Bubbles bursting pop!

April 10, 2009

Been meaning to write all week.  Takes the first loss of the season to get me to do so.  Hopefully that will deflate a few of the people talking about the Rangers contending.  Okay, yes, they did sweep the Indians, but one series does not a season make.  Has anything changed on the Rangers in the last week to make them suddenly likely to win the division?  No.   I’m sure you’ve heard it here before, but remember this phrase: “small sample size”.  How many times did the Rangers win three in a row last season?  A lot.  Just because it happened to come in the first three games of this season, are all the clouds surrounding this team blown away, and everything is now all fluffy and light?  No.

Hey, are you, like me, wondering what kind of idiot Ron Washington is?  In my case, it’s because he’s giving his starters 100 or more pitches in opening week!  Come on, even Kris Benson gets 100 today, when he sucked all day?  I know Nolan Ryan talked about getting the guys more physically fit so they can go longer, but please, this is ridiculous.  It’s like they told Washington that he will be fired if his starters don’t go 100 every night.  And yes, I freely admit that blame could just as easily go to Mike Maddux.  As of right now the MLB site shows 27 pitchers have thrown 100 pitches so far this year (presumably all in starts), and that doesn’t count Benson, who’s not on the list yet.  Our other three starters are though, tying us with Cincinnati as the two teams with three pitchers to do that.  I will bet you that one or more of these first four starters will be on the DL by the end of the month.  Don’t I remember Padilla having some trouble late in spring training, so much that he might have missed his start on Wednesday?  It’s criminal.  And yes, I did say when Millwood came out to pitch the seventh on Monday that he was about to melt down, having already gotten into the 90s in his pitch count.  If I can tell from section 235, how come Washington can’t?  Of course, I also called Salty’s home run (told my son to pay attention – he was goofing around – because Salty was going to hit a homer, and two pitches later he did), so maybe I’m just psychic.

Love the red.  Get a clue, Rangers.  Blue should be gone by next season at the latest.

Enjoyed Opening Day, despite the horrible traffic around the ballpark.  Somehow they actually managed to make it worse.  Yes, they’ll blame construction, which will presumably make things better one day.  Me, I blame the cops, who were doing a terrible job of traffic control everywhere I went.  When you’re in a mile-long backup, seeing the cop just letting people turn right on red into the very road all your cars are trying to get to, that’s pathetic.  We couldn’t go anywhere because the right-on-redders kept filling in our gaps.  If the cop had stopped them once in a while, we’d have gotten there in half the time.  And as for the folks at Six Flags (where we were forced to go to park), they should realize that they should open all of their ticket booths when they have a thousand cars waiting, not half of them.  I wanted to tell their workers who were blocking the lanes off that they should open the booths instead, but my wife wouldn’t let me.

Wednesday night was a lot better, of course, since only half as many people showed up.  I think it was a much more enjoyable day, too.  The temperature was just right (whereas on Monday we were fine in the sun but froze when the shadows hit).  The ballpark has much better screens this year, I really like the various video boards.  Plus, we saw Elvis hit his first career home run, hopefully the first of many (and yes, I know he’s only going to average two a year, but still).  I wonder when we’ll be able to get Andrus shirts in the store?  If it’s anything like Chris Davis last year, we’ll have to wait until Opening Day 2010.

How do you explain to a four year old that green dot won’t win every time?  He was just so mad about it, and then red won twice in a row, so that just made him even madder at Mommy (her dot is red dot.  Mine is blue).  It’s really funny to watch him get mad about it though.

One of the things about blogging (or indeed writing in general) is that you need to stick with it to be successful.  Take a few days off, and soon enough it becomes a few months.  I must try harder to post daily, or at least several times a week.  Too many thoughts bounce around my head to not commit them somewhere (and no jokes about committing me somewhere, please).

Nick Adenhart, huh?  On Opening Day we were in traffic that was so slow (I estimated it took us 45 minutes to drive a mile at one point) that the passenger in the car in front of us went to the cooler in his trunk twice while we were watching.  He tried to hide it when he went back, but obviously he and the driver cracked a couple of beers each while they were driving.  How stupid can people be?  And how come a victim like Adenhart dies, while the driver walks (or runs) away?  Let’s get some serious punishment for these people.

I like the idea of day games, but it still doesn’t really feel like the season has started until we get into our rhythm of watching the ballgame every evening through the summer.

What bittersweet schadenfreude

February 10, 2009

I guess it takes a lot to get me to write these days…

Poor little rich boy only did steroids while playing for the Rangers.  He of course quit when he went to the Yankees, because he got away from all the pressure that the contract brought here in Texas.  As everyone knows, there’s no pressure in New York, ever.

Way back when (June 07 to be precise), I wrote a post about a few things, and included this incredibly prophetic paragraph:

Has anyone ever questioned A-Rod and steroids?  I mean, here’s a guy who is poised to be the youngest to 500, having already done it to 400 and 300 and a whole bunch besides.  He’s played on the Rangers with a bunch of guys who’ve gotten tarred with the steroid brush, and on the Yankees with them too.  Come on, if the guy can cheat on his wife, why not take a few steroids too?  He’s not Mr Squeaky Clean, he’s a dirty rat both on the field and off it.

Now, I’m not saying I’m a genius, but I certainly feel a little vindication.  He’s throwing the Rangers under the bus (and good on Hicks for his righteous indignation, normally an owner would sweep it under the rug), trying to regain his reputation as much as he can.  All I can say is I hope he gets treated the exact same way as Bonds, Clemens, McGwire et al are.  Including his Hall of Fame chances.

I don’t quite follow the timeline, but according to the reports on the weekend, the Sports Illustrated reporter talked to Rodriguez in a Miami gym on Thursday.  The story broke on Saturday.  On Sunday, Scott Boras said he hadn’t spoken to his client because he was out of the country.  Then Rodriguez shows up on ESPN on Monday, having been in the Bahamas.  Doesn’t that sound like he knew the story was coming down, and he jumped and ran for a few days?  Then, having talked to his PR people, to get his story straight, they all agreed that they could dump on the Rangers and pretend he was clean before and after.  You always have to remember when listening to Alex Rodriguez talk:  every single word has been pressed and massaged by the PR people before they come out of his mouth.  He is incapable of saying anything straight to anyone.  Don’t believe me?  Just ask Joe Torre, who last week was calling him A-Fraud.  Now of course he is A-Roid.

Quote from ESPN’s story:  “Rodriguez said he didn’t know for sure he had failed a test until Sports Illustrated contacted him last week.”  Right.  Because if someone told me I may have failed a drug test, I’d be like “okay, whatever”.  Wouldn’t give a damn about clearing my name, or limiting the damage.

Another:  Rodriguez added: “I am sorry for my Texas years. I apologize to the fans of Texas.”  Can we get an apology for stabbing us in the back?  For insulting the entire team?

Now to the bitter part of it:  this is just another confirmation that the Rangers were one of the epicenters of steroid use in baseball.  Oakland being the primary, of course, but you wouldn’t put many other teams above Texas.  To this day I don’t know if I believe Raffy or not.  I want to believe him, but too much evidence has racked up against him.  We all know about Canseco.  Juan Gone was gone to a bunch of injuries very early in his career, a sign of steroid use.  And then there’s Pudge (and I write this with clenched teeth).  Pudgy Pudge down to Skinny Pudge (and the deterioration of his career, although he was a catcher so there’s extra wear there), that was a little too blindingly obvious to avoid.  I will deny it until the day I die, or the day he is inducted into the Hall of Fame, but there is a very long shadow over him.

One last thought:  there’s 103 other names out there.  The other guys who failed a test in 2003.  If you don’t name them, everyone gets guilt by suspicion.  If you do name them, it won’t lift anything else off the ones who didn’t fail.  Everyone will always assume they were roiding in the early 2000s.  But right now I say name all those names.  Bite the bullet, if you don’t name them there’s just going to be endless speculation.  Come clean now, and in a year it will be forgotten (until the next scandal).  If you don’t, it’s going to hang over baseball like Damocles’ sword.

Catching the worst option they could

December 15, 2008

The Rangers had a surfeit at catcher, if you listened to anyone worth listening to.  They were going to deal some of them, and get some big-time pitching prospects in here, guys who were going to jump into a major league role right away.  The top four (Laird, Saltalamacchia, Teagarden and Ramirez) were all mentioned in different ways.

Of those, Salty was the one talked about most, and Ramirez hardly at all.  Jamey Newberg had Salty on the way out the door, Boston bound, and we were going to get Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden in return.  We’d be pretty happy with either of those guys, right?  Either one would step into our rotation plans, probably as a 5th starter in 2009 but you’d expect them to be a 2 or 3 by 2011, the earliest the Rangers are likely to contend.

So what did the Rangers actually do?  They traded Gerald Laird to Detroit for nothing.  To be more precise, a 25 year old still struggling to get out of A ball (= No Prospect), and a 17 or 18 year old who has a thousand mile per hour fastball but is a crapshoot.

Yeah, genius work.  Much of the value of the catchers was in Salty, and if you consider that Teagarden is the one for the future, then it wouldn’t matter if you deal Salty or Laird, except for the fact that you get a much better return on Salty than on Laird.

So we presumably go into 2009 with Salty and Teagarden as our two catchers, two guys who have little experience at the job.  Yeah, they can learn on the job, but who are they going to learn from?  My ideal situation would have been to trade Salty for one of those Boston guys, and let Teagarden learn from Laird for a year or two before turning into our catcher of the future.  As it is, Salty hasn’t shown much of anything either with the bat or behind the plate, and may be destined to be yet another prospect who turned into a pumpkin at the big league level.

My biggest fear hasn’t been realized (yet):  that they will bring in a veteran to help the young guys.  You know, an Einar Diaz, Sandy Alomar, Rod Barajas, someone whose only job is to block young players from getting playing time.  It’s fine to have them as a teacher, but you don’t deal someone who could do that and then go get another one at twice the price.

This is the same brain trust that has them talking about bringing in Randy Johnson.  I defy you to find a more bone-headed move that the Rangers could make.  RJ would take a lot of money, and would bring back 300 wins (he’s at 295 now), so would get a lot of publicity.  But it would be Sammy Sosa publicity, where nobody around here really cares, because we know he did it all with another team.  It would be a publicity stunt to try and get the local fans interested, and God knows they’re going to have to do a lot to get the Texas fans interested in 2009.

My favorite line about Johnson was in the Dallas Morning News.  Nolan Ryan was quoted as saying he’d be a great teacher for the young pitchers we have coming through.  But then, Johnson’s agent said that he was a good teacher if the young guys asked him about things.  Not that he’ll be volunteering anything, but if some snot-nosed 20 year old comes up to future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson and asks him for help, he will offer it.  Yeah, that’ll happen.

And they bring back Mark Connor, to a minor league role?  Did they forget how he was destroying young pitchers?

Seeing Sabathia and Burnett sign with the Yankees was very demoralizing.  The Rangers are left with Ben Sheets, hoping he’ll take a home town discount (except then there’s the story that he’s trying to sell his house in Dallas!).  Not a good long-term bet.  And I don’t think the Rangers should be signing anyone long-term, they should be concentrating on getting the kids in short-term.  Once we see the upswing in the team’s chances (and I said 2011 above), then you look for a free agent or two who can help put the team over the top.  Every dollar spent on top level free agents right now is a wasted one.  On bottom level ones too, for that matter.  Recognize the team isn’t going to win, and go with the kids, don’t bring in roster filler who are taking their time away.

Back from the dead

October 12, 2008

This is horrendous. This is an indictment of Rangers management past and present. And of the future, at least for some time, but when will that happen? 2010? 2012? 2020? 2050?

Idling through some numbers the other day, I came up with this chart:

MLB Standings 2000-08

Team W L PCT
NYY 862 592 0.593
BOS 825 632 0.566
STL 822 635 0.564
OAK 815 641 0.560
ATL 806 650 0.554
ANA 803 655 0.551
CHW 778 681 0.533
MIN 776 682 0.532
SFG 767 688 0.527
LAD 767 691 0.526
HOU 758 699 0.520
PHI 757 700 0.520
SEA 752 706 0.516
CLE 751 707 0.515
NYM 745 711 0.512
ARI 735 723 0.504
TOR 730 727 0.501
FLA 724 732 0.497
CHC 724 733 0.497
SDP 694 765 0.476
TEX 689 769 0.473
COL 677 782 0.464
CIN 673 785 0.462
MIL 661 796 0.454
WSN 652 805 0.447
DET 643 814 0.441
BAL 634 822 0.435
PIT 619 837 0.425
TBD 610 845 0.419
KCR 607 851 0.416

Uhh, yeah. 21st out of 30. Isn’t that about where you’d expect the Rangers, or maybe a little high? After all, only one winning season in that time, but most of the time they’ve been just a bit below mediocre, in the 70-80 wins range. As I’ve said many times, not good enough to compete, not bad enough to tear it all down and start fresh. Instead we get, year after year, the same old blather about needing to sign just one or two more starters and we’ll be there. Uhh, no.

The Rangers have a shot at getting to 20th (five wins behind a terrible San Diego team), but not 19th (35 wins behind a couple of teams). They could also fall a couple of spots, if Colorado or Cincinnati come on. The truly amazing thing: even if the Rangers went 162-0, and the Yankees 0-162, the Yankees will still have a better record for the decade. And the Rangers are 63 games back of Seattle, the next worst team in the AL West.

Of the current crop of Rangers starting pitchers, who do you think should be there when the Rangers are trying to compete? Padilla maybe, but he only has one year left on his contract (I think). Millwood has flamed out. The others have all been terrible. Of the 15 pitchers who started a game for the Rangers this year, only 3 had an ERA+ over 100: Ponson, who got dumped because he was a cancer in the clubhouse, McCarthy, who had five starts in a injury-plagued year, and AJ Murray, who pitched 7 innings. Feldman, who a few folks laughingly said had a good year? ERA+ of 82. Matt Harrison? 79. At least he’s young. Feldman sucks, and will never be in a rotation that could go to the playoffs.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? Our expectations have become so low about Rangers pitchers, we’re reduced to thinking that Scott Feldman might be a solution.  Or Dustin Nippert, good grief! For the first time since 1988 (not including strike shortened 1995) the Rangers drew less than 2 million fans. Even I gave up on them, hardly bothering to watch, let alone post here, after the football season came on. When you’ve killed the fans so many times, and you’ve lied to them about how the pitching is going to be better, and you tell them that this was a good season (take out about three weeks in May and they’d fall back below 70 wins), and they just know it’s going to keep being bad, and you suck the life out of the city’s interest in baseball. Bringing in Nolan Ryan as the savior was kind of like putting lipstick on a pig.

Everyone will tell you that there’s a great crop of kids coming through from the minors, and in a couple of years we’ll be loaded. I say show me the money. Come back here in those couple of years and see how many of them have actually made it. Do you think we’ll get a whole rotation’s worth out of them? Here’s a thought for the day: if you could graduate just one decent starter a year from the minors, you could comfortably turn over your rotation every five years, and that might make you competitive. The guys at the top get sold off for something before they hit free agency, and you plug in someone at the bottom. I know what you’re thinking, this is not a novel idea, it’s what Oakland does. Yep. And look at them in the chart. Fourth place, and they’ll crow about their payroll being half of everyone else.

I honestly cannot tell you who will be in the Rangers rotation next year, let alone in four or five years. I know there’s a bunch of guys down in the minors who are winning (as Jamey tells us), but like I said above, the history of the Rangers is to ruin them or trade them before they get to Arlington. Give me a list of your top 20 pitching prospects in the Rangers system right now, and we’ll see if even two of them are in the rotation in 2012.

I really shouldn’t do this, either:

Millwood 9-10
Padilla 14-8
John Danks 12-9
Edinson Volquez 17-6
Armando Galarraga 13-7

Wow.  What if, huh?  Just by themselves they’re 65-40.  Galarraga had the fewest starts (28) of those three guys.  Millwood and Padilla each started 29, then you go to Feldman’s 25, then Harrison’s 15.  The Rangers don’t just give arms away, they destroy the ones they have.  I’ll go back again to Volquez’s quote about going to Cincinnati, where he was encouraged to pitch, not just throw.  Losing Mark Connor is the first step in resolving that, but there’s a lot more to go.

Sorry to be so negative.  Every time I’ve wanted to write for the last three months, all I can think of is negative things to say about the Rangers.  This is one of those years where you feel even more beat down at the end.  I can’t raise my hopes to look at the horizon, because I don’t see anything coming any time soon.  I think 2009 is going to be a real trough of a season in terms of fan interest.

Oh yeah, one last note:  Shame on you, Rangers, for not having Chris Davis shirts available, even at the end of the season.  He was one of the very few feel-good points of the season.

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…

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.

Life, Interrupted

July 1, 2008

Hi there! It’s been a while. Too long, in fact. I hope you missed me, or at least didn’t delete me from your feed reader. Actually, it’s been about six or seven weeks since I last wrote here. I’ve been meaning to, every day I’ve come up with a different idea or theme or something. I just haven’t gotten around to writing them down. And, once the days starting slipping into weeks, it just became easier and easier not to write. Makes Jamey Newberg look like a freaking firehose, doesn’t it?

Fact is, I got a new job in mid-May, and it’s been sucking up all my time and energy. When you go from a job you don’t really care about, to one that you’re passionately interested in, that’ll happen. Is it my dream job? No, probably not, since I don’t get to a) swing a bat, b) kick a ball, or c) dive into a swimming pool full of cash every day. But in terms of what I enjoy doing, which is messing around with software, it’s pretty high up there. It’s with a huge company that you may or may not have heard of, but who I’m not allowed to name since they have rules about blogging. And, although there’s no swimming pool of money involved, I can certainly take off my shoes and splash around in a puddle. Life, right now, is pretty darn good.

And you’d be forgiven for thinking that life is good for the Rangers. One of the things you haven’t missed lately is my dragging down the mood of the party in Arlington. There’s some perception going on that the Rangers are doing well. They are, if you consider that we’re now in July (by 16 minutes as I write) and they haven’t been mathematically eliminated yet. Let’s take a look at a chart:

AL West Race through June 29

You’re probably familiar with this kind of chart. It’s the number of games above or below .500 each team is. The Rangers have, of course, spent the last 40 games or so hanging right around .500. But compare their low point, 9 games below, to where Anaheim was at the time, 5 games up. That’s a 14 game difference. Now, today, the Rangers are one over, and Anaheim is 16 over – a 15 game difference. That’s right, for all that you think the Rangers have been playing well lately, they haven’t gained on the leaders at all. Sure, they haven’t gone into freefall like the Mariners (and like the Rangers usually do), but is there reason for hope?

Cool Standings says that the Rangers have about a 10% chance to make the playoffs right now. Is that reason for hope? The Hardball Times yesterday said that the Rangers are performing above their talent level. Is that reason for hope? In fact, they say they’re about a 73 win team, playing about 85 win baseball. I predicted a 70 to 75 win season at the start of the year, and I see nothing to change that. What’s sad is that they’re hitting the heights of mediocrity, and people are using that as a pointer to them being good, a poor substitute for the reality of being good.

My fear is that ownership is going to be deluded enough, or pressured by the media enough, to do something stupid in a few weeks. Bringing in another Carlos Lee comes to mind. At least let it be a pitcher this time, and yes, I’ve heard the name CC Sabathia bandied about. Boy oh boy, wouldn’t it be great to see him here? Just think of all the prospects we’d have to throw out to get him.

I would rather the GM do nothing than go get someone like CC, who will be out of here as soon as he can. We have a plan, stick to it, plan on competing in 2010 and just pretend that we’re in it right now, so you can keep Michael Young happy a little longer.

Okay, now to a few other things that have been rolling around in my head for a while:

The tv broadcast lost TAG for a few weeks, and I am very glad to see him back. No offense, but Victor Rojas at times didn’t sound like he knew what was going on with the Rangers this year. Josh Lewin would say something, and Victor would be like “huh?”, and Josh would have to explain. Of course, Josh normally has to explain his jokes, but these were some pretty obvious things (and I can’t think of an example right now).

I emailed the booth tonight to tell them that Josh’s story about Yankees getting pinstripes to make Babe Ruth look thinner is a myth (they first had pinstripes in 1912, he joined the team in 1920). Maybe they’ll mention it tomorrow. There’s been a few cases lately where they’ve irritated me on things enough that I’ve written them. There was another one yesterday, something about stats, that really annoyed me. Again I don’t remember what it was now, I just remember thinking that someone like Josh Lewin really ought to have at least basic knowledge of modern statistical analysis. I don’t necessarily mean the deep stuff that people like me enjoy, but even the simpler ones like OPS proving things. Another that annoyed me tonight was on the radio on the way home, they said someone in the NL was having a bad year because he is something like 2-8, with a 4.20 ERA. Surely by now people realize that a pitcher’s record has little to do with his performance, it’s what happens around him. After all, if there was a guy on the Rangers with a 4.20 ERA they’d think he was a superstar (Padilla has a 4.13, next best is Feldman’s 4.60 among regular starters).

I’m starting to lose patience with Salty. He can’t hit (82 OPS+) and he can’t field. Opponents are 28-5 stealing against him, he has 3 passed balls and 17 wild pitches. He doesn’t seem to be improving. That jackass Ron Washington said the other day he doesn’t care if his catchers hit, he wants them fielding and working with pitchers. First of all, I’ll take a guy who can hit over someone who can’t any day, the numbers prove that hitting is much more important. Second, Ron Washington would say that, because he’s a guy who couldn’t hit the side of a barn in his career, so of course he doesn’t care about numbers. And third, why not give Max Ramirez the same deal that Laird/Salty had, splitting time? Right now, as far as I’m concerned, when Laird comes back, Salty should go to the farm.

Aren’t we glad we didn’t trade Laird during the spring?

Remember how the Rangers lost patience with Jason Botts, because in all those cameos where he barely got to string two games together, he didn’t hit much? Salty is barely hitting better than Botts did, and he’s had about 50% more playing time than Botts so far in their careers. Of course, Botts didn’t have the Teixeira trade on his side, whereas they will keep putting Salty out there until they can justify the deal.

I love Chris Davis. My natural nickname for him is CD. I’d drink some for him, if I could get it here.  Washington said that Davis will go back to the minors when Blalock comes back, no matter what.  I hope Davis can hit about .500 with 20 home runs between now and then, just to make it more difficult for them.  Davis should be playing first every day, and Max Ramirez shouldn’t be there at all.

And Blalock, well, how insulting is it to the other players that he says he’s going to switch to first to help the team?  It was Catalanotto and Shelton at the time.  Thankfully Blalock can’t get healthy (I don’t mean to insinuate anything, but don’t they say getting injured like this all the time is a sign of steroid use?).  The Rangers began to play well when he got injured, and the longer he stays out, the harder it will be for him to mess things up, like sending CD back down.

Now see, it took me an hour to write all that.  That’s why I haven’t been able to do it much lately.  Not only will I be tired in the morning, but I didn’t get a chance to play any games tonight.  So, no promises when the next one will be, but I hope it won’t be another six weeks.

Hit me once, hit me twice

May 9, 2008

By now, if you’re a Rangers fan, you’ve seen and heard about the big fight tonight, which was mostly just a bunch of handbag swinging.  The clear exception was Richie Sexson, who I would expect to get at least a 10 day suspension.  You want to throw punches, that’s one thing, but throwing a helmet can cause serious injury.  The guys on the Rangers broadcast said he’s well-liked and this was out of character.

The ridiculous part is that the Rangers were completely innocent on this.  They had been hit twice by Felix Hernandez (whose reaction during the fight was way over the top), Kinsler looked like he was going to start something when he was hit but didn’t, and Gabbard’s pitch was a long way away from Sexson.  I know there will be people who will defend the Mariners in this, because I’ve been on the other end and defended the Rangers in similar situations (Frankie Francisco in Oakland, for example), but I fully expect most neutrals to side with Texas.

The video wasn’t completely clear on the location, so here’s what Gameday showed:
Sexson fight

This shows the pitches in Gameday during the full at-bat. The one at the top is the one to Sexson, the others were to Cairo after Sexson was ejected.  Now, I may be biased (yeah, may be), but this shows pretty much what we saw on tv, that this was a high pitch, not inside.  Admittedly, Sexson is a giant freak of nature, and his head sticks out like a pelican, so maybe he thought it was closer than it was.  But really, it’s on the edge or maybe slightly off the plate.

Curiously enough, the Gameday data logs don’t show it.  Sexson is simply missing from Gabbard’s data at that point, then you have Cairo’s at-bat and it is three pitches long.  If you didn’t know better, I think you’d probably just assume it was a glitch of some kind.  In Sexson’s batter data, it appears he only batted in the second inning.  My guess is that they didn’t program for this situation, not that they are trying to hide something.  The pitch existed at some point, because they made the chart from it.

Ahh, okay, I found it.  It doesn’t exist under the individual players, but it does exist in the inning data, which means it’s probably a programming oversight that didn’t get it into the players’ logs.  But the inning data has errors too though, because it shows all four pitches to Cairo.  Here’s what the data has:  px=”-0.879 pz=”5.362.  5.3 feet high (pz), so about eye height for a crouching Sexson.  0.879 feet inside.  That’s about 10.5 inches, which with the ball diameter is right on the edge of the strike zone.  If it was lower, it would just as likely been called a strike as a ball.

I love that Gameday called it an “On-field Delay”.  Someone out there was imagining a streaker, surely.

Sexson’s just mad because he can’t hit any more.

Took a while, but I finally saw Ichiro on the video, coming out at the back.  For a while I thought he wasn’t there at all, which would have been a major faux pas on his part.

It occurred to me a little later that my three year old was asleep at the time, but would probably have been watching if this game was in Arlington.  Josh loves to mimic the players in great detail, down to pulling on his gloves, stepping out of the box (not that he knows what the box is, he just knows that the players step back a little after each pitch), or even trying to break his bat over his knee after Milton Bradley did that the other day (plastic bat, and no, he didn’t really try very hard).  But if not today, one day, he will see players fighting.  And even though we’ll tell him that was a bad thing (just as we did with Bradley), and they’re not being nice, I am right now imagining the moment when he is going to throw his bad down and charge at me, and throw his helmet at me, “just like the Rangers did”.  That’s a bit of an uncomfortable feeling, when you’re the cause of your son being hooked on the Rangers.

Other notes:  Ben Broussard DFA’d.  Should have happened a couple of weeks ago, and given the job fulltime to Botts.

Edinson Volquez had a quote in today’s Star-Telegram, I can’t find it in the online edition.  He said something like the difference between last year and this is that last year he was just throwing pitches, but this year he is throwing them for a reason, and he understands why he’s throwing them.  I wish I had the exact quote.  Point is, the moment I read it, I of course thought that the difference is that this year he has a pitching coach who knows what he’s doing.

Jon Daniels says Ron Washington’s job is safe at least until the All-Star break.  Roll on All-Star break.

We’re going to try and get out to Saturday’s game, weather permitting, and get our budding superstar the Michael Young poster.  Hopefully it won’t be the only sighting of Michael Young we have.

Correct somewhere between 0 and 100% of the time

May 8, 2008

Padilla is dealing. If my math is right, he went from 20 quality starts in 33 starts in 2006, to 7 in 23 in 2007, and now 5 out of 7 in 2008. He’s on a pace for 20 wins, and for his best ERA+ since 2002. Can he keep it up? As long as I don’t jinx him again he will.

Ponson is dealing. After his second start the media was all over the Sir Sidney thing again, which I thought was pretty silly, since he’d had two starts, one of which he gave up five runs (only one earned, but still) and the other of which he’d beaten Kansas City. Then yesterday he did it to Seattle. It’s a case of the more he does it, the more confident he will be, and maybe he can stick with it. You have to wait and see what adversity will do though, like with Padilla – he had a bad start but came back strong next time. Will Ponson do that too? Or is he a flash in the pan, the Sammy Sosa of 2008? Better yet, can he keep it going through July, so we can trade him to some desperate playoff bound team?

I was looking at Ponson’s Pitchf/x for his first couple of starts. I wanted to compare them to last year, to see if there was a difference from when he was going bad, but unfortunately he pitched so little none of his games were recorded by Pitchf/x. Shame.

Brandon Boggs is only here for a short time. Know how I know? Because they didn’t even bother to get him a batting helmet that fits. Come on, the guy has to push it out of his eyes after every pitch. After his 4-4 career start, he’s now 6-28, which means pretty much any day now they’re going to give up on him. How come on Opening Day we had about ten outfielders in line, and this guy is suddenly a starter? They have some odd priorities, I tell you.

What can I say about Jason Botts? In the last few days we saw that the Mariners brass have, well, brass ones, but the Rangers brass have none. The Mariners took the bull by the horns and released Brad Wilkerson, eating his contract, as they should have. The Rangers did the stupid thing, by moving out Botts. They could have gotten rid of Broussard, who hasn’t done anything. Instead down goes Botts and up comes Shelton, who has also done nothing. It’s so bad at first they’re trying Frankie Cat there again. Come on guys, basic sabermetrics says if you have two players who are similar (and I’m talking Botts and Broussard, although they’re not similar), keep the young one. Instead they bring in a never-will-be like Shelton. They should have dumped Broussard (who was a dumb pick-up in the first place) and given Botts the full-time job. Let him have half a season doing it every day, and prove whether he can hit in the big leagues or not. Tell Ron Washington to get stuffed when he tries not to play him.

Actually I don’t think the Rangers sent Botts down. I think Shelton ate him.

Last time I said to fire Ron Washington. I still say that. He’s become a little more animated since the Rangers have won a few games, almost lifelike lately. That’s a bad thing, because it kind of proves he was sinking into a deep morass, pretty much just waiting for the axe to fall. It’s still hanging over his head, just a little further away. Recent wins against the Royals (terrible team), and the A’s and Mariners (bad teams both, but not if you believe the media) aren’t really a good indicator of improvement, it’s just the pendulum swinging the other way.

I agree with the recent poster who said to fire Jon Daniels with him. The front office needs a clean sweep, from the owner on down. The owner especially, but where are you going to find a billionaire to buy the team? Mark Cuban wants the Cubs, or the Pirates. (Great Jay Leno joke the other day: “Miley Cyrus is now the richest child in the world. Except for Mark Cuban”). Not too many other rich folk around here that want to suffer the indignity of owning the Rangers.

Pleased to tell you I have a new job, starting next week, doing stuff I really enjoy doing. Can’t wait.

I’m starting to like Josh Hamilton, although it’s still early. Player of the month is good. He won’t win the MVP though, if A-Rod couldn’t because the team sucked, he won’t. Maybe in a few years, if we’re lucky. The way things are going though, he’ll be an MVP contender and Edinson Volquez will win a Cy Young. Is that a good trade? You’d probably say yes… but in the back of your mind will be that nagging feeling that the Rangers haven’t had a good starter since, ummm… (fill in the blank).

Surprised that Hit Tracker only gave the Hamilton home run into the restaurant area yesterday a distance of 422 feet. I would have said 450 easily, but they seem to think it was the wind.

Final thought is on the umpires (again). Here’s a chart:
Strike Zone 5-7-08

What this shows is the strike zone from today’s game, showing just the balls and called strikes (i.e. the pitches that the umpire was involved in calling). Josh Lewin kept going on today about how the umpires had released some kind of stats or study showing that they were right 95% of the time. Personally I automatically think that means they’re wrong one in twenty times, or given today’s 290 total pitches, they were wrong about fifteen times (but then, I’m a glass half empty kind of person).

The problem is that I don’t think they’re counting just the close decisions, I think they’re counting all of them. A pitch that’s two feet outside, and they call it a ball – does that count as a correct decision, or a duh decision? Or one that’s right down the middle of the strike zone?

Watching today’s game, with umpire Mark Wegner in charge, it was interesting to note that he threw out the Mariner’s manager for arguing balls and strikes, and had a lot of complaints from players. Do you think he said “but I’m right 95% of the time”?

Look at the chart above. The box is the strike zone I use as a default, over a group of players. One foot either side of home, and from 1.8 feet to 3.3 feet in height. It’s a rough analog for a major league strike zone, as shown by Pitchf/x studies. Red dots should be inside the box, blue dots outside. Look at the bottom left corner, you see several blue dots inside. Compare it to the red dots outside on the left and below, and you have to ask how those blue dots were called balls – they obviously were closer to the center of the plate than the red ones to the left, and had enough height compared to the red ones below.

When I count this chart, I get seven reds outside and eight blues inside – coincidentally for a total of fifteen “wrong” calls, exactly what we guessed at above. But in reality, that math is not correct. 15 over 290 is close enough to 5%. But they didn’t make the call on all the balls that were hit, or fouled, or swung at (except on appeals on swings going around), so you shouldn’t count all those. Counting just the balls and called strikes, there were 157 pitches, which means we’re closer to 10% (15 over 157).

But that also counts a lot of balls that were nowhere near the strike zone. Let’s narrow it down to a six inch area around the zone – in Pitchf/x terms, from -1.5 to 1.5 pfx_x, and 1.3 to 3.8 pfx_y. Six inches seems reasonably close, if you’re outside by that much in any direction, you’re hardly going to get much argument unless you really blow the call.

In that narrowed area around the strike zone, there were 111 pitches called ball or strike. We’re now at 13.5% of calls on balls and strikes that could have been considered bad tonight. That’s about one in every seven and a half pitches that they have to call. Granted, over the course of a game, it’s still only 15 pitches, about one every half-inning or so, but it’s still nowhere near the utopia those guys like to present.

I’ve said it too many times to repeat it, but I will. Baseball should use technology. Instant replay at the very least – and there are arguments against, mostly due to the outcome of a particular play, but those can be dealt with. It is more important to get the call right than to feed the egos of the men in black.

Time to go

April 26, 2008

Thursday I heard fifteen minutes of the game on the radio while driving home. It was a controversial moment, a ball that Josh Hamilton said was interfered with by a fan, but the umpires changed the call to a home run. Washington comes out to discuss it. The guys on the radio said “if he’s ever going to get tossed, it’s going to be now”. At that moment I got home, ran inside and turned on the tv. And they were in commercial. I don’t know if he got tossed, but none of the reports on the game mentioned him being tossed, in fact none of them even mentioned that play.

Tonight, the Rangers finally win after seven losses in a row. They all run out on the field, like they just won the freaking World Series (this is probably about as close as most of them will get), and we see Ron Washington high-five Ben Broussard, then turn around looking for someone else – and there’s no-one there. Eventually a couple of coaches notice he’s been left hanging, and high-five him.

Ron Washington has lost this team.

There was a blog post today saying that the big brass was meeting today (Hicks, Ryan, Daniels), and suggested they were going to fire Washington. I don’t know if that was true or not. Obviously they didn’t, but they should. He’s a tired old man, who doesn’t know what he’s doing, and the players know that.

This is the guy they could have, and should have gotten. Telling quote #1: “Had Hillman laid back and dismissed it as an early mistake in spring training, how could he command his players’ attention in August?” Washington laid back since he got to Texas. Telling quote #2: “If you get somebody who comes to be 10 games better than last year, I’ll show you somebody who’s not very passionate about what they’re doing.” Washington said in spring that the Rangers can be ten games better than last year.

Fire Ron Washington.