Archive for the ‘Robinson Tejeda’ Category

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.

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You spin me right round baby

August 4, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robbing Tejeda

July 23, 2007

Tejeda said he has been having trouble repeating his motion.  I’m betting he’ll be trying to repeat it in OKC in five days time.  I took a look at his release points in Gameday tonight, and his horizontal release point was varying about 10 inches, which isn’t too bad, but his vertical was varying about 13 inches, which is terrible.  In the past when both I and others looked, a good pitcher was getting their release point variation down to about half the size of a sheet of letter sized paper.  Tejeda’s variation would be a couple of inches in each direction larger than the paper.  Combine that with his lack of pitches, and he’s in double trouble.  He was hitting the mid 90s with his fastball tonight, a peak of 95.5, which is 2 or 3 mph slower than he was earlier this year.  And he’s still throwing over 100 pitches to get through five innings, which is terrible.  Could there be something wrong?  Apart from ability, or the pitching coach, that is.  Time for him to go to AAA and work things out.

More Teixeira talks, latest I heard was that the Yankees are losing interest because of the price, and the Red Sox are stepping up.  Hmm, trying to get the Yankees and Red Sox in a bidding war is always a good thing.  Someone just needs to get Steinbrenner involved, and we might be able to ask for heaven and earth.

Jamey Newberg was profiled on NBC5 tonight (and they spelled his name wrong!  Jaimie, if you would believe it).  If you didn’t see it, I’m sure he will have the clip on YouTube, probably already.  I like Jamey, I’ve been reading his stuff for years, and he is one of the inspirations for this blog.  What I don’t like is his unending sunshine and happiness, and he even alluded to that in the report, saying that he doesn’t like the negative blogs on the Rangers.  Well, I doubt Jamey is reading this, but if you are, I’ll just say one thing: .429.  I think I’m pretty negative about the Rangers, but that number should tell you why.  They flatter to deceive, they’re always promising the moon and delivering nothing, and it’s frustrating.  At least if you’re a Royals fan or a D-Rays fan, you know your team is going to suck and you put up with it, or you don’t watch.  But every year you hear about how the Rangers are going to win this year, and every year it’s the same.  Even in what Jamey would call the great year of 2004, they still finished 3rd.  Jamey, among others, has idolized every player coming through the system, imagining them all as number one starters, or batting champs, or home run champs, or whatever, and most of them don’t pan out.  And then he also projects every one of them to win more than they possibly can, and ends up frustrating me more and more.  You know what, Jamey, sometimes it rains.  This year, 42.9% of the time.

But I am being pretty harsh on Jamey, and perhaps it is really the Rangers fault.  Let’s look at one of his annuals, 2001 this time:  His minor league player of the year rankings were Mench, Carlos Pena, Hafner, Pedro Valdes, Blalock and Michael Young.  Of those, Valdes did very little at the major league level, but the rest have done pretty good. His minor league pitcher of the year ranks were Jovanny Cedeno, Spike Lundberg, Aaron Harang, Andy Pratt, Colby Lewis, Brian Sikorski.  Enough said.  Of those, only Harang could be said to have had a decent career.  Now, this is not to attack Jamey, because this is player of the year not top prospect, but this would be an indictment of the Rangers: develop hitters, don’t develop pitchers.  But keep reading through Jamey’s stuff and you hear name after name that will be a superstar, and then you look back years later and 99% of them don’t make the majors.  Yes, I know that’s the way the minors work, but my point is if you’re taking a realistic view of the team, or the minor league system, reality is that a few of them will make it and the rest are junk.  Jamey hasn’t yet managed to differentiate between the two, even though at some point it’s pretty darn obvious.

But I’m still on his mailing list, and will remain so unless he reads this and kicks me off.  I’ve just got to remember to take it with a pinch of salt.  And as a final thought on the topic, the alternative would be to not care at all about the Rangers, especially with Cowboys camp opening this week, and not caring is in my opinion worse than being negative.

Great quote from Sosa on the Rangers website today: “I’ll be all right,” Sosa said. “The good guy in the movie never dies.”  Apparently he never saw Private Ryan.  He’s been playing so badly that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rangers release him, since there’s no trade interest.   Jason Botts is due off the DL in a few days, and is apparently healing well, and my guess is some time in AAA to make sure he’s okay and then come August 1 he’ll be up in the big leagues, with Sosa on his way out.

Seattle coming to town, four games in three days.   Tuesday will be the long night, starting the first game of the double header at 4.  I’d go if I could get off work, and if I wanted to spend hours in the hot sun toiling away for no reward.  But then if I did that my name would be Tejeda.

Tick tock Tejeda

July 18, 2007

I announced my plan to finish ahead of Oakland yesterday, and right there today in the ESPN game story the same idea is mentioned.  Hopefully it will catch on with the players, and they’ll keep going how they’re going.  Today’s win was a good example of keeping going, with Tejeda seeming to give the lead back every time he got it, but the players battled until they could break out and win.  Oakland did as much as they could to help us win, they’re in the situation we were in back in May, struggling in all facets of the game.  They threw a couple of balls away that allowed us to get the offense going.

Tejeda didn’t actually pitch too badly, at least until he got in trouble and was pulled.  For the first few innings he was scrapping, getting in trouble but getting out of it, and yes his pitch count was climbing quickly, but for him to go three innings without giving up a run was a positive sign, even if he did give up a bunch after that.  Is he still in trouble, demotion-wise?  Absolutely.  I would almost expect to see him sent down any day, after any start, especially one like this.  A little positive doesn’t outweigh the big negative.  In fact, his performance did seem to back up what I’ve said for a while, that he’ll end up in the bullpen, perhaps as a setup or closer.  After all, he went along okay for a short time today.  Did you know he had a game score of 61 on May 18, and in ten starts since then his high has been 41?  41 is poor, so for it to be his best in two months just shows how bad he has been.  Today he was a 39, and in fact his last start was the 41, so slight signs of improvement?  I wouldn’t think it would be enough to keep him around though.  And his fielding was atrocious, backing up home plate by standing beside it at one point, I’d be really mad at him for that if I was Ron Washington.

Tex rumors are jumping up again.  Apparently yesterday everyone was saying he will be too expensive to trade for, but today there are half a dozen teams interested.  Okay, someone’s got their wires crossed here (hey, I just realized how old-fashioned the term “wires crossed” sounds.  A few more years and I bet there’ll be people saying “huh?” if you use that expression).  Either way, since I’ve accepted that Tex will be gone, I just hope a bunch of teams get in the bidding.  Of the teams that are reported to be interested, I would prefer the Braves, simply because they’re in the other league.  I’d hate it to be the Yankees, in a rich-get-richer kind of way, or the Angels, because I don’t want to see him in their uniform 18 times a year (although he’ll only be there a year and a half, since he’ll probably head to Baltimore at the end of next year anyway).  Although, come to think of it, does it really matter who he is playing for?  What matters is what we get back in return.  Memo to JD, ad nauseum:  Pitching.  Pitching.  Pitching.

If Tex gets traded, will that work to get Jason Botts up?  He can DH or play the outfield or even first base, as long as they don’t decide that Wilkerson’s the man there.  Ahh, what the heck, just go ahead and dump Sosa and let Botts do the job.

Tomorrow’s a day game, so I won’t get to see it, but we’re heading to the Roughriders tomorrow night, so that should be fun.  Josh hasn’t been back there since the time he talked to Frankie Francisco, so he probably doesn’t remember much about it at all.  I’ll let you know how it goes, and who and what I see while I’m there.

How many times does three go into two?

July 6, 2007

This was, according to his Game Score, Robinson Tejeda’s best start since May 18, a span of eight starts in between. The fact that his score was 41 will tell you how badly he has been pitching in that time. His ERA has gone up in all but one of these last nine starts, now standing at 6.70.  In those nine starts he has pitched 40.1 innings, which is about 4 1/2 innings per start; in other words each time it is his turn he is burning through the bullpen.  This time it was Ron Mahay taking a bullet, pitching 3.1, and I am surprised to note that he has pitched at least three innings five times this year; counting back I see he pitched three innings only seven times from 2002-06.  He is certainly getting in some work.  In fact Mahay has relieved Tejeda in his last four starts now, pitching two innings on one occasion and at least three on each of the others.  He must be needing five days rest after pitching three innings, just like starters do.

Tejeda’s ERA in those games is just over nine, he’s given up 58 hits and 32 walks in 40 innings, while striking out 29.  Walking more than you are striking out is a sure sign of a pitcher who is struggling with his command, with the strike zone, and with the fact that he only has two pitches in the first place.  So is an opponent’s OPS of 1.078 (not including today’s start), which if he were a batter doing that he’d pretty much be Barry Bonds.  If your average opponent is Barry Bonds, you’re in deep trouble.  Look for something to happen to Tejeda in the very near future (i.e. before the All-Star break next week):  he will either be sent to the bullpen or more likely to Oklahoma.  You can’t keep sending a guy out like that, even if you are a hundred games back.

Now, this may appear contradictory, it may appear like a change in position for me, because I’ve been spouting all along that you need to get young pitchers up and give them a chance to show what they can do, especially when you’re out of it so soon.  But I don’t think it is.  My point is to bring up guys and see if they can do anything, see if they will show glimpses of a future, and get them experience in the big leagues.  Tejeda now has that, and he’s still struggling.  He has 240 career innings in the majors, which is a little over a full season for a top starter, and he is 14-15 with a 4.84 ERA.  I would take that as a good start to a career, especially since he’s only 25, but the thing to look at is how he is regressing.  His first season, with Philly, he had a 127 ERA+, presumably as he came out and blew people away with his outstanding fastball.  Then he got to Texas, new league, new batters, and did pretty well here too last year, 110 ERA+.  This year, it’s 68, and they’re showing all the signs of having caught up to him.

He’s still young enough, he could develop another pitch and get back to some quality work in the minors.  We all know he isn’t going to develop anything up here with Mark Connor watching him and Ron Washington saying he doesn’t have any guts.  Let him go down, work on some stuff, and either get another pitch and get back up here, or stick with the two pitches he has and end up working out of the bullpen, maybe in the late innings where he can use that 97 mph fastball to good effect.  He isn’t doing himself or us any good throwing the ball in Arlington.

Now, having said all that, I went and read the Rangers site.  I should have read it first, because their take is a lot different to mine.  Wash said “He turned the corner as far as I was concerned.”  Connor said “Hopefully it’s a step in the right direction and he’ll come out of this with a little confidence.”  Gerald Laird said “He definitely threw the ball better.”  And the man himself said “My changeup was working well, so was my slider and I had pretty good control of my fastball.”  Uhhh, okay.  Back to the charts, I guess.  I ran the Gameday numbers from tonight, and it showed exactly the same as it did when I ran it a few weeks ago and concluded he only had two pitches.  There is nothing else there.  Today he threw 44 pitches ranging from 74.3 to 84.4 mph, and 58 ranging from 91.6 to 95.9.  There is a clear cluster of fastballs.  There is a slightly muddy cluster of another pitch, which if I tried real hard I could imagine might be two pitches, or might just be a little wildness.  I’m not going to present the graphs right now, I want to go back and take a deeper look at him.  Why would he think he’s throwing three and the data only shows two?  He’s either wilfully imagining he has a third pitch, because he needs one to succeed, or he really does have a third pitch but it is doing nothing different to one of his other pitches (in which case the argument would be whether it really is a separate pitch at all).  Either way, I think I will investigate some more.

The quotes from the others are interesting though, because they are clearly not what one would imagine.  All right, he did have his best start in a month and a half, as I noted above, but it was still way below average.  Would they be so desperate for even the slightest glimmer of hope that they would clutch onto any straw they could find?  Or could it be psychological warfare, hoping that their quotes get back to him and give him a little boost of confidence (and if that’s the case, and if you’re reading this Robbie, then really I’m just making up a bunch of stuff that you should ignore.  You’re fantastic.  Really.  You should get a Cy Young one of these days).

The story did also say he might make a start in the minors due to the All-Star break, so maybe I’m right after all.  Stranger things have happened.

Kam Loe tomorrow.  Can he keep it up?  Can Robbie Tejeda learn something from Loe, if he goes down to the minors for one start?  Stranger things have happened there too.

Rangers Rotation Release Points Redux

June 25, 2007

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

Kameron Loe:

Kameron Loe Release Point by Pitch Type

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

Robinson Tejeda:

Robinson Tejeda Release Point by Pitch Type

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

Brandon McCarthy:

Brandon McCarthy Release Point by Pitch Type

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

Vicente Padilla:

Vicente Padilla Release Point by Pitch Type

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

Kevin Millwood:

Kevin Millwood Release Point by Pitch Type

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

Summary:

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

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

Will it break more if you call it a breaking ball?

June 20, 2007

So Jon Daniels leads the Rangers to the worst record in baseball and gets a contract extension?  Okay, Hicks, you’re trying to show you’re behind him, but this is way the wrong time to do that.  He still had a year and a half left on his contract, you can wait until the end of the season.  That way you don’t try and distract from all your other problems.  I don’t know what the subtext to all this is, but it’s weird timing.  Maybe because I’ve been talking about firing people, you think you need to support him?  Sorry, Tom, you’re the one who needs to go, not JD.  Actually, I flip-flop on JD all the time, some days I like him, some I don’t.  I think I lean toward the idea that he hasn’t had enough time to do things yet, but I also note some of the trades he’s made have been bad.  That Chris Young/Adrian Gonzalez one is in line for a nomination as worst trade of all time, certainly for the Rangers.

Of course, Sammy is generally considered the worst Rangers trade, but I don’t know.  It’s kind of like the Bagwell thing, you project what you can when they’re that young.  And if you want excuses, well, let’s just say three strikeouts tonight made him not worth keeping all those years ago.  I prefer the sign that one Cubs fan held up, that said something like “545 HR for the Cubs, 12 for the Rangers, he’s still our Sammy”.  Yep, and you can have him.  We’ll trade him back any day of the week.  Maybe you can give up some middle reliever for him, perhaps that Marmol guy?  He looked pretty good tonight, although no-hitting the Rangers over the last five innings isn’t necessarily that great of a feat this year.

Once again, it all started with the rotation, and Tejeda was up and down and up and down all night.  He was about as inconsistent as I’ve seen him all year.  Got some interesting quotes though.  How about:  “Tejeda said he changed his approach, going after hitters with his breaking ball first, not his fastball.”  Does he have a breaking ball?  Not really, it’s a slider, and it doesn’t break that much.  If you read my post a couple of days ago about the Rangers rotation, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Does he imagine it is a breaking ball?  Does the media (in this case TR Sullivan)?  Someone needs to notice he only has two pitches, both are fast but neither break enough to fool people, which is why they can sit on it and why he has an ERA in the sevens.

Back to JD, and some of his other comments today:

“Daniels has already begun talking with other clubs about possible trades, and most of the interest has been in relievers Akinori Otsuka and Eric Gagne.”  Okay, trade them.  get something good back.  Let’s face it, the Rangers are at least a couple of years away, and need to get help for then, not keep them now.  I’ve always assumed that Gagne was a rent-a-pitcher, good for a few months then time to trade, but I hadn’t thought of Aki until now.  But why not?  Can we get some rotation help?  Probably not, unless it’s a decent prospect.  But in a couple of years CJ Wilson and Tejeda are going to be closing out games (and not necessarily in that order), so let’s use our big chips right now.

“We thought there was a window to win and we made some decisions to capitalize on that,” Daniels said.”  This, from someone who took over after the 2005 season, who’d been there for some time before that?  Come on!  That smacks of someone who really didn’t evaluate their team very well.  Either that, or an owner who wanted it to happen no matter what.  I’m surprised he didn’t go out and sign a bunch of high priced old guys, like they did in 2000.  We all saw how well that worked, didn’t we?

“Our goal is to be one of the premier development organizations in the game,” Daniels said.”  Darn it!  I thought your goal was to win the World Series.  That would be my goal.  I mean sure, develop talent that you can use or trade, but don’t say that as your goal.  I personally will not consider it a success if you’re stumbling along at 81-81, or even 85-77, even if you get twenty players on different major league teams.  I don’t want to be a feeder for other clubs.  I don’t want to develop Mark Teixeira (not that he needed developing) or John Danks and watch them walk off with other teams.  I want to win the World Series, and frankly, anything less than that is nothing.

“General manager Jon Daniels said the club will work out a program where Main will continue to get some at-bats and some work as a position player, just to keep it an option. But the primary focus will be to develop him as a pitcher.”  Oh, good, some kid we drafted as a pitcher wants to play in the field a little and we’re going to play nice and let him.  Just in case he doesn’t work out as a pitcher.  Good grief!  Just wait until he’s running the bases and slides and busts his arm up, and never pitches again.  Okay, so maybe Rick Ankiel can turn around and bat once he loses the pitching mojo, but that’s an exception, not something to aim for.  What’s the matter, Jon, are you afraid the Rangers pitchers are going to go 1-30 again in interleague play in five years?  Stop it, stop it right now.  Tell the kid he’s a pitcher and nothing else, he needs to learn how to pitch, and if he can manage to do that, then maybe we’ll see him in five years or so.  Screw around with hitting and we’ll throw in the towel right now.  By the way, we also signed second rounder Matt West (no relation, but I will buy the t-shirt if he ever makes it), and he said on tv tonight that his aim was to make it here in five years.  Dude, you’re 18, in five years you’ll be 23.  No superstars decided to wait five years before making the majors.  The correct answer to the question is “I want to be up here as soon as possible”.  The next answer is “I’m moving to third base because everyone says that’s where I will play, and Hank Blalock sucks when he’s not injured so that’s my best chance of making the big leagues soon”.  Okay, I kid about that last one.  But also, both of you, you just each got a million bucks, don’t say you’re sticking it in the bank.  Say you’re going to Vegas, or buying a Hummer, or something cool.  You’re kids, dammit, act like them!

Okay, that’s enough.  One down to the Cubs.  On the news they said that 75% of the fans were Cubs fans.  My guess would be 20%, they’re just a lot noisier than Rangers fans.  Kind of like Yankees and Red Sox fans are.  They all suck.

Rangers Rotation pitch types

June 18, 2007

In the previous part of this study, we saw where each of the pitchers in the Rangers rotation was releasing their pitch. Here in part two, we’ll see if we can determine what pitches they’re throwing.

Kevin Millwood:

First up, Kevin Millwood. Searching online, various sites say that he has a fastball that runs 91-93, a slider, a 12-6 curve and some say a changeup. Let’s look at his charts from Gameday:

Kevin Millwood Horizontal vs Vertical Break

This first chart shows how his pitches break horizontally (blue) and vertically (red) in relation to speed. There are three basic clusters, all fairly well differentiated. The top pair are his fastball, which is running at 90-95 mph, breaking a little horizontally and not very much vertically (the vertical is kind of hard to understand, it’s actually how much it is breaking vs a “normal” pitch, in this case it is staying up. See this Hardball Times article for more explanation than I can give). His second pitch, at 85-90, breaks less in both directions. I’m going to guess this is his slider. His third pitch, running 72-77, is moving in the opposite direction to the others, and this is his curve.

Kevin Millwood Speed vs Break Length

This next chart shows why the bottom one is his curve. It is breaking much more than the others, between 16-20 while the others are from 2-10. Here you can see the slider breaking slightly more than the fastball.

Kevin Millwood Both Breaks vs Speed

The third chart for Millwood shows his horizontal and vertical breaks again, this time the horizontal is left to right and the vertical is up and down (as they should be). These pitches are colored by speed. This is how the pitches would look to the catcher if they were all thrown at the same spot. The fastball would stay up and to the left, the slider would be closer to the middle, and the curve would be down and to the right. Actually that’s a simplistic explanation of how they would look to the catcher, but it should suffice to give a general idea. If anyone can explain it better, please leave a comment. The chart does show a clear progression of pitches according to speed, with the slow curves in blue at bottom left, the fastballs in red at top right and the green sliders in the middle.

Brandon McCarthy:

Next is Brandon McCarthy. Online seems to agree that he has a fastball from 87-93, a changeup at 77-81 and a curve from 74-77. Let’s see:

Brandon McCarthy Horizontal vs Vertical Break

A clear cluster at the top is his fastball, as noted it’s about 87-93. His curve at the bottom is about 71-75 and his changeup is about 75-78. It appears there might be something in the middle, in about the 77-85 range, where the red is crossing to the center and the blue is a little right of it. It’s pretty spread out, and hard to tell if it’s another pitch or just noise in the data, maybe other pitches that were thrown a little off, for example a curveball that failed to curve because it was thrown a little hard. If I were to imagine really hard, I’d also see a small group of blue pitches out to the bottom left of the fastballs, with the associated red group out to the bottom left of the red fastballs too.

Brandon McCarthy Speed vs Break Length

This doesn’t clarify that extra pitch, although it does add a little more data. The fastball is clear at top left, the curves are clear at bottom right. The cluster that is the changeup is middle left, off to the side a bit, at the 10 inch break point in the 75-77 mph range. It’s the path of dots between the curve and the fastball that are interesting. Are they another pitch, or just the noise as described above? There is just not the cluster that you’d want to see to truly define it as a pitch.

Brandon McCarthy Both Breaks vs Speed

In here we see the fastball in red, and the curve in dark blue at bottom right. The lighter blue of 75-79 mph changeups appears up and to the left, just next to the fastball. The dark green is the 80-84 pitches, a smattering of them just above the curves, and a few more mixed in with the rest of the fastball/changeup group. It really does seem like another pitch, doesn’t it? There are at least semi-distinct groupings in all three charts, and I’d call it something like a slider maybe. The fact that there are so many variations leads me to feel there is something there, maybe he’s been trying something out? Of course, he pitched pretty badly for a few starts, maybe those are just pitches that didn’t work. Later I will go look at the game by game data and see what I can isolate.

Kameron Loe:

Kameron Loe reportedly throws a fastball in the high 80’s, which is a sinker, and has a changeup and a curve to go with it.

Kameron Loe Horizontal vs Vertical Break

Here’s a large cluster of fastballs, thrown 87-93. That’s quite a bit faster than the reference I found which said he throws high 80’s. I don’t remember how old that reference was, so it’s possible he’s gained speed in the meantime. I do know there have been several comments that he relies too much on his sinker, and looking at this you can see how much he’s thrown it compared to the other pitches. The grouping below 80 with the red on the left and the blue on the right is the curve, so in the middle at 80-85 is his changeup.

Kameron Loe Speed vs Break Length

This one is just about what you’d expect, although there’s really no big gap between the curve and the changeup, but there wasn’t in the previous chart either.

Kameron Loe Both Breaks vs Speed

His curves are all slow, under 80, and blue. The rest are very mixed together, and I’d probably say show the same pattern, kind of kidney shaped. I’m not sure why that would be. Millwood and McCarthy also clustered their pitches better, look at the red dots on them and they are very close, whereas Loe is quite spread apart. Is it lack of consistency, or control?

Vicente Padilla:

I saved Vicente Padilla until after the first three, because I wanted to present them as kind of similar, with clusters of each pitch type, although somewhat spread apart in some cases. Padilla shows something completely different. He reportedly has a low-90s fastball, a curve, slider and changeup.

Vicente Padilla Horizontal vs Vertical Break

First, notice that this chart drops down to 55 mph, whereas the others didn’t go below 70. Padilla has a significant number of pitches down there, and they are presumably curveballs. Why he is so slow with them, I don’t know. But also notice that after the group of fastballs, the rest is a wide mish-mash, there is nothing grouped about these pitches at all. It looks like a waterfall. Is this his problem, lack of control, or lack of ability to throw it where he wants? It seems to me that apart from his fastball, the rest of the pitches he’s just throwing and hoping, without knowing where they will go. That would explain why he has been pummelled this year.

Okay, look a little closer. Between about 72 and 80 mph there is a group of blue dots on the left, in the middle of the red, and vice versa on the other side. That is probably one of his other pitches, but is it the slider or changeup? Too hard for me to tell from this. If the rest of them are curves though, then he’s throwing his curve anywhere from 55 to 80 mph, and I don’t believe that. It would be such a wide range to be throwing one pitch in. Also, note that his fastball is running from about 88 to 98. That’s serious heat. But just like Loe, it appears he is relying on it too much.

Vicente Padilla Speed vs Break Length

Now look at this one. Big cluster of fastballs at the top. Long tail of curves at the bottom. But right there in the middle, in the 75-80 mph range, you can see two distinct groups. One could be the top of the curves, but the other, to the left, is something else. Slider or change?

Vicente Padilla  Both Breaks vs Speed

Almost all the blue pitches are at bottom right, those are curves. Almost all red pitches are at top left, those are fastballs. But there’s the little group of green in the middle, that’s the third pitch. Now, going back to the previous pitchers, Millwood throws a slider while McCarthy and Loe throw changeups. Millwood’s slider is down and to the right of his fastball, and in green. Both Loe and McCarthy don’t have that clear distinct group, their changeups are mixed in with their fastballs in their versions of this graph. So, on the basis of that, I’m going to say that Padilla is throwing a slider for his third pitch. Is there a changeup anywhere? Not that I can see.

Robinson Tejeda:

Our final man in the rotation is Robinson Tejeda. In various places, I read that he has a quality 96 mph fastball, a plus changeup, an average slider and is developing a curveball.

Robinson Tejeda Horizontal vs Vertical Break

Not so fast. Actually his fastball is that fast, in fact it has touched 98, but he’s throwing it anywhere from about 92-98, averaging about 95, and that is quality. But he’s only showing one other pitch here, from 80-87, and it’s definitely not a curve. It’s either a slider or changeup.

Robinson Tejeda Speed vs Break Length

This doesn’t show us much of anything. Still two clusters, nothing outstanding about them. The only thing I’d say is that the two guys we decided are throwing sliders had that grouping down and to the right of the fastball, which is what this shows.

Robinson Tejeda Both Breaks vs Speed

Uh-oh, another mish-mash. Fastball is clear, and the green grouping shows just like Millwood and Padilla, so I’m going to call this one a slider too. But the question remains, where’s his third pitch? A starter can’t get by in the big leagues with only two pitches, once the opposition has seen them enough they know what they’re looking for. And especially since his slowest pitches are around 80, that means they don’t need to look for the slower curve and don’t have to adjust as much. If you’re only looking at a range of 80-98, that’s easier than looking at 70-95. This shows in his career stats: First time through the order, the opponent has an 88 OPS+ against him. Second time it’s 99, and third time it’s 128. Yes, most pitchers show this sort of movement, but I’d say it’s harder to fool them the third time through when you only have two pitches. My guess, it won’t be too long before he moves to the bullpen. I also think that he’ll be a star in the bullpen, because with a 98 fastball he’s got closer written all over him.

Summary:

Well that’s enough for this post. That’s a lot of information to read and absorb at once. A bunch of pretty pictures, a little analysis of what they mean, and a few questions left here and there. Next time, I’m going to dig a little deeper into the numbers, see how often they’re throwing each pitch, what their average speeds and breaks are, things like that. After that I want to see why they’re choosing to throw a particular pitch, on what counts and against lefties or righties, maybe even what the score is and who’s on base. But all that is for another day.

Rotation Release Points

June 14, 2007

This is part one of what I expect to be a series of studies of the Rangers rotation, based on the Enhanced Gameday data provided by MLB.com. This data is proving to be a treasure trove for stats nuts, of which I am proud to say I am one, and I’ve been digging through it for a long time. I’m trying to get some of my thoughts about the data down before I get too lost, because every time I start looking at something I end up finding some other little piece of info and sidetracking all over the place.

In this study, I’m going to start at the start, which is usually the best place to begin. In this case, the start in the data is the release point of the ball. The Gameday data provides three fields, called x0, y0 and z0, which are able to define a three dimensional position where the ball is released by the pitcher. y0 is always 55, which means it is being measured at 55 feet from home plate, in other words right about where the pitcher lets go of the ball as he comes off the mound. x0 and z0 are the horizontal and vertical positions of the ball at that distance, with z0 being feet off the ground, and x0 being a distance from a central point, presumably somewhere centered on the pitching rubber, also in feet. Since it is measured as from the catcher’s view, an x0 that is negative is a release point that is to the left of the mound, in other words that has been thrown by a right-hand pitcher, and a positive x0 is to the right of the mound or a left-hand pitcher.

So, on to the pictures:

Rangers Rotation Release Points

The first graph shows the five members of the Rangers rotation who have pitched the most games this season. All five are right-handers, so all have negative numbers in the x (horizontal) direction, and the graph shows they all throw in a range of about five to eight feet from the ground.

Before I continue, I should note that I have found some inconsistencies in the data, most noticeably between ballparks but also some within ballparks. The between ballparks issue appears to be an alignment problem, where all parks are not calibrated the same. Within ballparks the numbers match up fairly well for individual pitchers (meaning if they threw it at the six feet mark one day, they will also be about the six feet mark in every start, not some at five and some at seven). The exceptions within ballparks appear to be problems with the cameras taking the measurements, I have blogged before that it appears some cameras will be bumped during a game and lose their readings, or start measuring slightly off. An example of this appears to be in the Tejeda data, where he has most of his pitches around the 5.5 to 6.5 height, but you can see a small section of the light blue dots down and to the right, at between the 4.5 and 5.0 height. I have not investigated his starts to determine definitively if this is the case (I am leaving that to a later study where I want to show some of the problems in the data). Thus, all the values you see in the charts today are the raw data, not in any way adjusted. I should also point out that there are a very few outliers outside these graphs, for example in this graph there were a couple of points over at the +3 feet mark, which, unless a Ranger pitcher suddenly decided to throw a couple of pitches left-handed, are clearly erroneous and can be ignored.

What you see in this graph is five pitchers who are among the worst in the league this season. Having looked at some more of the release point data, I can immediately tell that these are pretty widely scattered release points for all these pitchers. I had a theory that the more experienced a pitcher, the tighter their release point, but that proved not to be the case. As it turns out, and you will see below, the more closely bunched together the release points are, the better the pitcher’s ERA.

Looking at the Rangers, you can see Brandon McCarthy up at the top right, very straight and almost vertical in his release. The spread of his pitches is about a foot in each direction. The other four pitchers are releasing from similar areas. Loe is also about a foot square, Millwood about 18 inches horizontally and a foot vertically, Padilla about 18 inches by 15 inches, and Tejeda is probably the best of the lot at about a foot by about 10 inches. All in all, fairly spread out, and given that their ERA+’s range from 58 (Millwood) to 77 (McCarthy), this could be a good indicator that this is where their problems begin.

Let’s look at another one:
Angels Rotation Release Points

This belongs to the Anaheim Angels. The scale is the same in both directions. Their two best pitchers are Lackey (ERA+ of 163) and Escobar (146). Weaver is league average at 102, while Santana (80) and Colon (74) are very Rangers-rotation like in their quality this year.

Now, what I said earlier about different ballparks appears to be in play here. Look at Escobar, in bright red the easiest to read. He has a large cluster of points vertically between 6.5 and 7, and a smaller cluster between about 6.2 and 6.5. By looking in the data, and sorting by the z0 value, I can tell you that every single pitch below 6.5 was thrown in Chicago on 4/29. There are a few pitches above 6.5 thrown on that date, but the highest was at 6.6, which is the bottom of the main cluster of pitches. It is obvious that the measurements in the White Sox ballpark are showing the pitches about 5 inches below everywhere else. For the Angels, Escobar, Santana and Weaver each pitched in that stadium during that series. Although not so easily detected, there does appear to be a slight shift down for the other two pitchers as well.

So, throw out that start, and I see Escobar as being about 9 inches wide by 6 inches tall. Lackey, the other outstanding pitcher for the Angels this year, is about 11 inches by 8 inches. Average Weaver is about a foot by 10 inches (allowing for a Chicago start). The two bottom guys are both about a foot by a foot. Using these numbers, and matching them to the Rangers, all the pitchers with a below average ERA+ are throwing in an area about a foot by a foot, or more, whereas the better pitchers are much smaller areas, half or less the size of the bad pitchers.

One more team:
Athletics Rotation Release Points

This is the graph of the Oakland A’s. Only four pitchers this time, because they have not had a consistent fifth starter like the other two teams. Note that one of these guys, Joe Kennedy, is a left-hander, and his release is way over to the right. Note also that the scales are slightly different, to allow for Kennedy.

I chose the Rangers because they are pitching bad (and because this blog is about the Rangers), the Angels because they are leading the division with decent pitching, and the A’s because they have the best pitching in the league. All four of these guys have a much better than average ERA+, with Blanton and Kennedy both around 120, Gaudin at 175, and Haren an incredible 270. If you weren’t entirely sure what ERA+ is, this tells you that Haren is about 2.7 times better than the average American League pitcher, and his 1.58 ERA reflects that. He is having an incredible season so far.

But Haren upsets the applecart here. Look at his release points, in the green. They are about 15 inches wide and 18 inches high, much wider than even the bad pitchers on the other teams. What’s going on? Without investigating deeply, it does appear that most of the starts down and to the left were made in Oakland, with the up and to the right starts being around the league. I would suspect this to be the problem except that it does not manifest itself for either Kennedy or Gaudin, who are showing smaller ball-shaped release points. This is probably something to look into further as well. If you actually take Haren, rotate him so he is horizontal, and remove the Oakland bias, he is probably about a foot by 6 inches, which would put him back in the top of the bunch.

Gaudin is very good this year, and has a small release area to show for it. Blanton and Kennedy are similar in ERA+, although Kennedy shows a much smaller area of release. Either way, each of these pitchers are showing they have control of their release points more than the other teams do.

So, in summary, it appears that the better the control of your release point, the better you will pitch. I’m sure this is just one factor, but it is probably one that is more coachable than some things that are out of their control. I surmise that if a pitcher gets in a good rhythm and all his mechanics are working well, the end result will be better, and if he is flailing about, not controlling his body, the pitch is going to go anywhere other than to a well-controlled point, and that will lead to better pitches to hit. A good pitching coach ought to be working on these things with the players, making them aware of how open they are getting when they release, and how variable they are. Age (and thus experience) do not appear to be factors, as none of the A’s are over 28, the Angels are split with a good and bad pitcher under 28 and a good and bad pitcher over 28 (and their best pitcher exactly 28), while the Rangers range from 23 to 32 with nothing resembling any kind of quality pattern.

Whether the Rangers have the personnel or ability to deal with this problem is unknown. Once more of this kind of data is available, we may be able to see patterns emerge showing that players can improve, or decline, in this ability. Eventually we may even be able to use this to evaluate pitching coaches. For now though, we can just look at what we have and see the beginnings of some interesting analysis to come.

[Update 6/14 at 7pm:  I inadvertently switched the names of McCarthy and Loe when I pulled the dataset for this study.  Although the results are still the same, I have corrected the Rangers chart and changed the names of Loe and McCarthy in the text where appropriate.  I am going to take steps to correct this problem.  My thanks to John Walsh of The Hardball Times for helping me discover this error through a related email I had sent him.]

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!