Archive for the ‘Edinson Volquez’ Category

Who needs pitchers anyway?

July 13, 2008

Today’s game was just another one of those reminders.  A reminder that we could have had John Danks and Edinson Volquez at the back of our rotation, instead of the pile of garbage we’ve been throwing out there every night.  Now, folks will tell you the Rangers are doing well (they’re not), and that the pitching is the same as always, but when Jayson Stark puts Danks and Volquez in his list of half-season Cy Young contenders, all you can do is be mad.

The Rangers threw those two players away, despite them being top prospects for so long that everyone was just waiting for them to win in Arlington.  Danks never got the chance, and Volquez was messed around for a while before being shipped out.  The apologists will tell you that we have Josh Hamilton instead, and although he’s been great so far, I still haven’t seen him throw a single pitch.

Once again the Rangers are running out of pitchers to start games.  Can’t decide if it’s just bad management (it is), bad pitching (it is), injuries (it is), or the pitching coach (it sure is).  I know there have been studies of how much effect a pitching coach has, and some say they do and some say they don’t.  I know that Mark Connor is a bad pitching coach.  One of these days I’ll take a look at his career and see how he has done.  I don’t expect it to be good.

There was a quote a while back, wish I could find it, where Volquez said he went from just throwing last year to pitching this year.  Basically, someone taught him there was a point to being up there and choosing a pitch, not just throwing at random.  I wonder who might have done that?  A pitching coach, maybe?  One that knows what he is doing?

Of the twelve guys that have started a game for the Rangers this year, only four have an ERA+ greater than 100.  Even Padilla, who you think has been pitching well, is at 88, with an ERA of 4.70.  The four above 100 are Ponson (106, now a Yankee), Hurley (115, four starts, on the DL), AJ Murray (117, two starts, on the DL), and Matt Harrison (160, one start, presumably back to the minors).  Is it any coincidence that these guys start getting hurt once they get in the hands of Mark Connor?  Every year?  Fire the guy, please.

Since you’re wondering, Danks is 171 and Volquez is 189.  And since I know you’re thinking “but there’s no guarantee they would have done that for the Rangers”, I can tell you that they wouldn’t, because they would be on a team that doesn’t know how to handle young pitching.  Best thing for their careers was to escape.

I can’t decide:  Paint him green, and does Warner Madrigal look more like Shrek or the Hulk?

Great headline on the Rangers site the other day:  Rangers lose by scoreboard only.  Not sure what other ways they’re supposed to lose, but I bet they can find them.

Everyone has suddenly started saying the Rangers are playing well, second best record in the league since April 26.  That is true (with a 41-28 record since then), but if you want to pick dates like that (April 26 being the day the Rangers bottomed out), how about I pick one too?  May 16 – since that date, the Rangers are 28-23, the ninth best record in the American League since then.  That’s right, for almost the last two months, when everyone has been praising the team for playing well, they aren’t even in the top half of the league.  And much of that was against the NL (10-8), who the rest of the AL was beating up on (which has produced another array of ridiculous stories about how the NL sucks and the AL is great, with various reasons.  The Washington Post at least put in the point that the NL dominated for 20 years and now it’s the AL’s turn, of course they put it in the very last line of the story after giving a hundred reasons why the AL is dominant now.  It’s luck, stupid).

So, stop pretending the Rangers are doing well, and are contenders.  It’s caused people to forget what a horrible job Ron Washington is doing, and Mark Connor.  There’s a reason we’re sending four players and zero pitchers to the All Star Game.  Let’s all calm down, enjoy Chris Davis and his brief cup of coffee (because Big Ron has decided that Blalock will be better at first if he ever gets back), and wait for 2010.  By then Mark Connor should be gone, and won’t be able to destroy any more of our prospects.

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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.

Switching on a lightbulb

September 8, 2007

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

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

Volquez Speed HV

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

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

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

Volquez Release Point

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

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

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

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

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