2022 MLB Coach Of The Year: Pete Woodworth (Seattle Mariners)
Ever since joining the Mariners organization in 2016, Pete Woodworth has shown a knack for effectively communicating with his pitchers.
He demonstrated it during his ascent as a pitching coach in Seattle’s farm system, from Low-A Clinton to High-A Modesto to Double-A Arkansas.
And over the past three seasons, his communication skills have made the 34-year-old a perfect fit as the Mariners’ big league pitching coach.
“He’s an elite coach,” Mariners farm director and major league coach Andy McKay said. “His ability to connect with players and communicate in ways that allow them to improve quickly is uncanny.
“Pete has done an amazing job of taking advantage of every resource available within our organization, and then funneling that all down into simple, digestible information that players can absorb and take action on quickly.”
Woodworth is Baseball America’s Major League Coach of the Year after his pitching staff propelled Seattle to a 90-win campaign and its first playoff appearance since 2001.
The Mariners posted the eighth-best ERA (3.59) in the majors, including the fifth-best (3.39) since June 1.
In addition to bolstering its rotation with aces Robbie Ray and Luis Castillo, Seattle benefited from a slew of talented, young arms who made immediate impacts. Among them were homegrown righthanders Logan Gilbert and George Kirby plus high-leverage relievers Andres Muñoz and Matt Brash, both trade acquisitions.
Woodworth said that’s a testament to both scouting and player development. The Mariners have been on the cutting edge of pitching development in recent years, most notably with an offseason “Gas Camp” that boosts velocity.
“We were building bigger and better machines in the minor leagues,” said Woodworth, who was a standout college pitcher at Florida Gulf Coast.
“And then as they transitioned through the upper levels . . . our (coaches) in Double-A and Triple-A were phenomenal in preparing guys for the test that is the big leagues.”
Seattle also saw dramatic improvement from several relievers over the past two seasons, including a breakout 2021 from Paul Sewald and a breakout 2022 from Erik Swanson.
“Guys started to see those results from dominating the zone—from just having that mentality and that aggression and winning those counts and pitching ahead more often,” said Woodworth, referencing the club’s “control the zone” mantra.
“And then it just kind of catches like wildfire.”
Woodworth works closely with bullpen coach and director of pitching strategy Trent Blank, director of analytics Joel Firman and director of data strategy Skylar Shibayama.
Whether they are reviewing pitcher performances or creating individualized bullpen plans or preparing player meeting presentations, it’s a collaborative effort between them and others in the organization.
Last year, Woodworth said one of the big player development focuses was creating Plan A’s for their pitchers. The goal was to determine a pitcher’s greatest strength and try to maximize it. This year, as the league caught up to their Plan A’s, the focus became helping pitchers evolve.
“You see that every year,” Woodworth said. “You see hitters adjust (and) you see the game kind of sway back and forth . . . They started making adjustments to us, so you have to adapt.”
One of the Mariners’ big adjustments was an increase in two-seam fastball usage.
Ray started the trend when he went to a two-seamer while struggling mid game. Soon after, Kirby experimented with a two-seamer during a bullpen and added it to his mix. Others also began sprinkling in the pitch.
“The two-seamer was the big addition that a handful of our guys made,” Woodworth said. “By the end of the season, all our starters had two fastballs.”
It was emblematic of the environment Woodworth and his group have created.
“We give our guys the freedom to experiment,” Woodworth said. “And there was no hesitation for guys to be open to adjustments.
“It’s a mixture of them being open-minded and wanting to try things, and then Trent and I having the information and some ideas ready to go when they are getting curious and looking for that next step.”
Woodworth also heaped praise on second-year catcher Cal Raleigh and the impact he’s had on the pitching staff.
“The voice started coming from the guy calling the pitches, and I thought that was huge. It just instills more and more confidence in your pitchers. It’s one voice. It’s one message.”