Archive for the ‘CJ Wilson’ Category

Taking steps towards progress

August 2, 2008

We went to the game tonight, and enjoyed so many aspects of it. Coming back from a big deficit was one, Boggs throwing a strike from left field, the dot race (although blue dot would have won if green dot hadn’t pushed him!), the little cooler bags, seeing Jamey Newberg on the big screen, and of course the winning. Even the failure of CJ Wilson, which I predicted as he came into the game, was ultimately irrelevant (at least in terms of today’s game: what it means in a month, or a year, I don’t yet know).

I started the week expecting to write something about how the Rangers had lost their senses, or their nerve, and pulled off some stupid crazy trade, dumping a bunch of prospects for some stud-muffin who would help drag them to 85 wins and just miss the wild card by five teams or so (exhibit A: Carlos Lee – and for some odd reason, when I typed Lee just then, my fingers ended up typing Less instead. Weirdly appropriate). I’m very pleased to have ended the week with everyone still intact (although I do harbor thoughts of getting some of these catcher prospects turned into pitching, before their carriage turns back into a pumpkin). I had even been thinking of a riff along the lines of “for the first time in my adult life, I’m proud of a Ranger front office”, but then gave that away as it would have been kind of silly.

Jamey Newberg had a long quote yesterday from Michael Young, which began with “I don’t really care about the trading deadline”. Reading that whole thing really burned me, because I distinctly remember a couple of years ago him (and a few other Rangers) being mad because the GM hadn’t done anything to help the team at the trade deadline. That has rankled with me ever since, and one of the chinks in the #10 armor that still makes me think he won’t be here at the end of his contract.

And yes, I have to admit, when I heard he had a broken finger I was pleased that we might get a good fielding shortstop up, to show us what we’re missing. And I was a little disappointed when I heard he would miss little time if any. Sorry.

I’m done with Hank Blalock. ESPN said tonight that the Red Sox traded Manny because several veterans told the GM they couldn’t count on Manny any more. I think it’s the same with Hank, he’s just going to pop in and out, between sessions on the DL, and disrupt the team a lot. First he insulted everyone at first base, because of his assumption that he was better than any of them if he moved over there “for the team”. Then he made Ramon Vazquez mad, moving back to third (although forced there), so much so that Ramon pretty much said “screw you guys, I’m going to play somewhere else next year”. Then, when he went back on the DL, he pretty much blamed the team for making him play third when they knew his arm was bad and he should be on first (sorry, Chris Davis, you shouldn’t have hit all those home runs). I liked Blalock as much as anyone for a long time (I still have a #12 shirt with his name on), but really, he can’t be counted on to be healthy any more. Pay off his option and get him out, and don’t even bring him back this year when he’s “healthy” again.

How the heck does Josh Hamilton get dehydrated? Or light-headed? Or whatever he had – and I’ll give you just one guess as to what my first thought was when finding out that was the reason he’d left the game. I mean, is he not used to the Texas heat yet? Does he not have a personal minder who should be able to tell him it’s time to drink some Gatorade? Hmmm. I’m not saying nothing.

Don’t know what Vazquez did to hurt himself, it looked pretty innocuous to me.

We got to see Shrek again, for a few moments. There were as many boos as cheers when he came up to pinch-hit (or maybe it was just me balancing out the cheers).

Twice they intentionally walked Marlon Byrd to get to David Murphy. I know it was lefty-lefty matchups that caused it, but really, we knew he was going to burn them at some point. I mean, come on, how dangerous is Marlon that you don’t want to face him?

I really appreciated Chuck Morgan explaining two errors to us in the first inning (pitcher interference followed by catcher interference). I wish he’d done it a little more though, in particular the ejection of the Jays pitcher, which all I saw was the umpire’s arm waving, I couldn’t tell who was ejected (for a while I thought it was Gaston).

Okay, so let’s get to the real reason you’re here today. The headline on the Rangers site, buried in the corner in the “Releases” section, says “Rangers name Andy Hawkins pitching coach”. You’d be forgiven for skipping over it, since hardly anything worthwhile ever goes down there, and it seems like they only update it every full moon or so. And there’s not even a story about it in the main section of reports (maybe TR Sullivan needed to get to bed early tonight).

The news that I have been hoping to read for a year or more has finally been delivered, the end of the Mark Connor era. Jon Daniels made some nice quotes about him, but basically what they were saying was that all the young pitchers weren’t listening to a broken down old man any more. I guess they hope that maybe the new guy knows something about pitching, huh? Or at least can relate a little better, where maybe they can talk to him like a dad, instead of a senile old grandpa.

I wish I knew what training regime Connor taught. I read a while back about what various pitching coaches do (the days they have their pitchers stretch, and throw, etc), but not about him. Whatever he was doing was obviously a failure, since so many pitchers broke down themselves that the Rangers were running their own airline between OKC/Frisco and Arlington. Record numbers of starters, record numbers of innings and runs and so on. Connor really had no clue, and just seemed to be a grumpy old man wandering around trying to look like he belonged.

Yeah, I’m glad he’s gone. So what? At least now he won’t have the chance to ruin all the young stud arms that will be coming up in the next couple of years (he already got to Hurley). I have railed and railed against him, and the team obstinately refused to listen to me (hah!) until even they had had enough. Good riddance, I say. Since this is almost certainly his last appearance as a pitching coach (surely no-one would ever hire him again, not after the debacle that Rangers pitching is), we can start the clock on the analysis of his effect on players. Easy to do historically, not so easy live – because you want to compare a coach to when he has players and after he is gone.

Ding dong, the witch is dead. Now let’s see if we can manage to reanimate a few pitching arms.

And finally: I’m pretty steamed that there are no Chris Davis shirts at the ballpark yet. Even if it would be just the same as all the other Ranger shirts I own. Come on, guys, make some variations! Do something different with some shirts. Maybe even color them red…

Rangers Review: Relievers

October 18, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minor leagues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

No White after Labor Day

September 5, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who was that wearing the Padilla mask?

August 27, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passing out POTY ballots

August 16, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Jack Speed HV

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

Jack Horiz Vert

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

Jack Breaks

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

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

CJ Speed HV

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

CJ Horiz Vert

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

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

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

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

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