Archive for the ‘Mark Connor’ 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…

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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.

Absence makes the bats go quieter

September 26, 2007

Blogs are funny things. There are about three gazillion of them out there, and apparently most of them die a quick death, last just a post or two, or a month or two, before the owner gets bored and moves their attention elsewhere. I’ve read about there being a tipping point, and I don’t know exactly when it is, but possibly somewhere around six months is where a blog will have either died and been buried, or will end up lasting for years. There aren’t many in-between blogs, is what they say.

This blog is approaching the six month mark now, and early on was getting a daily post, on occasion more than one, but for the last month or so it has certainly fallen off to a trickle. Lately I’ve been writing very sparingly, I think about half a dozen posts in September, which works out to about two a week. You could be forgiven for thinking that I’d given up and gone home, gotten bored with it, or any of a hundred other things. You might be wondering when the day will come that you’ll realize you hadn’t seen anything from me for a while, and assumed it was just another deceased blog amongst millions.

Nope, I’m still alive and kicking. I’m as enthusiastic about the Rangers as ever, about baseball, about the blog, and about all the stuff I’ve done this year. What I’ve gotten into is a sort of terminal phase of the Rangers season. Yes, people will tell you there is a pulse, that they’ve been playing well for a few months, but the patient has been on life-support since April, and they’re about to pull the plug. Heck, we couldn’t even muster the enthusiasm to drag ourselves to a game in this last homestand. We talked about it, but ended up going and seeing balloons in Plano instead (having escaped the mile long traffic jam, and parked on the other side of 75 as the balloons flew right over our heads), and after that we didn’t feel like getting out on Sunday to see a ballgame too (especially since they couldn’t even give details of their Fan Appreciation on the website – if they’d said for sure that players would be greeting folks at the gate, and you could run the bases afterwards, we’d probably have been there.  But they didn’t, so we weren’t). I love the Rangers, consider myself a diehard fan (not as diehard as some, but certainly more than most), but I think I’m finally in the fifth stage, that of acceptance that this will just be another sucky season in the Rangers history books. And going through that makes it hard to get motivated every night to write just another little spiel counting down Michael Young, or talking about some other prospect who’s doing okay, or ranting about how bad Ron Washington has been doing things (boy, I could have written a few of those this week!).

But there’s one other thing that has held me back from writing. It’s September. In just a few days, the season will be over for the Rangers, and I’ll be able to look at complete sets of numbers for the season, instead of partial ones. If you’re thinking of Vicente Padilla, as I have been for most of my waking hours this past week, what can you say? Hey, he had a bad year, but did some good at the end? I could have written that a week ago, and then watched him start a fight and get suspended and have arguments with people and be called out by his manager (did Ron Washington really say that stuff about him? About being stuck with him for two more years?). Or, I could wait just a few more days, and maybe he gets that last start in on the last weekend after all, largely invalidating everything I’ve said?

If you read baseball online, and I’m not talking ESPN or the other big places that cover it, but rather the interesting blogs (by which I mean the ones that cover stuff that is interesting to me, not you), you may have noticed that many of them have dropped off in frequency now, and I suspect it is for the same reason, waiting for complete datasets. Just look at the Hardball Times, or Baseball Prospectus, and take a look at their feed history. Even those guys seem to have stopped doing stuff lately. Now, maybe they’re all hooked on the pennant races, which frankly I barely care about since the Rangers aren’t involved, but I doubt it.

So, what am I saying? I’m saying hang in there, I predict an explosion of info and posts from me and from people all around the blogosphere, starting next week. For example, I’ll be doing my season in review of the Rangers, looking position by position, that’ll fill much of October. Then there’s all sorts of deeper analytical stuff I want to get into, that could take much of the winter. And finally, for a couple of years I’ve been writing a multi-part piece about Nolan Ryan, now I have the place to publish it and so it’s time to dust it off, clean it up, and get it out there.

In short review of the Rangers recently and for the next few days:

Michael Young needs three hits in the last four games. He’ll probably get there.

Ron Washington’s brain seems to have melted down, and he’s been trash-talking most of the team. Jamey Newberg wrote a good piece on it a couple of days ago (it’s hard to link to individual pieces on Jamey’s site, but if you search the archives for the piece titled Meddle-Management, dated 9/23/07, you’ll find it).  Basically Ron’s way of motivating people for next year seems to be “you’re not good enough, so we’re looking for someone to replace you”.  To be charitable to Ron, my guess is that’s exactly the motivational speech he heard from his managers every year of his career.

Mark Connor:  “This is the most frustrating season I’ve had as a pitching coach, for sure”.  I can’t imagine that being the case, because he hasn’t done anything to be frustrated about – like coaching.  The irony is that Rudy Jaramillo is the one without a contract this winter, when he’s the only one who’s actually done anything around here.  Connor’s just sat there like a grumpy old geezer, not coaching anyone, not having a clue about what to do with the pitchers, and certainly not having them prepared for the season, or even for a game.  I don’t know who else is out there, but anyone would be better than him, because the players clearly don’t buy into anything he says.

Marlon Byrd had an outstanding June, which pretty much carried him all year since he sucked in July and August, but he’s improved a lot here in September.  I’d like to see him back, but since Washington said he needs two outfielders, Marlon may be the odd man out.  If we don’t keep him, he’ll fit in somewhere.

Galarraga’s start yesterday was ruined by Washington.  Say all you like about wanting to leave him in to get five innings and a shot at the win.  You don’t get a shot at the win if you keep giving up runs.  The guy hadn’t pitched hardly at all in two weeks, and you give him 87 pitches to blow up?  You want something positive, pull him when he’s starting to melt down, not when he’s done.  Now he goes into the off-season (assuming he doesn’t get another start, which might actually be possible) thinking about giving up five runs in an inning, not about having thrown four shutout innings.  Okay, he’s heading to AAA anyway, but you know he’ll be thinking about yesterday when he gets sent down in spring training.

The last time the Rangers didn’t have a 100 run player was 1992, and 100 RBI player was 1990 (excluding strike-shortened 94 and 95).  Right now Kinsler has 93 runs, and Young and Sosa are tied for 90 RBI.  In four games, that’ll be a stretch for any of them to get to 100.

Our season of discontent is almost over.  I say that like it’s an odd thing for Rangers fans to be discontented.  There are positive signs and there are negative signs around this team.  You can choose for yourself which it is, when I say I’m going to be posting for a long time to come.

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.

Runs, we need runs

August 25, 2007

Here’s an amusing little chart I just made:

Moving Average Runs

It’s a seven game moving average of the Rangers runs scored (blue) and conceded (red) this season. Click on it to enlarge. What’s the obvious thing you see? Of course, it’s the giant spike at the right hand end, showing what a freak show the 30 run game was, how much it affected things. It was a crazy score, something you will almost certainly never see again in your lifetime, something even my two year old will probably never see again. It was a once in a century score. And with moving average, we see just how far out of whack with the rest of the Rangers games this season it was. If I waited until the end of the season to show this, you would see that line drop way back down again, an extreme spike in an otherwise moribund year.

But we can use this chart educationally, to look at just how the Rangers have been doing. Using a moving average eliminates much of the jaggedness of the chart, giving slightly lower peaks and valleys, allowing you to see trends more easily. Now, comparing runs for and against, you can kind of follow along with the season. Long periods where the blue is below the red are the losing times, and where blue is above are winning times. If they run fairly even, the team should be about .500. You can see for most of the first half of the season, the Rangers were below, for a short time they were above, and then back to even and below again. You’d expect to see that reflected in winning, and in general you do.

There are however a few interesting things that the moving average does not eliminate, which includes excessive wins. Obviously the 30 run win obscures a lot of bad stuff around it, you can see the Rangers were falling into a hole approaching the worst of the season when they exploded (and everyone knows they’d been bad in the previous two games). Ignoring that though, May immediately sticks out to me. Remember May? It was the worst of times. The Rangers sucked hard in May, going 9-20 on the month, but looking at the chart they almost seemed decent. What’s going on? In May they scored 145 and conceded 160, which Pythagorean wins would show as a 13-16 month, not 9-20. In fact in May they had three wins of more than 10 runs, and apart from a 9 run loss their next biggest loss was by 6 runs. Those three big wins accounted for 42 of their runs for and 7 runs against, which is a huge margin in just three games. Take them out and you see they’re down to 103-157, which moves them back to a Pythag of 9-17, much closer to what they truly were. For May, they didn’t lose big, they just lost a lot of little games and the three big wins masked the trouble more than they should have.

Looking a little earlier, April was another bad month, barely above water all the way. You can in fact show that through mid-June, the Rangers averaged about 5 runs for and 6 runs against, which is a deadly combination when you’re trying to kick off your season (the actual averages through June 15 were 4.94 for and 5.86 against). At that point it’s even hard to decide who to blame. The offense seems decent at 5 runs per game, pitching is of course bad near 6, but even then I remember complaining a lot about how the offense was struggling. I suspect it is consistency that is the key, meaning that they never got in a stretch where you felt they would get five runs every night, but more a week of two or three runs then one game of 15 to balance it out, as they did in May. At least the pitching was consistently bad.

The high point of the year was late June to late July, a period when they went 23-14 and things seemed to be working. The chart shows the second half of June as being the best of times, when the offense was much the best of the year, and the pitching was running well too. That two to three run gap turned into a lot of wins, but was unfortunately a very short streak. While the pitching kept going well through July, the offense fell away to the same level, leading to a 14-12 July in which the team was outscored by 15 runs. Slow increases on both sides ended up with the pitching going higher and hitting going lower in August, leaving the team (and it’s fans) flat once again. Interestingly, as a whole, both the Rangers and their opponents combined have scored a lot fewer runs per game in the second half. 10.8 runs per game through June 30, 8.3 from July 1 to August 21 (just over 9 through today, which again shows the large impact of 30 runs in one game, it raised the average for two months by 0.7 runs per game). Everyone always says the Rangers start well but fall apart when it gets hot, is this a sign of that? Not just on the Rangers, but their opponents too, scoring 2.5 runs per game fewer between them. Good pitching and bad hitting, something you would never expect to hear about a Rangers team.

This almost turned into a season review kind of thing, which was not what I intended. I was simply trying to show how far out the 30 run game could throw things. I ought to just copy and paste most of this once we get round to October and I do a real review. Now I’ll have to think of something else to say.

Hey, something I haven’t researched, but I’d be willing to bet that the 29 hits the Rangers got on Wednesday is a record for a team that was no-hit in the same season (certainly in the modern era, can’t guarantee those pre-1900 teams). If I had a good database, I could find this out, but a cursory look shows that the D-Backs were no-hit last year and also had a 20 hit game. 29 is of course much more rare than 20, but even that goes to show that a no-hitter is another kind of fluke. Now the Rangers have been close to being no-hit a couple of other times this year, which would make the 29 hit game even more improbable, if that’s possible.

Some comments on other things going on lately, specifically Ron Washington. He (and presumably Mark Connor) have badly mismanaged the team this week. I was shocked that Millwood went out for the 9th inning tonight, he had clearly hit a limit, and in fact ended up giving up an insurance run that took the wind out of the sails. He lost a quality start, his Game Score fell from 51 to 43, all of the positives we could have taken out of it were blown away simply because they wanted to get him a complete game. What’s the benefit of a complete game loss? Especially when you have just one strikeout, and 13 hits, to show for it. Millwood was not on today, but struggled throughout, and to keep him out in the 9th was kind of like putting a nail in the coffin. The unfortunate thing for Millwood is that he’s had no run support lately, he’s been pitching well but has nothing to show for it.

The other one was yesterday, Kam Loe’s start. Remembering that Loe has just spent time on the DL, and had just one game back where he only went five innings, how long do you think he should be left in? You’d start at five innings, but you might want to go to six if his pitch count isn’t too high. You’d certainly be aware of keeping a close eye on him when you hit five innings, wouldn’t you? In fact, in the middle of the 6th, when he gives up a leadoff homer, then loads the bases with one out, you’d have someone ready in the bullpen to come in and save the day, especially with a 3-2 lead. On the other hand, you’ve got the 8 and 9 hitters up, and even though he’s thrown 89 pitches already, you want to take another positive out of it. When Jose Lopez singles to make it 3-3, you think about pulling the pitcher again. Even when Betancourt pops out to the catcher, you think about it, because now you’ve got a tired pitcher, bases loaded, and Ichiro coming up. What do you think will happen? I’ll tell you what will happen, in fact I said it right before the at-bat began. Ichiro isn’t going to hit a home run, because he doesn’t have good power, but I predicted he would double and clear the bases, and sure enough he doubled and cleared the bases. Then what happens? You bring in Mike Wood, and he serves up a home run to Vidro on the first pitch. Boom, game gone, anything positive for the pitcher gone.

This would probably be my primary criticism of Ron Washington this year. He leaves pitchers in too long. Is it Mark Connor’s fault? Yes, at least some of it, because it’s his job to tell Ron when it’s time to get the guy out of there. Of course, Connor looks clueless every time you see him, so if you’re trusting in him you’re already in trouble. But ultimately it’s down to Washington, and with all his experience he hasn’t learned when to get a pitcher out of the game. In mitigation, he spent his coaching years in Oakland where they rode their horses into the ground (Hudson, Mulder, Zito), but if he can’t recognize that our pitchers are not of that quality then he has even more issues than knowing when to pull them.

One of the things I don’t have, and am not sure where to find (without creating it myself) is a database of how pitchers performed against their last batter faced in a game, or in the last inning. I’m sure it’s horrendous, since that’s why they’re pulled, but it would be interesting to compare pitchers and/or teams and see how the results stack up. I’d be willing to bet there’s a lot of cases where Washington has allowed people to get into bad situations before getting them out of the game. One method would be to look at ERA by inning for starters, but that doesn’t really tell how far down they got right at the end of their outing. Another would be to see where they were when they left the game, but again doesn’t tell the whole story. If you knew just the numbers on Kam Loe when he left the game yesterday, you’d see that he left with two out in the 6th, runner on 2nd and down by 3. That doesn’t tell you if he is down 0-3, 7-4, or 30-27. It doesn’t tell you if he gave up three runs in the first, then pitched a no-hitter until giving up a double in the 6th and being pulled. Or alternatively if he no-hit them for 5.2 innings, then fell apart. More detailed analysis might help. In particular I’d like to look at the comparison between the start of the last inning pitched, and when he was pulled. In this case, he’d be at 1 run, 6 hits, 4 k’s, in 5 innings, a pretty decent outing. Comparing perhaps the win probability of the start of the inning to when the pitcher was pulled, and see just how much that changed. Then compare that across pitchers, teams, managers, and see just how Washington compares to other teams. That’s a long project, I think, but it’ll go in my list of things to do.

Willie Eyre is going to have Tommy John surgery, and will miss all of 2008, at least. From the start of the season through June 24, he had a 3.00 ERA in 36 innings. On June 26 he had a spot start, and from that point on his ERA was 7.59 in 32 innings. Pretty clear what the two halves of his year were, huh? I won’t say the spot start did him in, he pitched 4.2 innings in that game (69 pitches), on five occasions before that he’d gone at least 3 innings, once even throwing 71 pitches. I remember that for a month before that game I had said he ought to be considered for a start (we were crying out for pitching at that time). I don’t know if it was the workload in that one game, or in the games after, but he had been struggling. He had a second start on August 4, giving up 7 runs in 2.1 innings, which would appear to be a much more likely indicator of trouble. Sorry to see him go, but ultimately the long man spot in the bullpen is one that you can fill easily and cheaply.

The team is in a funk again and so am I. Every game report you read for the next week or two (possibly even the rest of the season) will mention the 30 run game, usually along the lines of “the Rangers haven’t done anything since they scored a record 30 runs”. The chart I started with shows they’ve not been doing anything for almost two months now. I don’t have a clue what to do to get them going. I don’t think they have a clue either.

We want a pitcher, not a belly itcher

June 8, 2007

So it seems the Rangers were listening before they began the draft. Four high school and two college pitchers in the first nine picks. Two CFs, one college, one high school, and one high school shortstop round out the first day.

From the reports I heard, the Rangers got the first three guys that they wanted. #1 pick Blake Beavan out of Irving HS, #2 Mike Main from a Florida HS, and #3 Julio Borbon CF from the University of Tennessee. All three should be signable, although Borbon is only a junior so could go back to college for one more year, but a) you’ve got to assume they checked whether he wanted to go pro, and b) is he likely to go much higher and would it be worth the extra year lost? He’s reportedly similar to Kenny Lofton, and with luck he’ll race through the system and fill the gap in CF we’ve had for years. The same might apply to the college pitchers we took, especially if the likes of Scott Boras advise them to hold out for more money. I’ve never quite understood that though, because surely holding out for a year for an extra million isn’t worth the extra year on your career when you could be earning several million. Of course, you’re not guaranteed to make it that far, are you? Plus, your agent wants his money now, not in ten or fifteen years.

I was concerned to see Beavan at the Ballpark today, for a couple of reasons. First, he saw a poorly pitched Ranger game, although since he’s from Irving he knows all about the Ranger pitching woes. But more importantly, I’m quite sure he would have met pitching coach Mark Connor, and that’s going to taint his ability to perform. Connor has clearly lost it as pitching coach, or never had it, and I’d advise the Rangers to keep their prospects well away from him.

The last high school pitcher draftee of the Rangers to make it to the majors was John Danks, drafted in 2003, traded over this last winter for Brandon McCarthy, then made his debut this year. Nick Masset, drafted in 2000, made his debut in 2006, before being traded in the offseason to the White Sox as the other part of the McCarthy deal. Prior to Masset it was Andy Pratt, drafted in 98, and traded in 2002 to Atlanta, where he made his major league debut that same year. And before that, Sam Marsonek, drafted in 96, dealt to the Yankees, and made his debut in 2004. So, based on these numbers, first of all it is rare for a high school pitcher to make it to the majors after being signed by the Rangers, rarer still for them to play for the Rangers, and even if they do make it at best they’re four years away, and potentially a lot more than that. So, don’t bet the farm on seeing Beavan or Main in a Rangers uniform, and even if they do, count on it being 2011 before you do. Which, fortuitously, would be just about the time that the Rangers are starting to win again, if you believe my analysis from the other day. Maybe they’ll join last year’s top pick Kasey Kiker in the rotation?

I don’t have my Baseball Prospectus Annual in front of me, but I think of their top 100 prospects only two were Rangers.  This is a system that is in clear need of overhaul, and maybe by getting a bunch of high picks – and getting them signed – can help out.  Next year, with luck, the Rangers will have the first overall pick, and get in another good  young arm.  Remember, you can get anything as long as you have pitching prospects.  But also remember, TANSTAAPP – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect.  If you believe Jamey Newberg (and I think too often I do), the Rangers have a hundred stars just waiting in the minors for their chance.  In reality, if two or three of them pan out we’ll be lucky.

Is there anything to say about today’s game?  Ron Washington says they’re not going to take Kam Loe out of the rotation.  This is a good thing, I think.  Let him take his knocks, and learn how to pitch.  I’m working on a piece on how long it takes to determine someone’s value for the long term.  So far, Greg Maddux is my poster boy, in that it took him a couple of years and three hundred innings to show his ability properly.  Can you imagine if someone had given up on him after ten or twenty starts?

Did I mention the number of injuries to Ranger pitchers this year?  They’ve all spent time either sore or on the DL.  McCarthy has skipped a start recently, and now Padilla is apparently hurting too.  Here’s the money quote: “Connor said he had no idea who would start in Padilla’s spot if he couldn’t go on Sunday”.  Yes, you read that right, the pitching coach said he has no idea.  Is it because he’s clueless?  Is it because he’s the problem?  Is it because something he’s doing, whether it’s his training regimen or warmups or something else, that’s what’s causing the ineffectiveness and the injuries?

Please relieve me, let me go

June 6, 2007

I had this theory today, and tested it out during the spanking the Rangers got this evening. It was related to the Mark Connor as pitching coach comments I made a few days ago, and how the starters don’t seem to be prepared. I wanted to compare those pitchers who have started and relieved this year, and see how they did. We all know the starters have been terrible and the relievers good, that’s been obvious since just about day one of the season. Right now starters are 14-30 with a 6.64 ERA, while relievers are 7-7 with a 3.49 ERA. This is a difference between night and day, and it’s not a small sample size issue, as starters have pitched 294 innings and relievers 211. That in itself is its own story, that relievers are having to come in so early.

Brandon McCarthy is 4-4 with a 6.65 ERA in 10 starts, 43 innings. He’s 0-0, 0.00 ERA in one relief appearance covering two innings.

Mike Wood is 1-1, 5.59 in 19 innings over 4 starts. 0-0, 3.86 in one relief appearance of 2 1/3 innings.

Kam Loe is 1-5, 6.53 in 9 starts, 51 innings, and 0-0, 5.40 in 5 relief appearances and 8 innings.

All are better as relievers than starters, but that is pretty meaningless because this clearly has a small sample size attached to it.

As a comparison, for the AL overall (including the Rangers), starters have a 4.54 ERA and relievers 4.23. So Rangers relievers are pitching better than the league, but starters are way below league. Starters have 4678 innings, relievers 2403. Thus starters are pitching about 66% of innings, compared to the Rangers 58%. It’s lucky the bullpen is stepping up, otherwise the Rangers would be even further in the tank.

In 2006 Rangers starters had a 5.11 ERA, relievers 3.78.

In 2005 starters were 5.04, relievers 4.85.

In 2004 starters 5.16, relievers 3.51.

In 2003 starters 6.24, relievers 4.92.

In 2002 starters 5.26, relievers 4.99.

In 2001 starters 6.00, relievers 5.19.

Mark Connor was the bullpen coach from 2003-05, and pitching coach 2006-07. Orel Hershiser was the pitching coach from 2003-05. Dom Chiti has been bullpen coach in 2006 and 2007.

You could almost imagine an effect in 2004, when the relievers pitched so well compared to previous seasons. Through all the seasons, you could hardly imagine an effect on the starters at all, as they have fluctuated up and down. You could also imagine that the relievers have been much better since Connor left the bullpen to become the pitching coach. And you could imagine an effect on the starters when he became pitching coach, as the ERA for starters began going back up after a couple of years of improvement. Or this could all be random chance, and the coach means nothing. But who wants to believe that? I’d rather wish for Connor to be fired and Chiti to get a promotion.

Should Willie Eyre be considered for the rotation? His minor league stats show he’s started 66 games, but maybe he hasn’t done it enough lately to be able to start? Still, maybe we keep stretching him out and by the end of the year he might be able to go 5 innings, which is about average for a Rangers starter this year.

I enjoyed the comments from Ron Washington on the pre-game radio show. He said that you don’t steal on Pudge, you steal on the pitcher, in relation to Ian Kinsler’s two stolen bases yesterday. Pudge, of course, is the best defensive catcher ever to play the game. His career caught stealing average as a catcher is about 48.5%, when the league overall tends to about 33%. I asked earlier this week if there’d be more cheers for Pudge than for the Rangers, and when he homered today I’m pretty sure there were. I know I was cheering for him – but only because the game was already out of reach. Yeah, that’s the reason I was cheering. Right.

You gotta know when to fold ’em

May 29, 2007

One thing I have to say about Ron Washington is that he is playing the cards he was dealt. If I am remembering correctly, all the coaches were rehired (except Wakamatsu, who was in line for the top job) before Wash came in. Which means that Mark Connor was already there. Scott commented on the blog today that Connor is the worst pitching coach in the bigs. Do I agree? Yes. No. Maybe. Since the studies of coaching are few and far between, it’s difficult to say for certain, although I’m sure he’d rank very highly (or lowly, depending on your perspective). The only study I know of was one showing that Leo Mazzone took half a run per game off the ERA of Braves pitchers. I’d love to repeat that study for Connor, although that would probably take a while. It’s made more difficult by his resume, which you can read at Wikipedia. A cursory read of it told me that he’d been a pitching coach for about 17 seasons. A little research tells me that 4 of those seasons were partial seasons (84-86 with the Yankees, who knows what was going on there, and 02 with the Blue Jays) and a few others were as bullpen coach (most of his time with the Rangers, in fact). Trying to study his effects on pitchers would be difficult with the back and forth his resume had. I can tell you that he got the Rangers job because he was Buck Showalter’s buddy from the Yankees, which is also why he got the D-Backs job. Where would he be without Buck? Oh yeah, and if you believe Wikipedia, he was responsible for Randy Johnson’s Cy Youngs in 99 and 00. Somehow I think RJ had a little more to do with it, in fact I’d almost say it was a despite Connor thing, since RJ already had one Cy, was in the top 3 in votes for several years, and won a couple more after Connor left.

In summary, I, and I bet every Ranger fan reading this, would probably be a lot happier if John Wetteland was the pitching coach today. Curiously enough, just a week ago he took a coaching job at some high school according to Wikipedia. I bet if the Rangers called he’d be available…

TR Sullivan must either be channelling me or reading the blog. If he is an ass, as I have said before, at least he has good timing to talk about Mark Connor today. The quote he has from Wash (BTW why in Oakland do they have signs calling him Wa’sh? I have heard it pronounced a little weirdly, that’s my only explanation) is “At some point, the accountability has be on the guys who are out there on the mound.” To which I respond, at some point the accountability has to be with the people in charge of the pitchers.

Wash or Wa’sh also said yesterday “He didn’t show me [any] guts” talking about Tejeda. Interesting he would call someone out like that. Could Tejeda go back down to work on some stuff? Is there any point? I think it would be much better for him to work on it on the big league level, for a couple of reasons: a) there’s no-one to replace him, and b) all the good pitchers struggled in their first year or two. Look at Maddux, 2-4 in his first season then 6-14 the next. Look at just about everyone in the Detroit rotation, all young, all good, all suffered through a 40 win season but earned their chops.

Hey, how ’bout them Rangers? As I’m writing, they complete a shutout, although dangerously close to blowing it at the end. Maybe they’re reading this too? I bet all the stories tomorrow will be about how Mark Connor turned them around. That’ll be conveniently forgotten in a week or two though, when they’re back to their old selves.

Okay, finally and appropriately, to the tune of Take Me Out To The Ballgame:

Take me out to the Ballpark,
Make me walk miles and miles,
Buy me a pitcher who can throw strikes,
I don’t care if at home he wears tights,
‘Cos we pay, pay, pay for the Rangers,
If they don’t win we’re ripped off,
For it’s one, two, three bucks a Coke,
At the new Ballpark.

Marian and I (okay, mostly me, since she doesn’t want to take the blame) made that up several years ago while attending games more regularly than we do now. You can tell how old it is, because now it’s at least four bucks for a Coke, but the sentiment is still the same – get some pitching!