Archive for August, 2007

Dear JD

August 31, 2007

Jon Daniels, please stop reading my blog.  I’m one of those people you don’t like, one of the naysayers about the team.  Every time I say something, you do the opposite, just to spite me.  That’s not the way to run a team (if it is, then let me just say that you, Ron Washington, Mark Connor should all have lifetime contracts, and Tom Hicks should never sell the team).  Honestly, I was mad when I heard today that you’d picked up Ron Washington’s option for 2009, just a couple of days after I said how bad he has been as a manager.  And watching your performance on tv during the game tonight, I felt like you were talking directly about me all the time, about how you were showing all those people who’d been saying bad things about the team.  Guess what?  We’re not all going to be lovey-dovey about the Rangers all the time, especially when they’re playing badly.  You’re the GM, you’ll be here what, another two or three years maybe?  Assuming Hicks has more patience with you than he has had with anyone else, that is.  We’re in it for the long haul, as the saying goes, we love the uniform, not the people inside.  We’ll be Rangers fans in twenty years, thirty years, forty if we’re lucky, and maybe by then we’ll have won a World Series.  By that time you’ll have been long forgotten, just another name in the history books.  Yes, you have a chance to do good things now, but for sure if you only listen to the yes-men and ignore what everyone else is saying, you’ll be in exactly the same trap as every GM before you (with the exception of Doug Melvin, who did a good job before Hicks came along).  If you try and dismiss us out of hand like you did tonight, then the day you’re packing your bags you’ll be hearing our told you so’s loud and clear.

You said yourself in your quotes today that Ron Washington “is a teacher at heart”, and that’s something I totally agree with.  I’m not sure I made this point clear a couple of days ago, but I think he is a great coach.  He got all those fielders in Oakland believing in him, after all.  We’ll just ignore the fact that the Rangers don’t even seem to understand the fundamentals of baseball this year, won’t we?  But it is clear to me, if not to yourself, that while Washington is a good coach he is a terrible manager, he has no idea of the tactics that even old-time managers use (heck, Earl Weaver knew to play for three-run homers, why couldn’t Wash play under him instead of some of the people he did?).  As I said the other day, he runs the team like he played, he has ignored all the lessons of the last twenty or so years.  I mean, bunting in the first inning?  A bunt is a one-run strategy, and if you think you’ll get a run in the first and make it hold up, well, I’ve got a bunch of Rangers pitchers to sell you.  The suggestion that the Rangers have been playing well the last couple of months is crazy, yes, they have a decent record (the quote was 38-30 since mid-June) but it’s mostly been smoke and mirrors, basically a lot of luck swinging back after disappearing early in the season, pitching that has far outperformed the true value (even tonight you all were saying that Kam Loe is back to being on the edge, whereas just a month or two ago you were singing his praises like he was the second coming of Cy Young), and hitting that has stumbled and bumbled most of the way.  The Rangers are, as said above, fundamentally bad, they have a large number of players who would never make it on a championship team (go on, tell me how many of these Rangers would make the Yankees, or the Red Sox, or the Angels – I’d say Benoit and CJ, and very few of the rest, including Michael Young), and they don’t look like getting better.  Now, granted, the extension of Ron Washington may be a surrender flag, a sign that you’re accepting you won’t win for a couple of years so why not keep the teacher in to get some of these guys trained better.  But while he’s sitting in the manager’s seat, how much training is he doing?

Remember Trey Hillman, who was a candidate for the job but stayed in Japan after winning the Japan Series last year? His team has a three game lead in their division this year.  Think he’ll still be available in 2010?

Someone ought to start a Michael Young watch, in his pursuit of 200 hits.  He needs 40 more, and has 29 games to do it.  He’s going to need to step it up a little, he needs a couple of multi-hit games to get back on pace.  And he should get a little education, too:  “I think we have a ways to go,” Young said. “I have no idea what players we have in the Minor Leagues, but I would imagine extending Wash would be a step in the right direction.”  He has no idea who’s in the minors?  But wasn’t he just recently talking about all these guys coming up, and how he didn’t want to rebuild?

The poll on Rangers.com today:  Who is the single most formidable opposing player for the Rangers?  Choices are Vlad, Jeter, David Ortiz, Ichiro and Frank Thomas.  Uhh, what about Thome?  Are there any records on most times on base against opponents in a season?  If so, he must be close to the top, since he reached base pretty much every time he came up this year.

Notes today tell us Salty is hitting like a thousand when he’s a catcher and nothing when playing first.  Maybe he likes being a catcher?  I’ve always wondered why catchers don’t hit better, since they see a hundred pitches a game, shouldn’t they get some better sort of perspective on it?  You know, all those studies that say hitters hit pitchers better after three or four at-bats against them in a game.  Is it just because they’re seeing their own pitcher, instead of the opponent?

John Danks was probably a little better than expected today, he got his share of strikeouts (against a team that loves to strike out), but also gave up a home run, and lost because of four errors in one inning.  Something there to like for pretty much everyone, huh?  Especially the Rangers, because they won.

Somewhere around there’s got to be a transcript of JD’s comments tonight during the game.  He came across as a little arrogant, as I said earlier it was a lot of “I know everything and you all know nothing”.  Maybe that’s a good thing, but he hasn’t built a track record yet (well, not a winning one, anyway).  If he believes in Ron Washington so much, it’s doubtful he ever will.

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Danks but no Danks

August 30, 2007

For a while, and it seems like years but it was probably only one or two, the Rangers had the vaunted trio of pitching prospects known as DVD – Danks, Volquez and Diamond. After being heralded for so long, it came as somewhat of a shock to the minor league system when Opening Day 2007 showed Thomas Diamond on the DL with Tommy John surgery that will cause him to miss at least the season, Edinson Volquez relegated all the way back to A ball, and John Danks traded to Chicago for Brandon McCarthy. In a confluence of events, this week will see both the return of Danks, who will pitch Thursday night against the Rangers, and of Volquez, who worked his way back through the system and will start against Anaheim on Saturday. It will be interesting to see if Danks and Volquez meet up and discuss old times. Perhaps they will talk about Danks’ comments about the DVD moniker after he was traded, saying that they hated it and felt expectations were too high and they couldn’t live up to them. What he didn’t realize is that any Rangers pitching prospect who does anything in the minors is automatically labeled as the next Nolan Ryan (witness Kasey Kiker, or Blake Beavan, who hasn’t even thrown a professional pitch yet), or the next savior of the team, simply because the Rangers are starved of pitching success. Since Danks got Rangers fans’ backs up over those comments, my two cents is that if he can’t handle the pressure of fans in the minors, how is he going to handle them in the majors?

This was intended as a comparison of Danks and McCarthy, the centerpieces of the trade in the off-season. It is really unfair of me to be comparing them so soon, because less than a year is not enough time to judge a trade, unless it’s a deadline deal intended to put a team over the top, and even then it can have repercussions later (trot out comments about the Alexander-Smoltz trade). In this case, both pitchers are jigsaw pieces, intended to grow and develop for their teams over the next several years (and beyond), so looking at them at this early stage is merely fun, short-term what-have-you-done-for-me-lately type thinking that a lot of fans and most media types do regularly.

McCarthy is 24, made his debut in 2005 for the White Sox pitching 10 starts, then moved to the bullpen in 2006. The Rangers traded for him for the rotation, which he had stated was his preference. So far in his short career he has been about league average, in fact his ERA+ is 101. If you look at his numbers on Baseball Reference you’ll see his ERA has gone up and his ERA+ has gone down each year, these trends would be worrying if you didn’t know more than that. In particular, something I have stated several times in the past, is that his ERA since May 1 this year is 3.41, and he has been pitching very well since getting off to a horrible start with his new team. His home run rate has dropped, which is good, but his walks are up and his strikeouts down, which is bad. Worst of all, he’s had a string of injuries which have combined to allow him just 19 starts and 94 innings, and at best he might be back from the DL for a couple of starts to end the season. Given his workload this year though, it may be a good transition to a much higher number of innings next year.

Danks is now 22, and of course made his major league debut this year for the White Sox. He’s gotten 130 innings as the fifth starter, but his 5.51 ERA gives an ERA+ of 83, and his record is 6-12. He’s allowed 26 home runs (compare to 8 for McCarthy), which as we all know can be a killer when you’re pitching in The Ballpark In Arlington. He has suffered pretty badly in run support, in fact in 11 of his 24 starts the White Sox have scored two or fewer runs for him. His run support average is 3.85 runs per game, compared to 5.30 for McCarthy.

What’s interesting about Danks is that he is the opposite of McCarthy in terms of performance. McCarthy had a horrible April and has been excellent since, whereas Danks started very well and has been bad lately. Splitting his season into two halves of twelve starts each, his first twelve through June 13 gave him a 3-6 record with a 4.34 ERA, but the second twelve had the same 3-6 with a 6.72 ERA. Curiously enough there is little in the detail stats to explain the change in ERA: his innings, hits given up, strikeouts and home runs are all almost identical, and he’s actually walked fewer (29 down to 20). OBP is about the same, at .355 to .349, but his SLG went up from .481 to .551, which with two extra home runs, three extra doubles and one extra triple is apparently enough to make a big difference in a small sample. Without delving deeper into his data, I can’t really tell what’s going on to increase his ERA by two full runs.

John Danks

I can however show you his pitch chart for the year.  I have a large number of pitches for him in my Gameday database (1386 with full detail to be precise, out of 2200 overall), and they clearly show what he is throwing.  It’s your standard set really, a fastball (red in the chart), curve (blue) and changeup (green).  Some people have compared him to Zito with what he throws, although he doesn’t feature the curve as much as the other pitches.  Of my tracking, he threw 253 curves, 828 fastballs and 291 changeups (no, that doesn’t add up to 1386, I’m not counting intentional walks or a couple of off-the-chart pitches that Gameday just messed up on), which means he throws about 60% fastballs and around 20% of each of the others.

His curve doesn’t seem to have a great deal of bite to it, either horizontally or vertically (in this chart horizontal is the darker and vertical the lighter color of each pair), and what stands out of all these pitches is how high the fastball goes.  The vertical break on the fastball is averaging 10.8, and regularly going above 15, and that may explain why he is giving up so many home runs.  The higher it goes, the more likely it is to get up as a fly ball, and thus as a home run.

There is really not that much to differentiate between the two pitchers right now.  McCarthy seems to be somewhat ahead, but he’s also a couple of years older.  Danks has the advantage on health this year, but McCarthy’s numbers overall are a little better, and McCarthy is trending down while Danks is trending up.  Danks’ fastball rides high, which means it may have been a good thing not to expose him to TBIA from the Rangers perspective.  Now, having said that, McCarthy actually has a similar vertical on his fastball, but he’s kept it in the yard much better, despite pitching in Arlington.  Just a statistical oddity, or a sign of something good?  I don’t have immediate access to ground ball/fly ball ratios, to see if anything is happening there.

So Thursday’s start will be interesting for Danks, and for Rangers fans.   Will it be a what-might-have-been kind of night?  And if so, will that be good or bad?  Will Danks be trying to throw every pitch at 200mph, to show his old team what they let go?  How many shots of McCarthy sitting on the bench will there be, and for that matter how many shots of Volquez?  All will be revealed soon.  And I apologize for the title, I’m sure it has been and will be used thousands of times over the years.

You can’t teach an old manager

August 28, 2007

Here’s a question for you: how did the Rangers get Ron Washington as their manager? After all, he’d been a coach for the team for a decade, was seen as a strong candidate the last couple of times they were looking for a new manager, and this article says that Washington was the first, best and only choice the A’s could make last October. So how, just a few weeks later, did he get the Rangers job? In fact, it was only a couple of weeks after letting Washington go to a division rival that they promoted bench coach Bob Geren to be manager. Surely they knew plenty about the two of them, and could almost certainly have had their choice, so why let Washington go to a division rival?

Moneyball, the book by Michael Lewis about the A’s 2002 season and the way the team was run, has a couple of interesting parts about Washington. Perhaps the most critical line though, is the one where Washington is quoted saying “Somebody on this team runs and get his ass thrown out and you got all kinds of gurus who tell you that you just took yourself out of the inning.” This tells you enough about him to know that he had a fundamental difference with Billy Beane, that difference being that Beane was emphasizing skills like OBP while Washington believed in speed. My guess is that was the seed (or at least one of the seeds, there were probably others we’ll never know about, but this was the most public) that made Beane know that he could never let Ron Washington run his team, because Ron Washington didn’t think the way Beane wants his managers to think.

So although he gets the Rangers job, was he even really in the running in Oakland? Or was it just a smokescreen, and Oakland was happy that he went somewhere else, with the belief that he would do the bad things that Oakland avoids with another team, and in this case he would hurt a division rival?

Now I’ve got to tell you, in case you haven’t realized from reading this blog, that I believe in statistical analysis. Yes, scouts have their place, but numbers don’t lie like scouts do. They may not lie intentionally, but they see a very small sample of someone and believe they can judge them. I, like many or most sabermetricians, look at a small sample of numbers and ask what it is telling me, and what it is not telling me. So when I look at the Rangers, and Ron Washington, I judge them through that lens, the belief that things like bunting and speed and so on are not nearly as useful as you might think.

Ron Washington, on the other hand, grew up with speed and defense, and never hit much. His career stats show he was a middle infielder, who played for several teams but mostly Minnesota in the 80s, never hit much (career OPS+ of 78, means his offense was worth 78% of the average ballplayer), had hardly any power (20 HR in 1500 AB), not much speed (career 28 steals and 18 caught stealing), and surprisingly enough didn’t field very well (his career fielding percentage was below the league average and his range factor was way below the league), considering he was renowned for teaching fielding in Oakland.

Another section in the Moneyball book quotes him as telling the author he stole 57 bases in one season, and fellow coach Thad Bosley stole 90. This has been ridiculed in various places online, since as noted above he only stole 28 bases in his career. However, looking at his minor league stats, he was probably talking about 1974, when he stole 51 bases in A ball, and I don’t begrudge him being slightly off (it’s also possible the author got the number wrong). That same site does not list Bosley’s minor league record, but Wikipedia says he did steal 90 in the minors, so that part is true. Either way, it does appear he ran quite a bit in the minors but very little in the majors.

The book Management by Baseball, by Jeff Angus (which incidentally has a very interesting blog, check it out if you haven’t already), opens with an introduction about Maury Wills. Basically it says that when managing Seattle, Wills had slow slugger Jeff Burroughs try and steal, to no avail. Wills had been an exceptional base stealer during his career, and tried to translate that to his team when managing. He considered the things he did best to be the most worthy things to do, and wanted others to do them too. This has already become apparent with Ron Washington in Texas, in that he is doing just the things he did best while playing, and ignoring the players he has and what they can do. The team is bunting and stealing much more than in the past, flying in the face of all the latest statistical analysis.

A particular incident stands out, since it was from just a day ago, but it could be taken from many other places this year. On Sunday, Ian Kinsler singled to lead off the game, and with the next batter up, Brad Wilkerson, the Rangers bunted. Admittedly, this was a successful bunt, but it gave up an out for little gain, and it was noticeable when two batters later Sammy Sosa hit a home run, scoring Kinsler, but Wilkerson was sitting in the dugout having followed his managers instructions to bunt, instead of potentially rounding the bases with the others. Now, of course, Wilkerson could have done any number of things if he hadn’t bunted, including hitting into a double play, but the Rangers went for the low percentage chance. There are various tables online showing run probabilities, but using this one you can see that with a runner on first and nobody out, a team will on average score 0.88 runs. A runner on second and one out (as in after the bunt), they will score 0.69 runs. So by choosing to bunt, the Rangers give up the chance of 0.19 runs, not much you say but over time it adds up to quite a lot. As a matter of fact the Rangers have sacrificed 47 times this year, and although not all will be in this same situation, using it as a proxy gives us about 9 runs given up, or almost one whole win based on the 10 runs for a win theory. Yes, there is a time and place for bunting (not least to keep the other team on their toes), but in the bottom of the first, why are you playing for a single run, when you should be trying to establish a big lead?

The Rangers have stolen more this year too, and pretty successfully, currently standing at 70-17 for stolen bases-caught stealing. That’s about an 80% clip, fairly well above the 70% which sabermetricians tend to accept as the break-even point, but with the small numbers involved it would only take a couple of steals to get right back to average. Again, using something that Washington supposedly excelled at, speed, he tries to model the team after himself and ignores current and future realities.

According to Jon Daniels they had a couple of great interviews with Washington, and immediately decided to hire him. I’m assuming they got into detailed information about how he would run a team, specific situations, because otherwise the only things that came out were all touchy-feely things about how he is a people person, and they were looking for that after the Buck Showalter regime went too far the other way. What did Washington tell them about managing a game, about when he would bunt, or steal, or pinch hit, or pull pitchers from the game, or how he would specifically run things? Did they hear any of that? Does Jon Daniels (or Tom Hicks) have a philosophy about running the team, or do they leave that up to the manager? JD does not have a long history in baseball, coming out of college as a management type, so it’s possible he thinks he needs to let the manager choose the philosophy on the field, and his job is just to get him players. If that’s the case, he’s going to be a weak GM, not allowing the team to reflect what he wants it to. Yes, the manager should have input, but I believe that the GM should give him a direction to head in, and if he won’t follow it then he should move on.

When Mark Teixeira left a few weeks ago, you have to wonder what he was thinking. Thanks to this recent interview with Michael Young, we know some of it.  In it, Young says that Tex can’t say enough good things about Bobby Cox.  Now, we know that Tex and Washington had a run-in, where their screaming at each other was heard outside of the manager’s office, and we know that Washington was telling Tex to do things his way.  Obviously Tex is a very good player, who knows what he is doing with a bat, and the implication seemed to be that Washington didn’t think he knew what he was doing.  How much of Tex’s decision to turn down $140 million and be traded was down to Washington?  100%?  No, not even close.  Probably not even 10%, maybe just 1% of Tex’s thought was “I don’t want to play with this guy”.  But if that’s the case, and if the same is happening with others, then Ron Washington and by extension the Rangers have a problem.  Yes, he was lauded in Oakland for his ways with the players, but he was a coach there and he is the manager here.  What’s the difference?

My personal opinion, having watched Ron Washington for just five months, is that he is not cut out to be a big league manager.  He was very successful as a coach (and oddly, when he came on board in Texas, said he looked forward to working with Blalock on his fielding, which is not something a manager should be doing, it’s the infield coach’s job).  But he seems to have ignored, willfully or not, the lessons he should have learned in a decade in Oakland.  Maybe it’s the result of being third base coach, where he doesn’t get to sit in the dugout with the manager and discuss or hear the thought processes.  Or maybe he thinks he knows it all from when he was playing, and that is the way he will always play the game.  He has little if any tactical ability, his decisions on pulling pitchers is terrible (backed by a poor pitching coach), he seems to pinch-hit at random, he clearly plays favorites and rubs some players the wrong way (my bet is that Gerald Laird will be gone by Opening Day next year), and as for the other Moneyball quote, where everything out of his mouth is something that should be in Bartlett’s Quotations, well, I haven’t heard a single thing yet.  I had little clue who he was when he was first mentioned for the Rangers job, I had to look him up online like most other people, and frankly I have little clue who he is today.

I believe he has a two year contract, which is ridiculous, it’s telling people that you don’t have much faith in someone as soon as you hire them.  That means that this winter one of three things will happen:  the Rangers will fire him (saying they didn’t see anything changing), they’ll extend him (with a bunch of platitudes about the ship moving in the right direction), or they’ll do nothing, and he’ll spend a year being a lame duck.  I will tell you right now that I think it’s 50-50 he is still the manager on Opening Day 2008, and in my opinion he is almost certainly not there on Opening Day 2009.  At this point I’m supposed to suggest an alternative, and I think Art Howe was hired as bench coach with the plan that he would take over if and when Washington failed.  He will either be interim manager at some point next season, or a strong contender for the job this offseason.

The little I’ve seen of Washington, I just can’t get into him.  He doesn’t seem to be a very warm person.  He doesn’t seem particularly managerial.  Of course I wish things could work out for him in Texas (in fact, the Showalter curse suggested we should be winning the World Series this year).  He just doesn’t seem to have a plan, or at least to communicate a plan, which means he always seems to be a step behind where we think he should be.

Who was that wearing the Padilla mask?

August 27, 2007

The game reports I read online tonight said that Padilla was good in getting his first win in over two months.  Having watched the game on tv, I have to respectfully disagree.  Granted, it was one of his better performances of the season.  His game score of 61 was in fact tied for his second best of the year (behind the 65 he got against KC two weeks ago), and only the fifth time he’d gotten above 50 all year.  He threw six innings (technically 6+, since he faced three batters in the 7th without retiring any of them), the most he’s thrown since May.  He threw strikes all day long, at a 70% rate which is above average.  He didn’t walk anyone, and only gave up five hits, all singles, and three of those were in the 7th.  The numbers by themselves show that it was a good outing.  So why do I disagree?  Maybe because he’s Padilla?  A little of that, in fact.  Maybe it was because I spent the entire game waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Maybe because he has so many times flown through a couple of innings, even three or four, and suddenly imploded, giving up a bunch of runs before they got him out of there (often even without them deciding to get him out at all).  But I realize that this is the way I’m always going to think about Padilla, for the next two years of his contract at least.  A ticking time-bomb, just waiting for something bad to happen to mess up his mind and make him fall apart.  He’s given us so much of that, and I don’t know what else to think about him right now.  It will take several good outings, and not just for the rest of this year (because I know he has the ability to revert again next year), to turn around my opinion of him.

But it was a nice win, excellent relief work from Frankie coming in with two on and none out, and retiring the side without giving up a run (and making Lopez look foolish while he did it).  Jack was Jack, perfectly efficient, and CJ, well, I just think he has a mentality that if it isn’t a tough situation, he’s not really up for it.  It seems like he’s a little less intense if things are too easy for him.  Looking at his numbers this year, he’s come into the game nine times with a one run lead and not given up a single run.  In fourteen appearances with a two to four run lead, he’s given up eight runs.  That does seem to bear out my suggestion of intensity, doesn’t it?  On the other hand, in seven games that were ties when he entered, he gave up four runs, and in six games when down by a run, he didn’t give up any.  I would have to say small sample size effect.  Hopefully we’ll have a lot more situations in the future to judge how he does when the game is on the line.  Either way, Drew Davison in the game story on the Rangers site said “C.J. Wilson nearly cost Padilla the victory.”, and that’s a load of hooey.  Even when he got the lead down to two, and had wild pitched in a run, I didn’t once think we were going to blow this game, and that’s the exact opposite of my feeling while Padilla was in.

Why did Mark Connor pull Padilla, instead of Ron Washington?  Did he go out to talk to him, and have Padilla say he was done?  I’m surprised Connor then pulled him, for two reasons.  One, I wouldn’t have thought he would have the authority, it’s the manager’s job to do that (albeit with the advice of the pitching coach, of course).  And two, even if you decide he’s done, walk back in and tell Ron, and have Ron go get him.  Not for the authority thing, but simply because you give your reliever an extra minute to warm up.  Okay, he might be warm, and ready to go, in which case I guess you could do it.  But how many times do you see a team waste time to get a reliever ready?  The catcher walks out to the mound, then back.  The pitching coach walks out and back.  One of the infielders walks in there and back.  Then finally, at the last possible second, the manager steps out to the mound slowly, and pulls the pitcher.  I didn’t see when Frankie got up to get warm, but since Padilla gave up three straight singles, and then Frankie came in, he must have gotten up when the inning began, or after the first hit.  Just a weird set of circumstances.

Sosa now says he’s going to play next year, whether for the Rangers or someone else.  A change of tune from May, when he thought he would be able to play five more years, and he’d love to finish his career with the team that first had him.  You have to ask yourself who in their right mind would take him next year.  Of course, you asked yourself that last year, too, and see where he ended up then.  But is there seriously a team that could use him?  He can only be in the AL, because he can’t field much anymore so needs to DH, but he’s not even hitting well enough to do that.  He is hitting lefties though (.956 OPS, vs .664 against righties), so he might get a bench spot somewhere.  I just can’t see anyone wanting to play him every day.  The true contenders won’t, because they don’t have the space to allow a luxury like him.  The terrible teams won’t, because they’re all trying to go young.  Which leaves the teams in the middle, like the Rangers this year.  He’s dead to the Orioles, who’d be a good target for him like they are other washed up expensive players, but of course they already tried him.  White Sox?  Doubtful, with his whole history in Chicago.  Toronto have too much class.  Oakland have taken on some cheap old guys lately.  I’d put it between them and Tampa, who are a terrible team and supposed to be bringing up young players, but they’re also one of the dumbest teams around, so they might look at him and see a few thousand extra bodies in their empty ballpark.  Anyone as long as it’s not us, I guess.

Things are getting so boring around here, the media is actually trying to make a story out of John Danks coming back to Texas this week.  Rumors are flying that he’ll be starting Tuesday, or Thursday (according to the White Sox site, so this is probably the one to believe), or he won’t start at all, or maybe he’ll pitch every inning of every game, presumably beating us with three no-hitters in a row.  That’s the kind of absurdity you will hear in the next few days.  Tonight during one of the game breaks they said “Former Ranger John Danks will pitch Tuesday”.  Excuse me?  Danks was never a Ranger.  He was in the Rangers system, yes, but he never played for the Rangers.  Most of the guys on this team will only know him from spring training, and by media reports, and even then not so much.  Yes, he was one of the heralded minor leaguers in our system, and yes when we traded him it was a shock, but I for one am very happy with the way things have gone so far with McCarthy.  I have nothing against Danks, I know many of the fans wished him well when he left and would like to see him do well, but frankly he’s not part of our team any more so I have little feeling toward him.  Danks and McCarthy have both had interesting years, and I’ll try and do a better analysis of the two later in the week.

A day off tomorrow, which is good both for Michael Young’s back and our patience.  I have a lot of thoughts I’m trying to get out about Ron Washington, I’m going to try and make a run at it tomorrow and see what happens.

Runs, we need runs

August 25, 2007

Here’s an amusing little chart I just made:

Moving Average Runs

It’s a seven game moving average of the Rangers runs scored (blue) and conceded (red) this season. Click on it to enlarge. What’s the obvious thing you see? Of course, it’s the giant spike at the right hand end, showing what a freak show the 30 run game was, how much it affected things. It was a crazy score, something you will almost certainly never see again in your lifetime, something even my two year old will probably never see again. It was a once in a century score. And with moving average, we see just how far out of whack with the rest of the Rangers games this season it was. If I waited until the end of the season to show this, you would see that line drop way back down again, an extreme spike in an otherwise moribund year.

But we can use this chart educationally, to look at just how the Rangers have been doing. Using a moving average eliminates much of the jaggedness of the chart, giving slightly lower peaks and valleys, allowing you to see trends more easily. Now, comparing runs for and against, you can kind of follow along with the season. Long periods where the blue is below the red are the losing times, and where blue is above are winning times. If they run fairly even, the team should be about .500. You can see for most of the first half of the season, the Rangers were below, for a short time they were above, and then back to even and below again. You’d expect to see that reflected in winning, and in general you do.

There are however a few interesting things that the moving average does not eliminate, which includes excessive wins. Obviously the 30 run win obscures a lot of bad stuff around it, you can see the Rangers were falling into a hole approaching the worst of the season when they exploded (and everyone knows they’d been bad in the previous two games). Ignoring that though, May immediately sticks out to me. Remember May? It was the worst of times. The Rangers sucked hard in May, going 9-20 on the month, but looking at the chart they almost seemed decent. What’s going on? In May they scored 145 and conceded 160, which Pythagorean wins would show as a 13-16 month, not 9-20. In fact in May they had three wins of more than 10 runs, and apart from a 9 run loss their next biggest loss was by 6 runs. Those three big wins accounted for 42 of their runs for and 7 runs against, which is a huge margin in just three games. Take them out and you see they’re down to 103-157, which moves them back to a Pythag of 9-17, much closer to what they truly were. For May, they didn’t lose big, they just lost a lot of little games and the three big wins masked the trouble more than they should have.

Looking a little earlier, April was another bad month, barely above water all the way. You can in fact show that through mid-June, the Rangers averaged about 5 runs for and 6 runs against, which is a deadly combination when you’re trying to kick off your season (the actual averages through June 15 were 4.94 for and 5.86 against). At that point it’s even hard to decide who to blame. The offense seems decent at 5 runs per game, pitching is of course bad near 6, but even then I remember complaining a lot about how the offense was struggling. I suspect it is consistency that is the key, meaning that they never got in a stretch where you felt they would get five runs every night, but more a week of two or three runs then one game of 15 to balance it out, as they did in May. At least the pitching was consistently bad.

The high point of the year was late June to late July, a period when they went 23-14 and things seemed to be working. The chart shows the second half of June as being the best of times, when the offense was much the best of the year, and the pitching was running well too. That two to three run gap turned into a lot of wins, but was unfortunately a very short streak. While the pitching kept going well through July, the offense fell away to the same level, leading to a 14-12 July in which the team was outscored by 15 runs. Slow increases on both sides ended up with the pitching going higher and hitting going lower in August, leaving the team (and it’s fans) flat once again. Interestingly, as a whole, both the Rangers and their opponents combined have scored a lot fewer runs per game in the second half. 10.8 runs per game through June 30, 8.3 from July 1 to August 21 (just over 9 through today, which again shows the large impact of 30 runs in one game, it raised the average for two months by 0.7 runs per game). Everyone always says the Rangers start well but fall apart when it gets hot, is this a sign of that? Not just on the Rangers, but their opponents too, scoring 2.5 runs per game fewer between them. Good pitching and bad hitting, something you would never expect to hear about a Rangers team.

This almost turned into a season review kind of thing, which was not what I intended. I was simply trying to show how far out the 30 run game could throw things. I ought to just copy and paste most of this once we get round to October and I do a real review. Now I’ll have to think of something else to say.

Hey, something I haven’t researched, but I’d be willing to bet that the 29 hits the Rangers got on Wednesday is a record for a team that was no-hit in the same season (certainly in the modern era, can’t guarantee those pre-1900 teams). If I had a good database, I could find this out, but a cursory look shows that the D-Backs were no-hit last year and also had a 20 hit game. 29 is of course much more rare than 20, but even that goes to show that a no-hitter is another kind of fluke. Now the Rangers have been close to being no-hit a couple of other times this year, which would make the 29 hit game even more improbable, if that’s possible.

Some comments on other things going on lately, specifically Ron Washington. He (and presumably Mark Connor) have badly mismanaged the team this week. I was shocked that Millwood went out for the 9th inning tonight, he had clearly hit a limit, and in fact ended up giving up an insurance run that took the wind out of the sails. He lost a quality start, his Game Score fell from 51 to 43, all of the positives we could have taken out of it were blown away simply because they wanted to get him a complete game. What’s the benefit of a complete game loss? Especially when you have just one strikeout, and 13 hits, to show for it. Millwood was not on today, but struggled throughout, and to keep him out in the 9th was kind of like putting a nail in the coffin. The unfortunate thing for Millwood is that he’s had no run support lately, he’s been pitching well but has nothing to show for it.

The other one was yesterday, Kam Loe’s start. Remembering that Loe has just spent time on the DL, and had just one game back where he only went five innings, how long do you think he should be left in? You’d start at five innings, but you might want to go to six if his pitch count isn’t too high. You’d certainly be aware of keeping a close eye on him when you hit five innings, wouldn’t you? In fact, in the middle of the 6th, when he gives up a leadoff homer, then loads the bases with one out, you’d have someone ready in the bullpen to come in and save the day, especially with a 3-2 lead. On the other hand, you’ve got the 8 and 9 hitters up, and even though he’s thrown 89 pitches already, you want to take another positive out of it. When Jose Lopez singles to make it 3-3, you think about pulling the pitcher again. Even when Betancourt pops out to the catcher, you think about it, because now you’ve got a tired pitcher, bases loaded, and Ichiro coming up. What do you think will happen? I’ll tell you what will happen, in fact I said it right before the at-bat began. Ichiro isn’t going to hit a home run, because he doesn’t have good power, but I predicted he would double and clear the bases, and sure enough he doubled and cleared the bases. Then what happens? You bring in Mike Wood, and he serves up a home run to Vidro on the first pitch. Boom, game gone, anything positive for the pitcher gone.

This would probably be my primary criticism of Ron Washington this year. He leaves pitchers in too long. Is it Mark Connor’s fault? Yes, at least some of it, because it’s his job to tell Ron when it’s time to get the guy out of there. Of course, Connor looks clueless every time you see him, so if you’re trusting in him you’re already in trouble. But ultimately it’s down to Washington, and with all his experience he hasn’t learned when to get a pitcher out of the game. In mitigation, he spent his coaching years in Oakland where they rode their horses into the ground (Hudson, Mulder, Zito), but if he can’t recognize that our pitchers are not of that quality then he has even more issues than knowing when to pull them.

One of the things I don’t have, and am not sure where to find (without creating it myself) is a database of how pitchers performed against their last batter faced in a game, or in the last inning. I’m sure it’s horrendous, since that’s why they’re pulled, but it would be interesting to compare pitchers and/or teams and see how the results stack up. I’d be willing to bet there’s a lot of cases where Washington has allowed people to get into bad situations before getting them out of the game. One method would be to look at ERA by inning for starters, but that doesn’t really tell how far down they got right at the end of their outing. Another would be to see where they were when they left the game, but again doesn’t tell the whole story. If you knew just the numbers on Kam Loe when he left the game yesterday, you’d see that he left with two out in the 6th, runner on 2nd and down by 3. That doesn’t tell you if he is down 0-3, 7-4, or 30-27. It doesn’t tell you if he gave up three runs in the first, then pitched a no-hitter until giving up a double in the 6th and being pulled. Or alternatively if he no-hit them for 5.2 innings, then fell apart. More detailed analysis might help. In particular I’d like to look at the comparison between the start of the last inning pitched, and when he was pulled. In this case, he’d be at 1 run, 6 hits, 4 k’s, in 5 innings, a pretty decent outing. Comparing perhaps the win probability of the start of the inning to when the pitcher was pulled, and see just how much that changed. Then compare that across pitchers, teams, managers, and see just how Washington compares to other teams. That’s a long project, I think, but it’ll go in my list of things to do.

Willie Eyre is going to have Tommy John surgery, and will miss all of 2008, at least. From the start of the season through June 24, he had a 3.00 ERA in 36 innings. On June 26 he had a spot start, and from that point on his ERA was 7.59 in 32 innings. Pretty clear what the two halves of his year were, huh? I won’t say the spot start did him in, he pitched 4.2 innings in that game (69 pitches), on five occasions before that he’d gone at least 3 innings, once even throwing 71 pitches. I remember that for a month before that game I had said he ought to be considered for a start (we were crying out for pitching at that time). I don’t know if it was the workload in that one game, or in the games after, but he had been struggling. He had a second start on August 4, giving up 7 runs in 2.1 innings, which would appear to be a much more likely indicator of trouble. Sorry to see him go, but ultimately the long man spot in the bullpen is one that you can fill easily and cheaply.

The team is in a funk again and so am I. Every game report you read for the next week or two (possibly even the rest of the season) will mention the 30 run game, usually along the lines of “the Rangers haven’t done anything since they scored a record 30 runs”. The chart I started with shows they’ve not been doing anything for almost two months now. I don’t have a clue what to do to get them going. I don’t think they have a clue either.

30 is fun, but 2 is better

August 23, 2007

That was a pretty good game today, but you always have to be aware of a slack second half performance once you get a good lead.  The Cowboys raced out to a 30-3 lead over the Ravens at half-time, but then slowed and almost tripped up when the backups came in for the second half, eventually running out 39-10 winners.

I kid, of course, and I’m sure you’ll see plenty of other football-related metaphors around the game today.  Today is one of the very few times this year that the Rangers have been in the national spotlight, and probably the first for a positive thing.  I’m not going to recap all the records set, apart from “modern major league scoring record”, I’m just going to bask in the glory a little.  Fact is, a game like this only happens rarely (every 110 years or so), and you shouldn’t read anything into it other than fluke.  It is not a repeatable skill to score that many runs, or to score even half that many runs.  Dave Trombley’s quote from the other end of it is just as appropriate for the Rangers: “You just have to have a short memory and let it go”.  We can enjoy it, but remember that as a team the Rangers still suck.  Not that I want to bring you down at all.  But as was pointed out in a lot of places, they scored more in this game than the last nine games combined (28).  That’s the real Rangers team, and when we look back on the 2007 season what are we going to remember, 30 runs in one game or being 15 games out of first all year long?  Actually, most will probably remember the 30.

I only joined the game on the radio while driving home from work, and at that point it was 14-3.  As soon as I heard that, I said I hope they don’t use up all their runs today, they need to keep some for the second game.  I repeated that a few times throughout the evening, and a few times more as the Rangers stumbled in game two, “only” managing 9 runs, and even then they trailed 7-6 late and had to pull something out to get the win.  But win they did, and a double-header sweep is very pleasing.

Tim Kurkjian was hilarious on Sportscenter, he sounded like he had been sucking helium before talking he was so excited.  And even better was seeing the reaction around the league, the various commentators pointing out the score and saying stuff.  If you read this early enough, try and see it on Sportscenter in the morning.

My role as Mr Negative continues, when I point out that amongst all the rounding of the bases, the Rangers actually struck out 19 times across the two games.  Yesterday I said we could end up with 20 strikeouts since we were playing a double header, and they pretty much realized that goal.   Do all those runs, and the wins, mask the strikeouts?  They do today, but what about tomorrow, when they have to start at zero again?  Which is more likely to show up for this Rangers team, 30 runs or 20 Ks?  Like I said above, which is the repeatable skill?  I really hope that the Rangers continue to hit well, and to win, and even to take this result and translate it into something hugely positive and give the team a kick-start.  But I hope even more that it doesn’t just fade away, that in another month (or in December) we’re not all sitting round saying “hey, remember the 30 run game?”.  I hope this does not mask things in the same way that I hope the small resurgence in the team in July does not mask April and May, in the way I hope that they don’t take small sample sizes (and one game is a very small sample size) and project them out and paper over the cracks and pretend everything is all right.  Bask in the glory, but don’t pretend this is a good baseball team.

One of the things I thought of earlier was the sabermetric value of runs, specifically that on average 10 runs equals one win.  If that’s the case, the Rangers got three wins in the first game today.  Of course, that will also raise their other sabermetric scores, like their Pythagorean Win-Loss record.  After game one tonight, their real record was 55-70.  Prior to the game their Pythag was 56-68, after the game it was 59-65.  In other words, they went from two games below Pythag to 4.5 games below.  There’s a lot of discussion about what Pythag really means, one in particular is how lucky or unlucky a team was (in this case, they’re unlucky, performing below what they should have based on the runs they scored and conceded).  Another is the quality of the manager, there’s a suggestion that the difference between real and Pythag may be the quality of the managing of the team.  If that’s the case, Ron Washington just took a big hit in his credibility.  In fact, in a few years, no-one will even notice the Rangers got 30 in one game when they look at Pythag, they’ll just say wow, 4.5 games below, the manager must have sucked.  In perspective, the Rangers were 6 below Pythag last year and Buck was fired.

Okay, off to bed, we’ll enjoy this again tomorrow.  It’ll be interesting to see what the local papers have to say, hopefully they’ll come up with some good headlines.  We ought to get some more publicity over the next few days about it, remember to enjoy it while it lasts.  It may be a while before the Rangers are being covered for something other than a Santana strikeout-a-thon.

Thank you Mr Bedard, may we have another?

August 22, 2007

We’re not likely to have another string of strikeouts tomorrow, just on the law of averages.  We are likely against Cabrera, who could ring up half a dozen, but since we’re playing twice tomorrow we could end up with another twenty, the way we’re swinging.

Bedard against the Rangers this year:  16 innings, 7 hits, 2 runs, 0 walks, 26 strikeouts.  He was terrible today though, his Game Score was only 70, he had a 98 last time.  Maybe next time he’ll continue the trend and post a 42?  He’ll still beat Padilla though, because Padilla had a 25 today.  That just about sums it up, Bedard was almost three times Padilla’s score.

Be fair, Santana and Bedard are two of the top pitchers in the league.  The Rangers are one of the worst hitting teams, and on pace for record strikeout numbers.  That makes for a lethal mix.  And when you’re playing like a team just waiting for October 1 to roll around (and not for any of the good reasons), you’re going to flail the bats a little, and end up setting some records.  Top of that list will be Most Humiliated For Being A Rangers Fan, and there’s a lot of contenders for that (of course, there’s a lot fewer since the Cowboys went into training camp).

Padilla got back to where I expected him to be, 92 pitches through five innings and that Game Score of 25.  Is there any reasonable hope for the Rangers with him in the rotation?  Or do we just consider him filler for the next two years, until our next shot at winning comes in 2010?  It’s really at the point where you want to skip the first inning, just give the other side two or three runs and be done with it.  Much more painful to actually have to go through it.

Aki says that he ignored two doctors’ advice to not throw at all, and threw on the side to try and get back.  Now he’s going to get a third opinion, and do we believe him when he says if this doctor tells him not to throw he won’t?  It’s been a comedy of errors from the front office in this situation, trying to keep him off the DL so he could be traded, then giving in to the inevitable and DLing him, saying he’ll be back quickly, then allowing him to throw against medical advice.  He’s doctor shopping, trying to get one of them to agree with him that he should throw.  All he’s doing is hurting himself, because he fairly obviously should be trying to get ready for spring training, not for a couple of innings in late September.

It’s the time of year when if you’re a Rangers fan your mind drifts to other places.  And that’s sad, because tomorrow, as the saying goes, it’s a great day for baseball, let’s play two!

Thank you Mr Santana, may we have another?

August 20, 2007

A short and not very sweet analysis tonight, just like today’s game. Here’s what Gameday showed Santana throwing against the Rangers today:

Santana 8-19

I get three pitches in there, although I’m not 100% positive there’s not a fourth hidden away.  Top is clearly the fastball, thrown at 90-94 (which proves the problems with accurate analysis of Gameday data, because in his start last week in Seattle, it got him at 93-96.  The calibration is still not there, either that or there are more significant differences between ballparks than I thought or ever read about).  Below, in red, from 80-85, is the changeup.  And those few little green dots to the left are the slider.

At least, that’s what I think.  First of all, the green pitch, only four of them is suspicious, but that’s what the charts show, I could not differentiate any others to match those.  By comparison, he threw about 15 of them in Seattle last week.  But the red pitch, at first I decided it was one pitch, then two, then back to one, then a different two, and finally I settled on one.  In his start in Seattle, there were the clear green pitches in the same place as today, 85-90 mph, horizontal from -1 to 3, and vertical from 2-5.  We see those today, but very few of them.  In Seattle, the red pitches were 81-86, horizontal 4-8, vertical 5-10.  Today the red is 80-85, horizontals from 5-12 and verticals from 5-11.  There was one cluster in Seattle.  Today it almost looks like two, with some dark red horizontals on the left and others on the right.  None of the charts have clear separations though, none of the values appear enough different to make them two pitches.  But there might be.  I just don’t know.

Either way, everyone was talking about his fastball and his changeup today, nothing else.  But when you’re throwing with a vertical above 10, as most of his fastballs were, you’re more likely to be in trouble with the long ball.  Nope.  When your other pitch is all over the place, you’re more likely to be in trouble with control.  Nope.  When your release point is so varied (I didn’t show it, but it looked like something my two year old could have drawn), you’re more likely to be in trouble with the ball going every which way.  Nope.

You see, whatever mojo he had going today, he had it going on good.  He absolutely dominated the Rangers like no-one has since, well, since August 6, when the Rangers struck out 21 times (in 13 innings).  Or since Santana himself did back in May, or Buehrle did no-hitting the Rangers in April.  To be sure, this was pretty darn close to being a no-hitter itself, if not for Sosa’s two hits the Rangers would have been done in again (incidentally, I asked once before if a team had been no-hit twice in a season, and I looked it up and it’s actually happened a number of times).

Santana’s line against Texas this season:   15 innings, 6 hits, 1 run (earned), walked 2, struck out 30.  215 pitches, 150 strikes (which is a hair under 70%, although the first start was 65% and today was 74%, which is absolutely dominant).  First time through he had a Game Score of 76, an excellent score, today it was 95, which is an all-time great performance.  Santana has two Cy Youngs, and although he’s probably going to have to go on a tear to get another this year (if he could drag the Twins into the playoffs he’d deserve it), today he certainly pitched like what he is, the best pitcher in the game today.

Michael Young was made to look foolish as he struck out four times.  During the last at-bat of the game, I said to myself “watch this, they’re going to pitch him low and away and he’s going to strike out”, and what happened?  Two swinging strikes low and away, including the one to end the game.  Mikey wasn’t even close to either of them.  And you know what’s worse?  It wasn’t even Santana throwing them, it was Joe Nathan.  Okay, he’s good, but it just proves the gameplan against Michael Young:  pitch him low and away, and he’ll flail wildly.

I should mention yesterday’s game, which the Rangers won 5-0, because of the return of Kam Loe.  Not sure how much he could throw, and he did look shaky at times, especially as he threw five walks in five innings.  He never looked great, he hardly looked good, but he got through his innings and the bullpen did the rest.  Again they looked shaky too, allowing a lot of baserunners, but some good fielding got us home.  There really is almost an end-of-term feeling about this team now, there’s not many players who are definite write-ins for next year, but the ones who have come up to try out aren’t even looking that interested in playing.  The feeling is one of inertia, or maybe ennui is a better word, just playing out the string.  In a curious decision the Rangers may be sending Loe to the bullpen for the rest of the year, with the idea that they want to see more of Rheinecker.  I can tell you I’ve seen enough of him already to know that he’s a #4 starter at best.  Edinson Volquez is due to start this week, after his minor league plan went well this year, and I’d much rather see him than Rheinecker.  The scary part is that TR Sullivan today talked about potential free agents, saying the top two were Livan Hernandez and Carlos Silva.  If the Rangers are bringing in guys like that, they’re pretty much waving the white flag as soon as they sign them.  They’re throwing away good money, getting poor or useless returns, and wasting time which could be used looking at guys we already have.  Kind of like what they should have done with Rheinecker about two years ago, and what they need to do with Volquez now.  They’re too good at letting guys rot in the minors for too long, spending a lot of money on poor stop-gaps, as they try and execute their one-year plans to win.  Hasn’t worked for eight years, why do they think it will start now?

Short term trade values

August 17, 2007

I promised a pic of Rusty at his induction into the Rangers Hall of Fame.  As it so happens, once I downloaded them they were all pretty fuzzy (expensive camera <> good cameraman), and probably not worth looking at.  I’ll try and pick one tomorrow and upload it, but don’t expect much.

By coincidence, I was taking a look at the Braves today to see how Tex was doing, and happened to see that David Justice is being inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame tomorrow (Friday).   Justice happens to be my all-time favorite ballplayer, my interest in baseball began in his rookie year, when he was named Rookie Of The Year, and I followed his career ever since.  For a few years I thought I was a Braves fan, but when he was traded to Cleveland I discovered I was a Justice fan, because I lost interest in the Braves and began following the Indians.  By that time I moved to Texas and became a Rangers fan full-time, which is fortunate because otherwise I might have been forced to become a Yankees fan or Oakland fan when he went to those teams.  I did see him play in Arlington a few times, my memory is not exactly clear but I’m pretty sure we saw him in all three of those uniforms.  I have a few hundred Justice baseball cards, and continue to add to my collection of Justice stuff, even though he’s been retired for years.  Never a Baseball Hall of Famer, but certainly deserves the Braves Hall, just like Rusty deserves the Rangers Hall.  So naturally I’m pretty darn pleased to have seen Rusty inducted last week, and to know about Justice this week.

I was looking to see how Tex was doing out of curiosity, because I keep hearing his name pop up.  In 14 games in Atlanta, he has 5 home runs and 15 RBI, and is generally doing pretty well.  Mahay has allowed just one run in 8 innings, so the Braves have to be pleased with their immediate return on the trade, even though they’ve only gone 8-6 and are still hanging about 3 games back of the Mets.  I’d like to see Tex do well, I think.  Not as much as I wanted Pudge to win the World Series with the Marlins, but still pretty much.  Like I said, too soon to judge the trade, but there are already rumblings about Salty’s lack of hitting so far.  You have to remember he’s still only 22, and has a lot of upside, and we’re only two weeks into this thing.  Give it a couple of years and see how it turns out.  I still think the Rangers will end up with the better end of the deal in the long run.

Speaking of the trades, Gagne has been stinking up the joint in Boston, and while they’re also 8-6 since he’s been there, the Yankees are closing, gaining 1.5 games in those two weeks to sit 5.5 back today.  Gagne’s ERA is 12.60 in 5 innings, and it just reminds me of earlier in the year, when he had to come into a game in the 8th, and didn’t know what to do, and his comments about wanting to be a closer.  There are a lot of cases where guys have been moved into the closer’s role and fallen apart, but I bet there aren’t too many where they’ve moved out of that role and not kept up.  You have to have a certain mentality to close, I guess Gagne’s mentality is too much that way so he can’t handle not closing.  It will be interesting to see how he fares the rest of the way.  Also interesting is all that talk about bringing him back next year, would we want to do that now that CJ has the job, or do we keep faith in CJ and forget about Gagne?

One of the things I’ve been meaning to do is look back at the long run of a trade, specifically Carlos Pena.  In the olden days, A-Rod used him as one of the reasons for coming to Arlington (the 253rd millionth reason, I guess), saying that the Rangers had big young prospects like Pena.  Not long after, the Rangers dealt him to Oakland with Mike Venafro, for Gerald Laird, Ryan Ludwick, Jason Hart and Mario Ramos.  At the time Pena was a top prospect, and it felt like a loss in the immediate aftermath.  Ramos was rumored to be good, but the others were just run of the mill prospects.

In the end, they all played in the majors, although Hart and Ramos just got a cup of coffee each and were effectively worthless.  Ludwick would get little time in Arlington and then go on to Cleveland and now St Louis, where he’s proving to be right around an average ballplayer, and since he’s only 28 could turn out to have a fairly long, fairly average career.  Venafro bounced around, but has only had 68 major league innings in 6 years, so he was effectively worth little after the trade.  Ultimately Pena would go here, there and everywhere, having gone from Texas to Oakland to Detroit for a few years to a minor league stint with the Yankees to a short time in Boston and now with the Devil Rays.  He’s also only 29, and has definitely been above average wherever he’s been (career OPS+ of 114), but he hasn’t really had the opportunity to keep a job anywhere.  His career Runs Created is 325, of which just 16 were with Oakland.

The Rangers of course got Laird as the big chip, and he’s the only player still with the team he was traded to back in 2002.  He’s also been a backup for years, in fact this year is now the most he’s played in a single season.  His career RC is 94.  Rumors are all around that Salty is going to take the catching job, and Laird will be traded (the Cubs keep coming up in those rumors).

Back in the day that trade was huge, comparable to the Tex trade this year for size although it was all prospects.  The difference being they were all high level prospects (none of the players coming from Oakland had played in the majors, Pena had just a few games with Texas, and although Venafro had three years in the Rangers bullpen he hadn’t set the world on fire, he was probably the equivalent of Mahay in the Tex trade), whereas with Tex there were some major leaguers and some low level prospects traded.  As I said Pena was considered a huge prospect, and although he’s been decent he certainly hasn’t set the world on fire.  Laird has also been decent but less so.  Whenever teams talk about trades they talk about win-win situations, and challenge trades.  This was a challenge trade, basically saying we’ll take your prospects and you take ours, and see who works out.  For Oakland they basically got nothing out of it, a year of little Venafro and half a year of Pena (although they did turn him into a big trade which mostly just lost them Bonderman).  For the Rangers three of the players were gone in a year, but one is still hanging around trying to prove himself.  You’d call it a loss-loss trade, I think, but that does a disservice to Gerald, so maybe you’d say it went about 60-40 in the Rangers favor.

Even after all this time, judging the outcome of the trade is difficult.  To look back just two weeks and say that you’re waiting for the Tex trade to help the team is disingenuous at best, from the Rangers standpoint.  I read a review of the Tex trade right after it happened, it said that the Braves will win the trade if they make the playoffs this year, but the Rangers will win if one or more of the prospects make the majors.  Let’s revisit in about five years, which may be the timeline for some of those prospects to get here.

Passing out POTY ballots

August 16, 2007

Who’s your Texas Rangers Pitcher Of The Year for 2007? There’s still a little way to go, but the contenders narrow themselves down by the day. In the rotation, most of them have sucked for most of the year, with occasional bursts of good performance, but not enough to lift them into POTY contention. McCarthy might have been, what with his 3.41 ERA since the beginning of May, but he’s only pitched 74 innings in 14 games in that time, and in fact today he once again went on the DL, this time with a cracked shoulder blade (which leaves one wondering how good he would have been if healthy in that time – or better yet, how do we crack some of those other guys shoulder blades?).

In the bullpen there are, as usual, several good candidates. Gagne would have been one, but he was only here half the year, so he loses credit for being traded. Aki will have missed half the year with injury, so he’s out too. Mahay did some good now and then, but he’s gone, even Willie Eyre stepped up and performed well at times when he was needed badly. But really, as you probably already guessed, there are only two real candidates: Joaquin Benoit and CJ Wilson. As all around them have come and gone, those two have been steady as rocks, coming up with the goods day in and day out, and so with a month and a half left to go, it’s time to compare them as they stand now, and set them up for a grandstand finish in the POTY race.

Benoit started the year in the seventh inning slot, setting up for Aki and Gagne to end out games. Of course, early on, the offense and the starting pitching didn’t get the team into position where the back three were needed that much. But Jack has pitched well, used a lot with just one day’s rest, and used with the game tied or with a one run lead. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is about 3.5 to 1, which is excellent, especially as he’s striking out about 10 batters per 9 innings. His ERA is 2.71 as I write, which is a little deceptive because he gave up 6 runs in 1 inning in an April appearance, and 4 runs in 2 innings in a June appearance. Take out those two appearances and for the rest of the year his ERA is an astounding 1.35.

CJ’s role was as a lefty early on (not that his role could be anything else!), coming in early or the middle of the game, wherever needed to get some innings in. As time went by though, his role got bigger and bigger, and with Aki and Gagne gone, he finally moved into the closer role at the beginning of August. I had said for a couple of months that I thought he would be the closer one day, but I did not even expect it to be this year, let alone as soon as it was. CJ has mostly pitched on one or two days rest, and has varied the times when he came in, although of course now he’s the closer he’ll get a lot more leads in the ninth to keep hold of. CJ’s ERA is now 2.29, and although he’s struck out about one batter per inning, his walks are a little high at almost one every other inning. He has improved as the year has gone on in walks though. He’s given up two or more runs in five appearances (including tonight, although he did still get the save), take those out and his ERA is 0.71. That’s not quite as fair as taking out those two for Jack though, since they’re a lot more regular. Still, excellent work, and in fact CJ did just go through a period of 12 or 13 innings without allowing a hit.

Let’s take a look at what they’ve been throwing this year, starting with Joaquin Benoit:

Jack Speed HV

He has three pitches, this chart shows the horizontal and vertical breaks on them, related to speed. For each pitch, the darker color is horizontal, lighter is vertical. You can clearly see the three pitches, fastball in green at the top, slider in the middle in blue and the red changeup at bottom. He doesn’t have a curveball. His fastball runs 90-95 mph, the slider 85-92 and the change about 80-86. Of the 596 pitches I have for him in my Gameday database, he threw fastballs just under half the time, sliders just over a quarter and changeups just under a quarter.

Jack Horiz Vert

Looking closer at just the horizontal and vertical breaks, you can see his fastball and change break to the left, his slider doesn’t break much horizontally at all. The fastball is a little high, coming in at about 10 inches, but the other two pitches average about 5 inches, which helps keep the ball down.

Jack Breaks

Looking at the breaks, the angle of his fastball is pretty high, averaging about 40 degrees, while the other two pitches have pretty good length on them, mostly in the 6-8 inch range but regularly getting up to 10 inches.

Benoit is a righty, of course, so let’s look at the lefty Wilson:

CJ Speed HV

CJ shows four pitches, although without the color coding it initially looked like just three. The fastball at the top is really two different pitches, as we’ll see in a moment, both thrown at 90-95 mph. I’ve been trying to figure out all night what the other two pitches are, and I finally decided that the green one is the slider, at 80-85, and the red one is the mythical gyroball. I decided that because the green pitch is in a similar position to sliders I’ve tracked with other players (compare to Benoit’s above), and because of the publicity about the gyroball and how variable it is. In addition, CJ has said he’s thrown the gyro about once every appearance, and with 50 appearances under his belt, the red pitch appears 54 times in my database and the green 74.

CJ Horiz Vert

Now take a look at the horizontal and vertical breaks by themselves, and you’ll see why I separated the fastball into two pitches. Funnily enough, while the previous picture was harder to tell apart without color, this one was easier to tell apart when it was black and white. At that time you could clearly see a gap between what are the blue and purple pitches. Combining this chart with the one above, which separates the green out, we see what happens with the pitches. The blue fastball is averaging a horizontal break of 4.8 inches, and vertical of 9.1. The purple fastball gets a horizontal average of 9.6 and vertical of 5.9. If you look closely at the previous picture, you’ll see the dark blue and light purple together, and dark purple and light blue together. This is what distinguishes the two pitches. Again, a lot of research uncovered an article on ESPN.com from Jerry Crasnick, which said he throws a live fastball and hard sinker. Because of that I conclude the purple pitch is the sinker (it has the lower vertical) and the blue is the fastball.
CJ Breaks

Break angle and length show the distinctions in the pitches as well. In this case the sinker is breaking a little more than the fastball, and about the same rate as the slider. The gyro is much more variable.

I have 584 pitches tracked for CJ, just 12 less than I have for Jack. He throws the fastball about 46% of the time, and the sinker about 32%. The slider and gyro are thrown about 12% and 9% respectively.

So far everything’s been even, they’re both throwing well with a variety of pitches, with a lot of strikes and not many walks. At this point they’re fairly even, but there’s one thing left to look at. Look at the Rangers charts on the Fangraphs site, and scroll down to the relievers.  There’s a number of stats here, but I want to focus on a couple of them.  Leverage is a rating of how crucial a situation is, for example a runner on first with none out in the first inning is not nearly as important as a runner on first with none out in the ninth inning.  In the chart, the stat pLI is the average leverage situation the player has appeared in.  You can see that Gagne and Aki are around 1.65, meaning 1.65 times the average leverage situation for all players.  Jack shows up at 1.35, and CJ at 1.03.  This means that Jack has been trusted with more important situations that CJ has, so far this year.  I would expect this to change, now that CJ is closing, but so far Jack is ahead.  The other stat to look at is WPA, or Win Probability Added.  This is the likelihood that a team will win given the game situation, and the change therein based on the player’s performance.  If you pitch badly, pushing your team towards a loss, this will go down, and if you pitch well, especially in high leverage situations, your team’s chances of winning will go up.  The better you do, the higher your WPA.  In this case, Jack has a 2.40 WPA, higher than anyone else on the team, including the batters.  CJ at 1.05 has done pretty well too, but Jack is head and shoulders above in this stat.  The final stat, BRAA, is Batting Runs Above Average, meaning how many runs more than an average player have they scored (or how many fewer have they given up, in the case of pitchers).  This somewhat tracks ERA, but gets better the more innings you pitch with a lower ERA.  CJ is leading in this category, in fact leading all Rangers including the hitters, but Jack is just a little way behind (and look at how terrible the rotation has been).

What is there to conclude from all this? They both have a range of pitches and they’re both throwing them very well this year. They’re both excelling in what they do. With the loss of other pitchers via injury and trade, these two guys have stepped up and taken charge. If the Rangers were to suddenly find themselves in contention, I would be very happy having CJ and Jack running out there for the 8th and 9th innings, and I would be confident the Rangers would get good results with them. Overall I give a slight edge to Jack right now, but there’s still a month and a half left for CJ to make his case for Pitcher of the Year.