Archive for July, 2007

Goodbye, nice to know you

July 31, 2007

So the Tex era ends with a bang, or a whimper, depending on who you talk to.  At the very least it ended with a single, in a humiliating loss to KC, part of a humiliating sweep in KC, and you’ve got to know that Tex is jumping for joy at the chance of getting out of this mess.  After yesterday’s game, did you notice what he did?  He walked in from second base, where he had been stranded, took off his helmet and gloves, then looked around in the crowd, then took off his cap and threw it to someone in the crowd.  The cameras didn’t show who he threw it to.  Was it someone he knew, or just a Rangers fan?  Was he pretty much saying “yeah, it’s over”?  When Pudge left, everybody loved him, and I was so happy when he won the World Series the next year with Florida, I felt almost like the Rangers had won it.  Tex doesn’t have anywhere near that love, but I will be happy if he makes it too.

Whether you like it or not, you have to admit that Tex was not the solution here.  Part of the solution, yes, but unfortunately a part that didn’t have all the other parts ready to be solved.  It’s like baking a cake, being partway through when you put in the Tex baking powder, then realizing that oops, you don’t have any cocoa (or Coco?), so your chocolate cake is going to end up a bland vanilla, ending up in third or fourth place every year.  Okay, so we got Tex via the draft, not free agency, but the concept is the same, the waste of a top talent while he was here.  It’s kind of like when A-Rod came along, he was going to be the straw that stirs the drink, but they forgot that you have to make the drink before you can stir it.  In yet another metaphor, they were busy looking for the final piece of the jigsaw when they still had half of it to build.

Okay, so what are the pieces we just obtained worth?  First, Saltalamacchia, or Salty as he is obviously known, replaces Teixeira in the Rangers scrabble game.  I hope they charge by the letter when printing his shirts.  On Opening Day this year, some kid was asked to spell Catalanotto, and couldn’t, then on Opening Night another kid was asked to spell Teixeira, and couldn’t.  Here’s a tip for the kids:  if someone asks you to play the game on Opening Day next year, just take the consolation prize and walk away.

It bothers me a little that Salty was in AA last year, then jumped to the majors this year as a first baseman, when they needed help.  My first thought when they said his name was that he would slot in at first, but every comment I read said catcher, which makes me think he’ll be there.  So my second thought was “what about Laird”?  He’s proving himself defensively, and his hitting is improving.  A couple of years ago I thought he was going to be the new Pudge, settling in for a decade at catcher.  Then along came an injury, and some absolutely worthless years being blocked behind Barajas, of all people, and Laird’s star slipped a little.  Is he going to regress back to backup catcher again?  I hope not, I hope there’s a way to get them both in the lineup.  Everyone says that Salty has great defense, but needs to work on offense a little.  He’s 22, and in the big leagues, so maybe he’s the next Pudge instead.  One liner from the Baseball Prospectus annual says it all: “back to being one of the best catching prospects in the game”.  I love Gerald Laird, but given the five year difference in age, Salty is the better prospect.

Elvis Andrus.  My wife will love him, just for his first name (Stojko, not Presley).   19 years old in one month, and a long way from the majors.  Hasn’t hit much yet, but apparently fields well, was in the Futures game, and named his league’s most exciting prospect.  Very much a reach, if not three or four years away at best.  Of course, Michael Young has that position locked up, which means one of them will have to move somewhere.  Baseball Prospectus quote: “a potential All-Star, and there’s a chance he’ll be more than that”.  Let’s hope for more.

Neftali Feliz has apparently made a lot of people spell his name wrong today.  Another 19 year old, which the BP annual says has hit 98 on the radar gun, but Baseball America says he touches mid 90’s with ease.  Control issues.  In A ball.  His walks are of concern, but he can also strike them out.  Project him years away too, he’s probably round about the same level as a Kasey Kiker.

The fourth one is the interesting one.  Some sites say Matt Harrison, others say a player to be named later.  I read a couple of days ago that there are arm issues, and the Rangers are examining medical records on him.  One report is that they have a list of four other players they can choose from.  Baseball America says Harrison projects as a number three or four starter.  Yep, we need more of those.  Has good walk to strikeout ratios, and apparently control of several pitches.  If the Rangers take him, he’ll presumably go to Frisco and get a whole lot of publicity.

So what to make of them?  One legitimate top prospect in Salty, and three projections.  As always in projections, especially those so far ahead, a lot of it is a crap-shoot.  Will any of them pan out?  Remember Drew Meyer, Rangers first round pick a few years ago?  Did almost nothing for us.  But the good news here is that we got the Braves #1, #2 and #3 prospects, according to the Baseball America rankings.  That can only help our system, which is terrible but improving a little both with the draft and with this trade, and the Lofton trade on Friday.  The argument goes that the more prospects you have, the more likely some will pan out.  The alternative argument is that prospects are just that, prospects (TINSTAAPP – There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect).  Yes, you’d rather have Tex playing every day, but you’d rather do it in meaningful games, and this might help make some meaningful games in about 2012.

Remember back when the Red Sox traded a couple of their best prospects for Pedro Martinez, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth that followed?  One of them was Carl Pavano, who’s had about two good years since, and the other Tony Armas Jr, who barely even had that.  The point being, from the Atlanta perspective they’ll say yay, they got a stud hitter, future MVP, for a bunch of prospects who may or may not pan out.  The Rangers will take the opposite tack, and say that they’re building for the future, and got a good package of prospects in return for someone they couldn’t sign.  Right now, I give this trade a little advantage to Atlanta, but it will only take two of these prospects to make it a good deal for the Rangers.

Oh yeah, Ron Mahay was in the deal.  We liked you too, Ron, but let’s face it you weren’t a player we were building our hopes around.  Sorry.  We’ll slot someone else into the bullpen and hardly miss ye.

In other news, with a little over half a day until the deadline, we still have Sammy Sosa, and we still have Eric Gagne.  Teams are lining up for Gagne, or so they say, but if we trade him, who’s gonna be the closer since Aki is on the DL?  Well, first of all, we don’t need a closer, because we’re not winning anything.  Second, I think you’ll see Benoit and Wilson stepping into that slot, and I’ve been saying for a while that CJ Wilson is the closer of the future for the Rangers.  The future is now, as they say.

Do pitchers affect the strike zone?

July 30, 2007

Yesterday I wrote about the random strike zone, and whether a pitcher’s location in the strike zone had any effect on the result of the pitch. The obvious ones, a ball and a called strike, are mostly due to location, but the pitches that a batter actually swings at seemed to have a random result regardless of location. Today I was thinking about that, and wondering if I was seeing something that wasn’t there, just imagining it, or if I was looking at too small a sample for just one pitcher (Kam Loe) and maybe that was biasing things. So I dug into my database, pulled out the five pitchers who have thrown the most pitches that Gameday has recorded full details for, and analyzed them in the same way.

Those five pitchers are Miguel Batista, Dan Haren, Jake Peavy, Kelvim Escobar and Jarrod Washburn. They’re not necessarily the best pitchers, they just happen to be pitchers who’ve thrown a lot in ballparks that have the Gameday system installed. As it so happens, Haren, Peavy and Escobar are having very good if not excellent seasons, while Washburn and Batista are right about average. If I had dug a little deeper into the numbers, I would have had Kevin Millwood and Loe in the top twenty, but I wanted to get the most pitches I could to see any trends.

As it turns out, all five pitchers ended up showing almost identical results, and so I’m not going to print a bunch of graphs for all of them. I’m just going to pick Dan Haren, since as an Oakland A he is in the Rangers division. The shapes on the graphs for the other pitchers are slightly different, but the conclusions will be the same for all of them.

Haren All

To remind you of what I was looking at, I took all the plays that Gameday had full data on, and sorted them by result type. I then took the results that were affected by the batter (where he swung at the ball, and either fouled, put it in play, or missed), and began charting them. Above is Haren’s overall chart, showing where that pitch crossed the strike zone (from the catcher’s perspective). Click on it to enlarge, but you won’t see much more than I see, which is an entirely random group of dots, with seemingly no pattern to them. Overall, you can see a pattern, that of up and left to down and right, but there are no specific clusters of the different kinds of results.

Haren Foul

Here are foul balls broken out by themselves. Again, up left to down right, but nothing else interesting.

Haren IPO

The In Play, Out result shows the same thing as the foul result did. I can’t see a difference.

Haren IPNO

The In Play, No Out (basically hits) result is the same, although there might seem to be a slight trend to it being a little more horizontal than the others.

Haren IPR

In Play, Runs result. Hardly even worth doing, because the dataset is so small, but I think if you imagine really hard you can see it is like the one above.

Haren Swing

Last, and surprisingly, not least. After looking at the graphs, I then went back to the data. I divided the strike zone into one foot by one foot areas, and started doing some counting. I wanted to see how homogeneous the data really is. I took the half dozen zones that actually had a reasonable number of data points in them (the smallest had 42 and the largest 159), split them out by result type, and looked at the percentages. If my theory that the result is unrelated to the location of the pitch is true, then the one foot square zones should show similar counts to the overall total.

The result of that test surprised me a little. As it turned out, the zones were almost identical to the overall, except in two places. In one zone, inside to a right hand batter (to be precise, -2 feet to -1 feet horizontally, 2 feet to 3 feet vertically), the batter is more likely to put the ball in play and make out, in fact about a third more than the other places in the strike zone. I attribute that to a batter getting busted inside, probably hitting one off the handle to third or short. The other place, which had by far the biggest difference, was down and away to a right hand batter (0 to 1 feet horizontally, 1 feet to 2 feet vertically), basically the outside half of the plate and down. At this point a batter was about two and a half times more likely to swing and miss, which I think you see a lot, the batter reaching to hit a pitch outside on a two strike count and striking out.

Here’s where it gets interesting though. Of the five pitchers I listed, all were right handers except Jarrod Washburn. All showed the same pattern except Washburn. He showed the same on the pitch middle inside, but on the down and away pitch, his chart showed batters swinging and missing on what would be down and in to a right hand batter. I don’t know enough to explain this. The Rangers don’t have any left hand starters, so I don’t have much experience analyzing their pitches, but also, I don’t know if it’s due to Washburn facing a different percentage of left hand batters, or some other function of being left handed. If that were the case, wouldn’t he also show a similar pattern on the middle inside pitch? I need to look at more data to say anything definitive.

So, an interesting analysis in the end. It adds to my previous analysis of Loe, and confirms those results, that location within the strike zone does not affect the outcome of the pitch, from the pitcher’s point of view. One of the things I recalled during the day today was seeing the hot and cold zone charts of various batters. I don’t remember seeing them for pitchers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Or, maybe, they don’t exist because they don’t show anything. Since there are hot and cold zones for hitters, maybe what we are seeing is the pitcher pitching around them – the pitcher ends up being random because he faces a large variety of hitters, who have different hot zones. The aggregate of the hot and cold zones for batters could end up making an amorphous blob for pitchers.

Thus, my next task will be to look at some batters, and see if I can discern their hot and cold zones. If that’s the case, then I think I could conclude that my analysis here is right, and that the outcome of the pitch is decided more by the batter than the pitcher, at least when it comes to location. And then I could say that the pitcher is involved in other ways, either by speed, or how much the pitch drops, or the break on the pitch, and it is those things that matter from the pitcher’s perspective. But right now, I’m looking at the old adage that says that anyone will hit a pitch grooved down the middle of the plate, and the data shows that no, they won’t. But you try telling a pitcher that.

Kameron Loe and the random strike zone

July 28, 2007

As you know, Kam Loe started the season poorly, so much so that he was sent to the minors for a couple of days, whereupon he came back and put together a hot streak. Right after the All-Star break he slumped in two bad starts, but then improved in his last start on Tuesday. His next start should be tomorrow in Kansas City. At this point the Rangers consider him the number two starter behind Millwood, although arguably it should be McCarthy, Loe, then Millwood, but the argument can be made for any of the three in any order. In fact, their season ERA+ is almost identical, Millwood and McCarthy at 83 and Loe at 82. Depending on how far back you go, and how you slice and dice the numbers, you can get any of them to be the “best” this season. What bodes well for the Rangers is that there are three pitchers who are competitive, and who over anything from one to three months have performed well, with ERAs under 4 depending on the time period you choose. If they can put that together for a longer timeframe (e.g. the 2008 season), the Rangers might be able to step up and contend.

Today I’m focusing on Loe’s last four starts, because that contains his two bad starts surrounded by two good ones. Having crunched a bunch of numbers, I surprisingly did not come up with any great conclusions based on things like his release point, what he was throwing, break, etc. For a good start with a lot of sink on his pitch, I also found a bad start with a lot of sink. Movement in and out, the same. Break, the same. Speed, the same.

Looking just at speed as an example, we can see there were slight differences there, but nothing that jumps out and shows us something. In his good start on July 6, his fastball was running 85-91. The bad start on July 14 it was 83-89. Bad start on July 19 was 87-90. Good start on July 24 was 87-92. Of these starts, three were at home and the speed was measured at 50 feet from home plate, while the fourth, the July 14 start, was in Anaheim and measured at 40 feet, which would suppress the speed a little. Given that the speed as it crossed the plate was almost identical between the four starts, I’d suspect the difference between a 40 foot and 50 foot measurement is about two miles an hour, which would push the July 14 speed up to 85-91, the same as the prior start. So he showed pretty much the same speed in all starts, with a low from 85-87 and a high from 90-92.

The one place I have not looked at in great detail was where the ball crosses the plate. This could be considered the ultimate position to look at, because it makes all the difference between a ball and a strike, and whether a hitter is going to swing. If it’s too far off, advantage batter. Too close, and you better have good stuff or they’re going to tee off on you. So looking at this might tell us something.

First of all, a little explanation of what I did. I broke down each start by the description of the pitch in the data. I then took the balls and called strikes and charted them, to get an idea of where the strike zone was being called on that day. This can differ quite significantly. By using just balls and called strikes, we’re not seeing how the batter influenced the call (by swinging his bat or hitting the ball), so this should be what the umpire’s influence is. John Walsh has done some great work on how the strike zone is being interpreted compared to Gameday, much more detailed that I am doing here. In my analysis of these four starts, I found the strike zone varied a little, but the left side (from the catcher’s viewpoint) was around 1.2 feet off the center of the plate, and the right side about 0.5 feet off center, except the last start where it was 1.1 feet off. This seems to show a huge bias toward the left side, or the inside for a right handed batter. All I’m doing is looking at a chart of the pitches and see where the umpire stopped calling strikes and started calling balls, which of course can get a little mixed up, as sometimes they call balls inside of where they call strikes. So not necessarily mathematically accurate, but I think good enough for my purposes. As for vertical, this gets a lot more confusing, because players are all different heights, but in general the strike zone was about 1.8 to 3.2 feet off the ground in these starts. I’ll show the strike zone for each start, and you can see how it varies from game to game.

All these charts are sized the same, from -2 to 2 feet horizontally, and 0 to 4 feet vertically. Although I continually reference a right hand batter, for orientation purposes, the charts do show all pitches regardless of who was batting. These charts show fouls, swinging strikes, balls in play that were outs, and balls in play that were hits (which includes the variation they term “in play, run(s)”, although technically something like a sac fly is an out as well, but I chose to include it here because it was a bad thing for Loe). So effectively this is a chart of “what the batter swung at”.

Loe SZ 7-6

The 7-6 start was Loe’s best of the four starts, with a game score of 62. He pitched six innings, gave up five hits and three walks, struck out three, and didn’t give up a run. You can see that they mostly only swung in the strike zone, or a little down. The chart of balls and called strikes (not shown) shows a lot of pitches down, a lot of pitches inside, a few outside, and a few up and in to a right hand batter. The pitches swung at down out of the strike zone suggest that he was getting good vertical movement. There is no great pattern to see here for individual result types. The hits (red dots) are a little more central, as you’d expect, and the swinging strikes are all down and in (to a right hand batter), but remember the small sample size effect, there are only five and three of these respectively.

Loe SZ 7-14

On 7-14 in Anaheim, Loe had his worst start of the four, only lasting 67 pitches in 2.2 innings, ending up with five runs on five hits and five walks, with two strikeouts. The balls and called strikes were all either down or inside, mostly inside. This is the start where they said afterwards that he’d had a lot of trouble keeping it in the strike zone. Again not much of a pattern, a lot of pitches down and away, or down in the strikezone, not much up. This almost seems the opposite of what you’d expect, in that usually the advice is to keep the ball down and you’ll stay out of trouble. In this case, they’re swinging at a lot fewer pitches up high, and got better results from it. Could it be possible that he was getting too much movement, and it was moving out of the strike zone? Comparing the called strike zone, very similar to the last start vertically, but horizontally it was called much more inside to the right hand batter. This is also counter-intuitive, you’d expect a wider strike zone to benefit the pitcher.

Loe SZ 7-19

This start on 7-19 looks closer to 7-6 than to 7-14, although really what I see is that hitters are swinging at a lot more pitches out of the strike zone. Again, that should mean advantage pitcher, but note how much narrower the strike zone is, the right hand side stays the same but the left side is down to almost one foot, and the smaller strike zone means advantage hitter. This start ended up being six innings, six runs, on six hits and four walks, with two strikeouts. Balls and called strikes were much wider inside and outside than the previous two starts, and not as many were low. This time the vertical hold was okay, but the horizontal hold was messed up. Although it is much more variable, there is still no pattern to the result types, with them coming everywhere across the strike zone.  If you look closely, you’ll see the red dot at bottom right in the strike zone (just down and right of a green dot), that red dot is the only home run he gave up in these four games.

Loe SZ 7-24

His last start was back to being good (although with a game score of 51, good is a relative term, maybe average would be more like it).  6.2 innings, three runs on seven hits and two walks, five strikeouts.  Any pattern here?  Results are throughout the strike zone.  Hits are all on the left side of the plate.  A lot of swinging strikes down.  Balls and swinging strikes show everything down, or inside.  But still, overall, nothing that leaps out and grabs you.  The strike zone is much wider, with the right side finally getting away from the six inch mark, and jumping over a foot to be even with the left.  I’ll have to go back and take a look at other pitchers, and see if they showed similar variation, and whether it can be traced to different umpires, or a different way the Gameday system is measuring the strike zone.  I would have thought it would measure evenly across the plate, since that is a fixed position, but it’s possible it could be off for a while, since many of the other stats have shown a bias in one direction or the other.

So what’s the grand result of all this?  Not much at all.  From these starts I cannot prove anything about location in the strike zone causing specific results.  There may simply be too little data to show the patterns we desire.  He’s giving up hits everywhere, foul balls everywhere, and making outs everywhere.  Swings and misses are down more often than not, which you would have predicted knowing that he’s a sinkerballer who will drop more than the usual pitcher, causing batters to swing over the ball as it drops below the bat.

I’m a little disappointed in this conclusion though.  I would have loved to see something stand out and be able to say “oh, that’s why he was being beaten”, but there’s nothing there.  At best, I can look at the strike percentages and see a pattern:  in his two good starts, he threw 61% and 66% strikes, but in both bad starts it was 55%.  Doesn’t seem like much, does it, but if you’re throwing a hundred pitches it’s six or eleven extra strikes, which means either fewer walks or more balls swung at.

There was a famous study a few years ago which created a stat called BABIP, which stands for Batting Average on Balls in Play.  Basically it took away strikeouts and home runs, things that fielders couldn’t affect, and looked at what happened to balls actually hit by batters.  It showed that for pitchers, there was no consistency, in that anyone from a Roger Clemens to a Vicente Padilla could have a similar BABIP.  The deciding factor on how good pitchers turned out to be was the strikeouts, home runs, and walks, in that a good pitcher gave up less of these, and a bad pitcher gave up more.  My very tentative conclusion, looking at just these four starts from Kam Loe, is kind of similar:  if he throws balls, he will end up with bad results, but if he throws strikes, it is not what he threw but what the batter does that matters.  Once it is in the strike zone, the result across the zone is so variable it can’t be seen (in these starts).  It’s when the batter makes contact that counts, and what the pitcher is throwing doesn’t seem to affect the outcome.  Is this true?  Hardly believable, but then neither was the BABIP study.  Maybe this is simply a manifestation of what BABIP shows, that if the pitcher isn’t throwing a ball, the result after that is random.  Before I make this a firm conclusion though, I’d want to look at a lot more pitchers and a lot more games.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4

July 27, 2007

The countdown is getting closer and closer. Lofton’s going to the Indians, and Tex is going to the Angels or Braves. Apparently. I don’t want Tex with the Angels, simply because they’re division rivals, but since he’ll only be there a year and a half before going free agent, and since we’re not likely to be competitive by then, I guess it’s okay. It all comes down to who offers the most. The Braves seem to have more pitching prospects, but on the other hand there’s this ongoing thoughtline that says any pitcher looks great in the Braves organization, but sucks once they leave. I think it’s been proven to be hooey now and again, but still. Hey, like I said, best prospects wins.

Wouldn’t it be funny if JD went to Tex tomorrow morning and offered him a five year contract extension, and he said okay? Talk about deflating a balloon! Now, what are the odds of that happening? Slim to none. I wonder if they even went anywhere near starting negotiations, you know, anything more than “are you interested?”. Will we ever know? Maybe when Tex leaves, he’ll say something about them never offering him a contract to sign.

The local media are lazy. My guess is they all read Jamey’s report, then today they all went with his “last home game for some of these players” angle. Really, the mainstream media are just a bunch of sheep, all thinking the same, all writing the same. Is it any wonder that newspapers are dying, that broadcast networks are losing viewers in droves, that blogs and online media are becoming the news outlets of choice for most people? Why pick up a bland mass media report, when you can a) read it online sooner, and b) view and participate in the discussion?

Today the Rangers site says that Jason Botts is just waiting for the callup. We are too, Jason, we are too.

A week ago the Rangers site had an article about Erik Hurley, in which they said: “He watches every game with pitching coach Andy Hawkins, discussing strategies of how to pitch in various situations and how to approach the game differently.  It’s nothing new for Hurley, who did the same thing with Double-A pitching coach Terry Clark.  “He’s not taking a day off chewing sunflower seeds and shooting the breeze with these guys, he’s working,” Hawkins said. “It’s kind of like classwork. He’s thinking about the game, even if he’s not in it.”  Now, contrast that to Michael Main, one of the Rangers top picks in the draft this year.  He’s pitched a little, but he’s been hitting a lot.  He’s only pitched 3.2 innings in two starts, although I can’t say much about that, because they could very easily be keeping him down just to get him going a little.  But hitting, he’s been in eight games and had 30 AB.  Ask yourself this, why is he hitting at all?  He’s a pitcher, not a hitter, whether he likes to hit or not.  But compare to Hurley, you can be pretty sure Main is not sitting next to the pitching coach when he’s not pitching, learning how to pitch.  That’s because he’s getting ready to hit!  I’ve talked about this before, and it annoys me.  I don’t care if the kid said he wants to keep hitting.  You’re the adult, you’re the manager, or the GM, you’ve got to say no, sit down and learn.  It will be very ironic if he makes the big leagues as a hitter, because we don’t need our first round pitchers to hit.

Okay, that’s it for today.  It’s yet another calm before the storm time, when you’re just waiting for something to happen.  And we don’t even have a ballgame to distract us this weekend, because we’re going to arguably the worst team in baseball over the last decade (expansion teams excluded).  I never like playing in KC, it just seems like a horrible place to be.  Never been there, of course.  But that’s what the mainstream media tells me.

Wearing my Ranger Red colored glasses

July 24, 2007

Nice job all afternoon and evening, winning both ends of a double header. Rheinecker looked pretty good, in the early game. I’m guessing he’ll stick around for a little while, since he took Tejeda’s place in the rotation, and maybe he can get some good stuff going. The Rangers don’t need a fifth starter for a while though, so he might get an opportunity out of the bullpen until his spot comes up again. He’s previously been a AAAA type player, putting in good stuff in AAA but never breaking out in the bigs, but he’s been doing very well in OKC this year, and maybe he’s getting ready to lift off. One thing bothered me though, yesterday on the Rangers website he said “It could make or break me,” Rheinecker said. “There are some other teams looking for pitching, too, and the deadline is coming up.” The implication being that he wants to go somewhere else, where they’ll actually let him pitch (although there are not too many contenders who will want to trade for an unproven AAA pitcher). This is one of my bugaboos about the Rangers, in recent times they’ve got some younger players ready to step up, but they’re not giving them the opportunity to do so (do I hear a Jason Botts?). Especially in a dead year like this, you’ve got to get guys a chance to do it, and see what happens. The Tigers did it a few years ago, and ended up losing 120 games, but look at them now. Once again the Rangers are battling to get to .500, which is a worthless pursuit, stuck in the dead land between being able to clear out the dead wood and being able to challenge.

Loe looked back to his old self tonight, or rather back to his new self. He is an example of trying a guy for a long enough period that things will suddenly click, and they’ll become effective in the majors. He has had a couple of bad games since the All-Star break, but things were working for him tonight, although he did end up throwing a lot of pitches, I can’t remember anyone else throwing 117 in a game for the Rangers this year. He was absolutely robbed by the umpire though, who said it was a dropped foul tip when it wasn’t touched by the bat (in my opinion it was clear, but the tv guys weren’t so sure, although given the batter’s reaction, you’d have to say the ump got it wrong), then giving up a two run hit on the next pitch. I’m sure he was affected by the call. Actually, as it was happening I was so mad that I was thinking that a) if I’d been him I’d have thrown my glove at the umpire, guaranteeing an ejection and suspension (he did slam his glove against the dugout wall when the inning was over), and b) that it was going to cause something bad to happen to him. Which explains a) why I’m not a major league pitcher, and b) that I can see into the future. No, just kidding. There’s probably some other reason why I’m not in the majors.

Travis Metcalf should enjoy that, the best game of his career so far. He’s probably heading back to the minors, AAA I guess, when Blalock comes off the DL, although the way Hank says he is rehabbing that might be later rather than sooner. As in, he was originally due back around the beginning of August, but now it might be the beginning of September.

ESPN says the Rangers are almost certain to trade Tex this week, that their demands have dropped and several teams are interested. I want one high level starter prospect, a Clay Buchholz or Phil Hughes will do just nicely, along with probably one or two other lower level prospects. The deadline is a week from tonight, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take it all the way to the line as they try and get teams to bounce off each other.

Loved the fans waving their arms, doing the Byrd, as Marlon was batting. That’s going to be so funny sometime soon, when he’s up in the 9th with the game on the line, adrenaline pumping, and 40,000 fans flapping. Okay, 25,000, at least this year.

Check out the Hall of Fame exhibit on uniforms. Here’s the link to the Rangers page, which is pretty interesting.  What’s most noticeable is the Ranger Red uniforms, which they only wore from 1994-2000.  The rest of the time they’ve been wearing the blue.  I, personally, am very partial to the red, the Rangers hat I wear is a red one and I much prefer their colors.  Note that the division winning teams, 96, 98 and 99, all wore the red unis, but the team has been poor any time they’ve worn the blue.  Isn’t it time we got Hicks to change back?  I have vague recall of his reasons for changing back to blue, I think he mentioned history (but not the extra sales of a new uniform), but red is what wins for the Rangers.  Anyone know of a campaign to get the red uniforms back, or want to get one going?

One of the fun things about using WordPress is the stats it gives you. In particular, every day I can see what people searched on to get here, which helps to know what they’re looking for and how the search engines view this blog. However, sometimes the mind just boggles. Today was one of those, because someone got here by searching on the term “human butt tricks”. There are so many things wrong on so many levels about that, but what is most worrying is why Google would send them to read my stuff…

Robbing Tejeda

July 23, 2007

Tejeda said he has been having trouble repeating his motion.  I’m betting he’ll be trying to repeat it in OKC in five days time.  I took a look at his release points in Gameday tonight, and his horizontal release point was varying about 10 inches, which isn’t too bad, but his vertical was varying about 13 inches, which is terrible.  In the past when both I and others looked, a good pitcher was getting their release point variation down to about half the size of a sheet of letter sized paper.  Tejeda’s variation would be a couple of inches in each direction larger than the paper.  Combine that with his lack of pitches, and he’s in double trouble.  He was hitting the mid 90s with his fastball tonight, a peak of 95.5, which is 2 or 3 mph slower than he was earlier this year.  And he’s still throwing over 100 pitches to get through five innings, which is terrible.  Could there be something wrong?  Apart from ability, or the pitching coach, that is.  Time for him to go to AAA and work things out.

More Teixeira talks, latest I heard was that the Yankees are losing interest because of the price, and the Red Sox are stepping up.  Hmm, trying to get the Yankees and Red Sox in a bidding war is always a good thing.  Someone just needs to get Steinbrenner involved, and we might be able to ask for heaven and earth.

Jamey Newberg was profiled on NBC5 tonight (and they spelled his name wrong!  Jaimie, if you would believe it).  If you didn’t see it, I’m sure he will have the clip on YouTube, probably already.  I like Jamey, I’ve been reading his stuff for years, and he is one of the inspirations for this blog.  What I don’t like is his unending sunshine and happiness, and he even alluded to that in the report, saying that he doesn’t like the negative blogs on the Rangers.  Well, I doubt Jamey is reading this, but if you are, I’ll just say one thing: .429.  I think I’m pretty negative about the Rangers, but that number should tell you why.  They flatter to deceive, they’re always promising the moon and delivering nothing, and it’s frustrating.  At least if you’re a Royals fan or a D-Rays fan, you know your team is going to suck and you put up with it, or you don’t watch.  But every year you hear about how the Rangers are going to win this year, and every year it’s the same.  Even in what Jamey would call the great year of 2004, they still finished 3rd.  Jamey, among others, has idolized every player coming through the system, imagining them all as number one starters, or batting champs, or home run champs, or whatever, and most of them don’t pan out.  And then he also projects every one of them to win more than they possibly can, and ends up frustrating me more and more.  You know what, Jamey, sometimes it rains.  This year, 42.9% of the time.

But I am being pretty harsh on Jamey, and perhaps it is really the Rangers fault.  Let’s look at one of his annuals, 2001 this time:  His minor league player of the year rankings were Mench, Carlos Pena, Hafner, Pedro Valdes, Blalock and Michael Young.  Of those, Valdes did very little at the major league level, but the rest have done pretty good. His minor league pitcher of the year ranks were Jovanny Cedeno, Spike Lundberg, Aaron Harang, Andy Pratt, Colby Lewis, Brian Sikorski.  Enough said.  Of those, only Harang could be said to have had a decent career.  Now, this is not to attack Jamey, because this is player of the year not top prospect, but this would be an indictment of the Rangers: develop hitters, don’t develop pitchers.  But keep reading through Jamey’s stuff and you hear name after name that will be a superstar, and then you look back years later and 99% of them don’t make the majors.  Yes, I know that’s the way the minors work, but my point is if you’re taking a realistic view of the team, or the minor league system, reality is that a few of them will make it and the rest are junk.  Jamey hasn’t yet managed to differentiate between the two, even though at some point it’s pretty darn obvious.

But I’m still on his mailing list, and will remain so unless he reads this and kicks me off.  I’ve just got to remember to take it with a pinch of salt.  And as a final thought on the topic, the alternative would be to not care at all about the Rangers, especially with Cowboys camp opening this week, and not caring is in my opinion worse than being negative.

Great quote from Sosa on the Rangers website today: “I’ll be all right,” Sosa said. “The good guy in the movie never dies.”  Apparently he never saw Private Ryan.  He’s been playing so badly that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rangers release him, since there’s no trade interest.   Jason Botts is due off the DL in a few days, and is apparently healing well, and my guess is some time in AAA to make sure he’s okay and then come August 1 he’ll be up in the big leagues, with Sosa on his way out.

Seattle coming to town, four games in three days.   Tuesday will be the long night, starting the first game of the double header at 4.  I’d go if I could get off work, and if I wanted to spend hours in the hot sun toiling away for no reward.  But then if I did that my name would be Tejeda.

Doing the splits

July 22, 2007

Splits are one of those funny things. Split too much and you end up with useless data. Split too little and you may be hiding things in the noise. But split just right, you can find out all sorts of interesting information about players. I can’t guarantee the following splits are done just right, but I still think some of it is interesting.

I’ve been on the Marlon Byrd bandwagon for a while now, a good month or so. I’ve been advocating giving him a long term contract, since he’s “proven” himself here. Of course, he’s only had 195 PA in Texas, which is virtually identical to what he had last year in Washington, where he sucked so badly he couldn’t even get another year in Washington, and ended up having to sign a minor league contract with the Rangers. Taking a look at his career numbers, he is so far ahead in Texas that it’s unbelievable. You either have to say wow, he just put it all together this year, at age 29, or you have to believe in the small sample size compared to the nearly 1500 PA he had with other teams. Look at his OPS+, you’ll see the only year before this one that he was above average was 2003, his rookie year, when he was 109. Apart from that year, his peak was 88, well below average, until this year where he’s 128, a huge improvement. First thought would be the new league, that he’s doing well and will come down again soon. Second thought is that he’s been a spark plug, driving in crucial runs at different times, doing things for the team that were missing in the early part of the season, and that the team really took off when he came along.

Funnily enough though, he’s been tanking for a while. He got off to a hot start, and there was a lot of talk about him hitting .400, but now he’s at .343 and sure enough, he’s been slowly going down. In the splits, for his last 14 days he’s been hitting .195, with little power and a lot of strikeouts (14 in 42 PA). Then all of a sudden he comes alive tonight, five RBI including a bases loaded triple to put the game away. So who is he, the hot start, the cooling off, the exciting spark to the team, or the career 90 OPS+? Will he turn this year into a big contract with someone, and will it be us? And if it’s not, will we regret it?

Adam Melhuse was a career backup when obtained from the A’s a few weeks ago, but fortunately did not take significant playing time away from Gerald Laird. If he had, it would be because of Ron Washington, one of his coaches in Oakland until this season, and reportedly the guy that recommended him. So you know Ron has an agenda regarding Melhuse, especially when after tonight’s game he says “I think the bat Melhuse had was key. Mel worked to get on base. He’s been in pinch-hit [situations] a lot and I definitely trust him when he goes up there to pinch-hit.” So what do you think he means when he says Melhuse has pinch hit a lot? Looking at his numbers, I don’t know if he means this year or for his career. This year, with both Oakland and Texas, he is 2-3 with two walks. Small sample size alert! For his career he’s hitting .232 in 69 ABs, which is not only a small sample size, but it’s also poor batting and below his career averages, which were poor anyway. Look for Ron to back Melhuse to be resigned next year, because everyone knows you need that experience to help the team along. His experience, by the way, is about the equivalent of one season’s worth of at-bats for a full-time player. Admittedly he was a backup catcher everywhere, but to get that little playing time in seven years? He’s appeared in about one in four of his teams’ games when playing. Could Ron like him so much because they sat side by side on the bench for four years, having nothing to do but chat all that time?

My impression of Michael Young this year has been that he is much better hitting third, and the team is much better with him hitting third. Looking at the team first, he batted third from Opening Day until April 26, when the team was 8-13 (.381). From then until June 8 he batted second, and the team went 22-39 (.361). Slight advantage to batting third. Then Tex got hurt, and Young went back to third, and the team went 16-11 (.593), a much better performance at third. Then Tex came back, Young went back to second, and the team is 4-5 (.444). Overall, .500 at third, .371 at second. The cynics would actually say the team was much better when Tex was on the DL, which would point to Tex being the culprit and pave the way for him to be traded since he’s only hurting the team.

But turning to Michael Young’s splits, we see something odd.  When hitting second, he has a .835 OPS, but when hitting third, it’s .643.  We find that the team was better when he was worse!  That makes no sense at all, since he is supposed to be the centerpiece of the team.  Could it be that the rest of the team improved, to cover for his lack of performance?  Could it be that when hitting second, he had Tex behind him to protect him, but when hitting third it was mostly Sosa while Tex was out, and Sosa is no longer protecting anyone so they could pitch around Michael without any problems?  I don’t know, but I’d rather have a winning team than a producing Michael Young, if I had to choose one over the other.  Of course, in general you’d say they would go hand in hand.  Either way, I cringe every time I see Michael hitting second, or worse Michael hitting third and some piece of trash like Jerry Hairston killing us in the two spot while Marlon Byrd rots away at five or six.  The lineup should begin Lofton, Byrd, Young, Teixeira, or at least until some of those parts get traded.  Given all his time in Oakland, you’d think Ron would have paid attention to things like OPS, optimal lineup strategy, heck even how bad the sacrifice bunt is for a team, but he seems to have thrown all those things out the window.  Heck, he even batted Ramon Vazquez leadoff, which is kind of like saying “okay, we’ll give you the first out for free”.

Brandon McCarthy got a hard luck loss last night, and reports said that he’s had zero run support the last few appearances.  Now me, I’m not sure about run support, or how it’s calculated, because I see it two different ways.  One way is how many runs a team scored when that pitcher started, even if those runs were scored after the pitcher left.  The other way is how many runs the team scored while he was pitching, in other words how it could have truly affected his outcome.  Looking at team numbers, we see in his last six starts the team has scored 20 runs, or 3.33 per game, significantly below the team average of 4.93.  Now, to be fair, make it his last seven games and, with 14 runs in that seventh game, his average jumps to 4.86, right in line with everyone else.  But still, it’s been a dry spell for him lately.

Now to runs scored while McCarthy was the pitcher of record.   Sure enough, in 29 innings while he was the pitcher, the Rangers only scored two runs, which is an 0.62 ERA for opposing pitchers.  Now, I’ve never been one to believe that hitters can’t hit for certain pitchers, I think it’s just random luck (although Nolan Ryan has burned this excuse into his career), but that’s ridiculous.  What’s more ridiculous is that he’s faced Daisuke Matsuzaka (11-7, 3.99), Ben Sheets (10-4, 3.39), Kason Gabbard (4-0, 2.97), Erik Bedard (9-4, 3.12), Jered Weaver (6-5, 3.30), and Fausto Carmona (12-4, 3.52) in that time.  Talk about Murderer’s Row!  In that time McCarthy has gone 0-3 with a 5.08 ERA, but take away the first start of those six and his ERA falls to 4.10.  Take him all the way back to May 4 and he’s 3-3, 3.83.  Once again, the perception is that he’s been struggling, because his season ERA stands at 5.53, but really it was a horrible start that caused that perception, just as the excellent start caused the Marlon Byrd perception.

Tomorrow it’s Robinson Tejeda’s turn to stand in the firing line again.  His perception has been the opposite of McCarthy’s, in that he started well but quickly sank without trace.  In the same timeframe that McCarthy had a 3.83 ERA, Tejeda had a 8.15.  I predict right now that on Monday he will be sent to the minors, because he will be beat up by the Indians and it will be the last straw, never mind that we will need pitchers with the doubleheader coming up on Tuesday.  Could it be time for Erik Hurley?

Walking under the radar gun

July 20, 2007

Another day, another loss.  Actually, that’s pretty unfair, because it seems like quite a while since the Rangers lost two in a row.  Okay, so looking back, it was only last week, when they lost the first two in Anaheim on Friday and Saturday, but it feels longer because they’ve been playing good baseball.  Prior to Anaheim, you have to go back to June 28-29 for the last two losses in a row, and prior to that, all the way back to June 10-13 when they lost three in a row.  Since then they’ve had six streaks of at least two wins in a row themselves.  An indicator of improvement, you’d say, and you’d be right, but not enough.  They’re 3-4 since the All-Star break, which means they already dropped a game to Anaheim post-break, since they have gone 4-3 including a surprising couple of losses to Tampa Bay.  Still, I’m sure we’re about to see another quote about not having an X by our name yet, so we better keep playing good ball.

Kam was the man again tonight, this time walking four as he got his second loss in a row.  I wasn’t able to pinpoint much of anything in his last start, so maybe a larger dataset will help find out what’s changed, if anything.  Maybe he’s just hit a couple of good teams who have been able to lay off close pitches, or maybe he’s just getting a little too far off, or maybe, well, maybe a lot of things.  I’ll let you know if I find anything in particular.

While watching the game tonight, I suddenly got curious as to how well the stats on tv match up to the stats in Gameday.  I’m pretty sure they’re using the Gameday numbers for generating those strike zone charts they’ve been putting up, where else would they get the data from?  But it occurred to me, after some comment by TAG about the speed of the pitcher (Betancourt, in this case) that maybe the radar they have doesn’t work off Gameday.  In fact, just the other day in Anaheim we talked about the woman who was raising her radar gun on every pitch, and wondering why they still had someone doing that.  So, I started counting the speeds on tv, to compare to Gameday.  From the middle of Marlon Byrd’s at-bat in the eighth, I memorized seven pitch speeds.  Wow, all of seven, I hear you say?  Actually, it’s worse than you think, because the first four were all 91 mph, the next two were 92 mph, and the last was 84 mph.  That’s when I was interrupted from counting and lost track, but I figured comparing them would be an interesting subset.  So here’s what I got:  the first four were all 91 mph on the tv, and Gameday gave them 91.3, 91.1, 90.9 and 90.9.  The next two, tv had at 92, Gameday had 91.5 and 92.2.  The last, 84 on tv was 84.1 on Gameday.  They are clearly if not the same numbers, at least matching after rounding.  I wouldn’t guarantee they came from the same source, but they may as well have, and that woman in Anaheim ought to be afraid for her job.

Just as I suspected, they put Aki on the DL.  I’m assuming it was retroactive to the last time he pitched, July 1, but I haven’t confirmed that.  If it was, then he’s eligible to come off any day.  You know, in the NFL they have a salary cap coordinator, the guy whose job it is to track where the salary cap is, because there’s a bunch of rules about it that are difficult to follow.  But in MLB, it’s pretty much just “hey, the guy’s hurt, put him on the DL for a couple of weeks”.  It’s not brain surgery.  In fact, it shouldn’t even take a couple of weeks to get the guy to be examined by a doctor and say yeah, he’s hurt.

McCarthy tomorrow, against Fausto Carmona.  On the strength of things, the Indians have the upper hand, sending a guy who is 11-4, 3.77 against 4-6, 5.59.  But McCarthy has been pitching better than his line lately, so it could be a pretty good game.  Of course, you could have said that about today’s game too, Sabathia against Loe, and look how that one turned out.

A rough ride

July 19, 2007

I don’t have much to say about the Rangers today. I didn’t see the game, I didn’t see the highlights, I only heard the score on the radio, and anything I got about the game is from the story on ESPN or the Rangers website. Millwood seemingly pitched okay, except for one inning (haven’t we heard that before this year?), and that was all that Oakland needed to move 3 1/2 games in front of the Rangers. There’s still plenty of time left to catch them though. Report is that the umpire blew a call at second that caused the second inning to happen, once again I plead for instant replay.

Sosa has an article on the Rangers website today. Amazing how much his English has improved since that Senate hearing, isn’t it? Of course, it’s possible he was fluent writing but not speaking. Yeah, right. More likely he took every single sentence out of the sports cliche book.

Aki will be examined by a doctor on Thursday to decide if he should go on the DL, with Ron Washington saying that would be the prudent move. No, as I said recently, the prudent move would have been to DL him any time since he last pitched, on July 1. That’s 17 days, even if you’d done it a week ago he’d be eligible to come off now, since it gets backdated. Now, to put him on the DL, is pretty much a waste of time, since he’ll be able to come back any time. This is a big black eye for the front office, it’s like they don’t know the rules or they’re trying to pull a fast one. I can hear JD talking to the other GMs: “No, he hasn’t pitched for two weeks, but he’s not on the DL. He’s just tired, is all.” The good news is he’ll still be here next year, because no-one is going to want to trade for him now.

Jason Botts went on the DL after fracturing a fingertip. The irony. Aki gets to hang around forever, but Botts gets logjammed by Sosa and then gets hurt when it’s time to bring him up. Probably wouldn’t have happened if he’d been in the big leagues all year, would it, JD?

Jerry Hairston has played everywhere but pitcher, catcher and first this season. From the Rangers site: “Hairston hasn’t pitched since his childhood days but has dreams of playing all nine positions in a game. “I would love to,” Hairston said. “Not like to. Love to.” I’d love it too. Maybe then we could find a position he would be useful at. If not useful, at least less than useless.

We went to the Roughriders tonight. A suite down the first base line. It was nice, the food wasn’t up to much, standard ballpark fare with not a wide selection, but at least it was free. Josh had a pretty good time. He saw Deuce, the mascot, from a distance as we walked in, and I promised we’d go see him during the game. Well, we ended up in the suite watching Deuce doing all his antics, and at one point Josh was up on the ledge of the suite, talking to Deuce (50 yards away), pointing at his chest and saying “See, you’re on my shirt”. It was very cute. Deuce finally got down below us, and we ran downstairs with Josh, went up to Deuce, and he was too afraid to talk to him. Typical kid, huh? I talked to him after and he kept saying “No, I didn’t give him a hug, or a high five”. Well, come another inning, and Deuce comes into the suite, and scares the pants off Josh! He was very afraid this time, didn’t want to go near him. I had to hold onto him to get a photo with Deuce, and I’m sure he’ll have a terrified face in the picture. Of course, later in the gift shop, he wanted the Deuce shirt, and he wanted the $170 stuffed Deuce doll (he didn’t get that, even though Daddy got the $100 black Roughrider shirt).

You’re probably wondering about the game itself, and quite honestly, I barely paid attention. Saw Mayberry bat a couple of times, including one hard hit single to the gap in left, and German Duran one time, but that was about it. It was a relatively boring game (not boring because it was a pitcher’s duel, because I enjoy those, but I just never got into the game), 1-1 after 7 when we left the suite, and by the time we left the gift shop the Riders were down 4-1. I don’t know what the final score was (update: it was 4-1, here’s the boxscore, apparently we should have watched because there were two good pitchers going against each other). This was definitely a “see the ballpark and have fun with Josh” day, rather than see the players. I have to admit I don’t follow the minors like I used to. Used to be I would hang on Jamey’s every word, seeing stars at all levels of the organization. Nowadays, I keep wanting to go back and look at his old books, and see just how those stars of yesterday are doing. How many of the top 10 Rangers prospects in Jamey’s 2000 list ever made it anywhere? Another project for the list of things to do.

Oh, one other cool thing, one of the Riders guys who was checking up on the suites came and talked to Josh for a couple of minutes, then said he’d be back, and came back and gave him a ball. It was one of those photo balls, with Danks on one side and Diamond on the other. I, of course, being the cynic, immediately noticed the value of it with Danks gone and Diamond out for the year, but Josh loves it and doesn’t care who’s on it. So, I forget your name (Marian will tell me tomorrow), but kudos to you for making a little kid’s day, and kudos to the Roughriders for allowing you to.

Tick tock Tejeda

July 18, 2007

I announced my plan to finish ahead of Oakland yesterday, and right there today in the ESPN game story the same idea is mentioned.  Hopefully it will catch on with the players, and they’ll keep going how they’re going.  Today’s win was a good example of keeping going, with Tejeda seeming to give the lead back every time he got it, but the players battled until they could break out and win.  Oakland did as much as they could to help us win, they’re in the situation we were in back in May, struggling in all facets of the game.  They threw a couple of balls away that allowed us to get the offense going.

Tejeda didn’t actually pitch too badly, at least until he got in trouble and was pulled.  For the first few innings he was scrapping, getting in trouble but getting out of it, and yes his pitch count was climbing quickly, but for him to go three innings without giving up a run was a positive sign, even if he did give up a bunch after that.  Is he still in trouble, demotion-wise?  Absolutely.  I would almost expect to see him sent down any day, after any start, especially one like this.  A little positive doesn’t outweigh the big negative.  In fact, his performance did seem to back up what I’ve said for a while, that he’ll end up in the bullpen, perhaps as a setup or closer.  After all, he went along okay for a short time today.  Did you know he had a game score of 61 on May 18, and in ten starts since then his high has been 41?  41 is poor, so for it to be his best in two months just shows how bad he has been.  Today he was a 39, and in fact his last start was the 41, so slight signs of improvement?  I wouldn’t think it would be enough to keep him around though.  And his fielding was atrocious, backing up home plate by standing beside it at one point, I’d be really mad at him for that if I was Ron Washington.

Tex rumors are jumping up again.  Apparently yesterday everyone was saying he will be too expensive to trade for, but today there are half a dozen teams interested.  Okay, someone’s got their wires crossed here (hey, I just realized how old-fashioned the term “wires crossed” sounds.  A few more years and I bet there’ll be people saying “huh?” if you use that expression).  Either way, since I’ve accepted that Tex will be gone, I just hope a bunch of teams get in the bidding.  Of the teams that are reported to be interested, I would prefer the Braves, simply because they’re in the other league.  I’d hate it to be the Yankees, in a rich-get-richer kind of way, or the Angels, because I don’t want to see him in their uniform 18 times a year (although he’ll only be there a year and a half, since he’ll probably head to Baltimore at the end of next year anyway).  Although, come to think of it, does it really matter who he is playing for?  What matters is what we get back in return.  Memo to JD, ad nauseum:  Pitching.  Pitching.  Pitching.

If Tex gets traded, will that work to get Jason Botts up?  He can DH or play the outfield or even first base, as long as they don’t decide that Wilkerson’s the man there.  Ahh, what the heck, just go ahead and dump Sosa and let Botts do the job.

Tomorrow’s a day game, so I won’t get to see it, but we’re heading to the Roughriders tomorrow night, so that should be fun.  Josh hasn’t been back there since the time he talked to Frankie Francisco, so he probably doesn’t remember much about it at all.  I’ll let you know how it goes, and who and what I see while I’m there.