Archive for the ‘Hank Blalock’ 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: Third Base

October 8, 2007

When Ron Washington was hired, one of the things he said he was looking forward to was working with Hank Blalock at third base.  He felt that Blalock needed help with his fielding, and Washington had helped Eric Chavez win a Gold Glove in Oakland.  Of course, Blalock’s bigger problem was his bat, as he had dropped in productivity every year he had been in the majors.  As it turned out, Blalock ended up only spending a little time at third, as he spent most of the season on the DL, with thoracic outlet syndrome.  When he returned in September, he only DH’d, and although day after day would come a new story about him being ready to field, he ended up putting off fielding until Spring Training.  While Blalock was out, the position was held down by various people, mostly Ramon Vazquez and Travis Metcalf, who was promoted from AA in the immediate aftermath of the Blalock injury.  While you couldn’t say they did a good job, being mostly just above replacement level (which Metcalf arguably was, since he came from AA), they held the position together and did just about what you would expect of them, which was not much.

Hank Blalock summary:  Hit very well this year, for the first time he did not drop his OPS, but unfortunately it was a very shortened season for him (just 58 games).  His 130 OPS+ tells you what he could be, he just needs to put it all together in a full season.  You would project a 25-30 HR season if he could stay healthy and play as expected all year.  At 26, he should be entering his prime, but he really needs to start proving it or he’s going to end up a forgotten man.  Given that he entered the majors at 21, he could have an excuse for struggling for a while, but now after six years in the majors he ought to have gotten over the hump.  If he can’t throw next year, he may end up going to first, which would fill the hole the Rangers have there, but create another one that they’ll have to plug, this time without any decent options.

Ramon Vazquez summary:  Now has seven years in the majors, but you wouldn’t have thought it if you’d seen him playing this year.  Possibly the definition of a replacement player, his only full seasons were 2002 and 2003, and even then the most games he got in was 128.  His highest OPS+ was 93, his career value is now 78.  The only reason he got the opportunity this year was the injury to Blalock.  Ended up playing every infield position, with 71 games at third being his most.  Had average range at third, well below at the other positions.  Will he be back next year?  I’m sure there will be some comments about being a good soldier for the team, filling in well, but frankly the Rangers can get a lot more from some AAA guy than Vazquez showed.

Travis Metcalf summary:  Thrown into the fire, being brought up from AA for a couple of days after Blalock went down, then sent back down, then doing a little yo-yoing back and forth.  Managed to get into 57 games in that time, proved better than Vazquez with the bat (90 OPS+), and slightly below average in the field.  At 24, he wasn’t ready for the big leagues, but acquitted himself decently.  Would probably have been considered a marginal prospect before 2007, but his stock has risen a little this year.  Will he be up in 2008?  All depends on Blalock’s health, and what the team decides to do there.

Others:  Jerry Hairston, Matt Kata and Adam Melhuse all got a little time at third.  Yes, Adam Melhuse, backup (or by this time third string) catcher, trying to play third because his buddy Ron Washington runs the team.  Yes, this is how desperate the Rangers were at times this year.

Minor Leagues:  The Rangers have some good talent at third in the minors, although it is concentrated in the middle minors, with little at the top or bottom.  Desi Relaford played most of the third in AAA.  See the review of second base to see what I think of him.  Adam Fox played third at both AA and AAA, and is probably the leading contender to be the AAA guy in 2008.  With all the shuffling at third, Chris Davis moved up from A to AA, hit 36 homers between the two stops, and proved to be the best prospect at third the Rangers have, if not the best prospect at any position.  Johnny Whittleman made the move from Low-A to High-A, and established himself as a good prospect too.  Jay Heafner spent quite a bit of time at third at Low-A, but was old for the league and didn’t hit much.  Down in Spokane there was nothing to be excited about, Ken Smith struggled there and was also older than anyone else, while Johan Yan didn’t hit anything in either Spokane or Arizona.  Emmanuel Solis had most of the time in Arizona and showed little, although was younger than most.

2008:  Will Blalock be able to throw, and if so will he be back at third?  Rumors abound that he might have to move to first or even DH.  Wherever he plays, his production should be better, as he is climbing into his prime years.  If Blalock has to move off third, then Metcalf has the inside run on the job, simply because he fielded a little better, hit a lot better (90 OPS+ vs 74), and is a lot younger than Vazquez.  Of course, the Rangers may go with the “veteran” Vazquez, or if Blalock can’t play there they may look outside the organization (hopefully for a short-term guy, because Chris Davis will be ready in a year or so).  Third is probably the most unsettled spot right now, and that’s saying a lot for a team that has unsettled spots all over the field.

2009 and beyond:  Chris Davis is the man of the future at third, but when will that future come?  He’ll start 2008 in AA, should be in AAA at some point during the season, but whether he’ll make Arlington in September or whether it will be 2009 I don’t know.  They probably don’t want to push him too fast, he’s only 21, but as anyone will tell you the stars get to the big leagues earlier rather than later.  Could he be pushing Blalock aside in another year?  Possibly, if Blalock’s arm worries continue.  Put it this way:  if Blalock has to move to first because of his arm in 2008, Davis will be pushing the other contenders out of the way by the end of the year.  If Blalock stays at third, Davis will be pushing him over to first during 2009.  Seriously, Davis is as close to a lock for a future major league job as anyone in the Rangers minors could be, except maybe for Eric Hurley.  Start dreaming of watching him in a Rangers uniform for the next decade or so.

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.