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Bryan Conger, Robert Woodard, and making analytics work

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The Rangers pursuit of Robert Woodard, and hiring of Bryan Conger, appears to reflect a pursuit of instructors who can communicate analytic information to players

Texas Rangers Photo Day Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

We discussed yesterday the Texas Rangers’ hiring of Tarleton State head baseball coach Bryan Conger to an as-yet undisclosed role in the organization, albeit a role that would appear to be centered around working with minor league pitchers. In yesterday’s article, we linked the Baseball America piece by J.J. Cooper that talked about Conger’s recent presentation at the ABCA about how to incorporate analytic and technological data into development plans for pitchers in a way that the players can understand and adopt.

I mentioned yesterday that University of North Carolina pitching coach Robert Woodard was reported, in December, to have agreed to a deal with the Rangers, only to have UNC up his compensation in order for him to stay with the Tarheels. Interestingly, Cooper has a thread on Twitter about Woodard’s presentation at the ABCA, which dovetails with what Conger talked about. Specifically, Cooper says the Tar Heels “are using analytics on the pitching side at a level beyond that of many MLB organizations (especially if you’re talking about MLB’s player development).” Cooper shares some of the slides Woodard used in his presentation, detailing the data tracked for each player, and how that data is fed to the pitchers.

Cooper’s conclusion:

It was an extremely impressive presentation. Data is great. But being able to take data and present it in easily digestible pieces like UNC is doing so here is the secret sauce that takes analytics from concept to execution.

Between the (ultimately unsuccessful) recruiting of Woodard, and the ultimate hiring of Conger, it appears that the Rangers have prioritized adding to their player development team coaches who have a track record of being able to not just use technology and analytic data in evaluating and developing their pitchers, but also being able to communicate that information in a way that the players can understand and incorporate. These are guys who, as Cooper says, have the formula for the “secret sauce” that makes analytic data actionable.

This is also something I talked a little about after the announcement that the Rangers were bringing Brandon McCarthy into the organization to work with the team’s pitching development. McCarthy, quite famously, used analytic data to essentially re-invent himself after his career seemed to have stalled. I suspect that the organization believes that McCarthy, a former pitcher himself who is smart and has good communication skills (at least with the world at large), will be able to help work with the organization’s pitchers in order to help them digest the analytic data and understand how they can incorporate it into what they are doing.

Part of what appears to be a rebuilding by the Rangers on the player development side appears to be a desire to jump-start the teams ability to incorporate technological and analytical data into their player development. Conger and McCarthy, as well as the rumored alliance with Driveline Baseball, are part of that on the pitching side, but the Rangers have also brought in Shiraz Rehman from the Cubs, where Rehman was “head of strategic initiatives,” as well as hiring manager Chris Woodward and hitting coach Luis Ortiz from one of the most advanced organizations in that regard, the Dodgers.

These hires reflect that it is all well and good to, for example, say that Nomar Mazara needs to hit the ball in the air more, but if you don’t have coaches and instructors who can communicate why that’s the case, and how to implement changes in approach and swing to get those results, and can get the player to embrace those changes, the analytics and technology aren’t going to do much good. This is a trend that has begun to spread throughout MLB, and the Rangers, it appears, are not going to be left behind.