Archive for October, 2007

I just saved you a bunch of money…

October 28, 2007

…by switching away from the Yankees.

Or at least that’s what we’re supposed to believe.  Yet another twist in the saga of the poor little rich boy took another turn today.  The Rangers save $20 million, but please don’t spend it all on the first free agent you talk to.  More interestingly, there’s an embargo on news during the World Series, so everyone can concentrate on that, but I guess it doesn’t apply to agents.  Still, A-Rod will certainly be sharing front page news with the Red Sox.  How much will that annoy them, enough that they won’t try to sign him (as the commentators speculated they would)?  He sure has a small market though.  Dodgers, Angels, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, Braves?  And by that I just mean teams that might be able to afford him, not teams that may have a need.  My guess is that Boras has had a quiet word with the Angels and Dodgers (he’s from out there) and they’ve indicated interest.  Not that that would be legal, of course, but you know, A-Rod (and Boras) has never cared about being nice to people, unless they’re signing their checks, that is.

Congrats to the Red Sox, I guess.  Yet another anti-climax in the World Series.

Tim McCarver is an ass, but you already know that.  Time and again he was insisting something, only to have the replays that were showing right in front of his face prove him wrong.  I’m watching Manny tagged out at home, seeing three or four replays showing him being tagged on his side before his hand hit the plate, and McCarver’s still saying the umpire blew it, that he must have thought Manny missed the plate.  How does he keep his job, he’s got to be the worst broadcaster in baseball.

So the off-season begins, and I guess our hopes for next year can begin now too.  A whole lot of water will pass under the bridge before the next World Series Champion is crowned.  Let’s hope the Rangers are riding in a boat, instead of treading water like they were for most of this season.

How to measure the relative effectiveness of hitting and pitching

October 27, 2007

I played with some numbers this week, came up with some fairly fancy stuff, then decided to throw it all away and simplify.  My conclusions weren’t unreasonable, I was just digging too far for what I was trying to prove.  After all, once you’ve decided that 2 + 2 = 4, you don’t really need to break it down to (1 + 1) + (1 + 1) = 4, do you?

What I was working on was seeing where the Rangers need to improve to get into contention.  A fairly easy answer, you’d think – pitching.  And you’d be right.  But there’s a little more to it than that, so here goes:

First of all, a little note about what I’m looking at.  I’m analyzing the American League from 2000-2007.  That means there are 112 teams, and 32 of them made the playoffs.  Any numbers I reference will apply to that dataset, unless I say otherwise.

Wins:  Overall, for the decade so far, the Rangers rank 10th in wins, with the obvious suspects (Detroit, Baltimore, Kansas and Tampa) behind them.  At 610, they’re a long way behind the leading Yankees with 773.  Sadly, 2nd, 4th and 5th spots are held by Oakland, Anaheim and Seattle, showing just how much they’ve left the Rangers behind.  The Rangers are in a bit of a gap right now, 34 behind Toronto and 41 ahead of Detroit.  It will take quite a bit for that to change in the next couple of years – could they finish 17 games ahead of TOR, twice in a row (doubtful), or 21 games behind DET twice in a row (actually, quite possible now, this year they were 13 back of DET, and you can only assume they’re going in opposite directions).  But as it stands, you’d probably be pretty safe putting your money on the Rangers finishing 10th for the decade, and that’s just about right given their performance.

Runs:  Given the win totals, you may be surprised to discover that the Rangers are third in runs scored (6783), behind the Yankees and Boston.  Obviously scoring hasn’t been a problem, although probably a lot of this is due to the Ballpark producing runs that other places don’t.  That, or that the Rangers have always been able to hit pretty well (more on that later).  The rivals in the division all scored in the middle of the pack.

Runs conceded:  Ahh, here we see why they’re 10th in wins.  Having given up 7073, they also finish third in allowing runs, not too far behind KC and Tampa for the worst pitching.  We also see why the division rivals did so well, OAK, LAA and SEA finishing first, second and fourth in runs allowed.

Run differential:  They’ve allowed 290 runs more than they scored, which puts them in 10th place.  Actually, the differential across the league almost exactly follows wins, validating Pythag (not that it needed it).  In fact, OAK and BOS swapped places, and CLE dropped two spots in their wins compared to differential, but otherwise everyone was where they were supposed to be.  The Yankees scored 1049 runs more than they allowed to lead.  The D-Rays allowed 1349 more that they scored (presumably not all to the Yankees).

Okay, those are some pretty simple numbers to look at.  In summary, the Rangers are 10th out of 14 teams, and they pretty much deserve to be there.  It’s all about the pitching, too.

Baltimore, Kansas, Tampa, Texas and Toronto were the five teams who never made the playoffs in that timeframe.  BAL, TOR and TB have an excuse, playing in the AL East where they have no chance of competing with the money men in Boston and NY.  KC and TEX?  Doormats for their divisions.

Looking at how teams made the playoffs, we can see some patterns.  The obvious ones are “score more runs” and “allow fewer runs”.

Ranking all 112 teams by runs scored, 16 of the top 21 teams made the playoffs.  The rest scattered throughout, but skewed towards more, with the 05 White Sox ranked 84th being the lowest scoring team to make it.  If I was to put a dividing line though, it would be at 26 out of 54, which is close enough to 50% of teams making it.  That run total is exactly 800 – meaning if you score 800 or more runs in a season, you’ve got about a 50% chance of making the playoffs.

The problem with that though is that the Rangers have scored over 800 every year, with a low of 816 this year.  Obviously the pitching is weighing them down more than we thought.  Either that or the Ballpark is really inflating those numbers.  Unluckiest Rangers?  2001, scored 890 to rank 15th.

So let’s turn to pitching.  Similar pattern:  19 out of the top 32 made it.  Lowest was again the White Sox, 2000 this time, who allowed 839 runs.  This time I’m going to put the break-point at 790, which is where 25 out of 52 teams got to the playoffs, or once again just about 50% of teams.

The Rangers had a year with 784 (2004) and a year with 794 (2006), and then you jump down to 844.  As you keep going down and down, you discover the bottom of the list, where the Rangers fill three of the four worst pitching spots (interrupted by KC at #2).  Worst was the 2000 team, with 974 runs allowed.  Yep, it’s the pitching.

Okay, so the hitting for the Rangers has been good, every year they’ve been above that break-even point for making the playoffs.  The pitching has been bad, just one year barely above the break-even, and most years way down in the dumps.  Can’t argue with the numbers:  it’s the pitching.

But it’s the differential that counts.  When I calculated the R-squared values for runs, runs allowed, and differential against wins, the differential easily is the most reliable predictor of wins.  Runs gives an R-squared of .487, and RA gives .513 – both reasonable values, showing they’re pretty useful predictors.  But differential gives an R-squared of .900, a highly significant result.  Look at differential and you can almost exactly predict the wins.

I then tried something a little interesting, and came up with a result that was a lot interesting.  I took the formula for the linear trendline for differential (y = 0.100x + 80.81, which pretty much matches the theory of 10 runs equaling one win by giving an 0.1 on the x value, and if you’re wondering why the last number is not 81, it’s because interleague play means there are not the same number of wins as losses), and plugged it in against both the runs scored and the runs allowed.  That should show where the wins are coming from.

Here’s an example, the 2004 Rangers.  They scored 860 runs.  Plug in the formula and that equals 88.48 wins as a result of batting.  They allowed 794, which results in 81.32 pitching wins.  The batting was good but the pitching was barely average.  How did they then win 89 games?  Well, I discovered that if I multiply the batting wins by the pitching wins, then divide by 81, I get 88.83, which rounds to 89.  This makes sense, because what I think I am saying is that the hitting won 88.48 against average teams, and the pitching won 81.32 against average teams, and if you combine them they get slightly better.  Anyway, by doing this math against all the teams, I found a highly accurate predictor of wins, in fact the two numbers (wins and this combined result) correlate at an R-squared of .894.  I think I can use this to show just how much a team’s hitting or pitching was worth.

What’s interesting is how the multiplying of the two sides (batting and pitching), then dividing by 81, pushes the result towards the actual wins.  You saw just above how the good hitting and average pitching combined for the Rangers in 2004.  If you get one of the numbers very close to 81, the wins will be very close to the other number.  If you push them both in either direction, they exponentially increase the wins.  Take the team with the best record, the 2001 Mariners who won 116 games.  By this method, their batting was worth 96 and their pitching 99, combining them we get 118 wins.  In other words, the sum of whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Flip to the other end, the 2003 Tigers, hitting of 57 and pitching of 66 combined to 47 wins (compared to the actual 43).  With each side being bad, they push each other down even further.  If they’d only had average pitching, they would have won 57, but they didn’t, so they fell even further.  If I was naming it, I would call this rubber-banding, where the two sides are bouncing against each other, and if one stretches in one direction the other gets pulled that way too.

So what is the use of this tool?  Look at the Rangers from 2000-07.  They won between 71 and 80 games every year except one, when they won 89.  How did they do it.  Good hitting and bad pitching, right?  But how good was the hitting?  How bad was the pitching?  Would you say their 76 win average was due to 80 hitting wins and 72 pitching wins, or something similar?  And that exceptional year, was it a huge change to the system, or just random variation pushing them up for a year?  Let’s calculate:

The hitting side was remarkably consistent, running from a 91.9 in 2001 to 83.4 in 2007 (proof that the 07 team were the worst hitters?).  Just minor variation in the big scheme of things.  The pitching varied much more though.  In 2000 they scored a 61.5, while in 2006 it was 82.4.  Three years in the 60s, three in the 70s and two in the 80s.  Wild variation, and not even a consistent flow, as they jumped up and down like water on a hot griddle.  And what was the result?  Their actual wins were dampened by the hitting, so they floated in the 70s most of the time.  2004, the 89 win year, was simply a case of the hitting staying on the high side of where it was (the 88.4 was the third highest hitting score) and the pitching coming up to average (81.3, one of only two times it went above average).  There was no big breakthrough, there was simply pitching being barely adequate.
And where does this leave the Rangers?  With the knowledge, if they didn’t know it already, that their pitching sucks.  More precisely, a quantitative tool they can use to see just what they need to do to improve.  If they hold the hitting steady, just how much do they have to improve the pitchingto get to be contenders?  After all, by keeping their hitting at the same level in 2004, and just getting the pitching to average, they were in contention until the last week of the season.  Take another step, push those pitchers just slightly above average, and they could contend for some time.   Going back to the earlier stuff on run counts, they’re doing fine in the offensive numbers, but they need to get their pitching down – in 2007 they allowed 844 runs, and the break-even point is 790.  Where can they gain 54 runs in pitching?  Oh yeah, and even if they do that, it just puts them on the very edge of the competition, not deep into the playoff zone.

World Series – Rangers fans say “huh?”

October 24, 2007

I was two for four picking the division series winners, and oh for two in the last round.  But to be fair, the Indians had it in their grasp and threw it away, and the Rockies, well, let’s just say someone’s wearing some pretty stinky lucky underwear right now.

In my championship series picks, I said whoever won the ALCS would win the World Series.  I stand by that, especially after the Red Sox won game one convincingly tonight.  It’s just time for the Rockies to run out of gas (although I said that in both previous rounds, too).  I could actually see a Sox sweep happening.  Not that I want to, it just seems possible.

Oh yeah, note to Rangers management:  if you ever get to a World Series, please handle ticketing better than the Rockies did.  Out of curiosity I went to Ebay last night, and sure enough there were a thousand different offers for Series tickets.  That’s just a joke.  The rumor I read was that people in England and India were buying tickets online, just to re-sell them.  Please do it better, and don’t try and blame hackers for your computer problems, either.

You see, when the Rangers do get there, I’d like tickets.  And I don’t want to pay a grand for them, either.  It was bad enough paying $35 for $5 seats to Opening Day this year.  Which reminds me: scalpers, you are the scum of the universe.  And that includes StubHub and the like.  If someone can buy a ticket from the Rockies for $60, then sell it on Ebay for $1000, maybe they should raise the price.  Much as I hate MLB’s money-grubbing ways, I’d rather see them put tickets on sale for a few hundred dollars apiece, than have that money go to some scalper.  At least that way they might be able to afford a free agent.  And do something better to make sure the tickets gets into the fans’ hands, too.  Maybe only sell them at the ballpark?  Or do some sort of ticket purchase lottery?  For example, season ticket holders get first shot, but for the tickets that remain after MLB has taken their cut (which in itself is ridiculous), maybe a lottery based on the number of regular season games you attended?  I know the Rangers know exactly how many tickets I bought – because they send me email after every game I attend.  You know, dance with the fans that brung you.

Okay, rant over.  Enjoy the Series, and Rangers fans, dream of a not too distant day…

Rangers Review: Relievers

October 18, 2007

The bullpen for the Rangers is supposedly one of the strengths of the team.  The team relief ERA ranked fifth in the majors.  And with an ERA of 3.69, it is certainly a lot better than the 5.50 that the rotation put up.  However, the same situation occurred last year, and somewhere during this year I read an article (that might have been on The Book blog, but I’m not sure of that) which said the Rangers bullpen was over-rated, because they had a lot of appearances in low leverage situations, where the team was already behind by several runs and so there was no pressure on them.  You could argue the same happened this year, because the team performed the same way.  You could also point out that the team was 26-18 in one run games, which some consider to be a pointer to bullpen quality, as they need to perform at a higher level in close games.

In 2007 the Rangers bullpen pitched more innings than any other team, because the rotation was so bad.  As the season wore on, so did the players, and with trades and injuries the bullpen was worn out by September, which led to a loss of performance and even more players being brought in to shore up the gaps.  This also led to the criticism by Ron Washington that the Rangers need a real closer, ignoring the fact that he had worn down Joaquin Benoit and CJ Wilson to the point of ineffectiveness.  This should be a major worry for the team, because if they ever get to contention they need to be concerned that he has ridden his top guys into the ground, and come September (or October) they may be unable to get the job done.

The team started the season with two closers, Aki Otsuka and Eric Gagne, and ended the season with two others, Benoit and Wilson.  Gagne began the season on the DL, had another stint there during the season, and was traded at the deadline.  Otsuka was closing at the start of the season, because Gagne was down, but when he came back Aki was moved to the setup role, where he stayed until his own injury problems began in June.  He missed the rest of the season, so by a process of elimination Benoit and Wilson moved up in the pecking order, eventually taking turns closing in August and September, until they were both shut down after having a heavy workload.

The back of the bullpen had it’s usual fluctuations, with the Rangers mixing and matching any warm bodies they could find.  Frankie Francisco did an average job filling in the 6th and 7th innings at various points, and a long string of others pitched in, taking some spot starts here and there and generally just taking innings when needed.  Arguably the team took a hot-hand approach, picking whoever they could to get those innings in, and once someone faltered, throwing them aside and trying someone else.  As the old saying goes, plans only survive until contact with the enemy, and whatever plans the Rangers had only survived until they started having injuries.  You can’t easily plan for that, you can only hope to have decent replacements waiting.

Eric Gagne summary:  Traded to Boston at the deadline, he managed to fall apart for their pennant drive.  The Rangers got Kason Gabbard and David Murphy for him (plus a minor leaguer), and they’ve already given the Rangers more than Gagne gave the Red Sox.  At this point you’d have to say the Rangers won the trade, and the returns can only improve.  Gagne was very good while he was in Texas, and even talked about how he enjoyed it here and was interested in coming back after he was traded.  He got 16 saves with a 2.16 ERA while here, but since the Rangers were going nowhere, ultimately, apart from the trade return, his biggest accomplishment was in enabling my three year old to go round the house singing “we will, we will rock you”.

Joaquin Benoit summary:  Pitched more than he ever had before (in number of games, not innings), and it showed as he wore down in September.  As the season went on he moved from the 7th to the 8th to the 9th inning, ending up with just 6 saves but an excellent 2.85 ERA, and 87 strikeouts in 82 innings.  I personally think he was a better closer than CJ Wilson, as he didn’t give you that edge of the seat feeling when he came in to end games.  If the Rangers go into 2008 with the pair of them sharing the closer duties, they’ll do fine, although they might want better defined roles.  Whichever way they go, I think they’ll end up being an excellent shut-down after the seventh inning.

CJ Wilson summary:  Like Benoit, he moved up in importance as the season wore on.  Like Benoit, he ran out of gas in September, having been used more than ever before.  Unlike Benoit, he has a history of arm problems, and it was a little foolish to use him so much.  Unlike Benoit, he didn’t give you an easy feeling, unless it was a tight game.  Time and again he’d come into the 9th with a multi-run lead and start giving up runs left and right, and it seemed like more often than not he’d complete the save with the bases loaded.  If he came in with a one run lead, he’d knock them down, but more than that and you knew it’d be a rocky ending.  If he can curb that tendency, he could be a superstar closer one day.  As it is, right now when used in the right places he’s outstanding.

Frank Francisco summary:  Another pitcher with an injury history, another pitcher used too much, and another pitcher who ran down at the end of the year.  He didn’t perform as well as you’d like, in fact he was arguably one of the worst regulars in the bullpen.  He had his moments, but his biggest problem was with control, as he walked 38 in 59 innings.  A couple of years ago you felt he was going to be dominant (a couple of years ago he was – in 2004, before his arm injury, he had 60 strikeouts in 51 innings), and he’s still only 27 so could certainly improve.  Still the only ballplayer my son has ever talked to in person, so we’re rooting for him to get it going.

Wes Littleton summary:  Up and down to AAA, he actually performed better in the majors.  He had done very well in his debut in 2006, but was kind of jerked around by the team this year.  He seems to be one of those guys who needs to be settled and comfortable before he performs well, and with his going back and forth, and then his random usage when up in Texas, never really got into a groove.  Only 24, so he has it all ahead of him, but his peripheral numbers are a little worrying (16 walks and only 24 strikeouts in 48 innings).  If the team can commit to him as the 6th inning guy, he’ll do fine.

Willie Eyre summary:  Had a couple of spot starts where he was hammered, but as a reliever he was pitching very well up until he was given those starts, at which point he quickly wore out.  Presumably due to being stretched in those starts, he injured himself, had surgery and will miss all of 2008.  Compare his splits as a starter to those as a reliever: 4.28 ERA in relief, 12.86 as a starter (but in only 7 innings).  More crucially, he had a 3.00 ERA prior to his first start, and a 7.59 from then on.

Mike Wood summary:  Had four starts in his 21 games with the Rangers.  In AAA he had dominated as a starter (9-3, 3.24), and he pitched well when starting in Texas, but just happened to be filling in as about the 6th or 7th starter, so got more time in the pen.  Deserves a shot at starting, which is why he chose free agency at the end of the year, and will look for another shot at a rotation somewhere.  Should be a decent 4th or 5th starter somewhere.

John Rheinecker summary:  Another good starter in the minors, but blew it when he got his seven chances to start with the big club.  Went to the bullpen and performed very well, and may have found his niche there.  If he will accept the role (he made some comments in the middle of the season that if the Rangers didn’t use him, he wanted to go somewhere he was wanted), he should be a good longman, although the Rangers might have an excess of those next year.

Ron Mahay summary:  Had several good years in the bullpen for the Rangers, but finally left in the Teixeira trade.  I doubt you’ll find a bad word about him from anyone on the Rangers.  You can expect to see him on a roster somewhere for the next several years, he’s 36 but seems to be the type who could pitch well into his 40s.

Scott Feldman summary:  Another young guy who split time between Arlington and Oklahoma.  This year he was not very effective in either place.  His 32 walks and 19 strikeouts while with the Rangers are a very bad sign.  He’s only 24, so he should get more opportunities, but he needs to go back to his 2006 form if he wants to stick around.

Akinori Otsuka summary:  Pitched well while he was here, but spent the last three months on the DL (after one of the more ridiculous injury management scenarios I’ve ever heard of).  Ended with just four saves, which was in part caused by Gagne’s being ahead of him, but also by the fact that the team was terrible in the first month, while Gagne was on the DL.  He may or may not be ready for 2008.  If he is, he may or may not get the closer’s job, in fact he may not even be with the team.

AJ Murray summary:  He had 41 games (1 start) for Oklahoma, with a 3.10 ERA.  He had 14 games (2 starts) with Texas, with a 4.50 ERA.  Coming off a couple of years of injury, he was stretched just a little, but by the end of the year the Rangers were suggesting he’d go back down to AAA in 2008 and work on being a starter.  He’s 25, so he’s got time, but right now his role is confused, and you have to question his health a little.

Jamey Wright, Armando Galarraga and Luis Mendoza both had relief appearances, but were covered in the starters review.

Bruce Chen summary:  This is how desperate the Rangers were, they actually got five games out of Bruce Chen before realizing what the rest of the league already knew:  he’s done.

Bill White summary:  Career minor leaguer brought up to fill a hole in September, ended up with a 4.82 ERA in 9 games.  He had spent the entire season being pretty ineffective in AA, so I think this was a case of a) someone from the Rangers saw a game in Frisco where he did well, and decided they wanted him up, b) they didn’t want to start the clock running on someone who might actually help the team in future, or c) he has nude pics of someone in the front office.  Whichever one it was, don’t expect to see him again.  He might be up, but only if all the other arms fall off first.

2008 outlook:  Ron Washington wants a “proven closer”.  If the Rangers get someone to do that (and Gagne is possibly as good a chance as any to make it back), then the rest of the bullpen will shake out behind them.  And since the Rangers won’t be contending next year, whoever they get is likely to follow the same path, that of someone signed to bring prospects at the trade deadline, so it will probably be a name you know.  Apart from them, you can pick from Aki (if he’s not still injured, and if the Rangers give him a new contract), Benoit and Wilson as the top three.  Benoit and Wilson would form a very good 8-9 punch, and if Aki is healthy then the Rangers have a chance of having a shut-down 7-8-9 innings, which would be great if only the rotation can get it to them.  Frankie Francisco will be in the mix, as will Wes Littleton.  Rheinecker has the lead on the longman role, although Kam Loe is also slated to move in that direction.  That’s a list of half a dozen guys, likely to be the top of the bullpen roster.  After that, you’re really just gambling on injuries and ineffectiveness, and any of another ten or a dozen players will shuttle in and out trying to fill in the holes.  Big question will be whether Washington can manage to spread the load a little, so the top guys don’t wear down at the end of the year.  Bigger question is whether the starters can go a little deeper into games, so those roster fillers don’t have to pitch so much.

2009 and beyond:  Follow the bouncing ball.  By that I mean your guess is as good as mine.  Below I’ll cover the minor league relievers, you can’t count on any of them.  Fact is, if you’re pegged as a reliever in the minors, especially in the lower levels, you’re very unlikely to make the big leagues.  If you’re good enough, they use you as a starter in the minors, and you move to the bullpen when you get to the majors.  For that reason, picking a bullpen years in advance is pointless.  The best guys go to the major league rotation, a few top guys are left over, and the rest fill out the back of the bullpen.  Throw darts at the list below and your results will be as good as anything I might suggest.  So what’s below is just the guys who pitched the most in relief for each team.  And since I don’t know contract status on many of these guys, some that I mention might not even be with the organization by the time spring training comes around (let alone by the time this is posted).

Minor leagues:

At AAA:  Francisco Cruceta and Franklyn German did well in Oklahoma, leading to the possibility of numerous “let me be frank with you” jokes if they join Catalanotto and Francisco in Arlington.  The other guys who pitched a lot of relief in OKC are either old (Randy Williams) or ineffective (Ezequiel Astacio and Steven Rowe), but since they’re at AAA they may get thought of at some point when the Rangers need bodies in the bullpen.

At AA:  A successful club has a successful bullpen, and there were several guys in Frisco.  Danny Ray Herrera was probably the best of them.  Jesse Ingram led the team with 26 saves, although he doesn’t seem to get the credit he might deserve.  Kea Kometani  was decent.  There were a string of average players, including Brandon Puffer (too old to be a prospect), Scott Shoemaker, Jorge Vazquez, Bill White (as discussed above, surprisingly made the Rangers), Ken Chenard and Matt Farnum.  These are the guys that could easily step up in future, or just as easily get their release.

At High-A:  As with starters, this is where the players really start to shake out.  The Bakersfield bullpen was full of guys who didn’t perform well, and a lot of them are not likely to be heard from again.  Of the success stories, Danny Touchet did well, but had problems with a short time in AA, and Jared Hyatt did a little at three different stops, but only had 23 innings all year.  Between Low-A, High-A and AA, Brennan Garr finished with a 2.03 ERA in 62 innings, striking out 75.  Given his movement up the ladder, he might be one of those who actually succeed from a minor league bullpen.  As for the rest, a bunch of names that will mean nothing in a couple of years.

At Low-A:  Even less to get excited about.  As pointed out earlier, if you’re tabbed as a reliever this early, you probably don’t have a bright future.  And if you’re tabbed as a reliever and fail here, you don’t have any future.  The few successes in the Clinton bullpen include Brennan Garr, mentioned above, Ivan Izquierdo, good ERA (2.61) but bad peripherals (18-31 BB-K ratio, in 48 innings) and struggled in a short stint at High-A, Josh Lueke (10-31 BB-K), and John Slusarz (2.89 ERA with 62 Ks in 65 innings).

At Short-Season Rookie:  Ryan Falcon had 62 Ks in 47 innings, with just 6 walks.  That will grab some attention.  Tommy Hunter was a first round pick, and he did pretty well in a very short time (13 Ks, 1 walk in 17 innings).  Same with Andrew Laughter, 32 Ks in 31 innings and only 4 walks.

In Rookie ball:  Hardly anyone worth mentioning.  I’ll throw out Ryan Turner (1.67 ERA, 27 innings, 30 strikeouts, 1 walk) just to get a name out there.

Rangers Review: Minor League Starters

October 18, 2007

The Rangers minor league system had a mixed bag of results in 2007.  Overall the seven teams (AAA Oklahoma, AA Frisco, A+ Bakersfield, A Clinton, Rookie Spokane and Arizona, and the Dominican League team) combined for a .491 winning percentage, but that was significantly influenced by the Roughriders going .607, the only team above .511.  Without the Roughriders, the rest of the teams went .465, almost in line with the big club’s .463.

Now, one argument is that teams don’t care about how their minor league teams do, because it is more about development of individual players than it is of winning.  Another argument is that a winning team in the minors develops into a winning team in the majors, because winning is a function of the quality of the players available.  So with that in mind, it’s interesting that Frisco has the best results, because when looking at all the players available in the minors for the Rangers, it seems like Frisco has shown up again and again as the place with the best prospects.  This in turn leads to the hopeful thought that the guys in Frisco this year are the guys who will be in Arlington in 2008 and 2009, beginning a renaissance for the Rangers.  One of the problems with Frisco is the closeness to Arlington, which is useful for rehabbing players nearby, but there has been a tendency for the Rangers to skip over AAA players and go with the guys they’ve presumably seen more often in AA (Travis Metcalf, Armando Galarraga, Bill White and Luis Mendoza are examples this year of guys who started the year at AA and spent most of their time there before coming up to Texas, with either cameos or no playing time in Oklahoma), not necessarily helping those guys developmentally or other players who may feel they’ve been skipped unfairly (Eric Hurley).

Minor league hitters were covered with each position during this review of the system.  Here we look at starting pitchers in the minors.  Due to the quantity of them, I kept them separate from the major league starters.  Minor league relievers, however, will be covered with the major league bullpen, because there aren’t that many good minor league relievers.  In most cases I am only going to mention pitchers who started a reasonable number of games, unless they are particularly interesting for some other reason.  I will also cover them on the team they pitched the most for, although that rule will also be broken in certain cases (e.g. Eric Hurley, who pitched a little more in AA than in AAA, but clearly has a bright future and deserves coverage at the higher level).

AAA Oklahoma City summary: Several guys shuttled back and forth to Texas, getting small chances here and there as fill-ins during each injury crisis the Rangers seemed to have.  Of them, Edinson Volquez was the star of the system, as mentioned in the major league rotation review.  John Rheinecker was a very good starter in AAA, but struggled in the rotation in Arlington and went to the bullpen where he managed to succeed.  Mike Wood pitched well in AAA (9-3, 3.24), but couldn’t quite translate that to the majors, ending with a 5.33 ERA at the big league level.  He has the stuff to be a decent #5 or possibly #4 pitcher, but he’d be battling several people for a spot at the end of the rotation or as long man in the bullpen for the Rangers, which is why he elected free agency at the end of the year.  He’ll go somewhere on a AAA deal and try and make a major league rotation instead.  John Koronka could be considered a classic 4-A type of pitcher, too good to keep down, but not good enough to stay up.  Right now I believe he’s a free agent, having spent some time in the Cleveland minors after the Rangers released him earlier this year.

AAA Prospects: Eric Hurley has been the best pitching prospect for a year now, and this year made the step up from AA to AAA, although not without some teething problems.  After a 7-2, 3.26 first half in Frisco, he had a 4-7, 4.93 second half in Oklahoma.  It didn’t dim his star too much, as there was still talk of bringing him up at the end of the season.  That didn’t happen due to highly technical rules reasons, but he will go into spring training with an outside shot at making the team.  He should instead spend another half year to a year in AAA, before coming up for good in 2009.  Just 21, he will hopefully bring good things to the team when they return to contention.  Josh Rupe was a top prospect a few years ago, but now is getting a little older (24) and battling a lot of injuries.  He needs to step up in 2008 to keep his career going.

AAA Suspects: Chris Baker had a couple of starts in AA, but spent most of his time at Oklahoma, although at 29 his 6.64 ERA is not good, and you’d have to say no prospect.  Alfredo Simon had a poor year (6.43 ERA) and at 26 he may be reaching the limits of his ability.  Mark Redman was a waste of space.

AA Frisco summary:  The most successful level in terms of performance, but surprisingly few regular starting pitchers to mention, as the good ones moved on too soon, like Eric Hurley, or were rehabbing major leaguers (11 starts between them).  Of those left,  Armando Galarraga was the highlight, getting some time in AAA and in Arlington this year, although perhaps a little sooner than you would have thought he should have.  He’ll be headed back to AAA for a full season next year.  Same with Luis Mendoza, who performed almost as well as Galarraga, but skipped AAA before his cup of coffee.  Mendoza is two years younger, so probably has a brighter future, but expect both to anchor a good Oklahoma rotation for 2008.

AA Prospects:  Doug Mathis did just as well as Mendoza and Galarraga, but struggled in a very short stint in AAA.  Doesn’t have the publicity the other guys got.  Had a high BABIP in AA, expect that to regress to the mean next year and he might propel himself into the top of the prospect pile.  Matt Harrison came over in the Teixeira trade, never pitched in the Rangers minors due to injury, but immediately became one of the Rangers top pitching prospects.  At just 21 he was young and good in AA, and has a big upside.  Will be back at AA next year, but expect him to move to AAA quickly, and possibly be contending for a major league spot by 2009.

AA Suspects:  Hard to tell what Scott Shoemaker is, but he gets in here just so I can put someone in.  Pitched at three levels (High-A, AA and AAA), but spent most of his time in Frisco.  Only 11 starts out of 34 games at all levels, and his numbers did not stand out much.  May be on the track to go to the pen, in which case he may have peaked here.

High-A Bakersfield summary:  High-A should perhaps be called High-ERA, as the team averaged a 5.39 for the year.  I seem to remember reading once that the California League is a hitter’s league, so the numbers may be inflated.  The Bakersfield staff had an ERA half a run higher than the league though, so they might be doing it to themselves.  As players go through the system, they enter what could only be considered a funnel, where the best keep moving up and the remainder get pushed aside.  A-ball seems to be the level that does most of the judging, where a lot of players find themselves overmatched and discarded.  If you make it past here as a starter, you’ve got a decent chance of making the majors (and by decent I mean maybe as high as 20%).  If not, you better hope they keep you on as a reliever, and even then your chances are much less than good.

High-A Prospects:  Kendy Batista was the best starter in Bakersfield, and got one start in Frisco.  Should be at AA next year, although at 25 he is starting to age out.  Michael Schlact spent most of his time at Bakersfield, but also had a short stint at Frisco, and didn’t impress much in either place.  His only advantage is his age, in that he was at least a couple of years younger than most of the people he was playing against.  Likely to be back at Bakersfield to start the season, we’ll see if he’s any better the second time around.  Ronald Bay didn’t have a great year, it was just about average, but he struck out 71 in 74 innings so he’ll probably be back, but whether he’ll move up or not will depend on if there’s no-one else they want more.

High-A Suspects:  Michael Ballard split his season between Low-A Clinton, where he pitched reasonably well, and High-A Bakersfield, where he was just okay.  His walk rate is pretty good (36 in 153 innings), but he gives up too many hits.  At Clinton he was older than most, at Bakersfield he was the right age, so he might be a late bloomer.  I don’t know JB Diaz’s splits, but he had 12 starts and 26 relief appearances, with a combined 7.11 ERA.  He didn’t really do anything good, so he may have peaked.  Andrew Walker didn’t put up good numbers in any way, and given his age (24) he might have reached his limit too.

Low-A Clinton summary:  The first exposure to a full season in the minors, this is where players begin to sort themselves out.  Probably the most critical thing to look at here is the player’s age, it can tell you a lot about what the organization thinks of a person, more even than the numbers.  The average age here is 21.5, if you’re much younger than this then you’re a potential star (the two 19 year old pitchers at Clinton were Kasey Kiker and Omar Poveda), if you’re much older then your career is in trouble (the oldest starter here was Michael Ballard, mentioned above in the High-A Suspects list).  Clinton had the distinction of being the Rangers farm team with the best ERA (3.52), although in a league that had a 3.79 that’s not as impressive as it sounds.  But with three starters having ERAs under 3.00, the signs of good things to come are there.  I already mentioned the number of good prospects at Frisco, it’s possible there’s another wave at Clinton that are two years behind them, all of which signals a hopefully bright future in Arlington.

Low-A Prospects:  Kasey Kiker is one of the stars of the system, a first round pick from a couple of years ago who so far is living up to the hype.  Had very good numbers overall, especially for someone two or three years younger than the league, and should advance another level next year.  If the Rangers move him slowly, he’ll spend the year in Bakersfield, if they move him more quickly he could be in Frisco by the end of the year.  Will be a candidate to make the Rangers as soon as 2009 or as late as 2010.  Zach Phillips performed just as well as Kiker, but didn’t have the hype.  Only one year older, so age is not a problem.  He will move up to Bakersfield to start 2008.  Omar Poveda was the third stand-out performer at Bakersfield, he did just as well as the others.  Another 19 year old, he should progress quickly, although not as quickly as Kiker.  If the Rangers can keep these three together, they might begin to have some dominating prospects moving into Arlington in 2010.  Reality check says they’ll be happy if one of the big three makes it to the big leagues.

Low-A Suspects:  Broc Coffman was probably the worst of the regular starters at Clinton (4.24 ERA), but will probably get another chance there to see if he can progress any.  Jeremiah Haar split time between the rotation and bullpen in Clinton, and didn’t show much overall to make him stand out.  Glen Swanson had seven starts in Clinton and seven in Bakersfield.  He was age-appropriate for Bakersfield, which explains why he pitched well at Clinton and average at Bakersfield.  Probably beginning to top out, his strikeouts (83 in 83.2 innings) should keep getting him chances, although a move to the bullpen is likely.

Short-Season Spokane summary:  This is the place where many draftees go, especially if they were drafted from college, and get their first taste in the minors.  Not too many get elevated from here in their first season, since it’s only a half-season team and there’s often not enough time to prove themselves.  On the other hand, there are a few promotions from the Arizona rookie ball team.  For many, this is their first time in pro ball and it will be their last time.  They’ve spent their lives being the star of their teams, their high school, their college, their various leagues, dreaming of being in the big leagues, and getting here and failing is a rude shock, and now they have nothing to turn to.  Depending on what round they were drafted in, they may get another shot, but if they’re a low-level pick, or a undrafted player, this may be all they get.  So impressing here is good, but not impressing is quite possibly death to their careers.  For that reason it’s hard to look just at numbers and tell who is or who isn’t going to make it.  The more playing time they get, the better, and if they don’t get much, well, the team might already have given up.  Either way, by the time it all washes out you could have ten great pitchers at this level and you’ll be doing very well if a couple of them make it to the big leagues.  There’s just too far to go for more than a few to make it.

Short-Season Prospects:  Michael Main was a first round pick, pitched five games and dominated in Arizona, then came to Spokane and did well, but not as well as earlier.  Another top prospect, but every time I mention him I have to tell the Rangers to stop letting him hit as well as pitch.  It’ll only slow his development.  Jacob Brigham had a good ERA, probably gave up too many walks, but he’s only 19 so he’ll move on up the chain next year.  Derek Holland struck out 83 in 67 innings, and that’s the kind of thing stats freaks love to see, especially with only 21 walks to go with it.  Evan Reed had eight starts between Spokane and Clinton, and looked good in both places.  Neftali Feliz has to be mentioned here, although he relieved more (7) than started (1) while in Spokane.  Came over in the Teixeira trade, and overall for the season started 8 and relieved 8, but pitched well, is now one of the top prospects in the Rangers system, and will be given every chance to succeed as a starter.

Short-Season Suspects:  Fabio Castillo is only 18, but he struggled, so is likely to get another go round in Spokane in 2008.  Ryan Tatusko had bland numbers for the league.  If you fail here you’re in trouble for your career, so he better hope to get another chance.

Rookie Arizona:  This is really scraping the bottom of the barrel to be projecting people here.  There are three types of pitchers in the Arizona league:  kids just drafted and getting a taste of pro ball before beginning their first full seasons, kids working out in Arizona while waiting for a slot to open somewhere else (which means they’re probably not legitimate prospects in the first place), and older players coming back from injury who are getting a few innings in before going back to their regular club (Josh Rupe was probably the most famous of these this year).  So again, just like in Spokane, putting names up as successful is a stretch.  Most of the guys pitching at this level will get a couple of innings per game, and in general there are not defined starters (most starts, 12 by Carlos Pimentel, and he only pitched 42.1 innings overall).  It’s really about getting people going, getting them in the swing of things, and doing a quick judge of character for some of them.

Rookie Prospects:  Wilmer Font pitched the most innings, but that was only 45.2 of them, so not much to judge on.  Struck out 61 in that time though, so we’ll see him again.  As noted, Carlos Pimentel had the most starts, he wasn’t good but had 59 strikeouts.

Rookie Suspects:  Who cares?  If they sucked here, you’ll never hear of them again.  Unless they were a top draft pick, in which case they’ll get more opportunities anyway.  Okay, a couple of names to forget:  Benjamin Henry struggled in his six starts.  Robert Wilkins put up just about the same numbers as Henry, but struck out only half as many.

Dominican League:
Here’s a list of names:  Kelvin Borjas, Wilfredo Boscan, Ovispo De Los Santos, Juan Grullon, Anyenil Mendoza, Amaury Sepulveda.  Why do I list them?  Just so one day I can go back and show how brilliant I am at picking young players to be stars.  No, seriously, there’s even less point looking at guys in the Dominican Summer League, because 99 out of 100 are never going to make it off the island.  Most of the players there are 16-20 years old, so it’s like projecting high school and early college kids, with an extra barrier of having to get through their compatriots and then get a chance to go to the US.  Of these names, who are the guys there with the most starts, Boscan had the best peripheral numbers.  There is one other name to remember from the Dominican though: Omar Beltre.  Supposedly a top prospect, he screwed up a couple of years ago in an immigration scam (don’t remember the details, he might have used a false passport), and ended up getting barred from the US.  While the Rangers try and get him reinstated, he sits down in the Dominican doing nothing but dominating the kids to the tune of a 1.19 ERA with 38 K’s in 30 innings.  He is 25 though, so should be able to blow them away.  But he’s running out of time to make it back to America.

Final point:  How many names have I mentioned today?  If you’re a casual Rangers fan, forget most of them.  Jamey Newberg may know all of them by heart, and he’s a much better evaluator of minor league talent than I am, but as I have said throughout this piece, most of them will never make the big club, so they won’t mean anything to most of you.  If you are that casual fan, just read the AAA section, and maybe the AA, because those are the guys who may be in Arlington next year.  Come back this time next year and see who I mention then, and compare it to now.  My guess is that half of the names here will have disappeared by next year, and there’ll be a whole new crop to dream about.  Remember the old saying: TANSTAAPP.  There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect.

Rangers Review: Starters

October 14, 2007

This year the Rangers used fifteen different starters.  This continues a trend of the last several years, 2000 was the last time they used less than ten, and they’ve been as high as seventeen in that time.  The idea of stability in the rotation is not one that the Rangers have grasped recently.  Now, this year they were beset by injuries, but still, towards the end they pretty much were just randomly bringing guys up for a start.  There were few plans to be found, as soon as the front five fell apart they began cycling guys through, at one point they even sent Kam Loe down just to bring him back two days later.  The impression anyone would get from this team is “if we try enough guys, sooner or later some of them will work out”.

Millwood’s 172 innings led the team, the worst this century, with Kenny Roger’s 195 the next worst from a couple of years ago.  Plus there was a huge falloff, okay four guys ended up over 100 innings, but just barely.  Again, blame injuries all you want, but there is no-one on the team right now you could count on to lead them to the playoffs.   There was not a single complete game, which was supposedly the first time an American League team did not complete a game since the league began in 1901.  I haven’t counted the number of quality starts, but I bet it was close to if not definitely a record low for the team.  One of the themes of this blog during the year was how unprepared the team was.  They started the season badly, and they started games badly.  If they do it again like this next year, the Rangers will be out of it in May, again.  And right now there is little hope that the rotation will improve.

Kevin Millwood summary:  A season beset by injury, or at least that’s what the Rangers will tell you.  How frustrated is he getting?  His last season with the Indians, he won the ERA title, but didn’t get any support so didn’t win much.  Now, he’s with the Rangers, where he has the run support (usually) but has a bad ERA, so he’s still not winning.  And he’s got three years on his contract.  There was talk in the middle of the year that the Rangers should trade him, which gives him a chance to win something and gives us some prospects.  Problem is his contract, which means we’d have to add a bunch of money, his performance here, which leaves a lot to be desired, and his health.  Isn’t there something about him pitching really well every three years?  Next year is the third year.

Kameron Loe summary:  Injured and ineffective would be one way to describe Loe, but that would also help describe everyone else.  Had a good stretch in June/July, after being sent to the minors for two days, but otherwise was pretty bad.  Just had surgery, should be healthy in the spring, but I think he’s given up his chance at a rotation spot.  Back of the bullpen work beckons.

Vicente Padilla summary:  Injury may explain much of his first half, where he tried to pitch through the pain.  He ended up missing a couple of months because of it, and came back fairly strong at the end, helping to improve his numbers.  What didn’t help was his attitude, which many will tell you stinks, both within and outside the team.  He doesn’t talk to reporters, so you don’t get to hear what he is thinking.  He apparently doesn’t talk to his teammates either.  And then he does things like throw at a batter, which at the end of the season got him suspended for a week.  Now, a teammate like that can be a problem, but the bigger problem is his performance on the field and the two years remaining on his contract.  The Rangers knew what his attitude was when they gave him the three year deal, so they can’t go bailing out because of that.  They can be worried by the way he pitched, and they will be asking themselves whether the 2006 or 2007 version of Padilla will show up in 2008.

Brandon McCarthy summary:  Started badly, in part because of pressure from the John Danks trade.  Turned it around after May 1, and became arguably the Rangers best pitcher from then on.  Another one hit by injuries, he lost large swathes of the season on the DL, first with blisters on his fingers then with a broken shoulder blade, of all things.  If he ever gets healthy, he certainly looks like he could be an excellent pitcher, potentially a number two (on a staff filled with fours and fives, that’s pretty good).

Robinson Tejeda summary:  Chance after chance after chance was given to Tejeda, and every time he dropped the ball.  He should really have been sent down a month before he finally was, but there wasn’t anyone ready to replace him while everyone else was hitting the DL.  When they finally gave up, it was a mercy killing more than anything.  Needs to work hard to make his way back, but I don’t know if he has the attitude to do it.  He has great stuff, at times.  May be more suited to a bullpen role than starting, because with his speed he could very well blow people away.

Kason Gabbard summary:  Beat the Rangers in May, while pitching for the Red Sox, then came over in July in the Gagne trade.  From a marginal prospect, he turned out pretty good.  Big things will be expected of him next year, but that should be tempered with the thought that he really probably will fit in somewhere as a fourth starter, not necessarily a star.

Edinson Volquez summary:  This is definitely a case of being knocked down and proving that you can stand up again.  Sent all the way down to A ball, Volquez worked his way back to the majors during the year, and ended with some good starts, pushing himself back into strong contention for future consideration.  He is right now leading the race to be the fifth starter, but there are still five months to go.

Jamey Wright summary:  Did pretty much what was expected of him, which was not much.  Split time between the rotation and the bullpen, and was outstanding enough as a reliever (2.05 ERA) that they should leave him there.  Said at the end of the season he preferred starting, but he’ll go in the bullpen if he has to.  Since he’s a free agent, likely to go somewhere that will start him, but that’s likely to be a really bad team (as opposed to the Rangers, who are just bad).

Luis Mendoza summary:  He’d been going backwards until this year, when suddenly he rattled off a 15-4, 3.93 record at AA.  For some reason he was one of the guys dragged up for a start in Arlington, and ended up doing enough in a short time to slightly impress.  Will be back down to AAA next year, but he’s still on the fence regarding whether he can keep it all together.

John Koronka summary:  Couple of starts near the start of the year, nothing worth talking about, and was waived, claimed by Cleveland, where he did nothing in their minors and I think was released in September.  Career over?  Not likely, everyone wants pitching, but look for him to show up somewhere that has zero chance of contending (and I’m not necessarily talking about the Rangers).

Armando Galarraga summary:  A reward at the end of the season for going 11-8, 4.28 in the minors.  Like Mendoza,  probably shouldn’t have been near the Rangers, but at least he had been at AAA.  Also like Mendoza, could go either way in his prospecthood.  Mendoza is two years younger though, so more likely to succeed.

Relievers who started:
Willie Eyre, Mike Wood, John Rheinecker and AJ Murray started fifteen games between them (Rheinecker accounting for seven of those) but will be covered with relievers, as they either were mostly relievers just making spot starts, or started badly and relieved well (Rheinecker).

Minor league starters:  There are too many pitchers in the minors to deal with in a paragraph or two, so a full review of pitching in the minors will come separately.

2008:  Millwood, Padilla and McCarthy are locks for the rotation.  This is a problem because this season they pitched more like #3 and #4 starters, rather than top of the rotation guys the Rangers need.  A bunch of guys are battling for the end of the rotation, with Gabbard in the lead, and probably Volquez getting his chance again.  Can the Rangers attract any free agents to start?  Certainly not top-tier ones, they’ve proven that again and again.  Frankly, 2008 is a holding year anyway, so signing someone long-term will be a waste of money.  Keep growing the kids, and hope one works out.  Eric Hurley will lead the charge of the minor leaguers, there is some thought that he may make the big club out of spring training, but more likely he’ll be up later in the year.

2009 and beyond:  We’ll be in year four of Millwood, and the third (and final) year of Padilla.  McCarthy will of course be there.  Hopefully someone else will have stepped up and established themselves, working on experience for the team’s renaissance in 2010 or so.  Erik Hurley will probably get his first full season in 2009, which should be the start of a small trail of good minor league prospects.  Unfortunately they’re all in Low-A or below right now, so by the time 2010 comes around, many of them will have topped out or been traded already.  The odds of the Rangers growing good pitchers are just a little better than buying them.

New Rangers pitching coach!

October 12, 2007

Well, one can dream. Since Mark Connor has failed so miserably time after time, he needs to go. And since Leo Mazzone is arguably one of the best pitching coaches of the last 20 years, if not ever, and since he’s now free to go wherever he wants, the Rangers should snap him up as soon as possible.

Yes, that’s right, the Orioles took yet another step in their recent disaster history by firing Mazzone.  Not unexpected, as his friend and former manager Sam Perlozzo was fired earlier in the year, and as the Orioles have no clue how to run a major league team.

Here’s the quote from his business manager, which I guess is a fancy term for agent:  “But he’s not opposed to doing what he did in Atlanta, taking a team from last to first.”  Have at it, Leo!  You could be a hero to millions of North Texans, if you could do something, anything, with this pitching staff.  There’s no bigger challenge than somehow working out how to get the Rangers to pitch, and you could work with an entire minor league system full of prospects.  Better yet, if you fail, oh well, no-one ever managed to do anything with Rangers pitchers, but if you succeed, well, you might as well write a ticket to the Hall of Fame as a certified genius.

Unfortunately, the Rangers ownership is just about as bad as the Orioles.  Which means they’ll sign onto your rebuilding plan, and in a couple of years fire you, too, just because they don’t get immediate responses to their needs.  So maybe you should stay away after all.  Bad news for Rangers fans.

Sorry to get everyone’s hopes up.  The Rangers will stick with the safe choice, the guy they already have, and steam full speed ahead, back once again in 75 win mediocrity.

Rangers Review: DH

October 12, 2007

Sammy Sammy Sammy.  Did he keep the team together, or was he the waving of a white flag before the season even began?  Jason Botts finally got a shot, did little with it, but deserves more of a chance.  Sosa will not be here when the team starts winning, despite his desire to sign a five year deal and retire as a Ranger.  Botts might be, if they just leave him alone and let him play.  He had a .981 OPS at AAA, with an incredible .436 OBP, and yet the first thing he hears from Washington is that he takes too many pitches.  Let him do what he does, every day, and you’ll get a whole lot more production that you might expect.

Sammy Sosa:  I think at the end of last year the management had a meeting, realized they weren’t going to go anywhere in 2007, and tried to see what they could do to bring in fans and attract attention.  So they signed Sosa.  That sound you heard when it was announced was a combination of Rangers fans groaning with embarrassment and the rest of the league laughing.  He was bad for the team from day one.  Oh, the Rangers will tell you he’s a great team-mate, a changed person, an RBI machine, blah blah blah.  But the fact is he cannot hit any more, not even with a corked bat, and just took time away from Jason Botts.  He didn’t even bring in the fans, there was a decided lack of enthusiasm when he hit #600, actually the only reason I was cheering him on to get there was so that they would finally sit him down and bring up Botts.  Which they did, but it was about a year too late.  There’s talk of bringing him back, Washington is a big fan, but the fact that he isn’t attracting attention from anyone else should give you a clue.  Even when the Rangers were trying to trade him at the deadline, as a killer of lefties, they didn’t get anyone to bite.  He has too much baggage, and he’s fallen too far, to be worth bringing back.  Ask yourself this:  what is a guy who hit .252, with a 99 OPS+, really worth?  I’ll tell you:  he’s worth just about what Catalanotto or Wilkerson were worth this year (except at five or eight years older, much more likely to collapse next year).  So how much more is his name worth?  And, by the way, if you take Victor Diaz’s numbers and project them to Sosa’s at-bats, you have the same guy, except Diaz would have 15 more home runs, 10 more RBIs, and is 13 years younger so is much more likely to improve.  There is talk about Sosa being an RBI machine, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true, and I intend to look at that at some point over the winter.  Ultimately a team that’s rebuilding shouldn’t be bringing in 38 year old former sluggers.

Jason Botts:  The little engine that could, Botts has done everything asked of him and more, but never gets the shot at the big leagues.  He could end up with three or four MVPs by the time he’s done, unfortunately they’ll be minor league MVPs, because the Rangers keep passing him over.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you keep a top prospect on the farm too long, he’s going to end up mad at you, and when it comes time for free agency he’s going to go somewhere else and have his good years there.  Or worse, you decide to trade him (Travis Hafner) and you don’t even get the advantage of the good cheap years.  If Botts had been brought up to stay two years ago, he’d have a whole lot of experience, the Rangers wouldn’t have wasted time and money on Sosa, and Botts would be a leader on this team.  Instead, he tore apart AAA again, and finally got brought up then jerked around by the manager, who much preferred Sosa.

Others:  Hank Blalock got some games here in September, after coming back from injury.  Catalanotto, Michael Young, Victor Diaz, Teixeira and Wilkerson all spent a little time DHing, either to give them some rest from the field or to get their bat in the lineup.

Minor leagues:  If you’re pegged as a DH in the minors, you’re in trouble.  After all, at least if you can field you have an additional skill to showcase, but if you’re just a hitter, and things go bad, you’ll be out of there.  Having said that, it’s better to be a DH than not to play at all, and you might be able to make something of yourself (see Jack Cust for an example).  In general though, DH is shared by a bunch of players taking a day off from fielding, so there aren’t many true DH prospects, especially the lower you go.  Botts, Diaz and Kevin West spent most of the DH time in AAA.  In AA Jim Fasano, Salomon Manriquez, Anthony Webster and Taylor Teagarden all got at least 15 games there, all resting from other positions.  Teagarden had spent a lot of time there in High-A as well, taking time off from catching where he is a legitimate prospect.  Several players in Low-A got a number of games there, the highlight being Chad Tracy, who spent much more time in left.  It was Ian Gac in Spokane, playing there or first, which is a fairly typical split (first basemen usually being the worst fielders, and becoming DH’s later in their careers).  Gac is only 21 though.  There was too much spread in rookie ball, Reece Creswell getting the most with 10 games there, and hitting pretty well.  The other was first round pick Michael Main, drafted as a pitcher but wanting to hit too, so they let him play there a little just to keep him happy (a foolish decision, because you risk injuring a top pick, plus he doesn’t get to sit on the bench and listen and learn from the coaches).

2008:  Lots of stories say they’ll bring back Sosa, which would be a fool’s plan.  He’s reduced to only hitting against lefties, and while he does that well, re-signing him would simply block someone else who should be given the chance to play, and determine if they will be useful in the future.  Botts is the person most likely to suffer if Sosa returns.  Botts is in danger of becoming another Travis Hafner, someone who is so messed around by the Rangers that when they’re given a chance elsewhere, they turn out to be MVP caliber.

2009 and beyond:  Botts should be given the chance, and if he is, has the potential to be the DH for several years.  If not, it’s going to be a parade.  As it probably should be, because really no-one wants to be a DH, they normally only get there if they can hit but can’t field.  Usually older players, which is why the minors are so empty of regular DH’s.  Of all the players, Taylor Teagarden is probably the most intriguing, because he can DH on the days he is not catching.  DH is not really a position you should plan for though, it’s really just whoever is left over after all your fielders are assigned.  Or at least, that’s what it should be, because ideally all of your players should be able to play a position well enough that they can rotate through the DH to get a rest, not to hide their fielding.

Rangers Review: Right Field

October 11, 2007

Another mixed-up position, where the traffic flowed through, and anyone handed the chance to take the job threw it away.  Nelson Cruz threw it away at the start of the year, went to AAA and tore up the place, came back up and stank again.  Victor Diaz got time there early on, was doing okay but went down anyway.  Marlon Byrd got in there when David Murphy took over in center, and Sosa and Wilkerson tried there too.  All three outfield positions were the same, running people through to try and get someone to stick.

Nelson Cruz summary:  Still waiting for Cruz to put it all together at the big league level.  He’s been a minor league MVP, and was one of the keys when Coco was traded to Milwaukee, but he’s taking his sweet time adjusting to the majors, and Ron Washington has let him know it.  Now 26, what does he have to do to win the job?  Maybe nothing, because maybe Washington is already so frustrated with his inconsistency that he won’t give him a chance.  He struggled badly in the early part of the year, went to AAA and tore up the place, then came back with a new batting stance, started out really well (two homers in his first game back), but then stumbled and bumbled to the end of the year.  His minor league OPS was 1.126, in the majors it was .671.  With an improved second half, he will get another shot, but he may have already burned too many bridges to get a good go next time round.

Victor Diaz summary:  Hit exactly league average during his month with the big club, but only had 104 at-bats in that time, and was used sparingly by Washington while he was up.  His prospect status is still intact though, because he’s only 25 and killed at AAA (.917 OPS) when he went back down.  Combined 23 home runs in both places, in under 400 at-bats, but will he be given the opportunity to play every day?

Others:  Everyone else who played here (Byrd, Sosa, Wilkerson, Murphy, Hairston and Mahar) has been or will be covered elsewhere.

Minor leagues:  Once again the Rangers have prospects in the middle minors, but little elsewhere.  If anything they have too many average guys at the top, none of whom have enough opportunity to stand out.  Byrd, Cruz, Diaz and Mahar all took turns at right in AAA, with Mahar spending the most time there.  He’s getting old for a prospect (26) and isn’t hitting very well, so may have leveled out.  John Mayberry is one of the Rangers top prospects, combining for 30 home runs at A and AA.  Following behind him are Anthony Webster and Jon Weber, similar names but neither is likely to do much.  Weber in particular hit well at High-A, but is much older than the league, so is probably no prospect.  In Low-A, KC Herren worked very well at an age-appropriate level, so could either continue to develop or fall off the tracks.  Victor Barrios and Eric Fry split time at Spokane, neither showed much but each has time to put it all together.  And in rookie ball, Miguel Velazquez did some good in a short period of time.

2008:  It’s almost as if there are too many players for this spot, and if one slips even slightly, he will quickly be replaced.  Long gone are the days when Juan Gone roamed right field, banging home runs all over the place.  Now there’s a bunch of prospects, each one able to hit home runs in the minors but not yet in the majors.  Unless they look for a free agent, the Rangers will likely begin with Cruz or Diaz in right, with Murphy/Byrd playing fourth outfielder and getting in there every so often.  Don’t plan on any kind of stability here yet.

2009 and beyond:  Surely one of these guys will step up and grasp the brass ring?  Like the other outfield spots, it’s in so much flux that there’s no way to predict what might happen.  Either the Rangers will go for a big name center fielder and let the four or five guys left behind battle for the left and right field spots, or they’ll decide they don’t have what they need and another big name will come into right as well.  It’s been years since the Rangers had a productive outfield, they’ve let all three positions lag, and they need to get them working again before they can contend.  John Mayberry is the great hope of the minors in right, and although he might have a chance at 2009, he’s more likely to be in Arlington in 2010.

Playoff Picks, round 2

October 11, 2007

I’m pleased to report that my experiment with randomness worked perfectly in the Division Series’.  Choosing largely at random (well, not really, but let’s pretend for the purposes of this article) I got two out of four picks right.  My specious reasoning worked for the two series that I picked someone because I didn’t like the other team (Indians over Yankees and D’Backs over Cubs) and didn’t work when I actually thought something out.  If you looked back at that pick article, you’d see the two I got right have a single line explaining why, and the two I got wrong have long reasoning.

I was surprised that the Angels laid down and died like they did.  There’s an old theory that a team that wins their league early then struggles in the playoffs, because they’ve gotten out of the fighting mentality.  That would be true for the Angels, I don’t know if they were the first team to clinch a playoff spot but they were certainly easy winners of the AL West, in fact I think for about the last two months they were cruising.  Most everyone else fought close to the end, yes even the Red Sox, who held off a surging Yankees team.  The Yankees of course suck, which is why they last.  Another “har-har” for A-Rod, and this time not even Mr Clutch Derek Jeter could keep them alive, as his clutchiness turned out to be clutching at straws.  I hope A-Rod chooses free agency, just so the Rangers get $20 million back they wouldn’t have to pay him.

So, let’s pick again:

Indians and Red Sox:  Indians, I think.  Because the Indians had to fight (a little) to beat the Yankees, while the Red Sox strolled over the Angels, so using the previously described mentality, it’s the Indians turn.  Especially if they get those bugs going again.

Diamondbacks and Rockies:  Not sure I care that much.  It’s a nice local rivalry between two recent expansion teams, just serving to highlight that the Rangers have sucked for a lot longer than these guys.  I really can’t pick that much between them, except the Rockies have the long winning streak going.  I can’t see them maintaining it all the way through the playoffs though.  I’ll pick the Diamondbacks.

Whoever wins the AL battle will win the World Series.  That much I guarantee.

Disclaimer:  Although writing this after the first NLCS game, I made my picks earlier today.  And I’m not changing them just because the Rockies won the first game.