Archive for the ‘Brandon McCarthy’ Category

It’s June, time for the collapse to begin

June 9, 2009

I write this in my head every day.  It’s the getting it out through my fingertips that is the problem.

I want the Rangers to win, I really do.  I want them to make the playoffs, to actually win a playoff series, to win it all.  I’d love it if it was this year.  But as a Rangers fan (and an Arsenal fan) I know that it is far too easy for a team to set you up and then knock you down.  Every day I am just waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the bandwagon to turn into a pumpkin.  That’s the way my mindset works.  The longer it takes for the Rangers to fall away, the worse it is going to be.  That tiny little feeling in the back of my mind that yes, they really are going to do it, is just going to end up a cruel joke.  And those folks who are getting on the bandwagon are going to be getting off in a hurry (Newy Scruggs, who has built his Dallas career on slamming the Rangers, had the gall on the radio today to be telling folks to shut up and enjoy the ride), and many of them will be having fun at my expense (all the people in my office who today are coming up to me and talking about “our” Rangers, in September they’ll be saying how much “your” team sucks for blowing it).  I can’t stand it, as Charlie Brown would appropriately say.

All of Tom Hicks’ teams are falling apart financially.  Even Liverpool lost fifty million pounds, seventy-five million dollars give or take, although they’re pretty much blaming the way he financed the team for that.  It’s funny, this is one of those cases where you’re enjoying a banker getting his, but then realizing what it could mean for the team.  Nolan Ryan as the owner?  Not many would say that was a bad thing.  But who else might want to get in on it?  David McDavid was rumored, not sure how a guy in the car business would get that kind of money these days.  And then there’s the man himself, Mr Cuban.  Out of the frying pan indeed.

You know what’s funny?  For years I’ve seen guys like Adam Dunn or Ryan Howard striking out near 200 times, and said who cares, it’s just an out, and they’re still hitting 40 home runs.  But when it’s one of ours, somehow it’s personal.  I think Chris Davis needs to go back to the minors, sad as that would be.  I just don’t want to see him flailing wildly again any more.  I’ve gotten to the point of closing my eyes or leaving the room when he bats.  It’s sad when they have to pinch-hit Andruw Jones for him to avoid a sombrero.

Wash was renewed today, of course, just a day after ESPN published a story saying how he wasn’t happy that he hadn’t been renewed yet.  Okay, technically he said he didn’t care, that he’d find something, but still, it was interesting timing.  I wish I had the dates from when he was extended last year, I’m pretty sure it came after a hot streak and was followed by the team’s collapse, but I may just be dreaming that (or foretelling it).

McCarthy is so brittle, they ought to check to make sure he has all his bones.  Although if they do, they’ll probably find another one he can break.  So much promise, so little on-field time.  You could argue that this comes so soon after his back-to-back 118 and 124 pitch starts, that surely they’re related.  I ought to make a chart showing the pitchers’ recent performances before their injuries.

Way back at the start of the season I said “I will bet you that one or more of these first four starters will be on the DL by the end of the month.”  Well, I was off a little, both in numbers and time.  The first five starters of the season were Millwood, Padilla, McCarthy, Benson and Harrison.  Four of them have now spent time on the DL.  Wow.  How are the Rangers still managing to win?  Maybe they are star-crossed this season.

You’re not a true DIYer until you’ve fallen through a ceiling.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Padilla is infuriating.  I’ve said before that I watch his starts hiding behind the chair, just peeking now and then, waiting for the meltdown to happen.  Was that whole waiver thing really an attempt at a wake-up call?  Could they really afford to dump him now, when there’s no-one else left to go into the rotation?

Holland isn’t going to be a big league starter.  Not with three pitches, one of which he throws 80 percent of the time.  You can blow a 97 mph fastball past AA players, but in the majors they feast on it all day long.  Have you noticed how the more he pitches, the more he’s hit, and the worse he looks?  Okay, he’s still young, but there’s a lot more development needed.

I’m going to predict right now that the Rangers will make a blockbuster trade this month, for a starting pitcher.  The sooner the better.  I’m not saying Halladay or Greinke caliber, but Bedard might be available (although not necessarily within the division), or maybe Cliff Lee?

It says something when you’re unhappy about the Rangers splitting a road trip to NY and Boston.

As of when I write, the Rangers are leading the majors in Ultimate Zone Rating, or UZR, one of the better fielding ratings out there.  That’s going from dead last a year ago.  Really, the only significant change was moving Michael Young to third and bringing in Elvis at short.  Somehow, Michael is actually a worse third baseman than shortstop (you can make the excuse that he’s learning the position all you want.  I’ll just reply with the defensive spectrum, that short is a much harder position to field).  He’s even worse than the rag-tag mob that played there last year.  Between Elvis, who is head and shoulders above any other shortstop in baseball this year, and Kinsler, who has made a dramatic improvement, they’ve lifted the team a lot.  There are people who say the change this year is not the pitching, it’s the fielding, and they may be right.  Could all that losing of the last decade be placed on the horrible fielding from Michael Young?  If we’d had a decent shortstop in that time, could things have looked a lot different?  Something for the simulations, I guess.

2am.  This is why I don’t post that much.  Won’t even have any time for some Far Cry.  And only 17 hours until it all starts up again.

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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.

Danks but no Danks

August 30, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

John Danks

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

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

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

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

The odds are against us

August 6, 2007

There is a perception that the Rangers have played well against good teams and badly against bad teams this season. Funnily enough, my “other” team, Arsenal, exhibited the exact same behavior last year, having winning records against the others of the “big four” teams, but losing some shockingly bad games to some very lowly teams. In both cases, I almost feel like there’s a relaxation when they get to these games, where they think they don’t have to work for the whole game to get a result, almost as though they’re destined to win. Arsenal have a strong recent winning history, which suggests that they might do this, or at least be able to do this, but the Rangers have been struggling for so long it’s surprising they would think the same way. After all, you shouldn’t be thinking that you can relax against “the bad teams”, when you are one of the bad teams.

In their last four series, the Rangers swept Seattle in four games, a team that is now 13 games ahead of the Rangers. Then they were swept in Kansas City against a team that is horrible, yet still now a half game ahead of the Rangers in the standings. They then went and won two out of three in Cleveland, a team that is leading it’s division and fully fourteen games ahead of the Rangers. But then they went to Canada, and were swept by the Jays (are they still the Blue Jays? Their shirts said Jays, and I know they were trying to drop the Blue from their name a while back), who are now 8.5 games ahead of the Rangers. If you’d pick a series to be swept in out of those, you’d certainly have laid your money on the Cleveland trip.

Using some math from the excellent Diamond Mind site, I calculated that the odds of the Rangers being swept by the Royals, given their respective winning percentages, was 12.1%. That’s about one in eight. The odds of their winning two out of three against Cleveland was 25.6%, or a quarter. And the odds of being swept by Toronto were 18.8%, just under one in five. Put it all together and the odds of their doing exactly what they did in the road trip was .5%, or about one in 160. Does that seem excessive to you? Yeah, possibly, although if I were to expand this study to more teams, I bet I’d find similar results all over the place, any time a team goes into a slump they’re upsetting the odds. What does all this mean, though? Let me put it this way: the odds of the Rangers winning two out of three against KC and Toronto, and being swept by Cleveland, were about five times higher than what actually happened.

Okay, never mind all that. How about we just say the Rangers sucked on the road trip? They scored 28 runs in 9 games, an average of 3.11, take out the one game where they scored 9, and the average drops to 2.38. They conceded 53, for an average of 5.89. In other words they lost 6-3 on average. Once again, only McCarthy seemed to be pitching anything decent, although Gabbard did have a good start.

Here’s how the first inning went for the Rangers today: Cat homered on a 1-2 pitch. Kinsler struck out on three pitches. Young singled on 1-0. Sosa singled on the first pitch. Nelson Cruz struck out on 3-2. Wilkerson struck out on 1-2. At that point, the end of the first, I thought to myself that hey, we got a run, and it seemed like everyone had gotten to two strikes (which of course they hadn’t, four out of six did). I had barely even noticed there were three strikeouts, I was pleased because they’d made the Toronto pitcher throw 22 pitches in the first inning. Of course, their pitcher, McGowan, ended up going into the 9th, throwing 106 pitches, so after the first he averaged just 12 pitches an inning. Not good.

On the other side of things, it didn’t even register with me that McCarthy was throwing so many pitches in his first inning, I just noticed the walks. Turns out he threw 31 pitches that inning, ended up with 104, just two less than McGowan, but McCarthy only made it through six innings. Letting guys take you deep into the count, especially early in the game, is what will end up hurting you, and that does seem to have been McCarthy’s biggest flaw, throwing lots of pitches but not many innings. In fact, six times now he has thrown 100 or more pitches this year, and another five over 90, and in all that time he’s only gotten past six innings one time. McCarthy really needs to work on getting that down, because the number of pitches he’s throwing is too high. As a matter of fact, just tonight Sal Baxamusa on The Hardball Times had an article on just this very thing, which says that the average number of pitches per plate appearance last year was 3.8.  McCarthy’s throwing about 4.06, which doesn’t seem much higher, but if you think of him facing 26 batters, like he did today, that’s almost an extra seven pitches, which is almost an extra two batters (hopefully two outs) that the bullpen doesn’t have to face.  How much happier would you be with a pitcher throwing 6 2/3 innings each time, rather than 6?  Of course, you’d get even better results if he threw more strikes, and wasn’t walking a batter every other inning.

So what’s coming up?  Home for Oakland, Tampa Bay and Kansas City.  Normally you’d say wins all around, but the way they’re going, I wouldn’t count on it.  Normally I’d say it’ll be a 6-3 or 7-2 homestand, but unless they’re embarrassed during their long plane home ride tonight, they may come crawling home with their tails between their legs, and go and get dumped on by some of the worst teams in baseball.  Leading us, once again, to the conclusion that hey, the Rangers are one of the worst teams, and have been for a long while now.

You spin me right round baby

August 4, 2007

I’ve been pondering a question all day today. It’s something I’ve thought and written about a few times recently, it’s something all Rangers fans think about now and again, it’s something that fans of any other team immediately think about when you mention the Rangers. It is, of course, where’s the pitching? More specifically, for today, my question is: who’s going to be in the rotation next year?

For the last few weeks, every time I wrote about trading Tex, or the trade deadline in general, my main theme was always pitching, pitching, pitching. In trading the three players that they did, they got nine in return, of whom only two are major league ready, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kason Gabbard, one (Matt Harrison) is about AA level, and the rest are prospects, years away if they ever make it. In fact, of the nine, they ended up with four pitchers, which totally blows away my theory of getting more pitching. Not only that, but much of the criticism has been based on how many they got and how low they were. In other words, why trade Tex for five players, mostly low prospects, when a team might have been willing to go with two high prospects. I had set my sights on guys who were ready for the big leagues, AAA types, and they didn’t materialize. Oh, we got Gabbard, who I’m actually very pleased about, but what might we have had if we’d said forget the other two players in this deal, give us one single higher level player, a Jon Lester type guy (though not necessarily actually him). Again, to be fair, the deal with Boston got us much more than I ever hoped, I was expecting one AA level player for Gagne, to get a major league pitcher plus two others for him was excellent. But turn back to the Tex trade, and ask why we would make Salty the centerpiece, when we could have had one of their top pitching prospects? No offense to him, I expect him to become a top player for us, but why are we insisting on getting a first baseman back (yes, okay, he plays catcher sometimes too), when first baseman grow on trees and pitchers are what is coveted?

So, to get back to the point of this blog entry, how does our rotations shape up for 2008? Yes, asking that in the middle of the 2007 season is asking to be second guessed all the way, but since the team has to be thinking 2008 at this point, we may as well address it too.

Here’s who I think the candidates are currently: Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Kameron Loe, Brandon McCarthy, Mike Wood, John Rheinecker, Robinson Tejeda, Jamey Wright, Willie Eyre, Kason Gabbard, Eric Hurley, Josh Rupe, Armando Galarraga, Edinson Volquez. Now, some of these guys are locks, some of them are from my hopes or dreams, some of them may require a lot of other people to fall down in front of them, but all of them have to be considered legitimate candidates.

Locks: Millwood, Padilla, Loe, McCarthy. Does that seriously seem reasonable, that you’d have four locks for five slots already? No, of course not. In fact, quite honestly I’d say there’s only one lock right now, and that’s McCarthy. Apart from pitching very well since the beginning of May (once he got his nerves from the trade out of the way), he’s also one of Jon Daniels’ major trade acquisitions, received for the blue chip prospect John Danks (checked him out lately? I know it’s his first season in the bigs, but I’d take McCarthy over him, especially given his home run rate), which means Daniels has a lot riding on his success. His injury worries this year have been relatively minor (blisters on his fingers), and something that a competent pitching coach should be able to improve. Of the others, Padilla has been on the DL for weeks, although he may be back soonish, and has a big contract that a) is too big to be moved, and b) means he won’t be sent to the bullpen. As long as he’s healthy, he’s in the rotation. Kam Loe went on the DL today, with a stressed back, which is hard to tell from what they said how bad it will be. Given his performances though, he’ll be in. Millwood has had injury and ineffectiveness problems all year, but he also has a huge contract. He’s been making some noise about wanting to contend, not rebuild. If he makes enough noise, and we eat enough of the contract, he could be gone, but right now you’ve got to think he’s in. So that’s four.

Bubbles: Kason Gabbard. Mike Wood. John Rheinecker. Gabbard has to be the front runner, simply because of his success this year, but also because of the desire to show something from the Gagne trade. Wood and Rheinecker have pretty much proven themselves in AAA, but haven’t made a breakthrough in the majors yet. They both have mid-3 ERAs in Oklahoma, and mid-5s in the majors. Wood has a few years on him now, but hasn’t grasped the brass ring, and Rheinecker has had a little taste here and there but not taken it either. Remember Rheinecker’s comments before the trade deadline, about how if the Rangers didn’t want him, there were plenty of teams ready to trade? Laughable, really. They’re both getting a little old (27 and 28) to be pushing their prospect status, they’ll likely make it as journeymen if anything.

Rising: Eric Hurley. Hurley is the stud of the minors, and it’s highly possible he’ll get a few starts in September. Good work in those, plus a good spring, will put him on the bubble too.

Slipping: Robinson Tejeda. Jamey Wright. Willie Eyre. Tejeda you know about, back in AAA after a miserable half season in Arlington, I’m guessing it’s at least a year before he’s back, and even then he might have converted to a reliever. Wright lost his rotation spot to Gabbard, showing where he is in the team’s plans, which is interesting because he wasn’t horrible in the Arlington rotation (4.57 ERA, although far too many walks and too few strikeouts), but he’s just as likely to be a free agent as to be in the team’s plans. Willie Eyre isn’t slipping really, he’s simply been too valuable in the bullpen as the long man, and his lone start notwithstanding, if he comes back that’s probably his destination.

Not yet: Armando Galarraga. Edinson Volquez. Josh Rupe. Galarraga might prove to be the most successful result from the Soriano trade. His numbers across the board in Frisco were good, enough to get him a promotion to AAA, but he’s 25 and running out of prospect time. Won’t make it in 2008, but should be a candidate for 2009. Volquez, well, he was rushed too far too fast, and fell back to earth with a crash. Don’t forget he’s only 24, and should never have been in Arlington the last two years. Got himself back on track somewhat this year, but he’s also a year or more away from getting back to the show. Rupe was coming up and up, getting some time in the last two years, but injury has curtailed him a lot. He’s been decent as a starter in AAA this year, which puts him in this list, but my guess is he goes back to OKC to get more time in there.

So, throwing out the wildcards, the guys not likely to be here next year (either in the minors for sure or in another organization), what do we have left? Millwood, Padilla, Loe, McCarthy, Gabbard as the front five. Wood, Rheinecker and Hurley as the next three. The others are all unlikelies.

In the greatest teams, you look at their rotations and you don’t see a number one, two, three, four and five pitcher, you see a couple of ones, a couple of twos and a three. In most any playoff team, you’ll get a one, one or two twos, one or two threes, and a four (did you get all that?). Whatever you have, you need a one, and every five you have reduces your chances (and if you have sixes and sevens in there, you’re dead).  There aren’t that many ones (Clemens, Maddux, Santana, maybe a couple of others hanging around would qualify in the last few years), and there are far too many fives for anyone.

Millwood, at his absolute best, might have been considered a number one pitcher for maybe two seasons, and a number two for a couple more. Most of the time he’s been a three, which is probably where he’s at right now. What’s interesting, I just read somewhere in the last day or two but I don’t remember where, looking at his career, is how every three years he’s had a huge leap for a season, and 2008 will be a third year. How likely is that to continue next year, given that he’ll be 33?

Padilla had a decent year last year, and parleyed that into a three year deal with the Rangers, which we regretted pretty much from signing. A career 101 ERA+, meaning just barely better than league average, last year was in fact the first time since 2003 that he’d gotten over 100, and even then he only made it to 104. This year, 69. If he can’t get over his injury woes, or his mood swings, he’ll be a millstone on the team, but in fact if he does get over them, he’ll merely be a dragging anchor. I would never have considered him anything more than a number four starter, and probably even a five.

Loe just went on the DL today, hopefully for a short period but of long term concern, since he said it was his back and to be expected because he’s so tall. Well, unless he’s planning on losing a few inches, that might continue to rear it’s ugly head. Now at age 25, he put together half a dozen good starts which appeared to be a breakthrough, but then he regressed again.  Which Loe will show up next year?  The 7.40 ERA from the start of the season through early June, or the 3.30 ERA for the rest of June and most of July?  At this stage, he’s reliably a four, with the possibility of a three.

McCarthy continues to impress every time he pitches.  As noted before, a 3.69 ERA since the beginning of May.  Hopefully he’s gotten over new team jitters and will continue to pitch like this, and if that’s the case he can only get better as he ages into his prime.  Biggest concern is the 39 to 47 walk to strikeout ratio, and how he can get that to get better.  It is quite a bit lower than prior years, so can he return to the old ways?  I would say he’s probably a three, with bad luck he’s a four but with good luck he’ll be a two in a couple of years.

Gabbard is an unknown quantity to Ranger fans.  His career numbers look surprisingly similar to McCarthy’s 2007 numbers though, and that’s probably a good thing.  To have a 3.73 ERA for Boston in the pennant race is good, too.  Everything I’ve read about him suggests he’s doing better than anyone expected, and they don’t seem to think it will last.  I’m honestly not sure where to put him, I feel like he’ll be somewhere between a three and a five, like McCarthy it all depends on luck.  Let’s call him a four just to make it even.

Wood and Rheinecker are fives, at best.  The fact that they were kept in the minors while Tejeda did what he did speaks volumes about the team’s belief in them.  They’re only getting starts when there are gaps, such as tomorrow when Wood will go for Loe, and Rheinecker being in the rotation after both Padilla and Tejeda went out.  As mentioned, their age really hurts them when considering them as prospects.

I’m not even going to rank Hurley, because he doesn’t have one big league pitch to his name.  You want to think he’s a number one, and who knows, maybe one day he might be.  For starting next year though, you’d call him a five and hope for a four.  His 39 to 111 walks to strikeouts rate is phenomenal though, so he could be good.  Just remember he’s still only 21.

So the front five will be, barring trades or free agents, the same as it was starting this year, with the exception of Gabbard for Tejeda.  And herein lies the problem of the Rangers.  The guys that might help are years away, the guys that are here are largely mediocre, and we’re relying on the bats to cover over the cracks.  When the bats go silent, as they did at the start of the year, the huge hole is exposed.  When the pitchers pitch well, as they did in July, again the bats let them down.  Yes, it’s hard getting everything working in tune, but it’s even harder when you’re going with a couple of threes and three fours in your rotation, and trying to pretend they’re anything other than what they are.  Unless the Rangers blow someone away with a free agent offer (which hasn’t happened in the last 30 years) or a trade (and the biggest chip just left town), they’re waiting for some of these prospects to grow up and become number one and number two pitchers, all before they reach free agency themselves and take the prime of their careers to greener (and deeper) pastures.

Finally, can anyone actually define a number one pitcher, or number two pitcher, or so on?  Have the Rangers ever had a one?  Maybe I need to come up with my own rankings, and see what I can come up with.  It seems like the annual free agent rankings from Elias ought to be useful in calculating starter status, but I don’t think they’re available for any but the most recent years, and the algorithms that make them are certainly not free.  If I can find some of those rankings, and throw in a dash of my own calculation, I might be able to get something workable going.  Give me some time to think about it.  I guarantee I’ll answer the question before the Rangers have a true number one pitcher.

More McCarthy

August 3, 2007

On Wednesday driving home from work we were listening to the pre-game show on the radio, and they were talking about McCarthy’s effort in winning on Tuesday night. At one point they played an interview with him where he said he had trouble with his slider and curve, so relied on the fastball and changeup to get through the game. Also, in the game story on the Rangers site, Ron Washington said “But he had good placement with his fastball and put his changeup in good spots and his work load didn’t pile up.”

In the game review on the Rangers site, TR Sullivan said McCarthy “threw 100 pitches over five innings in his last start but was able to cut that down by throwing first-pitch strikes and getting first-pitch outs.” Well, to be precise, he threw 12 first pitch strikes and 13 first pitch balls, and got exactly two first-pitch outs, one in the first inning and one in the second. Was he watching the same game, or just stretching things to make them more interesting? He was at least correct to say that McCarthy got into the seventh inning for the first time all year.

Naturally that all interested me, being both a McCarthy and a Gameday fan, so since they both seem to agree he was throwing a fastball and change, I thought I’d run some numbers.

Back in mid-June, I produced some pretty charts showing some facets of the various rotation members, including McCarthy. At that time I concluded he had three clear pitches (fastball, curve and change), and there was some slop suggesting the possibility of a fourth, which I didn’t say at the time but in hindsight looks like it might be a slider.

McCarthy SpeedPfx

Here we see McCarthy’s chart for Tuesday night. I was able to differentiate three pitches, with the horizontal break in the darker color and the vertical in the lighter color of each pair. Note the large chunk of green fastballs at the top, with the changeups in blue and curves in red below.  There were no pitches that weren’t distinguishable, or that might vary from one type to another depending on how you looked at it.

Back in the previous charts, his fastballs were breaking horizontally from about -7 to 2 inches, and vertically from 7 to 18. Here we see his horizontal break down to about -3 to 1, and vertical about 10 to 14. Big caveat on this is that the release point on Tuesday was measured at 40 feet, compared to 55 feet in the prior charts, and that difference can have a dramatic effect on the amount of break, as we see here. A similar effect is seen on the curve, but not so much on the change. Anyway, the point is not to match the previous starts, but to show that he was throwing three pitches on Tuesday. He threw 62 fastballs, 13 changes and 15 curves. The two off-speed pitches were thrown throughout the game, with no pattern indicating that one was thrown early and the other later, as you might expect if he thought his curve wasn’t working.

Of his thirteen changes, he threw eight for balls, one was fouled, one was a swinging strike, one was a fly to right, one was a grounder to second, and one was a line drive single to right.

Of his fifteen curves, thirteen were balls and two were fouled off.

Of the 62 fastballs, 19 were balls, 11 were called strikes, 12 were fouled, two were swinging strikes, and 18 were put in play. Of the 18, there were a homer, a single to left and a single to center, fly outs to left (2), center (4) and right (4), a popout to third, three grounders to second and one grounder to first.

Looking at those numbers, you’d probably have to agree with their assessments of his pitching. The curve clearly did not working, 13 out of 15 being balls. The change didn’t work much better, but it still got a couple of outs, and the fastball was clearly the best result pitch, doing most of the damage to the batters (although also allowing the home run). He did as usual end up with a lot of fly balls, a 6 grounder-12 fly ratio in the boxscore. Even with his smaller break in the charts, because of the shortened distance, his vertical break was still averaging about 12, which has been shown elsewhere to be a dangerous area for most pitchers, and especially those at TBIA. McCarthy has to work on keeping the ball down, getting grounders, or he is going to continue to have trouble at home.  The higher the vertical break, the more fly balls, the more fly balls, the more balls getting up into the jetstream and taking off.  And since his flies ended up favoring center and right, the home run porch might look pretty inviting to opposing batters.

All very interesting, and the fact is that McCarthy has a 3.69 ERA since the beginning of May, encompassing 12 starts and 63 innings.  If he’d done that from the start of the year, he’d be a star.  If he keeps it up, he’ll be a star.  So he should probably ignore any advice I can give him, and just keep doing what he’s doing.

The trade winds blew some good

August 1, 2007

ESPN’s poll on the trade deadline says the Braves and Red Sox both handily beat the Rangers in their trades. It also says only 11% think the Rangers “won” the trade deadline. Jayson Stark’s article pretty much says the same when reviewing each trade, but then says Jon Daniels gets an A for everything he did.  Huh?  Part of the problem is that if you ask the question “Who got the better of the deal, Braves or Rangers?”, more folks are going to put Braves, simply because they’re a more famous/better known team.  Same with the Red Sox.  If you had a third option, for “Both”, or “Neither”, I think you’d get a lot more votes for that.  It’s simply the case that there must be a winner and a loser, instead of both teams being able to come out looking good.

So did the Rangers come out looking good today?  On Friday I felt they did really well, getting a decent prospect for 40 year old rent-a-player Kenny Lofton.  Yesterday I thought they did pretty good, getting four players for Tex, three of whom were the Braves’ top three prospects.  Today that was amended slightly, because the Braves added another player to the list, Beau Jones, which makes it a little better for Texas.  The only thing I know about Jones is what Baseball Prospectus said, that he’s got a lot of heat to his fastball, all he needs to do is learn how to throw it over the plate.  So you’ve got to be fairly happy about the Tex deal from a Texas standpoint.

And then there’s Gagne.  One of the first things I read about this deal was how the Rangers didn’t get anything good for him, and how the Red Sox were happy because they’d kept all their top prospects.  Good point.  Could they have gone for a little more quality and a little less quantity?  Overall, are nine prospects worth four major leaguers?  In the Gagne case, they appear to be hedging their bets, working along the lines of “put more fish in the barrel and you’re more likely to hit one”.  If you’re not going to get a Buchholz, or Ellsbury, or something decent out of the Yankees, then is it smarter to play multiple choice instead?  Time will tell.  I like Kason Gabbard, for some reason I thought he’d thrown seven shutout innings against the Rangers in May, that was wishful thinking, because it was actually three runs in 5.2 innings, although he did get the win.  In 66 career innings, he has given up 52 hits (good), 34 walks (not good), 44 strikeouts (decent), 3 home runs (good, especially at TBIA), and has a 3.65 ERA.  Granted, that will go up at the Ballpark, especially once Mark Connor starts to ruin him, but he’s going to slot into the rotation, give us a number three or four starter for next year, and is another 25 year old yet to reach his potential.  The other two players we got from Boston I don’t know, but for 30 innings of Gagne I think we got ourselves a pretty good player.

What surprised me was that Hicks came out today and said that on July 15 he had offered Tex an 8 year, 140 million dollar contract extension and was turned down.  That is proof that Tex wanted out of town.  The surprising part is that the offer was not leaked before the trade deadline.  I think if it had been, it might have affected his trade status, because teams would have offered less knowing the Rangers had to deal him.  But it also would have taken some of the heat off the Rangers, because the fans would have seen that and said “get rid of the bum”.  I love Tex, but his mind was clearly elsewhere.  I hope he doesn’t end up regretting it in a Juan Gonzalez kind of way, Gonzo turned down similar years and dollars from Detroit and then injured his career away.

Hicks also said they had been negotiating with Gagne, but couldn’t get together on years and dollars.  With luck, we can work on him in the offseason, and bring him back next year, when we might be slightly more competitive.  The fear is of moving up the timetable on winning, which is still at least three years away, and blowing money and players we shouldn’t be to try and win now.

Sosa is still a Ranger.  I wonder if they will waive him right away, get him through waivers so they can trade him to anyone, or at least have someone claim him and get him off our hands.  Hicks says they won’t release him, “I won’t do that to Sammy”, which tells you why he’s an owner, not a GM, and why he’s a bad owner too.  Sometimes you have to cut the famous players, even the ones with poor reputations.

Interesting quotes from both Millwood and Michael Young, once again not wanting to be part of rebuilding.  Could their trade time be coming soon?  Don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but you’ve got to think that if you don’t do something good in another year, their complaints are going to increase as time goes by.

How do you explain a trade to a two year old?  All season we’ve gotten Josh into the Rangers, so much so that he will tell you that Michael Young is his favorite player, Frank Catalanotto (or rather, Catalano in two year old language) is Mummy’s favorite, and Mark Teixeira (pronounced very well) is Daddy’s favorite.  We tried to talk to him about it today, but I don’t think he got that Tex is gone.  All he knows is that there are two teams in baseball, the Rangers and the Other Team, and telling him that Tex now plays for the other team didn’t work too well.  Neither did telling him that Daddy needs a new favorite player, I think he was more upset by that than the idea that Tex is gone.

Speaking of, who is Daddy’s new favorite?  We were talking about it, and I think I ended up saying McCarthy, although I don’t know if a pitcher should be favorite, since he doesn’t play every day.  Laird, although he may be on the outs now that we have Salty.  Salty could be it (I love the fact that he has “Salty” printed on his batting gloves), but you shouldn’t go for a guy you just met a day ago, even if you know he’ll be around for years (hmm, that’s advice for a lot of people, not just for a favorite ballplayer).  Salty might be it in the future, but not right now.  Maybe Nelson Cruz, who will be my favorite if he can keep up what he’s been doing the last few days.  Maybe Marlon Byrd, if he’s here for more than a couple of months.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.  Maybe I just need to wait and see who pops out and surprises me.  I do think I want a Saltalamacchia t-shirt though, just to see what those tiny letters look like, and to see people try and pronounce it.  Kudos to the Rangers equipment manager for getting him a shirt to wear today when he showed up at the game.  In fact, kudos to Salty for getting there, I know players have three days to report after a trade, so he looks eager to get on with things, not necessarily an expected situation for a guy traded from a pennant race to a last place team.  I really wanted him to pinch hit tonight, when we had the bases loaded and Wilkerson coming up, but in hindsight that would have been a lot of pressure for him to face.  Interestingly, Tex arrived in Atlanta mid-game too, but wasn’t needed there as the Braves pounded out a bunch of runs.

The Rangers actually played a game today, too, and ended up with a nice win.  With all the attention firmly on trades, McCarthy went out and had a good start, his third game score of 60 this year, just behind his best of 61.  He pitched 6.2 innings, the first time he’d gone over six all year.  He walked three, which was a little too much, but he kept them down even with that, only giving up a solo home run.  Nice work.  And good by the bullpen too, especially CJ Wilson pitching four outs for his first save of the year.  You know, Gagne only had one save of more than one inning all year.

So what’s next?  For the Rangers there’s now nothing left in the season except to try and play well the rest of the way.  There are no drafts or trade deadlines or anything like that out there.  No chance of October baseball.  Just time to get some players bedded in to the team, see who is worth keeping for next year and who is going to be gone.  See what minor leaguers will be ready to step up.  See if Gabbard can make the rotation better.  See if Rheinecker can do the same.  Work out what happens at catcher/ first base.  Get Botts some playing time.  Hopefully watch some more winning baseball, but not too much that we earn yet another season of mediocrity (and not too much that we end up getting to the 16th draft pick, meaning that we lose a first rounder if we sign a decent free agent).  The Rangers had their first winning July since 2001, which is a sign of improvement, but we’re not working on now, we’re working on next April, getting out of the gate much better than this year and maybe contending with what we have, while sticking with JD’s one year plan in the bigs and five year plan in the minors.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.  Two plans to execute, always a good idea.

Doing the splits

July 22, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Loe-down on Kam’s Saturday night

July 16, 2007

So what happened to Kam Loe on Saturday night?  After a string of successful games, five wins in a row, he struggled mightily and couldn’t do anything against the Angels.  Not only did he get the loss, he walked more than he’d walked all year, he gave up almost as many runs (5) as he’d given up in those last five starts (6), and ended with a game score half of what he’d been pitching.  His ERA, which had been tumbling down, from a height of 7.40 down to 5.36, didn’t gain much, only sneaking back up to 5.49.  It wasn’t really the hits, because the five he gave up was as few as he’d given up in the last five games, so it was, as they say, the walks that killed him.  Why was he so wild?  Was it the extra rest from the All-Star break, in fact the first time he’d had seven days rest since the season started?  Was it just time, that he was due, that he ran into a hot team?

I ran a bunch of numbers today, produced some pretty graphs, and ended up throwing out a lot of stuff that I’d generated.  In fact, I did come to some conclusions, but I’m not 100% sure what they mean.  The biggest problem is the way Gameday is measuring things.  As I mentioned before, they’ve been tinkering for a while with the way they measure some stuff.  Today, they were measuring the release point 40 feet from home plate.  At the beginning of the season they were at 55 feet, in early June at the Ballpark in Arlington they moved to 40 feet, then in late June and early July went back to 50 feet.  So direct comparisons are difficult, because the small differences between these measurements can end up meaning large differences later on.  So in the numbers today, I’m going to try and compare to previous starts that may accomplish removing some of the differences.  In particular, I’ll look at Loe’s previous start, at TBIA, at 50 feet, and his start prior to that, on June 20, which was measured at 40 feet.  I’ll do the same with the comparison pitches, McCarthy and Millwood, looking at both distances for Millwood but only the last game for McCarthy at 50 feet (he doesn’t have a 40 foot game this year).

A second problem is comparing the two different ballparks; as I and others have discovered, the measurements appear to be slightly different in each park, where one park is a little faster, and measures a little higher, than another.  Some of it may be weather conditions, but it also is the way it is measured.  Having said that, let’s get to some of the numbers.

Speed:   I’m concerned primarily here with the fastball of Loe.  He throws a sinker, and every time he pitches you’ll hear how well he is throwing it.  Without getting into detailed analysis of every pitch, basically I’m throwing out any slow pitches, and looking at the rest, both for Loe and the other pitchers I mentioned.  In each case, they have a clear distinction between their curves and their faster pitches, whether sliders or fastballs or something else, and I’m taking that distinction line and removing everything below it.

On Saturday night Loe threw 46 “fast” pitches, averaging 86.7 mph with a max of 90.4 and min of 83.1.  On July 6 he had thrown 71 pitches at 88.4 mph, max 90.9 and min 85.3, while on June 20 he had 58 pitches at 88.1, max 90.9, min 85.6.  The first thing to note is how similar the previous two starts were, in all three categories (ave, min, max) the largest difference was 0.3 mph.  On Saturday, he was about 1.5 mph slower on average, his max was 0.5 mph slower, and his min was about 2.4 mph slower.  These are significantly slower, but are they real, or is it a ballpark effect?

Compare it to Millwood and McCarthy:  Millwood on 6-22 averaged 87.8, on 7-8 averaged 88.8, and on 7-13 averaged 88.5.  I would say there’s little difference there, his Friday start being between the other two and all within 1 mph.  McCarthy on 7-7 averaged 87.9 and on 7-15 averaged 88.4.  Slightly faster on Sunday than a week ago.  For both of them, you’d say that they were within reason, and the differences were due to the way they pitched rather than any systemic difference between Arlington and Anaheim.  If all three dropped a little this weekend, I’d say that would be something, but the variations are enough (on this simple level) to say that Loe was throwing slower on Saturday than in his previous starts, by about 1.5 mph.  A difference, not big, but perhaps big enough at the big league level.  The cause, I don’t know – could have been arm tiredness, or rather lack of use, or since I didn’t separate out his pitches other than to call them “fast” or “not fast”, he simply might have thrown more of the slower “fast” kind than the faster “fast” kind (did you get that?).

Horizontal movement:  Movement across the plate can be very effective in getting batters to swing and miss, or at least to get them to hit it off the end of the bat or the handle, which will induce weak grounders and shallow flies.

On Saturday Loe averaged -7.66 inches of horizontal movement, compared to -8.83 inches on 7-6 and -8.71 inches on 6-20.  With the two Arlington dates being almost the same, he lost about an inch of horizontal movement in Anaheim.  Curiously enough, both his maximum and minimum movements were all very similar, within half an inch of each other, so it wasn’t extremes causing this difference but rather the average pitch.  McCarthy and Millwood both moved back and forth on their averages, again no ballpark difference, but their recent starts were still within about 0.3 inches of each other.  So in this case, Loe was a slightly bigger difference, but I’m not sure how much of an effect an inch would have on a batted ball, horizontally.

Vertical drop:  As mentioned, Loe is a sinkerballer.  There is at least some correlation between how far the ball drops and how hard it is hit.  Being a sinkerballer, when Loe is on he can be very effective, but when he is not he can get in trouble.  I believe vertical drop is much more important than horizontal, because as mentioned, if you miss by an inch horizontally, the batter is still going to hit it almost the same, but if you miss by an inch vertically, it’s often going to be the difference between a ground ball and a fly ball.

On Saturday Loe’s average “fast” pitch had a vertical movement of 4.28 inches.  On 7-6 it was 2.98 inches, and on 6-20 it was 2.29 inches.  I would say that’s quite a difference, an inch and a quarter over the 7-6 start and two inches over the 6-20 start.  Systematic?  Millwood in his three starts we mentioned scored 7.13, 7.97 and 9.87, while McCarthy went 12.54, 12.07 and 11.89.  Millwood keeps going up, like Loe, but McCarthy actually went down.  I am tempted to say, without deeper analysis, that perhaps McCarthy’s drop was due to him being more effective, given the sporadic nature of his recent starts.  Possibly he is trying to pitch lower, and succeeding slightly.  I want to say that Millwood comparing to Loe actually lends more credence to the idea that it was the ballpark, not what Loe did.  Millwood has been fairly consistent in his last three starts, stats-wise, so to suggest that both he and Loe jumped a couple of inches just by coming to Anaheim is a little too coincidental for me.  I’ll leave the idea that their pitches jumped alone, at least until I can go back and take a look at the Anaheim pitchers and see how they fare in their own ballpark.

All the other usual suspects in these stats, break length, break angle, and so on, ended up showing little or no differences, certainly not enough to sustain an argument that they were the cause.  What it comes down to is mostly the speed and the vertical movement.  The vertical movement is a little suspect, although two inches is enough to mean a batter centering the ball versus beating it into the ground, or simply missing it.   The fact that they didn’t beat him on hits tends to rule that out a little too.  The fact that his walks jumped to five may be a clue, although a two inch change in vertical movement shouldn’t be enough to make that many pitches be balls.  Speed is certainly an issue, as mentioned 1.5 mph slower which may be due to the extra time off leaving him a little less strong, although they should be compensating for that between starts.

So, what was wrong?  Everything is inconclusive, until you read the news reports:

“I just struggled with my command,” Loe said. “I just wasn’t locating it very well. I wasn’t on top of my pitches. I felt a little rusty. It came down to fastball command.”

“He didn’t have his sinker working, which is his bread-and-butter pitch,” manager Ron Washington said. “I didn’t see the good bite on it. He just couldn’t keep it in the strike zone. If he has his command, I think it would have been a different story.”

“He just wasn’t putting the ball on the plate. He was trying to go to the corners,” Washington said.
There you go.  They knew exactly what was wrong all along: command.  He wasn’t able to put the pitches where he wanted to, and that caused him to walk people, and that caused him to lose.  Now, how do you measure that in Gameday numbers?  You can measure where it crosses the plate, but you don’t know where he intended to put it.  You can assume he’s trying to throw strikes, but they don’t try and do that on every pitch, because sometimes they want a guy to chase something outside the strike zone.  You can see Ron’s comment about his sinker not having bite, but we have already seen that it was only a couple of inches, and that may have been ballpark noise, not reality.  As for not keeping it in the strike zone, again, two inches is not going to move it out of the strike zone enough for the umpire to tell, is it?

I think I’m going to take a look at the numbers a little more closely.  If the aggregate doesn’t work, maybe the individual will.  Keep reading and I’ll see what I can come up with.

Rangers Rotation Release Points Redux

June 25, 2007

In my previous posts on the Gameday data, I first looked at the release points of the Rangers rotation, then looked at each player’s pitch types. Here in part three I will put the two together, in an effort to see if they are tipping their pitches by where they release them. As I noted the other day, it would be counter-intuitive to discover such a thing, because if a pitcher releases their different pitches from different locations, batters will quickly catch on and be able to tell what they are throwing. On to the charts:

Kameron Loe:

Kameron Loe Release Point by Pitch Type

Loe shows three pitches, a fastball/sinker, changeup and curve. I have not been able to differentiate between a regular fastball and a sinker in his data, so I am treating them the same at the moment. From his chart I see little or no differentiation between pitches, none of the colors stand out as being separate from the others. Without mathematically analyzing the three groups (something I may do later), I would say he is not showing hitters anything from where he is releasing the pitch. Interestingly, his last two starts were very good, after spending a couple of days in the minors, but I have not looked at those starts to see what they might show differently.

Robinson Tejeda:

Robinson Tejeda Release Point by Pitch Type

Cursed with only two pitches, a fastball and a slider, he’s also cursed with tipping them a little. Okay, it’s not much, but I can see that the blue sliders are higher than the red fastballs. In the small group at the bottom right, which I believe was a glitch in Gameday which caused one day’s data to measure off a little, you can clearly see the difference (in fact, although every other chart today is on the same scale, I had to increase this one vertically by a foot to show that extra data). Overall, although the horizontal release point is very similar, I would guess the vertical release point is about three inches higher for the slider. I know what you’re thinking, three inches is not that much, especially from 55 feet away (where Gameday measures release points from home plate). But remember, these guys are able to hit a ball that is 2 7/8 inches wide, travelling at 95 mph. They are able to tell what type of pitch based on what the stitches on a ball are doing as they come towards them at that speed. I think a three inch difference would help them a lot.

Brandon McCarthy:

Brandon McCarthy Release Point by Pitch Type

I didn’t color this one very well, but I was trying to diminish the effect of the fastball, because it was so dominant. I also wanted to keep it at the same scale as the others, to show how much smaller the area of McCarthy’s release point is. Click on the picture to go to my Flickr site and see it larger if you want to. What it shows is that his pitches are very similar, except for the curveball (red), which he appears to release a little further up and to the right compared to the others. Not much, but as noted they may not need much. The advantage he has is that it is still in an area which is filled with the other pitch types. If a hitter was to see the ball coming from top right, he wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell what it was, but if it came from bottom left he might be able to know that it is not a curveball.

Vicente Padilla:

Vicente Padilla Release Point by Pitch Type

The most troublesome pitcher to identify his pitches, and I took these ones a step further than in my previous study. I believe I found a way to differentiate between his changeup and slider, and have marked those pitches in this study. I will elaborate on that in a later analysis. In the meantime, Padilla is all over the place. His changeups are mostly in the top right, while his sliders are mostly bottom left. The other two pitches are scattered all around.  I note that Padilla went on the DL today, and in part of the reasoning they said that he was pitching okay for a couple of innings but then his elbow would tighten up and not allow him to throw properly.  Could his wide area of release be caused by the injury?  That seems like a prime cause, if you can’t throw the same way each time you’re going to be all over the place.

Kevin Millwood:

Kevin Millwood Release Point by Pitch Type

Once again I save the best to last.  Kevin Millwood is a veteran pitcher going through a tough year.  We’re not really sure what’s wrong with him, but this is a huge clue to me.  A bunch of bright orange to the top right, all the blue and green bottom left.  He’s throwing the curve and slider in a similar position, but the fastball is being released
about 7 inches right and 5 inches higher.  Tell me that’s not a huge difference!  I believe a major league hitter would pick up on this and be able to tell fastball or not, and that could very easily be the difference in being able to hit it or not.

Summary:

We can see that McCarthy, Loe and Padilla are throwing their pitches throughout their zones.  Padilla probably due to his injury, and Loe due to being a little uncontrolled, but McCarthy appears to have good control (a tight release zone) and pitches spread throughout.  This suggests he has been the best of the Ranger pitchers (remember my first study which showed that the tighter your release points, the lower the ERA), and in fact right now he is the only Rangers starter with an ERA below 6.00.  Tejeda is already in trouble by only having two pitches, but with the possibility that he is showing them by the way he releases, that’s a double blow for him.  Noting that his ERA has gone up and up as time goes on, other teams might have caught on to this.  Millwood shows even more differentiation in his pitches, which could lead to him being hit more as time goes on.  I can’t imagine that a veteran could have gone so many years without this being noticed before, so it is possible it is a new and correctable problem.

Now we know where they’re releasing their pitches and what they are throwing.  Next up will be a look at when they are throwing it:  vs left or right, what count, what score, what baserunners.  This will be a more complicated analysis, and I will have to rein myself in to not do too much at once, and bury the signal within the noise.  At this point I have several hundred pitches for each starter, but I will try and not chop it down so finely that the number of pitches is meaningless (the old “9th inning or later, score tied, runner on third, with the temperature below 58” problem).  The next article will hopefully only take a week or so to post.