Archive for September, 2007

Absence makes the bats go quieter

September 26, 2007

Blogs are funny things. There are about three gazillion of them out there, and apparently most of them die a quick death, last just a post or two, or a month or two, before the owner gets bored and moves their attention elsewhere. I’ve read about there being a tipping point, and I don’t know exactly when it is, but possibly somewhere around six months is where a blog will have either died and been buried, or will end up lasting for years. There aren’t many in-between blogs, is what they say.

This blog is approaching the six month mark now, and early on was getting a daily post, on occasion more than one, but for the last month or so it has certainly fallen off to a trickle. Lately I’ve been writing very sparingly, I think about half a dozen posts in September, which works out to about two a week. You could be forgiven for thinking that I’d given up and gone home, gotten bored with it, or any of a hundred other things. You might be wondering when the day will come that you’ll realize you hadn’t seen anything from me for a while, and assumed it was just another deceased blog amongst millions.

Nope, I’m still alive and kicking. I’m as enthusiastic about the Rangers as ever, about baseball, about the blog, and about all the stuff I’ve done this year. What I’ve gotten into is a sort of terminal phase of the Rangers season. Yes, people will tell you there is a pulse, that they’ve been playing well for a few months, but the patient has been on life-support since April, and they’re about to pull the plug. Heck, we couldn’t even muster the enthusiasm to drag ourselves to a game in this last homestand. We talked about it, but ended up going and seeing balloons in Plano instead (having escaped the mile long traffic jam, and parked on the other side of 75 as the balloons flew right over our heads), and after that we didn’t feel like getting out on Sunday to see a ballgame too (especially since they couldn’t even give details of their Fan Appreciation on the website – if they’d said for sure that players would be greeting folks at the gate, and you could run the bases afterwards, we’d probably have been there.  But they didn’t, so we weren’t). I love the Rangers, consider myself a diehard fan (not as diehard as some, but certainly more than most), but I think I’m finally in the fifth stage, that of acceptance that this will just be another sucky season in the Rangers history books. And going through that makes it hard to get motivated every night to write just another little spiel counting down Michael Young, or talking about some other prospect who’s doing okay, or ranting about how bad Ron Washington has been doing things (boy, I could have written a few of those this week!).

But there’s one other thing that has held me back from writing. It’s September. In just a few days, the season will be over for the Rangers, and I’ll be able to look at complete sets of numbers for the season, instead of partial ones. If you’re thinking of Vicente Padilla, as I have been for most of my waking hours this past week, what can you say? Hey, he had a bad year, but did some good at the end? I could have written that a week ago, and then watched him start a fight and get suspended and have arguments with people and be called out by his manager (did Ron Washington really say that stuff about him? About being stuck with him for two more years?). Or, I could wait just a few more days, and maybe he gets that last start in on the last weekend after all, largely invalidating everything I’ve said?

If you read baseball online, and I’m not talking ESPN or the other big places that cover it, but rather the interesting blogs (by which I mean the ones that cover stuff that is interesting to me, not you), you may have noticed that many of them have dropped off in frequency now, and I suspect it is for the same reason, waiting for complete datasets. Just look at the Hardball Times, or Baseball Prospectus, and take a look at their feed history. Even those guys seem to have stopped doing stuff lately. Now, maybe they’re all hooked on the pennant races, which frankly I barely care about since the Rangers aren’t involved, but I doubt it.

So, what am I saying? I’m saying hang in there, I predict an explosion of info and posts from me and from people all around the blogosphere, starting next week. For example, I’ll be doing my season in review of the Rangers, looking position by position, that’ll fill much of October. Then there’s all sorts of deeper analytical stuff I want to get into, that could take much of the winter. And finally, for a couple of years I’ve been writing a multi-part piece about Nolan Ryan, now I have the place to publish it and so it’s time to dust it off, clean it up, and get it out there.

In short review of the Rangers recently and for the next few days:

Michael Young needs three hits in the last four games. He’ll probably get there.

Ron Washington’s brain seems to have melted down, and he’s been trash-talking most of the team. Jamey Newberg wrote a good piece on it a couple of days ago (it’s hard to link to individual pieces on Jamey’s site, but if you search the archives for the piece titled Meddle-Management, dated 9/23/07, you’ll find it).  Basically Ron’s way of motivating people for next year seems to be “you’re not good enough, so we’re looking for someone to replace you”.  To be charitable to Ron, my guess is that’s exactly the motivational speech he heard from his managers every year of his career.

Mark Connor:  “This is the most frustrating season I’ve had as a pitching coach, for sure”.  I can’t imagine that being the case, because he hasn’t done anything to be frustrated about – like coaching.  The irony is that Rudy Jaramillo is the one without a contract this winter, when he’s the only one who’s actually done anything around here.  Connor’s just sat there like a grumpy old geezer, not coaching anyone, not having a clue about what to do with the pitchers, and certainly not having them prepared for the season, or even for a game.  I don’t know who else is out there, but anyone would be better than him, because the players clearly don’t buy into anything he says.

Marlon Byrd had an outstanding June, which pretty much carried him all year since he sucked in July and August, but he’s improved a lot here in September.  I’d like to see him back, but since Washington said he needs two outfielders, Marlon may be the odd man out.  If we don’t keep him, he’ll fit in somewhere.

Galarraga’s start yesterday was ruined by Washington.  Say all you like about wanting to leave him in to get five innings and a shot at the win.  You don’t get a shot at the win if you keep giving up runs.  The guy hadn’t pitched hardly at all in two weeks, and you give him 87 pitches to blow up?  You want something positive, pull him when he’s starting to melt down, not when he’s done.  Now he goes into the off-season (assuming he doesn’t get another start, which might actually be possible) thinking about giving up five runs in an inning, not about having thrown four shutout innings.  Okay, he’s heading to AAA anyway, but you know he’ll be thinking about yesterday when he gets sent down in spring training.

The last time the Rangers didn’t have a 100 run player was 1992, and 100 RBI player was 1990 (excluding strike-shortened 94 and 95).  Right now Kinsler has 93 runs, and Young and Sosa are tied for 90 RBI.  In four games, that’ll be a stretch for any of them to get to 100.

Our season of discontent is almost over.  I say that like it’s an odd thing for Rangers fans to be discontented.  There are positive signs and there are negative signs around this team.  You can choose for yourself which it is, when I say I’m going to be posting for a long time to come.

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Yet another 70 win season

September 20, 2007

Ron Washington supposedly made Vicente Padilla apologize to the Rangers for his performance on Sunday, where he hit the second batter and was ejected, putting the bullpen in a bind.  Now, Ron had also said he didn’t think Padilla hit Swisher intentionally, so why would he make him apologize?  What did Padilla think of that?  Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall while he was talking to the rest of the team?  Think any of them cared?  Doesn’t this all sound just a little high-school?  Or maybe kindergarten, where the teacher tells one kid to apologize to another?  Ron was supposedly going to be a player’s manager when he came aboard, a reputation which took a knock after the Tex brouhaha, and I think takes another knock here.

I’m pretty sure Buck Showalter’s streak, of teams winning the World Series the year after he leaves, is going to end.  You know, given that the Rangers are 18 games out of the wildcard, with 10 to play.  Oh yeah, they’re also not going to reach .500.  But they will have yet another season of mediocrity, a 70-something win season.  This will be nine seasons of winning 70-something, with the exceptions of 80 last year and 89 in 2004, which in retrospect was not so much a Great Leap Forward, but more of a One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.  Someone ought to tell them there’s no percentage in doing this every year, that they’ve got to bust out of the cycle.  Being a little below average every year is doom for a team.  You don’t go low enough for good draft picks (although that’s not as important as in football), and you don’t go high enough to contend.  A team with a record like this is just scaring away the good free agents.

Speaking of, Torii Hunter spoke out today, saying he’d like to join the Rangers next year.  Okay, that’s a stretch, but here’s the two quotes you need to know:  “Whatever moves they’re making, if they’re good, then I’m going to do it because they really do have a better chance than anybody [of signing me].”  That sounds good, doesn’t it?  But the second is “I still want to win, though, that’s what matters to me.”  Yeah.  Torii, much as I’d love to throw 75 million over five years at a 30-something in great risk of falling apart, the Rangers are better off without you, and you are better off without us.  The Rangers are not going to win anytime soon, and we have much better uses for 15 million a year, specifically pitching.  If we’re going to go for a veteran center fielder, it ought to be someone like Kenny Lofton this year, or potentially Mike Cameron next year, who we can bring in and trade in July for some prospects.  We need to be bringing young outfielders through, we have Borbon now in the minors with his clock ticking, he’d need to be up before a Torii contract was over, but better yet we have David Murphy right now.  He definitely needs more playing time, and a lot of it in center.  It’s a small sample size of course, but I’d have Murphy in center and Marlon Byrd floating next year.  Sorry Torii.  Better luck with a better team, but please don’t use us to try and drive up your price.

Speaking of dumb moves, Ron Washington says he wants Sosa back next year.  Apparently he’s been great in the clubhouse (which is worth exactly zero wins), and of course he is Mr Clutch when it comes to RBIs.  On my to-do list is a look at just how well he’s done with RBIs, compared to opportunity.  Yes, they keep harping on about how he’s leading the team, but for a couple of months he was the only person with any opportunities, because no-one was getting on base back in April and May.  I don’t want to bias my study before I do it though, but suffice to say every at-bat he has next year will be one lost to someone who would help the team in the future (can I hear a Jason Botts?).  No-one points out he’s also leading the team in strikeouts, and is sixth in runs scored.  And of the regulars, he’s one of the few with an OPS+ below 100 (he is at 98).  Depending on how you define regular, Laird, Vazquez, Cruz, and Hairston are the guys below him in OPS+ with more than 150 at-bats.  You want to build a team of those guys?  Will any of them be in Arlington next year?  Ron said that Sosa is still a fan favorite, I would love to know who that fan is.  There was total indifference around here when he hit his 600th homer.  And I don’t just mean me, I mean me, everyone I talked to about it, everyone at the ballpark who was barely watching, everyone watching on tv, and all the media here.  Remember Raffy’s 500th?  A hundred times the local interest.

And while I’m mentioning Botts, Jamey Newberg has been pointing out how he struggles for a month at every stop, and Jamey is very right about that.  Botts in August:  .593 OPS.  In September:  .924.   That doesn’t guarantee he’d have done it all year long, but it would have been worth trying him all year instead of Sosa’s .776.  Sosa’s best month?  September he’s at .952, but that’s only 21 at-bats.  Next best was his .855 from April, and it’s all downhill from there.

The Michael Young watch goes along, and it goes pretty well.  If I’m counting correctly, he needs 10 hits in 10 games.  Our next 7 games are at home, with a little luck he can do it there.  It was a great feeling to see him clinch the batting title at home a couple of years ago, so maybe we can repeat that in the next week.  Although his three errors yesterday may indicate he’s thinking more about the 200 hits, it’s just an aberration.  Kind of like Kinsler dropping the ball the other day to lose the game, he had worked well on his defense, and was doing much better than earlier in the year, so it’s annoying, but not something to worry about.  Just remind him what he needs to do, which is concentrate.  We could all do with some of that.

The Young strike zone, part 3

September 16, 2007

Michael Young now needs 17 hits in 14 team games to get 200 for the fifth straight year. I would say that he will almost certainly do it, barring some kind of injury which keeps him out of a few games. I hope I didn’t just jinx him. He’s averaging about one and a quarter hits per game that he plays, which would give him 18 over the 14 games left. Now, if he slips for a few, he might be in trouble, but I think he’s just as likely to have a four hit game. What’s odd is that he had an 0-4 today, and the ESPN report said it broke his career high 14 game hitting streak. I am very surprised he hasn’t had a hitting streak much higher than that, in fact I would have expected at least a 20. I don’t know what that means, if he is not so streaky, but more consistent, or what.

There’s a few interesting things to point out about his shot at 200 hits. First of all, only 20 players have ever had five or more seasons of 200 hits, and only six of them had five consecutive seasons. Five of the six consecutive are in the Hall of Fame (Wade Boggs, Charlie Gehringer, Willie Keeler, Chuck Klein, Al Simmons), the only exception being Ichiro, who will probably be headed there one day. That’s interesting company. Many of the rest of the 20 are also in the Hall, in fact so are many of the 15 who have four seasons of 200. Is Michael Young bound for the Hall of Fame? By the way, of active players, Jeter is also 17 hits from 200, which would be his 6th season of 200. Juan Pierre (177) and Vlad Guerrero (176) are both trying for their 5th seasons, but they might be a bit too far away. Ichiro already reached his 7th, the only player with 200 hits so far this year.  The consecutive season record is 8, by Wee Willie Keeler, then Boggs and Ichiro at 7.  The record for 200 hit seasons (not consecutive) is held by Pete Rose with 10, then Ty Cobb has 9.

A while back I reported on his strike zone, and showed that I thought that it didn’t seem to matter where in the strike zone a pitch was thrown, the rate of result was the same, except for the down and away pitch. I looked at several batters and saw the same pattern, and didn’t know what was going on. I argued that the percentage of fouls, of hits, of outs, and of swinging strikes was roughly the same across all zones for the batter. This did not make sense, because everyone knows that batters have hot and cold zones. I am still perplexed by these results. I haven’t been able to do any kind of breakdown that would show something different, based on all the pitches. If this is the case, then it seems that random pitches thrown in random locations would give the same result.

I finally found a hitting zone chart for Michael Young online. Problem is, I can’t match it, for the simple reason that I’m using Gameday data and it’s not complete for Michael Young, or anyone else for that matter. I tried tracking them for the last week or so, but even that was impossible, because I could not make my pitch data match their strike zone. The strike zone is presumably a personal preference, or at least a programmatic preference, because I was able to follow some of theirs where a hit was recorded in one zone but an out in the same spot recorded in another. But their chart is still interesting, in that it shows his down and away to be his only weak spots, like I did. That at least tells me I’m on the right track.

Without putting all the numbers in, I can tell you that the highest average I have for him is.583, in the up and in zone. Dead center I have him at .415, whereas down and away I have him at a miserable .136. In all these cases, by the way, small sample sizes are very evident, as my largest zone, center, I only have 41 results (hits or outs). Of course, outside the zone it gets even worse.

I defined my zone horizontally as starting from the 0 point, dead center of the plate, taking three inches either side (technically, from -0.250 to 0.250 in the Gameday data), to make a six inch area. I then stepped out six inches on either side to make zones. Vertically, I went from 1.8 as the bottom line, up 0.567 each zone until I got to 3.5 as the top. Above and below also had that distance. So horizontally I am using 0.500, and vertically a little more. That means my plate is measuring at 18 inches wide, which for me is close enough.

Now I know you’re wondering about how I got 1.8 and 3.5. The Gameday data varies a little, as many people have shown, but in a recent game (9-9), the data had his strike zone from 1.531 to 3.502 (with a couple of variations, but these were the dominant measures). That suggests I’m good at the top, but I’m cutting off almost three inches at the bottom. Why? Here’s why:

Michael Young balls and strikes

This is a chart of the balls and called strikes Michael Young has received this year. Given that these are what is called by the umpire, this should be a fairly accurate representation of what his actual strike zone is. There is some variation, of course, and you have to realize that some of the dots are not really what they should be, but more likely errors from Gameday. For example, I doubt an umpire called a strike on that pitch that’s two feet outside (although most umpires are blind, but that’s another story).

What you see is a strike zone that is very well defined at the top, at 3.5 feet. At the bottom, the variation works out at 1.8 feet, with a couple of strikes below that, but also some balls above. Interestingly, the width of his strike zone is from about -1 to _1, or a total of 24 inches, a little wider than you’d expect.

What you also see is how many pitches are on the right side and down (both balls and strikes). There is a huge number down and away, which shows that other teams know his weakness too. I said before that his down and away zone average is .136, well if you include outside the strike zone, it falls to .093. Shouldn’t this be something that Rudy Jaramillo should be working on? Or maybe they don’t worry about it, since he’s approaching 200 hits anyway?

In the near future, I’m going to expand my look at who hits what where.  Showing Michael Young’s strike zone results don’t answer the questions I posed in the earlier post, namely that hitters seem to hit about the same anywhere in the strike zone.  This seems contradictory, after having read this post, but I am talking about two different things, namely the batting average here, but the rate of strikes, fouls, etc in the other.  How did I get that result before, and was it valid?  How do I reconcile it to this one?  With luck, and a little hard work, maybe I’ll have a result before Michael Young reaches 200 hits.

Spin those fastballs

September 12, 2007

Another day, another seven home runs. But how do you turn seven homers into just thirteen overall? Easy, just get a bunch of solo shots, because otherwise they were struggling to get on base. Padilla was apparently sharp, and maybe his injury woes and the rest have helped him turn a corner. Hopefully he’ll remember what he’s doing now next year. Hopefully Mike Wood will forget, because he imploded pretty badly, helped by Ron Washington’s slow hook.

I got to listen to the 8th and part of the 9th, because when I got in the car for lunch we were up 11-0, and they said David Murphy had a shot at a cycle, just needing a single. Decided to wait in the car to hear what happened with him, and ended up hearing Mike Wood’s debacle of a performance. In the last few days the suggestion has been that he’s playing for the long man role next year, well, this was not a good audition today. I was so sure Murphy was going to get the single, I waited through five Detroit runs, and then of course Murphy struck out while swinging at everything. I’ve been impressed with him so far, he may only be fourth outfielder material according to the Red Sox, but that could be a good enough thing for him to get four hundred at-bats next year.

Michael Young had a pair of 1-for-4s, so I think he now needs 23 in 18 games.

Game time temp for the night game was 64 degrees. It ought to be 64 here in Texas pretty soon, say, November. (Okay, I kid, actually the low tonight is supposed to be 64, it has been pretty cold and wet the last few days. I’ve almost felt like turning the air up a degree, so it’s not blowing so cool).

Anytime you’re compared to Adam Eaton, it’s a bad thing. Brandon McCarthy tonight gave the Rangers their shortest start since Eaton a year ago. By the way, if you care, Eaton is 9-8 with a 6.28 ERA this year. So it wasn’t just us. I think he was damaged goods coming over from San Diego in the first place.

McCarthy shouldn’t have been out there, of course, but for some reason they decided he didn’t need to rehab. Errr, maybe because the minors are done for the season? Anyway, he clearly wasn’t ready to start, which has been the story of the Rangers’ whole year, and something has to happen in the winter to change that problem, or the Rangers will be fifteen games out before they blink again next year.

Another game in Detroit tomorrow, then out to Oakland. I’m flip-flopping again, it would be nice to not finish last, but there’s that draft pick to consider. I don’t mean the difference in one slot, which really comes down to a crap shoot. I mean the worry that the Rangers might have the 16th pick, because the first 15 are protected from being lost if you sign a free agent. We should not be looking at big free agents next year, but the ever-present Torii Hunter rumors are out in force again. Too much money, for someone who is too old to earn it. We already have one of those, I talked about Michael Young yesterday. The Rangers are currently in the 11th spot, but surging, and 16 is just four games away. Held by the Cubs right now, isn’t that laughable, since they’re fighting for a playoff spot, just a game back of Milwaukee in the worst division in baseball.

If you haven’t been reading the comments lately, you’ll have missed a few from Mike Fast. Mike produces Fast Balls, a blog where he has been cataloguing Gameday analysis across the internet. This has been excellent stuff, it’s made it much easier for me to find what other people are saying, and I’ve gotten some good ideas and info from it. If you were to read one Gameday site (apart from mine!), read his. Anyway, today he has a post about Edinson Volquez, following on from my post about him on the weekend. Mike takes what I had posted and goes a little deeper, using some spin analysis to separate Volquez’s fastball into a two-seam and four-seam. I had noted that I thought there might be two pitches in there, but I hadn’t separated them, so Mike continues my thought and actually does the dirty work for me. Very good stuff.

Yesterday I said I was working on some stuff for Michael Young. Today I changed topics again, after thinking all day about something to do with pitching, I ran a bunch of counts and charts tonight that were totally unrelated. I have fifty different ideas running through my head, if I could get some of them done there’d be a flood on this site. In the meantime, if anyone knows where I could get career ERA+ numbers for everyone who ever pitched, I’d appreciate it. Baseball Reference has the top 1000, but I don’t know where to get the rest, short of spidering their site and parsing it out, which would be a pain.

Cold pizza

September 10, 2007

I keep reading these crazy people saying the Rangers are 20-10 over the last month, and that’s simply not true.  Okay, you can look it up and see that on the board it is true, but really there is such doom and gloom about the team that it doesn’t feel like they’re winning.  Winning is a relative term, because they’re struggling to get near .500.  And, to use a little perspective, they’ve done that while playing losing teams, only the four against Seattle and three against Anaheim were against teams above .500, and Seattle is in a free fall.  So yeah, Ron Washington will spin it his way, and I’ll spin it my way, and we’ll see who the manager is on Opening Day next year.  As it is, the Rangers are on the verge of mathematical elimination, just five games away (a combination of five Rangers losses and Anaheim wins), which means they held in a lot longer than we expected.  When I was writing them off back in May, saying they would lose 100 games, I thought they’d be eliminated by the All-Star break.

With 20 team games to go, Michael Young needs 25 hits to reach 200.  I would almost certainly expect him to get the mark, for the fifth season in a row.  Only Ichiro has a longer current streak.   Michael has done it with no power, and his OPS+ stands at 101, meaning he is almost exactly league average.  He is following a very classic aging curve, having peaked at 28, and all those years left in his new contract may end up being a millstone for this team.  Not only is he likely not to perform the way he has in the past, but the size of the contract means he won’t be tradeable, especially not to a contender which is where he wants to be.  Much as I love him, I am already dreading the ugly breakup we’re going to have.

We went to the FC Dallas Major League Soccer match on Saturday night, the first time we’ve been to an MLS game.  I’m a huge soccer fan, as you may be aware from some of my previous posts, and I very much enjoyed the game, especially with the 2-0 Dallas win.  We had some disappointments, most notably in that they didn’t have any apparel for an almost-three-year-old to wear, which means all we ended up buying was a foam finger, which Josh fell in love with when he saw.  They’re missing that market, heck, we had Josh in Rangers gear the day he was born.

It was very interesting comparing the demographics with the Rangers.  The Rangers fans would be family-oriented, but much less so than FC Dallas.  If you’re at a Rangers game you’ll see a large percentage of adults, of all ages, and a reasonable but small percentage of kids (by that I mean perhaps 25-30%).  I’ve been to a couple of Cowboys games and they skew much higher to adults.  Never been to Mavs or Stars, but I’d say Mavs fans are the same as Cowboys, and Stars I think head more toward the 20-30-somethings than anything else.  This is a lot to do with economics, in that you pay a lot more to see the Cowboys and Mavs, so they tend to be adult ventures rather than family.  But the point I’m going to make here is that FC Dallas had huge numbers of kids.  Okay, they probably only had about 12,000 in the crowd, but I’d say it was 60% kids.  There were a lot of cases where an adult would bring a whole team of kids, which would skew the ages, but it was highly noticeable.  This is probably the biggest threat to MLB and the NFL, in that the kids growing up now with soccer are going to stay there as they get older, and finally soccer might manage to break through to a wider audience.  I think the NFL will stay #1, and MLB #2, but MLS will challenge the NBA and NHL for the third spot.  Of course, 50 years ago you’d say MLB would be #1 forever, and look what happened there.

A thought for the people running Pizza Hut Park.  The name of the place is Pizza Hut Park.  You have a thousand pizza stands around the place.  So why did I have to wait at least five minutes, if not more, for you to cook me a pepperoni pizza?  Surely by now you know what demand is at your park?  This was my biggest gripe about the place, except for the shirts for small kids.

Oh, and I want to say thank you to the person who gave us tickets at the gate.  We were just lining up to buy tickets when someone offered us their season tickets (or some that they had) for free.  They were pretty good seats, down by one of the penalty areas, and we had a good view of a lot of action.  Whoever you are, you will probably never read this, but thank you.  There was one time at TBIA the same thing happened to us, and we got good seats then, and there was one time that we had extra tickets (Marian’s boss had arranged to get tickets for her, and got too many for our party) and gave two away.   Whoever those people were, I bet they were surprised to be handed two tickets on the second row behind the visitors dugout!  But it goes to show, if you ever have extras, hand them off to someone who could use them – the Pay It Back theory will come back to you.

I’ve been trying and trying to re-analyze Michael Young’s strikezone locations, and things just don’t seem to be coming together.  It’s weird, but I seem to be getting some noise from the ballparks, in that different parks seem to have different strikezones.  That makes no sense at all.  Of all the Gameday stats, I would expect the strike zone to be the most accurate, because it is the most fixed position (at least horizontally).  Now, some of the studies online have shown it to vary horizontally quite significantly around the edges, but I would expect the mean horizontal position to be at zero, or at least in the same position in each park.  Different batters move the mean around some (if you face a lot of righties the mean will move to the right, and vice versa for lefties, because pitchers tend to pitch away), but after controlling for that I’m still getting more variation in ballparks than I’d expect.  For example, the mean strikezone in TBIA is a little to the left of zero.  This messes up my evaluation of Michael Young’s strikezone, because if I set the center at zero everything skews (word of the day) to the left.  Maybe I’ll just present what I’ve got in the next couple of days and see what I come up with overall.

Double-header in Detroit tomorrow, but it’s a split, so one game is at noon and the other at six.  We get to see a little Pudge, and perhaps even a McCarthy sighting will come out of it too.

Switching on a lightbulb

September 8, 2007

Before you get carried away by Edinson Volquez’s two games this year (and yes, it is Edinson with an N in the middle, not Edison as half the media outlets would have you believe), remember that it is just two starts, just eleven innings. Having said that, he’s had an excellent 2007, from being demoted to A ball and working his way back to the bigs. One minor disciplinary misstep a few weeks ago, but otherwise he’s doing well. A few weeks ago I talked about the Rangers’ 2008 rotation, and in it I put Volquez in the “not yet” category, and said he’s a year or more away. Well, I don’t mind admitting I’m wrong, but with the caveat of just eleven major league innings this year, I think he might be a candidate for the last slot in the rotation. There are other stronger contenders, but if he goes on to have a good September, does everything well in spring training, and doesn’t have any more troubles off the field, he might just make it. At worst he’ll be starting in AAA, waiting for whichever of the rotation breaks down first next year. He could also be a long man in the bullpen, but you’d think someone like Rheinecker would be ahead of him for that job too.

Even with just the two starts, and two wins this year, I thought I’d take a look at how he’s been pitching in Gameday. For a guy with a career 1-10 record (who was rushed to the majors and potentially ruined two years ago), he’s been doing some interesting stuff. Here’s how he charts, these are all the pitches he threw in both games (9-1 at Anaheim and 9-7 vs Oakland):

Volquez Speed HV

Three pitches, and actually with the fastball (in blue) I was on the verge of deciding there were actually two pitches in there when I was looking at the other charts my program generates, but finally decided to leave it at one (at least until I have more evidence). The three are the fastball (blue), curve (green), and change (red). A clear and distinct gap between the fastball and the others in terms of speed. His fastball is from 90-96, averaging about 93, but a little high vertically at about 9.2. The other two pitches are very close together, from 77 to 85 mph, but note that the change breaks left while the curve breaks right (the horizontal is the darker color of each pair).

Overall from Gameday I have 107 fastballs, 52 changeups and 21 curves, so he’s not trusting the curve very much at the moment. The fastball is of course his bread and butter pitch, throwing about 60% of them, which you’d expect since he throws it 95. In the first game he threw 94 pitches, 60 strikes, in the second game he had 87 pitches with 52 strikes. Right around 60% of strikes in both games. The pleasing thing is that with 94 pitches in Anaheim he got through five innings, but with seven fewer pitches today, he got an extra inning. He was apparently pulled because of a blister on his thumb, which the Rangers experienced earlier this year with McCarthy, and (I have to get a dig in here) perhaps with a better pitching coach we wouldn’t have to deal with that kind of thing, because the pitchers would be better prepared.

There is one little worry that popped up in the charts I ran. Take a look at his release points:

Volquez Release Point

We saw this pattern once before, with Millwood when he was being pounded earlier in the year (I haven’t checked recently to see if that has changed at all). In this case, he is throwing the changeup from a point below the other two pitches, in this case about half a foot below the others, and that is something that major league scouts and hitters will pick up on. Again, something for a pitching coach to work on, or at least to be aware of. Again, it will be interesting to see how this changes over time.

So another nice start and another win for Volquez. He was helped in a big way by Frankie Cat, who was pulled in a very surprising move by Ron Washington. Postgame quote from big Ron: “I was only concerned about winning the ballgame.” Ron, you have to look at the big picture. Your team has a 3 run lead in the bottom of the 8th. You bring out Sammy Sosa to lead off, the thought being that it was a lefty and Cat doesn’t hit against lefties (10 at-bats this year) while Sosa does. But that’s not the big picture. The big picture is that you had 22,000 fans in the ballpark tonight, best crowd for a while (I believe yesterday it was 17,000, second worst crowd since 2000), and you could have made them very happy, as well as all the folks like myself watching on tv. You could have gotten a little exposure for the team on the news, instead of us having to watch 10 minutes of high school football and something about some Cowboy being injured.

And more importantly, to steal an idea from Gregg Easterbrook, you’re a 66-74 team! You’re not going to make the playoffs! Do something that you wouldn’t normally do! Remember back when Scott Sheldon got to play all nine positions, because Johnny Oates thought it would be something fun for the team? Yes, wins are nice, but Cat could have entered the exclusive club whose membership is just Oddibe McDowell and Mark Teixeira, and given this team something good to talk about. C’mon, Ron, break the mold, stop being a push-button manager and think about what you’re doing, and what your position is.

As it was, CJ tried to throw it away again. I’ve been saying that he should get the one run games and Benoit should get the rest, because CJ is too intense to pitch with a multi run lead (in this case five runs). I think now that Jack should be the closer, and CJ should be used in the earlier innings when the game is on the line. There’s a lot of debate online about when your best pitcher should be used, in the 9th to end the game or earlier, say in the 7th when there’s trouble. CJ would be a perfect guy to try this on, use him when he’s most needed, and save steady Jack for the 9th.

Finally, I reported less than a month ago that this blog had hit 1,000 page views (not counting feed readers), and I was happy about that. I’m even happier to report I just hit 2,000, doubling the views in under a month. A large part of that was due to a mention in an article in Slate, but it’s very gratifying to know that people are reading. There’s an old saying that it’s better for people to think bad of you than not to think of you at all. I’m pleased you all are reading, and hopefully you don’t think bad of me. Either way, I’ll keep writing it, so you can keep reading it.

No White after Labor Day

September 5, 2007

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been (and you probably haven’t), we spent the Labor Day weekend down at Crystal Beach (near Galveston) with family, as we do every year. A long drive in each direction, but a chance to catch up with people, to have some fun in the sun (or clouds, as it mostly was this weekend), to enjoy our almost-3-year-old discovering how much fun everything at the beach can be, with a number of firsts for him, and to get away from baseball. Now, the getting away from baseball wasn’t intentional, but by the time we got round to even looking at the tv it was already Saturday evening, and all we got was the score from Saturday’s game, nothing about Friday at all, or about what happened during Saturday. Paying more attention on Sunday morning (it rained quite a bit so we stayed inside for a while, before heading down to the beach figuring that the water from the sky is exactly the same as the water we were swimming in, although a whole lot less brown), we got to see SportsCenter and the no-no by Boston’s Clay Buchholz. I wish we had gotten him for Gagne, no disrespect to Gabbard or Murphy, who should end up as solid major leaguers, but Buchholz should end up as a superstar, and not just based on his no-hitter, but everything he’s done. As it turns out, Buchholz went to high school with my nephew, something I did not know until Sunday, but maybe I can leverage that piece of information one day (yeah, me and a million others, huh?).

Sunday night was the one good night, because we saw the Rangers on ESPN, the only way we would possibly see them down there. Talking to the folks who live in the Houston area, they said that they used to see the Rangers a lot, but not any more, they’re only on tv down there when the Astros aren’t playing and there’s no other filler shows to put on. A little similar to here, although I think we get more Astros games than they do Rangers. I wonder what drives that? Yes, there’s the franchise competition (our market vs their market), but I think if your local team isn’t playing there’s no reason they couldn’t show others. It’s kind of like the frustration I get knowing I’ll be lucky to see only three or four Seahawks games all season (until the playoffs!), but in that case worse because I know the NFL and DirecTV conspire to stop me being able to watch the game I want. Sooner or later Congress will get on with their hearings into that, and then things will change.

But I digress. Sunday was a great day to watch, especially seeing Hank back at long last, and with a salami to win the game, too. We got a month and a half of him at the start of the season where he showed a few sparks, but with quite a bit of cold in him too, and now we’re going to see another month at the end of the year. It will be interesting to compare the two. He’s had the knock on him of slipping every year he’s been in the majors, and this was his chance to break that streak, but of course being shortened it doesn’t mean as much. Is he “back”? Was he ever gone? He was certainly headed in the direction of losing his job, but then you have to remember that he’s only 26 (27 in Nov), so his peak should be the next few years. I have no doubt if the Rangers didn’t want him, someone would. Hopefully he can turn it around, and I won’t have to write some of the scathing things I wrote earlier this year about him. I have the greatest wish for him to succeed in a Rangers uniform, but as with all players, if he can’t cut it, move along and find someone else.

That move along attitude was biting me again tonight. I was watching them bring in Jamey Wright, and wondering why, when there are no plans for him next year (I assume). It really is time, especially now it is September and rosters expand, to have some of the dead wood sit at the back of the bullpen and watch the future overtake them. There was a stupid question about Jason Botts on the Rangers site in the last couple of days, saying he’s never going to make it and we shouldn’t play him. His past has strongly predicted success, and unfortunately they are going to measure him on a month in the majors. Jamey Newberg pointed out today that he had a poor first month in various places, and then exploded, and coincidentally tonight he gets three hits. If I were the GM I would be writing his name in for next year already, and not worrying about finding another Sammy Sosa or equally worn-out player.

Here’s what I’d be doing if I was GM right now: Murphy, Byrd and Cruz in the outfield every day. We know what Cat can do, we don’t care about Wilkerson, but we need to see these three guys. In the infield, we’re wasting time with Vazquez and Hairston, because we think Blalock will be back. Okay, but don’t read anything into them, they should both be free agents in the offseason, because they are easily replaceable parts. I’d like to see Salty catch every day, but I’d also like to see Laird every day, and that’s going to be the toughest decision of the winter. My guess is Laird is done here, sad to say. He hasn’t shown much improvement with the bat, if any, and I think the clock is ticking. He’s done well at bunting for a hit (not necessarily a great skill to have), and pretty good defensively, but not enough to offset the bat that Salty brings. I think we should get Salty in catching, put Wilkerson at first (just for the heck of it), and deal Laird in the winter at unfortunately a low point. Not all his fault, the organization dicked him around a lot, and didn’t give him the chances he needed a few years ago. But they’ve done that to a lot of people.

On the pitching front, I think we’re set with the rotation, unfortunately. They didn’t do anything this year, why should they next? I said a few weeks ago we are loaded down with third and fourth starters, and don’t have anyone to drag us along with them. The bullpen is really a mess right now, after CJ and Jack what do you have? A bunch of parts that hopefully slot together in the right way at the right time. I read a study a little while ago, I’ll have to find it again, that said the Rangers bullpen was over-rated last year, because they weren’t in high-leverage situations. That’s definitely true again this year. Frankie and Aki are probably going to be in the mix, but there’s a lot of question marks there. Of course, they end up bringing up Bill White, the reason for which I’m not clear, it’s either because he’s been around a long time and they felt he should have a go, or because someone lost a bet.  Seriously, why?  There is nothing in his stats to say he belongs, having spent several years at AA with pretty mixed results.  My only guess is that they felt they should do something, and he was the guy who was expendable, so by putting him on the 40 man roster they weren’t risking losing someone they didn’t want to lose.  Hey, good luck to the guy.  He’ll certainly remind you of that old saying:  If at first you don’t succeed, may as well give up, it probably wasn’t worth doing anyway.  Uhh, something like that.

Speaking of CJ (I was!), Sunday night reiterated what I’d said a few days ago about him. The Rangers should go with dual closers, him and Benoit. Jack would get all the “easy” saves, and CJ should be used for the one run leads. Not because Jack is any less of a pitcher, he’s just a lot more steady. CJ has given me (let alone Ron Washington) half a dozen heart attacks in the last week, and I’ve only watched half the games. If the game is tight, he’s the man you want in there, but if not, give it to Jack and save me from tearing my hair out.

I have so many different studies I’m working on now it’s crazy trying to keep track of them all. I need to keep a list of everything that pops into my head, and prioritize on the immediate vs the interesting. Of course, there’s also the impending end of the season, I have a few things I want to look at but I should probably wait a few weeks and get a complete dataset. And then there’s stuff I think about so long that someone else comes along and gets it done for me, like the comparison of release points among ballparks. This guy has a new blog, and did the study I’d been thinking of, and even stepped through the same ideas I had. It’s nice know that my thinking is being matched by others, that tells me I’m on the right track for what I’m doing. If I was getting radically different results, I’d be worried, but I think the fact that we’re validating each other as we go tells me that the Cambrian explosion as Dan Fox put it may be happening. Fun times to be looking at this stuff.