Archive for February, 2008

Odds, ends, nothing to see here

February 27, 2008

Way back in October I was sure I was going to write more on this blog during the winter (of our discontent). I was of course going to be witty and insightful, exposing Rangers players and management in various ways, and pointing out exactly who they needed to sign and trade to get competitive (hint: Ben Broussard and Jason Jennings would not have been mentioned, unless I was writing the “stay far away” paragraph). Now we get into February, the spring (training) has sprung, the grass is still dead on the lawn outside (I know it rains in Texas, I’ve seen it happen once or twice), and our thoughts turn to men playing ball in Arizona and Florida and wish they were back here again, where the games actually count. Heck, just a month and a half away now. Every idea I have for a blog either disappears by the time I sit down to write, in which case I end up just playing games then going to bed, or sits unread in a pile, waiting for May or June or July, take your pick for the month in which the Rangers will be officially eliminated this year.

But tonight my current favorite online game is down, so without any further ado, I can pour forth a stream of consciousness that may have some news, may have some insight, but more likely is the rambling of someone well after midnight, trying to distill a winter’s worth of thoughts…

Today on ESPN the Rangers have the front page of the baseball section, with a story about Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley. Anything worthwhile in it? Not really. These are two players who, like it or not, are majorly damaged goods, and so we’ve heard their stories a thousand times already. When the fact that Young, Kinsler and Blalock are covered for watching Hamilton talk about his addiction is headline news, you know there are too many reporters in Arizona with nothing to say. Woo-hoo, they supported him. Let’s wait and see how well they’re all getting along in July, 20 games out and just killing time until October, or a trade.

My favorite quote from the story: “Daniels, to his credit, did his homework before making the commitment. He notes that San Diego, Kansas City, the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh and the Rangers all had interest in Bradley when Oakland traded him to the Padres last summer. Why is that significant?” Uhh, because a bunch of desperate and/or sucky teams are all that could dredge up interest in him? At least Mench had the decency to pretend it was the Yankees (and the Royals) after him, before signing his minor league deal here.

Jamey Newberg gave a link to this article, and it was so good I have to pass it on too. When something begins with “We’re glad you’ll be joining us for year 36 of our eternal rebuilding project”, you either have to laugh or grin ruefully.

With thanks to my fans, Ioannis from the wonderfully quirky Tina Yothers Sports blog asked what I thought of the Kinsler signing. I have to agree with Jamey, it’s a pretty good deal compared to market. Jamey broke down his deal in comparison to Brandon Phillips, and it looks like the Rangers will actually be saving some money in that comparison. Kinsler was, in my opinion, overrated this past year, as the Rangers second basemen ranked 10th out of 14 in the AL in Runs Created. Granted, he missed time and some of the sludge they put out there in his place hurt that ranking. But still, at best you’d have gotten him as an average player (in his two seasons he has a 106 and a 109 OPS+, a little above average). He had issues with the glove for a while, which hopefully he has worked on (or is doing so right now). The best thing to say about him though is that he is only 25, and we can look forward to some good years to come. In 2007 he was 20-20, I wouldn’t bet against him being 30-30 in 2008, and possibly a year or two more after that. Ioannis, in response to your question, I like the deal. I like the player and his future. But I have to admit, I’ve never (or at least not yet) warmed to Kinsler like many have. He seems to be, I don’t know, a pretty cold fish? Maybe I’m just talking out my hat (or the other end, since I’m not wearing a hat), but I just don’t see him as that likable.

Now, speaking of fan mail. Here’s a link to an article I wrote way back in August. Go on, go read it, I’ll wait. Oh, okay, let me skip to the good part: read the comments. Some dude, purporting to be Major League Umpire Bill Miller (with an email address to match, although of course I am not going to publish that), commented last week about the blog posting, because it was all about bad calls and arguments between the Rangers and, you guessed it, Umpire Bill Miller. Now, I already did a pretty big rant in my response to his comment, which you can go read for the full details, but the highlight for me is the fact that an umpire (allegedly) is posting on a blog SIX MONTHS LATER about a call he made! First of all, why on earth would an umpire call attention to himself like this? Why would he expose himself like this? If it’s really him, and it really bothers him this much, what do the Rangers have to be thinking next time they step up with him behind the plate?

My feelings about umpires have been made clear over the last year. I’m a former soccer referee, so I’ve tasted what they have to go through (not at their level, of course, although I did have to deal with parents of teenagers). I understand the human factor and accept it as part of the game. I wish they would use the technology at their disposal to get it right as much as possible, even knowing they get 99 out of 100 right already. But my biggest peeve with umpires is their stubborn refusal to consider they may be wrong, to be willing to change a call, and to be willing to stand up after a game and talk to the media, and say oops, I blew that one, didn’t I? If they weren’t all so afraid for their jobs, with MLB breathing down their necks all the time, maybe they’d be a little more open. I don’t think that attitude is going to change anytime soon though. Those sorts of institutionalized attitudes usually stick around until the older umpires die out, and the younger ones get more voice. So we’ll check back in 20 or 30 years and see what difference there is in the game then.

You’ve probably heard about this already, but once again Tom Hicks is the toast of England. Or at least his son (and heir to the Rangers) is: “Thomas Jnr was spat at and chased out of a pub by angry fans”. Liverpool is a proud franchise (actually don’t call them a franchise, that’s an American term they hate) in soccer (and don’t call it soccer either, it’s football), one of the winningest teams of all time, and pretty much since Hicks bought them a year ago, they’ve been sucking like never before. As an Arsenal fan, I love it, but as a Rangers fan, all I can do is watch and realize that Liverpool is just following the trail blazed by the Rangers those many years ago – a descent into suckdom. At least they have a history, we have three first round playoff exits to look back on (hey, did you know the Rangers only ever won one playoff game?!! Well if you didn’t, you can hear it pretty much every night on any news channel in Dallas).

Okay, so a little real player news: the brilliant plan for 2008 (Let’s get some more bats! Our pitching was good enough last year, and now they’re another year past their prime they’ll be even better!) is already unraveling. You’ll remember the injury woes of 2007, in fact if you read the sports pages this week you’ll think you were back in 2007, as both Millwood and McCarthy are starting the spring lame. Didn’t Millwood do a bunch of karate this winter to banish those worries? Yes, with two fifths of our rotation already skipping a start (and with our history, likely to skip half a season), the great idea to trade Volquez for some stoner is paying big dividends.

Speaking of, did you know that Hamilton can hit opposite field home runs in Surprise? That’s impressive, because you know, that ballpark is only 11 feet shorter than Arlington in left-center (larger in some places, smaller in others), and really, who cares about that whole high altitude ball-travels-further thing anyway? Look, all we need is for our opponents to throw batting-practice pitches to him, and I’m sure he can break Barry Bonds’ record. The home run one, not the drug one.

As I write, the poll on the Rangers site is “What is the most important issue for the Rangers to settle this Spring Training?”. The choices are Cleanup Hitter, Closer, Right-Handed DH and Starting Catcher.  Boy oh boy, this one just writes itself, doesn’t it?  Yes, the choice of Right-Handed DH is the one that’s either going to take the team to the World Series or put them at 73-89 again.  Come on, Right-Handed DH?  Who would ever have thought that someone would need to platoon the DH, the position who’s only job is to hit?  I say put out just one DH, and use the other roster spot for the sixth starter – it’ll save some gas flying them to Oklahoma and back every other week.  Besides, you know if they asked this question on the street, they wouldn’t need multi choice answers, because everyone would have said “pitching” before they even finished the question.

Man, I’m really in a cranky mood tonight. And a pretty weird one, too. If it were August, and Josh Lewin was singing something, or making one of his bizarre 80’s pop-culture references (nothing about Tina Yothers though), I’d be ready to stuff his microphone down his throat. Of course, this season I think Tom Grieve is going to finally snap and beat me to it…

Advertisements

Sit down, Mr Stand-up

February 13, 2008

According to Wikipedia, a mensch is a good person, or a stand-up guy. You would probably say that about Kevin Mench, too, although not so much for his playing ability. According to all the reports today, after he signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, he was a fan favorite in the years he was here. He wasn’t a favorite of mine, and he wasn’t a favorite of Brewers fans the last year and a half. Like them, I thought he wasted his talent, he was too happy-go-lucky, and his lackadaisical play cost more than a few hits to fall in front of him. He did not seem to be that determined to stick in the big leagues, at least not for anyone who considered hustle to be worth something.

Jamey Newberg said that he signed a minor league deal with the Rangers despite having talked to both the Yankees and the Royals. Now, you can’t get much further apart than those two teams, and the Rangers are a whole lot closer to the Royals than the Yankees. I can’t imagine how Yankees fans would have roasted him the first time he dogged it during a game – if Brewers fans didn’t like him, Yankees fans would have killed him. And Royals fans? Since there aren’t any, they wouldn’t have noticed anyway.

But he’s a Ranger again, and Jamey seems to like the deal, because it includes the minor league portion where we can dump him in Oklahoma as insurance. My first instinct is to say “you can never go back again” (and it would be interesting to study that, the performance of a player in their second stint with a team). My second instinct is to say that we already have Ben Broussard to fill in the chunky past-their-prime role.

My third instinct is the important one though (if any of my instincts can be considered “important”). That instinct says that the team is not going to contend in 2008. The team is not going to contend in 2009. The team will be better and ought to be near to contending in 2010. By that time Mench will be 32, and may not even be with the team, let alone in the big leagues. If he is, then the great hopes will have sunk pretty fast, along with his OPS, which is showing a pretty standard curve, although he peaked a little early at 26 and has been downhill since. Broussard shows the same curve, with a peak at 27. Is it just coincidence they both had their best years in 2004? Not if you believe TR Sullivan, who wrote a couple of days ago that the 2008 Rangers are counting on a whole bunch of guys bouncing back and having good years again, despite being two, three, or four years off their best. Apparently the Rangers have never seen (or don’t understand) career curves, which tell you that most players peak about 27 and then fall off (yes, Clemens is a noticeable exception, whether or not he was using rocket fuel). Sullivan comes up with the laughable idea that the Rangers could be legitimate contenders if all their guys turn around and get back to their best years. Sorry to say that unless the Rangers have a time machine, that ain’t gonna happen.

So my third instinct boils down to this: every at-bat Kevin Mench gets (yes Jamey, even the spring training and minor league ones) is a wasted one for this franchise. Just like every at-bat that Edgardo Alfonzo gets. And Ben Broussard, Ramon Vazquez and Adam Melhuse. And every pitch thrown by Eddie Guardado and Jason Jennings. The only way any of these guys will contribute to the franchise is if they can be traded in June or July, and none of them are going to bring anything good back. The only way this team gets better is to take the Detroit route: get rid of all the old guys, and let the kids play a year or two. Let the likes of Botts play every day (which he should have been doing the last two years), and prove themselves, or sink into oblivion. The cream will rise to the top, and it will build a core of a contending team – just like Detroit did. The Tigers had to suffer through a 43 win season, but I’d rather do that and look forward to a winning future, than spend the next few years like the last few, struggling to try and get the team to .500.

I had a few more words of wisdom here, but WordPress just ate them. Suffice to say that I don’t like the signing of Mench, or any of the overage undertalented guys we’ve been picking up. And I wonder what Nolan Ryan thinks of it all, maybe he and Mench can have a contest to see which of the fan favorites can put more bums in seats. Still, they’re cheaper seats than the new Cowboys stadium will be.

We got ourselves a pitcher!

February 8, 2008

Finally, after months of chasing outfielders and stacking up marginal first baseman like they’re firewood for the winter which doesn’t seem like it’s going to arrive, the Rangers addressed the gaping hole in the roster and went out and got themselves a top notch pitcher.  And it’s a blast from the past, as they bring back Nolan Ryan for yet another victory tour.  You know how successful he was in his career, all those World Series wins, part of the Rangers team that brought respectability to North Texas baseball, and so on.  So look for the good times to be rolling again, the only question being whether he’ll be considered the number one starter, or if he’ll slot into number two behind kickboxing Kevin Millwood.  I say put Ryan in the second spot, after all, he’s had a long layoff so he might be a little tired, and it’ll reduce the pressure on him, too.

What do you mean, he’s not here to pitch?  Club President?  What the hell?  You mean after all this time, when all they’ve done is bring in roster filler, this is the big announcement?  That some plenty-has-been who wasn’t even that good as a player is now back to be President?  That they neuter Jon Daniels on one hand (ewww), and give him an extension on the other just to pretend he’s still the man?

I know that Hicks has been busy with his Liverpool soccer team (if you don’t follow soccer, the quick summary would be:  borrowed too much money to buy the team; trying to build a new stadium but discovering the folks over in England aren’t as eager as the folks here are to give billionaires their money; fighting off rumors he’s already going to sell the team, to some outfit from Dubai; and hated so much by the fans that they’re trying to form their own consortium to buy him out – can you imagine 100,000 Rangers fans giving $3000 each to buy the Rangers?  That’s what their pie in the sky idea is).  But he’s apparently been so busy over there that he’s reduced to stunts like this, signing the great Nolan Ryan as president of his team.  Yes, it got him on the front page of ESPN.com, and all the local media, but that will disappear very quickly.  When the dust clears, all you’ve got is another face in the front office to take some of the heat off Hicks’ pathetic management of the team.  And just wait until he has to fire Ryan, or the contract ends and isn’t renewed – what will the media say then?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I do not like Nolan Ryan.  You can talk all you like about his career, his deification by the fans, the Hall of Fame, etc etc.  Fact is, he is one of the worst pitchers in the Hall.  Fact is, all his records are counting stats, there simply because he hung around until he broke down.  Fact is, his strikeout record is more than offset by his walk record.  Fact is, he was a mediocre pitcher who pitched for a long time.  That old joke about how do you replace 16-14 Ryan?  Get two 8-7 pitchers.  It’s completely true.  Ryan’s problem wasn’t the lack of support (the first excuse that’s usually trotted out in his defense), because that was caused as much by the ballparks he pitched in (for most of his career he pitched for Houston and California, in enormous ballparks that suppressed his teammates run support as much as it reduced his own ERA).  After all, he chose the teams, and even when offered the chance to go to the Yankees he picked “home” with the Astros instead.  Ryan’s problem was that he could never let up, even a little – his gameplan was to strike everybody out, and if he had to walk them all to do it, he would.  He could have been the greatest pitcher of all time (and for those of you who think he was, well, to put it simply, you’re an idiot), but that inability to get a groundball out on one pitch instead of trying to blow six pitches by you cost him a lot.

One of my side projects has been a statistical study of Ryan’s career.  I have been working on it for several years now, and had thoughts of completing it and posting it this winter, but never got round to it.  Would have been really good timing if I had.  Maybe next winter.  It’s a multiple part series, examining all sorts of numbers related to him, everything from the stuff I talk about above down to how well his bullpen supported him.  Stick around, it should be good reading whenever I get to finishing it.
Among the jokes in the press conference was the fact that they really have no plan for him.  They couldn’t identify a structure, whether Jon Daniels reports to him or not, whether he could fire JD, or even what he is going to do.  He talked about having input on signings, and on the system, but only when it was asked for.  The whole impression that was given was that they were bringing in this figurehead, this nice old grandpa, the guy that everyone loves, and he’s going to turn around the team by doing… what?  Because with the small level of success the team has had lately (being named the fourth best minor league system by Baseball America – yes, that is the level of success the Rangers have to trumpet these days), the question has to be asked whether he is going to do anything to continue that trend, or worse, if it all falls apart is he going to be the one to get the blame?

Another laughable part was his pointing out he’d be moving his calendar around to accommodate the job.  And their point that they used this to gain credibility with the fans, after a poor season at the box office.  Ask yourself this:  how many games will you attend this year because Nolan Ryan is the team president?  If you add up every fan’s answer, you’re going to get a number pretty darn close to zero.  Better yet, maybe the team will win a few extra games this year, attendance will go up a little, and they’ll say that it was the boost by Nolan that did it.  They just don’t seem to realize, none of the rest of it matters – it’s what happens on the field that is what the fans care about.  Not some rich guy playing his little games of sports empire, and not some guy who was famous twenty year ago.  Just win, baby.