Archive for June, 2007

Why are these guys even here?

June 30, 2007

There are times when you’re resigned to losing, and times when you’re mad about losing. This was a mad day. The Rangers had opportunity after opportunity, and couldn’t do anything. As the reports say, they were 0-7 with runners in scoring position (mostly Kenny Lofton, after stealing four bases). To lose when the opponent only gets two runs out of this pitching staff is disappointing. To lose with your final batter, a former batting champ, a multi-All-Star, the 80 million dollar man, standing with his bat on his shoulder, that’s frustrating. How many times did he foul pitches off, and then leave one alone that was almost right down the middle? The least he could have done is swing at it wildly, like he was earlier in the year, striking out on a ridiculous pitch six inches outside. But no, this was a pitch to hit, this was the one he was waiting for, and he watched it go by to end the game. I remember getting really mad at Wilkerson earlier this year, watching the final strike of the game, so I have to get mad at Michael Young too. At least he had the guts to say he blew it though.

For what it’s worth, I could not tell who won the race between Papelbon and Lofton. They didn’t slow it down enough, but of all that I saw I said that the tie goes to the runner. So it’s also annoying that the wire stories said that replays showed Papelbon might have beaten Lofton. That’s absolutely not true, and there’s no need to introduce that bit of bias into your story.

Get this, from the Rangers site about Jamey Wright: “He is now 68-100 in his career, a .404 winning percentage that is the lowest by an active pitcher with at least 100 decisions.” So why is he pitching for us? Okay, sure, wins are really a team thing, not a pitcher thing, but you know, after a long enough period you can kind of tell what the pitcher is like too. And looking him up on Baseball Reference, we see he is a career 93 ERA+, a little below average. Why is he with the Rangers? I’m guessing Jon Daniels would say something like “veteran presence”. I’d say something like “blocking a young pitcher from getting major league experience”. Is he going to be with the Rangers when they start winning in 2010? No. Is he going to be here even next year? Doubtful. He’s 32, he’s not part of the future and the present isn’t hopeful. Heck, get Mike Wood back up and give him an extended trial. At least he’s only 27, and might be able to stick around a bit. Of course, his ERA+ is only 81, but it’s also only in 300 innings, whereas Wright has had 1475 innings.  At what point is a pitcher’s future determined?  Is 300 innings enough to show what his career will be like?  My very preliminary analysis says that it might be, but that’s for another day.

Vazquez showed why you need a third baseman at third base, or at least why you need to be able to think faster.  Personally, I’m not really sold on him.  I don’t think he’s much of a keeper, he’s really just about replacement level, meaning there’s a hundred other guys who could do the same job.  Once again, 30 year old roster filler, but why block someone who could use the experience?  Travis Metcalf is up, but he should be playing every day.  It doesn’t matter if you want to try platooning him.  Let him try.  The more he sees, the better he will be.  And no, watching from the bench does not count.

I would love to have just one at-bat against Tim Wakefield.  I know, I know, he fools people who can actually hit a baseball, but every time I see him I wonder why the Rangers aren’t pounding him, and I always end up saying “come on, I could do better than that!”.

Ultimately a bad loss, even though they fought all the way.  I’d rather succeed than try.  Still, as I said earlier in the week, they’re now playing good teams.  Two losses in a row puts them back to normal, and with Tejeda against Beckett tomorrow, I’d put my money on three losses in a row.  But at least he’s getting the ball every fifth day, not being jacked around, or buried behind some old fart who’s got nothing left.

The pitching is all right

June 29, 2007

It’s a pretty boring, wet, yucky kind of day, with a boring, yucky kind of loss in Detroit to end the series. So I’m going to talk about something else, a quick little analysis I ran tonight.

Rangers Runs

This is a chart of the Rangers run scoring since 1990.  Blue is runs scored, red is runs allowed.  1994 and 1995 are extrapolated to 162 games, since they were strike years, and 2007 is extrapolated to 162 since, well, it’s June.

What are the dominant trends? First, the new ballpark opened in 1994, and runs jumped when that happened.  The years prior to 1994 are by far the lowest for runs.  Second, the argument is made that the Rangers are all about hitting and never have pitching.  The red line certainly seems to be higher more often than not, but I would count seven years where the pitchers gave up significantly (not mathematically, just visually) more runs than the hitters scored, and six years where the hitters were better.  That’s pretty even.  Of course, since 2000 we’ve had five pitcher worse years and two hitter better years, so recently it’s been more of a truism that the Rangers never have pitching.

Take a look at the division title years, 96, 98 and 99.  Each year the Rangers scored between 925 and 950 runs, in no other year did they reach 900.  Now look at 2000 on, apart from 2001 they have been sitting right around 850 runs scored, give or take a little.  The suggestion would be that they’ve been 75-100 runs short on the batting side for the last several years.

On the pitching side, the title years varied, one year at 800 and the others at 850 runs allowed.  The early 90s had some bad years of over 950, but the last few years have been right in line with the 800-850 range.  This year they’re right back in the tank, looking at close to 950 again.

The thing to note is that from 04-06 the Rangers pitched about as well as they did the years they won the division.  This is a pretty surprising thing for me, because I’ve gotten used to the no pitching mantra.  In reality the Rangers have gotten by with their pitching, and relied on mashing the ball to win.  Arguably, the last three years the Rangers could have been contenders, but their offense let them down.  If you’re looking for a culprit for not contending, this might be it.  Where did those runs go, and how do they get them back?  Without running some more numbers, I’d be pretty comfortable guessing that Pudge and Juan Gone, and perhaps Rusty, were responsible for most of the difference in that production (you’ll think of Raffy, I’d say Tex matches up well with him so that position is a wash).  I would certainly hazard a guess that the outfield in those days was much more productive than it is now.

But that’s for another day.  Maybe a position by position look at where the production went will tell us where we need to get those runs back.

In the meantime, the Rangers are a little banged up, with Laird and especially Kinsler nursing injuries.  Good to see that Jerry Hairston is going to play some second with Kinsler out a few days.  After all, if you’re talking about production, Hairston is the first name that pops into your head.  Isn’t he?  And Millwood said he’d pitched well, which is arguably true since it was a Quality Start, even more so since he held them scoreless until the fourth, instead of giving up a couple in the first.

I wish Detroit had the full Gameday workup.  Since Kenny Lofton complained that the ump was favoring Kenny Rogers (wish he was still here?), it would be nice to be able to look at the pitches and see.  It leads back to something I said a while ago, sometimes it seems like the ump really is favoring one team, and Gameday might be able to show us something about that once it is in every ballpark.  We’re off to Boston for four games, and they don’t have it either, so who knows what might go on there.

They said on the radio, but I don’t remember which player, Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, has signed a 60 million dollar shoe contract.  Come on, first and second overall draft picks in the NBA getting that kind of money to wear some shoes?  Are you serious?  Anyone who criticizes baseball spending had better criticize that too, it’s ridiculous.

And finally, McCarthy will pitch in Boston Monday instead of Frisco Friday.  As we drove by the Frisco ballpark tonight, about 7.30 or so, we saw home run fireworks, which made Josh happy and also made him want more.  We won’t be there tomorrow since there’s no McCarthy, but maybe one day soon we’ll make it back out there.

Wash out

June 27, 2007

Hah hah, you thought I was breaking the news that Ron Washington was gone, didn’t you?  Nope, merely pointing out that the Rangers were rained out today in Detroit.  The irony being that they’ve played twelve games at home this month, and none of them were washed out, despite being on the verge of becoming the wettest June in recorded history in North Texas.  I vaguely recall there might have been a rain delay, but I’m not going to trawl through the boxscores to see.  With 9 inches this morning, just 2 inches away from the record, we got rain all day long, some light, some heavy.  Predicted rain is at least a couple of inches through the weekend, which would break the record.  Am I right about the Rangers, have they just been really lucky so far?  It’s kind of like when my sister visited in May, the week she was here was fine and sunny, but the weeks either side were both cold and wet.  Maybe the schedule gods made a deal with the weather gods.

With the rainout, the Rangers win the series against Detroit with one game to go tomorrow.  By my count the Rangers have now won 10 and lost 14 series this year.  Before I started counting I would have expected that to be a much different number, more like 5-20 or something like that.   No, I’m not going to go back and compare to years past, but the illusion would probably be the same, that of having lost many more than they’ve won.  Of course, last year they were about .500, so you’d expect them to win about half the series.  This year, being so far down, you’d expect worse than 10-14.  The difference is, they’re 1-5 in sweeps, which can help drop a few extra games, while looking more innocuous in the overall count.

Not much to report today, really.  Rumor is that Brandon McCarthy now will not pitch Friday in Frisco, that he’ll go Monday in Boston instead, if Willie Eyre is not available after being hit on the hand.  As Jon Daniels said, if you’re having him throw 80 pitches, they may as well be against Boston as some AA team, it’s going to have the same effect on his blister.  I tend to agree, better to throw in the majors than the minors, but also disagree, because I think he’s likely to throw a little harder and riskier against the Red Sox than some warmup squad.

Hey, I was watching the game last night and saw some enormous dude in the Rangers dugout, with Wright written on the back of his jersey.  Who was that?  Surely it wasn’t Jamey Wright, this guy was twice the size of any of the other players.   Wright’s listed at 205, and I don’t remember thinking he was that big when he was pitching.  Is he?  Is it someone else?  Is it my imagination?  If he’s 205 then I’m 150.  And I haven’t seen 150 since high school.

And that’s about it for tonight.  It’s late and I’ve got to get up early in the morning.  Suggestions for blogs that I’ve read have said you ought to have something on standby just in case it is a dry day like today (writing-wise, not weather-wise), but I tend to dump everything out as I think it.  The stats I work on take some time to do, so I can’t really put them on the shelf waiting for a day like today, especially since in many cases they’re outdated if I wait just a few days.  I’ve been thinking of doing a book review of a baseball book I just finished, but again, once I write it I’ll post it.  Who knows, maybe I’ll get round to writing up some stuff one day, and saving it up for a rainy day.  Just not this rainy day.

Start what you finish

June 26, 2007

For whatever reason, my mind plays tricks on me.  For the longest time I thought the Rangers started the 2006 season by being swept by the Tigers at home, a humiliating experience because it was the Tigers, at the time a strong contender for worst team in baseball.  Checking the records though, I find they lost two out of three to Boston, then three out of four to the Tigers.  Either way, it put them in an immediate hole.  They managed to recover though, leading the division by as many as five games by the end of May.  Following a quick collapse, they hung around for a time, in fact getting back tied for the lead by mid-July, before slowly stumbling and bumbling their way down to the end of the season.  This is not a true picture of the Rangers’ 2006 though, as at their best they were only six games above .500, at their worst only five games below, a truly average team in all forms, and it was the other teams in the division who stepped up and pulled away.

This year, the Rangers did start with a sweep, losing three on the road to Anaheim, then taking two out of three against the Red Sox (them again), doing a little trying now and then but slowly but surely losing ground.  At the end of April they were only three and a half games out, and I had high hopes, given that they’d been playing so badly.  But this time the Angels chose to kick into gear a little earlier, the Rangers chose to lose a little earlier, and by the end of May it was 11.5 games they were behind.  Today it’s 17, but even that’s misleading because as of June 5 it was 16, meaning they’ve almost been keeping pace with the Angels for three weeks.  It would mean a lot more if it was a few games instead of over a dozen, of course, and it would also mean more if it hadn’t been against terrible teams in that timespan.

But now they’ve beaten the Tigers twice, right after I said I thought they’d go about 3-8 against the top three teams over this next week and a half.  The Tigers are now one of the top teams, and haven’t played badly, but the Rangers have outplayed them.  Except for one bad inning by Aki, which was quickly redeemed, the Rangers have looked pretty good these last two days (small sample size alert).  A good start by Loe, and a good start today by Willie Eyre, has helped, of course.  I’m betting Willie’s start would have been even better if he hadn’t caught that ball with his forearm.  Bruising was reported, hopefully that’s all it is.

The Rangers are four games away from the halfway stage of the season.  A 17 game lead is too much to pull back, even if there is an argument that if the Angels can get 17 ahead in half a season, we can get them back in the second half.  The Rangers have been playing semi-decent ball, but not good enough to consider even a wild-card spot.

So why have they suddenly been able to beat the Tigers two in a row?  The Tigers came and won two out of three in Arlington a few weeks ago, and really looked much the dominant team.  The only thing I can think of is the attitude of the players.  All of a sudden, having beaten up on a bunch of bad teams, they got some confidence and started winning, and it somehow carried over to the series in Detroit.  Hopefully it can continue for a while, although I recognize the irony in my having called for them to tank the season to get the number one draft pick next year.

But to get to my main point here, their pattern is showing itself again, in several different ways.  Last year they started badly, then drifted for a while before wandering aimlessly to a .500 record.  This year they started badly, then drifted into a funk which dug themselves a big hole.  They managed to turn it a little, getting some more confidence, and now they’re playing semi-decent ball.  What do they need to do to get a good start going?

This is, of course, a point I’ve harped on all year.  The starting rotation has put the team in the bag so many times, having to come from one, two, three or more runs down early in the game, and that’s just knocked the wind out of their sails.  Even today, I made a joke that Willie Eyre had proven himself to be worthy of the rotation, because he gave up a couple of runs in the first.  He settled down well after that, and he, combined with good relief and better bats, managed to pull this one out of the fire.  But what is it that causes them to start so badly?  I would love to know what kind of between-game and pre-game regimen that Mark Connor has them on, because in my opinion they’re not ready when games begin.  Either they’re not warmed up, or they’re tired already, or they’re hiding some kind of injury, or they’re doing something to cause blisters to pop up on their hands.  Whatever it is, they need a pitching coach who can recognize these things, and make changes to stop them from happening.

And they need a manager who can recognize that the whole team follows the same pattern, starting a season badly and not ever getting in a position to make a push.  Maybe they need to do things differently in spring training, to have them ready for Opening Day.  Buck’s military methods didn’t work, and Ron’s passive methods didn’t either.  What are they going to try differently next year to have them explode out of the gate?

Oh Henry

June 26, 2007

I’ve mentioned before that I’m an Arsenal fan. This past weekend was one of the most gut-wrenching weekends in Arsenal history, with the sale of Thierry Henry to Barcelona. If you don’t follow soccer, I don’t know if I can explain how much this means. Think of A-Rod going to the Yankees, if A-Rod was one of the most beloved Rangers players ever (at the time I would have said admired yes, but beloved no). Maybe think of A-Rod coming to the Rangers, from a Seattle point of view. Maybe think of Jeter leaving the Yankees, although Barcelona are pretty much the Yankees of world soccer now. Thierry Henry is Arsenal’s all-time leading scorer, was the main cog of a hugely successful team over the last several years, was twice runner-up for World Player of the Year, and scorer of what I would say is probably the best goal I ever saw. It is a huge blow to Arsenal to lose him, and a huge coup for Barcelona to gain him. To give you an idea of what he means to Barcelona, after his press conference announcing his signing, he went out to meet the fans, and there were 30,000 of them there to see him. Yes, I said thirty thousand people came to see him join the club, more, it seems, than show up to see half of the Rangers games. How many were there when A-Rod arrived in Texas?

So when I see all this trade talk around Teixeira or Gagne or Aki or whoever, I have to put it in perspective. None of them mean nearly that much to the Rangers. To be fair, there are eleven players on a soccer team, and only nine on a baseball team (regardless of squads), but if you are a dominant soccer player you can be worth much more to your team. If you’re a great player in baseball, you’re still only going to get four or five at-bats during a game, just like everyone else on the team. If you’re Thierry Henry, you’re going to score 30 out of the 73 goals your team scored in 2003-04, 41% of the goals. What has the best player of all time scored in baseball?  I would guess it wouldn’t even be 20% of his team’s runs (or RBIs, or any other production metric you might want to throw out there).  Yes, Tex and co. mean a lot to Rangers fans, but in terms of production they’re much more easily replaceable than a Thierry Henry is.

In regard to all that, I happened to be watching Fox 4 tonight, and they had a short interview with Michael Young. He reiterated a few things, that it wasn’t the manager’s fault, the players had been playing poorly, and that it’s all well and good to draft a bunch of young players but they aren’t going to help for several years and he wants to win now. He doesn’t want to rebuild, blah blah blah. You’ve heard it all before, just substitute A-Rod for Michael Young and I think that’s where we are heading. He just signed a big multi-year deal, so I guess the Rangers will have to throw in a ton of money to offset that, and once again we get to pay someone else’s payroll. It was probably an inadvisable contract in the beginning, but it’s a whole lot worse when just six months down the road the player is already complaining about the team. I’ve lost a little respect for Michael recently.

A couple of interesting links around the net today. First, go to Baseball Analysts, they have a little review of the Rangers, basically questioning why the Rangers would give Jon Daniels an extension when he hasn’t proven anything, and looking at his track record so far. I have to say I agree with most everything they have to say. The other link is the next installment in the Management By Baseball interview with JD. This time he explains how he got the job, and tells us the surprising note that this year they had their first organizational meeting (as an organization, not as parts of one) in seven years. I think this might have helped do some damage to the team, since people aren’t getting together to compare notes and know what each other is doing. This is yet another indictment of the John Hart era. One of the things I’ve noticed in this series of articles is that Jeff Angus (the MBB author) hasn’t mentioned is how badly the Rangers are doing. His interviews were conducted in spring training, so he couldn’t ask JD about it, but surely he could put in something to say “hey look, JD said we’d do this and that but it didn’t work at all”. Much of his thesis in fact appears to be just the opposite, praising JD for his management skills and seeing lessons others can learn.

Well pitched game tonight for Kam Loe, now 3-0 after being sent to the minors for two days. I think it’s time to get plane tickets for Tejeda and Millwood. As they repeatedly pointed out, he didn’t do much striking out, but he got a lot of ground balls. Unfortunately Detroit doesn’t have the full Gameday service, and only one out of three of his starts since he came back has it (and that one was at home against the Cubs, the least effective of the three), so there’s not much data to look at and see what if anything he’s doing differently. Hopefully he’ll keep it up and a few more starts will give us more info.

The Rangers are looking to Willie Eyre to start tomorrow, something I asked about a couple of weeks ago. The question is how long can he go, but then that’s a question we ask about every Rangers pitcher whenever they start. All he needs is five innings and he’ll be doing about as well as the rest of them. He certainly won’t be any worse than Kronk would be. I’m glad they brought Scott Feldman back up, he needs to do something to get his ERA off the 6.66 it is at right now.

Brandon McCarthy is going to start in Frisco on Friday night, I have vague thoughts of going to see him. When Marian reads this, she’ll be surprised, because I haven’t mentioned it yet, but since she works almost next door to the Roughriders ballpark, it might just be a good night to be there. I can indulge my little fanboy crush on McCarthy, and Josh can enjoy another ballgame.

Rangers Rotation Release Points Redux

June 25, 2007

In my previous posts on the Gameday data, I first looked at the release points of the Rangers rotation, then looked at each player’s pitch types. Here in part three I will put the two together, in an effort to see if they are tipping their pitches by where they release them. As I noted the other day, it would be counter-intuitive to discover such a thing, because if a pitcher releases their different pitches from different locations, batters will quickly catch on and be able to tell what they are throwing. On to the charts:

Kameron Loe:

Kameron Loe Release Point by Pitch Type

Loe shows three pitches, a fastball/sinker, changeup and curve. I have not been able to differentiate between a regular fastball and a sinker in his data, so I am treating them the same at the moment. From his chart I see little or no differentiation between pitches, none of the colors stand out as being separate from the others. Without mathematically analyzing the three groups (something I may do later), I would say he is not showing hitters anything from where he is releasing the pitch. Interestingly, his last two starts were very good, after spending a couple of days in the minors, but I have not looked at those starts to see what they might show differently.

Robinson Tejeda:

Robinson Tejeda Release Point by Pitch Type

Cursed with only two pitches, a fastball and a slider, he’s also cursed with tipping them a little. Okay, it’s not much, but I can see that the blue sliders are higher than the red fastballs. In the small group at the bottom right, which I believe was a glitch in Gameday which caused one day’s data to measure off a little, you can clearly see the difference (in fact, although every other chart today is on the same scale, I had to increase this one vertically by a foot to show that extra data). Overall, although the horizontal release point is very similar, I would guess the vertical release point is about three inches higher for the slider. I know what you’re thinking, three inches is not that much, especially from 55 feet away (where Gameday measures release points from home plate). But remember, these guys are able to hit a ball that is 2 7/8 inches wide, travelling at 95 mph. They are able to tell what type of pitch based on what the stitches on a ball are doing as they come towards them at that speed. I think a three inch difference would help them a lot.

Brandon McCarthy:

Brandon McCarthy Release Point by Pitch Type

I didn’t color this one very well, but I was trying to diminish the effect of the fastball, because it was so dominant. I also wanted to keep it at the same scale as the others, to show how much smaller the area of McCarthy’s release point is. Click on the picture to go to my Flickr site and see it larger if you want to. What it shows is that his pitches are very similar, except for the curveball (red), which he appears to release a little further up and to the right compared to the others. Not much, but as noted they may not need much. The advantage he has is that it is still in an area which is filled with the other pitch types. If a hitter was to see the ball coming from top right, he wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell what it was, but if it came from bottom left he might be able to know that it is not a curveball.

Vicente Padilla:

Vicente Padilla Release Point by Pitch Type

The most troublesome pitcher to identify his pitches, and I took these ones a step further than in my previous study. I believe I found a way to differentiate between his changeup and slider, and have marked those pitches in this study. I will elaborate on that in a later analysis. In the meantime, Padilla is all over the place. His changeups are mostly in the top right, while his sliders are mostly bottom left. The other two pitches are scattered all around.  I note that Padilla went on the DL today, and in part of the reasoning they said that he was pitching okay for a couple of innings but then his elbow would tighten up and not allow him to throw properly.  Could his wide area of release be caused by the injury?  That seems like a prime cause, if you can’t throw the same way each time you’re going to be all over the place.

Kevin Millwood:

Kevin Millwood Release Point by Pitch Type

Once again I save the best to last.  Kevin Millwood is a veteran pitcher going through a tough year.  We’re not really sure what’s wrong with him, but this is a huge clue to me.  A bunch of bright orange to the top right, all the blue and green bottom left.  He’s throwing the curve and slider in a similar position, but the fastball is being released
about 7 inches right and 5 inches higher.  Tell me that’s not a huge difference!  I believe a major league hitter would pick up on this and be able to tell fastball or not, and that could very easily be the difference in being able to hit it or not.

Summary:

We can see that McCarthy, Loe and Padilla are throwing their pitches throughout their zones.  Padilla probably due to his injury, and Loe due to being a little uncontrolled, but McCarthy appears to have good control (a tight release zone) and pitches spread throughout.  This suggests he has been the best of the Ranger pitchers (remember my first study which showed that the tighter your release points, the lower the ERA), and in fact right now he is the only Rangers starter with an ERA below 6.00.  Tejeda is already in trouble by only having two pitches, but with the possibility that he is showing them by the way he releases, that’s a double blow for him.  Noting that his ERA has gone up and up as time goes on, other teams might have caught on to this.  Millwood shows even more differentiation in his pitches, which could lead to him being hit more as time goes on.  I can’t imagine that a veteran could have gone so many years without this being noticed before, so it is possible it is a new and correctable problem.

Now we know where they’re releasing their pitches and what they are throwing.  Next up will be a look at when they are throwing it:  vs left or right, what count, what score, what baserunners.  This will be a more complicated analysis, and I will have to rein myself in to not do too much at once, and bury the signal within the noise.  At this point I have several hundred pitches for each starter, but I will try and not chop it down so finely that the number of pitches is meaningless (the old “9th inning or later, score tied, runner on third, with the temperature below 58” problem).  The next article will hopefully only take a week or so to post.

Losers can’t be winners

June 24, 2007

.419

.387

.466

.419

Those are the winning percentages of the last four teams the Rangers have played, which explains why they’ve gone 7-2 and gotten over the .400 mark themselves. It’s not because, as Michael Young said, “It’s nice to be playing better baseball, that’s for sure. We’re just doing a better job top to bottom.” Really, they’re doing the same things they’ve been doing all along, it’s just that they hit a stretch where they played a bunch of teams from the worst division in baseball, the NL Central. As proof, we will watch them starting on Monday against Detroit (.603), Boston (.644) and the Angels (.640), the three best teams in baseball. In those eleven games, I’m guessing the Rangers will go about 3-8, winning once each series, and once again everyone will be saying how bad the team is.

If you don’t follow the ESPN Power Rankings, which ranks all the teams each week, then you don’t know that the Rangers jumped to number 28 (out of 30, of course) this week, a huge leap considering they’ve been dead last for the last five weeks.  Apparently the ESPN guys haven’t noticed their weak schedule the past week either.  What’s interesting about the rankings is how the Rangers have fared, starting out at 20 (based on pre-season expectations), then quickly falling to 28 by week four, which is the highest they’ve been in the last nine weeks.  At least the people voting know how bad the Rangers are.  Oh, and back to the previous paragraph, the four teams they beat this past week are ranked 16, 21, 22 and 30 (Reds).  The three we’re about to play are ranked 1, 2 and 3.  Uh-oh.

Now, having said that, things have improved, even if just by smoke and mirrors.  On tv yesterday they said the Rangers are ahead of last season’s attendance, which certainly surprises me.  I haven’t run any numbers at all, but I’d guess appearances by the Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs have boosted things a bit.  And I seem to recall that I’ve read various studies which show that attendance tracks more on last year’s record than this years, which suggests the Rangers are due to tank in attendance next year.  Having said that, I think we will be attending more games next year, now that we’ve determined that Josh can handle going to games.  Before he was born we had the partial season tickets, the 15 game version.  Once he was born we gave them up, knowing we’d never attend that many games with him.  Last year we only got to about three games, and left at least one of them early.  On Opening Day this year, he was so much better it was like night and day.  I think by next year we may be talking those partial tickets again, although we’ll have to go to cheaper seats, since we’ll be buying tickets for three instead of two.

CJ Wilson was excellent today, banging three strikes by Mike Lamb with two on and two out in the 7th, and the Astros down by one.  I would call that the swing point of the game, although FanGraphs hasn’t posted the data yet to be able to tell.  I can tell you that in that situation, the Rangers had a .749 chance of winning, but that rose to .822 after the strikeout.  73 points of Win Expectancy is pretty darn good when you only threw three pitches.  I would also say what I said a couple of days ago, that CJ will be our closer one day.

So the Rangers end up with the Silver Boot this year, yet another highlight to be added to our proud list of achievements.  I’m sure they were all drinking champagne out of it tonight, knowing that it was a job well done.  I wonder if they made t-shirts?

Old people don’t know jack

June 22, 2007

The Rangers are now 19-21 all-time against the Astros. We need to complete the sweep this weekend to tie the series. Just one win will get us the Silver Boot for 2007. Woo-hoo.

It was nice to see a big inning, especially since Millwood was intent on keeping them in the game. He didn’t look terrible, but he didn’t look good. Six innings, nine hits, two strikeouts. Hey, it was a Quality Start. He gets a 44 on his Game Score, which is a little below average. Fortunately Woody Williams got a 26, and then Randolph came in and threw gasoline on the fire.

I’m just about to set a function key to post the following: “Millwood gave up the obligatory run in the first”. I seem to use that every time he pitches. In fact, looking at the record, he gave up a run in the first in each of his first two starts, then went four starts with zero in the first. That was April. In May he had just the one start, four runs in the first, before going back on the DL. In June he now has five starts, has conceded in the first every time, in fact eight runs in those five starts. Overall he has 14 runs in 12 starts in the first inning. Once again I ask, what is the warmup process and why aren’t the Ranger starters starting well?

The suggestion is that Sosa deserves the All-Star nod for the Rangers. That is truly a terrible thing to have to say, an indictment of the rest of the team more than a lauding of Sosa. Oh how the mighty have fallen – and apparently he fell on everyone else and squished them out of contention.

“He seems to get RBIs,” said Rangers manager Ron Washington. “…he just smells RBIs. When they’re there, he picks them up.” He’s especially good at getting them when he hits cleanup, in fact he’s just like every other cleanup hitter, they get RBIs when there are people on base. Has no-one learned from Joe Carter, RBIs are a function of where you hit, not how you hit. It’s all about opportunity. I could cite his 1.020 OPS when there are two out and RISP, and you’d think he’s fantastic. Or I could cite his .483 OPS when it’s Late and Close, and you’d say he was useless. And you’d be right both times. But you’d also be wrong both times. These numbers suffer from the small sample size, and in reality he’s not good but not bad. Of course, I don’t blame Ron for saying this, it’s just standard received wisdom, and if he said the words “small sample size” the media would laugh at him, dunderheads that they are.

“Sammy’s a better hitter now than he’s ever been,” Woody Williams said. Really? It’s not just because you gave up a home run to him that you’re saying this, is it? I mean, his OPS+ this year is 93, meaning he’s performed at 93% of the league average. He might have been better between say 98 and 03, when his lowest OPS+ was 135? Maybe in 2001 when it was 201, that’s right double the league average? No, you’re right, it’s this year, when he went a month without a home run. That to me just smells of great hitting.

“They’re just going to have to pay what I want,” Beavan said. “It’s not too much. What I want is what I think I’m worth.” This is our top pick in the draft, obviously getting some good advice from his agents. Here’s the deal, Blake: Every pitcher who’s ever held out for millions and then gone back in the draft has ended up with less money, and a lesser career. Jeff Weaver is your starter for ten. You can hold out for an extra million now, or you can get into the professional ranks, get some professional coaching, get some professional innings under your belt, and in twenty years time, at the end of your career, you’ll make back that million and a whole lot more in the last season you pitch, made possible because you didn’t hold out and stall your development early on. Yeah, we want you to sign, but don’t start your career bleating about the dollars or you’ll show yourself off as a whiner who just cares about the money. And I bet when you do eventually sign we get a quote something like “It’s not about the money”.

I asked myself yesterday if the Rangers have ever had a true number one starter, and now I’m trying to figure out how to calculate that. The Elias rankings would be a start, but there doesn’t seem to be anywhere online that lists the formula, although it may be proprietary to them (their website sucks, by the way). I guess I’ll have to work on making something up for myself.  Of course, that may take some time.

Drib-drab

June 22, 2007

A win is a win, I guess, despite knowing nothing about it until after it was over. Once again, Padilla staked to a big lead and blows it, this time rescued in the bottom of the ninth.  Reports are now appearing that he has been pitching in pain for a while, which is the cause of all his problems.  If that’s the case, they should be looking at what it will take to get him healthy for next year, and that should include the possibility of surgery or shutting him down for a while.  No point making it worse this year, with nothing to play for.

The Rangers have now won five out of seven, although still no more than two in a row. Of course, those five have come against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and the Cubs, not exactly Murderers Row. Can we ask if we can switch over to the NL?

This story will tell you that the Rangers are not the worst team in baseball, that they have simply badly underperformed, and should get better and pass a few other teams by the end of the year.  I don’t want them to now, I want that number one pick in the draft.  In particular it says that some of the pitchers must turn it around a little.  Regression to the mean agrees, they can’t be this bad forever, even just dumb luck would make them better.

Gagne said he’d like to stay in Texas awhile, but understands the business aspect.  If he likes it here, do you think he’d agree to be traded with an understanding we’d bring him back next year?  Would he live up to that?  Would we?  Would it even be legal?

Reports say that several teams are zeroing in on both Gagne and Aki, either separately or (in the case of the Tigers) together.  It’s time to extract maximum value for them, each one needs to bring a near major league ready starter.  I don’t care about this year, or even next year necessarily.  I want a guy who can be good in 2010, and I want him to be a potential number one starter.  It’s about time we had one of those around here, I don’t remember the last time we did, if ever.  Something else to look into.

Congrats to Rusty Greer, who will be the only inductee into the Rangers Hall of Fame this year.  He totally deserves it.  We had season tickets in section 5 for a couple of years behind Rusty, literally staring directly at his back.  He wore a small patch in the grass because of where he stood in the outfield.  He is to this day the only player I have ever written to, I sent him good wishes when he was injured along with a baseball card which he signed and returned, and I gave my wife for her birthday.  Thank you, Rusty, not just for that but for everything you ever did on the field.

Has anyone ever questioned A-Rod and steroids?  I mean, here’s a guy who is poised to be the youngest to 500, having already done it to 400 and 300 and a whole bunch besides.  He’s played on the Rangers with a bunch of guys who’ve gotten tarred with the steroid brush, and on the Yankees with them too.  Come on, if the guy can cheat on his wife, why not take a few steroids too?  He’s not Mr Squeaky Clean, he’s a dirty rat both on the field and off it.

Here’s a question that’s so obvious that no-one would ask it:  can you tell what type of pitch a pitcher is throwing based on how he throws it?  Marian asked that the other day, after reading my recent posts on release points and what the Rangers starters are throwing.  I responded with an of course not, if anyone did that other teams would notice how they were throwing and pretty soon they’d be knocked all over the place.  Well guess what?  I’m not as smart as I think.  A little bit of graphing presents a few new  charts, and you will be surprised at the results, some of them are about as counter-intuitive as they can get.  But it might help to explain a few things about this year’s rotation results.  Keep an eye out for it, I should post it sometime this weekend.

In the meantime, the Astros come to town for the last interleague games of the year.  We have a 2-1 lead in the fight for the Silver Boot, may as well pick up some silverware this year, right?

Sayonara Sammy

June 21, 2007

I knew Rafael Palmeiro.  Rafael Palmeiro was a friend of mine.  Sammy, you’re no Rafael Palmeiro.

I found myself a little more excited than I expected I’d be when he hit the home run.  Not too much more, not jumping up and down whooping or anything like that.  But it was still a moment to remember.  On a scale of one to ten, where ten is Raffy’s 500th, this was about a three, instead of the one I’d have expected.  Funnily enough, I think the reactions everywhere else seem to agree with me.  ESPN.com barely covered it, certainly not right after the event, where it took them a few minutes to get a Breaking News item on their front page (and ironically, the link to the story contained a link to the boxscore of the Astros-Angels game), although later in the evening they did get it to the front page story, which was simply “he did it, now is he worthy of the Hall of Fame?”  And I have to say I am very conflicted on that.  He is only the fifth guy who hit 600, after all, and there is no real evidence that he used steroids, just rumor and innuendo.  I just don’t think I like him, he seems to be so manufactured, just not real when he’s talking to people.  It all seems so rehearsed.  But all in all, if I had a vote, I’d vote for him.

Both stories, on ESPN.com and on the Rangers website, said he was mobbed at home plate.  As we watched, we were actually quite surprised about the fact that he wasn’t really mobbed at all.  In most of the shots, I counted eight or nine Rangers at the plate, none of whom were leaping up and down excessively, and a few others on the way back to the dugout.  There really was no outpouring of emotion like when Raffy hit 500, or when other players have done similar things.  It will be very interesting to compare to Alex Rodriguez when he hits 500 sometime later this summer, how the Yankees fans treat him.  After Raffy, the game was stopped for several minutes, they unfurled the banner on the right field wall (which was shamefully removed at the end of the season, it or something like it should be there permanently) and did all sorts of stuff.  We still have the certificates they handed out after the game for attending it.  I wonder if they gave out anything like that today?  But there was no real enthusiasm, which is probably fair and reasonable, given that he’s really just a bit part for the Rangers and the Rangers are just a bit part for him.  Someone had a sign saying something like “545 for the Cubs, 12 for the Rangers, he’s still our Sammy”, and that’s completely true – he’s their’s, not ours.  Maybe Chicago will have a little celebration, at least the parts of Chicago that still like him, but there’s not that much in Arlington.

I’ve mentioned several times before that we went to every game for a week, and took photos of every pitch, so we could see Raffy hit 500.  I’ll have to dig out my photo of #500, it’s not as good as I’d like, I snapped it with the ball halfway to the plate.  We never had any intention of seeing 600 for Sosa, and now the moment is over.  How do we quietly ease him out of town (or at least out of the lineup) so we can get Jason Botts some at-bats?  I guess there should be a respectful waiting period, maybe until the All-Star break?

The Rangers sent an email tonight about him hitting it, with the obligatory links to watch the video, and to buy a Sosa shirt.  I can’t remember an MLB occasion where they didn’t link it to “give us your money”, but then again they are a commercial organization.

Great quote from one story on the Rangers site: “The Rangers beat the Cubs for the first time in Texas, to even the series at one game apiece.”  Hooray, for the first time we beat the Cubs here!  That long horrendous streak of losing to them at home is over, we can now rest easy knowing that we’re off the mark against them.  Just a little hyperbole to match theirs.

In other news, Michael Young says “I don’t want to rebuild, I want to fix it immediately. Winning is my concern. I know it’s not going to be easy, but that’s what we all signed up to do.”  Every day I get closer and closer to realizing that Michael Young will not be here at the end of his new seven year contract.  And for the first time I saw an article (on ESPN) saying that the Rangers should trade Millwood.  Maybe I’m wrong when I think the downward spiral (dare I say death spiral) has stopped?

Hicks today said he thought that Juan Gonzalez used steroids.   Yep, that’s the way to make the fans like you and the organization, knock some of our heroes down.  Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, that’s not the point.  Everything Hicks does and says seems to lower the value of the franchise, which is odd for a successful businessman to do.  Is he trying to sell the team for a loss, for tax purposes?  You know he has a reason to do everything he does.

May 11, 2003 will always mean a lot more to me than June 20, 2007.  The only thing that today will leave is a small highlight in a season of no highlights.  And as I look ahead to the rest of the year, what more do the Rangers have to play for?  No playoff challenge, no other milestones, just three and a half more months of bad pitching, fielding and hitting until we can say “wait till next year”.  Sigh.  At least Josh is still too young to know what losing is about yet.  I wish I could believe that every hit is a home run and we should always have fireworks.