of 13:1. Talking to folks, Phillips pitches with a very high IQ with an impressive ability to make in-game adjustments.

*We spend a lot of time talking about the dynamic outfield trio of Taveras-Thompson-Martinez as well as SS Chris Seise, but what about some other position players? Here are three to note:

20-yr old SS Anderson Tejeda (Down East): .386/.440/.636 (1.076)

18-yr old INF Jonathan Ornelas (Hickory): .316/.381/.526 (.907)

22-yr old 3B Charles Leblanc (Frisco): .375/.412/.438 (.849)

 

 

A/V DEPARTMENT

*Rangers GM Jon Daniels joined Ben & Skin for his weekly appearance on 105.3 The Fan. Here he discusses the process of a rain delay/postponed game.

*Manager Chris Woodward joined the GBag Nation for his weekly appearance on 105.3 The Fan and discussed a key conversation he shared with Joey Gallo about his mental approach.

*C Isiah Kiner-Falefa discussed the impact Jeff Mathis has had on his growth as a catcher and whether it is felt more on the physical side on non-physical side of catching.

*Shawn Kelley told me the story behind his “Relievers Are People Too” shirts.

*Interactions between players and fans are so special and important. They’re relatively easy for the player and mean the world for the fan. Salute of the cap to Delino, who is always generous with his time for fans. 

*Jamie Reed, Rangers Sr. Director of Medical Operations, also took on a big role in the research of the optimal playing surface for Globe Life Field. I ask him about the development of turf technology and whether there is any validity to my completely uneducated generalization that if cars can drive themselves these days, we have to be working towards turf that can basically mirror grass.

*Jackie Robinson Day was Monday. I’m glad MLB celebrates this day and continues to honor Jackie’s legacy, as well as others who helped the diversity of this sport. But, I hope people recognize that Jackie was also an amazing player, not just the posterchild for change. Obviously, his social efforts far outweighed his on-field efforts in terms of significance, but, man was he good. And he was an amazing athlete, too. Check out my video for a Jackie nugget