May 122013
 
iankinsler

By: Dustin Dietz

After receiving a sizable contract extension shortly after the season began, Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler yielded a disappointing slash line of .256/.326/.423, along with a bWAR of 2.1 in 2012. Based on the above average production Kinsler produced in previous years, which led to him earning the extension, fans and pundits expected more out of Kinsler. Kinsler’s cavalier body language and slumped shoulders after pop outs only exacerbated the angst among the masses last season.

Kinsler was not much better in the field as he generated a negative UZR for the first time since 2008. During the offseason, there was speculation Kinsler might be moved to first base to make room for mega prospect Jurickson Profar at second base. Kinsler felt he was more valuable to the club at second base, and after the team signed Lance Berkman to be the primary designated hitter in January, Kinsler’s spot in the middle of the diamond was safe for the time being.

The Rangers hired renowned former Boston Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan in the offseason with aspirations Magadan would be able to improve the approach and mechanics of Ranger hitters, including Kinsler. So far, the results have been outstanding with Kinsler as he has produced a slash line of .324/.387/.544 with 7 home runs and a wRC+ of 149 in 2013.

Kinsler has played at an elite, MVP level the first six weeks of ’12. The biggest difference so far in Kinsler’s game has been his approach at the plate. According to PITCHf/x, Kinsler is swinging at fewer pitches as his O-Swing, Z-Swing, and Swing percentages are all lower than they were in ’12. I realize we are looking at a small sample size here, but early season plate discipline numbers are typically trends which last the rest of the season. When Kinsler does swing at pitches outside of the strike zone, he is making contact with 80.3 percent of them, a substantial increase from the 71.5 O-Contact percentage Kinsler yielded in ’12.

Kinsler’s early season success can also be attributed to the fact he has destroyed right handed pitching, something he has not done historically. The Rangers second baseman has yielded an outstanding slash line of .348/.414/.652 against right handed pitching in ’13, while his career line is .262/.340/.440 against north paws. The .652 slugging percentage is second in all of baseball behind only Shin-soo Choo’s .739. One can expect Kins’ numbers against righties to regress towards his career average, but his ability to hit to right handed pitching early on in the year is an encouraging sign.

Kinsler is winning battles.

The headline might be somewhat perplexing, but it will make sense in a moment. Many fans and writers are cynical of the WAR (wins above replacement) statistic because many misinterpret what the meaning is. For example, baseball writer Jon Heyman tweeted a couple of weeks ago his disbelief that phenomenal second year outfielder Bryce Harper had the same WAR as Pittsburgh outfielder Starling Marte. The number is not meant to represent how a player with a 5 WAR is better than a player with a 4 WAR. Rather, the WAR statistic represents the overall value the player provides for his team, and while Harper is a fantastic player, Marte and his superior defensive skills had supplied the same amount of wins for his team as Harper at that time.

Now that I have explained WAR for the baseball illiterate who refuses to accept the statistic’s validity, or the fact the earth is round, I will mention Kinsler is currently second in MLB among position players with 2.2 bWAR, behind only Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez’s 2.8. To put Kinsler’s stellar play into perspective, he has already surpassed the bWAR of 2.1 from last season. Quite simply, Kinsler has been the most valuable player to the Rangers. While Profar is probably ready to contribute at the big league level right now, there is little chance he would be producing the way Kinsler is from the second base position.

While Kinsler’ nonchalant demeanor in the batter’s box and in the field can indeed be vexing, I hope many realize how great he has played up to this point. Kinsler still does have the propensity to pop out rather often. However, if he continues to play at the level he currently is, he will not only be a bargain at the $13 million dollars he is being paid in ’13, but he also will be in MVP consideration at season’s end and helping lead the Rangers to a third American League West crown in four years.

For an infinite amount of baseball wisdom, follow me on Twitter @DustinDietz18 , or email me at ddietz2004@yahoo.com

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May 102013
 
cruz2

A LOB City Hit Parade

Have you seen the little girl in the Capital One commercial? Ya know, the one who says “We want more! We want more!” Even a seven year old knows that more is better. We all want more of the good things; money, vacation time, paid days off. It’s just how we are wired, more is better, which is why I believe that the Rangers “problems” with hitting with men in scoring position is not even a problem at all. It’s nothing more than blind perception to the bigger picture. Allow me to explain my reasoning.

How do the Rangers leave so many men on base to begin with? They hit the ball. It’s that simple. The more hits you have, the more chances you have to leave men on base. It’s a very elementary argument really. It’s the same type of argument I use when people tell me that Derek Jeter is a better shortstop than Elvis Andrus because he makes less errors. Elvis has way more range than Jeter ever dreamed of and because of that he gets to more balls, thus giving him more chances to throw runners out and more chances to make errors.

If you believe that teams have to have a very high average with runners in scoring position in order to win ballgames, let me present to you the World Champion San Francisco Giants (twice in three years even). In 2012, the Giants finished 13th in the league with a .259 avg with runners in scoring position compared to the Tigers who finished 1st with a .286 average and yet the Giants defeated the Tigers to win their second title in three years. In 2010 the Giants finished 24th with an average of .248 while the Minnesota Twins finished 1st hitting .285.
So the team that was statistically the best team in the big leagues with men in scoring position was swept out of the first round of the playoffs while one of the worst teams in baseball went on the win the World Series! BLASPHEMY!

The Rangers have a good offense. They hit the ball, they score runs, they steal bases and for the most part, they are consistent. The Rangers get on base. A LOT. It’s a double edged sword. The better you are, the more chances you have at failure. Let us take a look at just how good the Rangers have been over the last three seasons.

2010: 4th-.276 w/RISP, 1st in regular season avg .276, 1st in hits with 1556, 6th.338 OBP

2011: 2nd – .285 w/RISP, 1st in regular season avg .283, 2nd in hits with 1599(one hit short of finishing 1st), 5th .340 OBP

2012: 4th – .275 w/RISP, 3rd in regular season avg .273, tie for 1st with 1526, 4th .334 OBP

As you can see the Rangers have been the best hitting team in baseball the last three years and one of the best in getting on base. It’s simple logic and statistics. The more you get on base, the more you will leave on base. Leaving men on base should be a testament as to how good a team’s offense is, not how poorly they are at driving them in.
The Rangers averaged about 1.06 hits per inning and 4.96 runs per game last season. That means on average that the Rangers will get a hit in every inning and score in about half of those. Remember, that’s just how it all averages out. If they get four hits in one inning and score three runs in that inning but then get one hit in four separate innings but score no runs, then it’s still the same thing. It still averages out. No one complains when the Rangers win but leave eight or nine guys on base. Why? Because they won. Its how you perceive the game.

Did you know that the Kansas City Royals finished 3rd, 5th and 8th respectively over the last three season in average with RISP? The Royals! Did you know that in 2012, six of the top 10 teams in average with RISP didn’t even make the playoffs? In 2011 that number was five of the top 10 and in 2010 it was six of the top 10.

What I’m getting at is that as long as the Rangers continue to lead the league in hits, they will also leave a ton of men on base. It’s just how it is and it’s not going to change. As long as they continue to score runs and win ballgames, what does it even matter? Remember, baseball is a game of failure. If you succeed 30% of the time, you are considered a phenomenal player. When it comes to scoring runs with RISP, you have a one in four chance on average. The odds are not in your favor. They never will be.

It could be worse; they could just not be getting on base at all. It’s a total team effort. If they win 2-0 but leave 10 guys on base, then you have to credit the pitching for tossing a shutout. If they lose 2-0 but leave two guys on base, then everyone complains that they didn’t hit the ball. So which is it Rangers fans? Do you want them to continue to hit the ball, get on base and leave men on base or do you want them to lose games and not leave any men on base?

Its perception. Look at the big picture. Think about it. It’s not as bad as you think it is.

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May 092013
 
NolanJD

By Sean P. Bloodgood

As we made our way into the long baseball off-season following a disastrous end to the 2012 campaign, the Texas Rangers organization faced a plethora of tough decisions to make. That is to say, they had options.

Josh

What to do about Josh’s impending free agency? Publicly, they said all the right things. “Of course we’d love to resign Josh”. But we can easily deduce that they had privately grown tired of his act. His performance following a supposed energy drink-induced fiasco, the fumbled lazy fly ball at O.co., and the 0-4 performance while seeing only 8 pitches in the one-game wildcard round created a hatred unseen here since the days of Adrian Dantley. Their options were to overpay to keep him here, or to let him go. So far, it looks like they made the right choice with regards to God’s Gift to Baseball.

Options

Nap and the hole at the 2-spot

A beloved teammate and fan favorite, Nap-Oh-Lee headed into the off-season with major questions about his physical condition. The Rangers chose not to make him a qualifying offer, which after the news of his failed physical with the Red Sox, looked like the correct move yet again. He verbally agreed to a 3 year, 39 million dollar offer, but ultimately signed for just 1 year, 5 million. He had made his proverbial bed with Boston. Barring an extension, Napoli, who’s playing at a torrid pace in 2013, will be a free agent at the close of the season. Unless Mitch Moreland consistently proves himself against left handed pitching this season, Nap would be an interesting option for the Rangers at first base. Mike’s days behind the plate are likely over, and while AJP provides a level of attitude this team hasn’t seen in a while, the condition of Nap’s hips relegate him to being strictly a first baseman or DH. What this team will do at catcher remains to be seen, but they have options. Jorge Alfaro is several years away, but by all accounts, he’s been anointed as the catcher of the future by none other than Mr. Catcher himself.

Options

 

Robinson Chirinos, acquired from Tampa on April 8 just after the start of this season, is playing really well in AAA thus far, so if Pierzynski continues to showcase his age, fragility, and weak arm, don’t be surprised to see Chirinos behind the plate at RBiA within the next few months.

The Golden Child

Speaking of anointed, towards the end of the 2012 season Jurickson Profar homered in his first ever at-bat at the tender age of 19 years and 195 days. He joined a list of only two other teenagers to do so – Whitey Lockman in 1945 at 18 years and 345 days, and Ted Tappe in 1950 at 19 years and 224 days. It’s feat that hadn’t been done in 62 years. I know most of us have tried to forget the end of 2012, but he was one of the bright spots. The Rangers have plenty of options with the phenom. They could have traded him (or Andrus or Olt depending on the source) for @JUP_8TL. Right now, Upton is tearing it up for the Braves. But there’s one question you have to ask yourself – why were the Dbacks so damned eager to get rid of him? The Rangers just let one head case move on to a real baseball town, but they had the option of adding Upton. In the long run, is he really worth Profar? Most folks, including me, don’t think so. Giancarlo Stanton (@Giancarlo818) is younger and has more years of control remaining (through 2016) than Upton did at the time when the Braves finally acquired and extended him. David Price would be a magnificent addition to this rotation, and those rumors will keep growing as we move towards the July trade deadline.

Options

 

Keeping Profar provides the Rangers with mouth-watering options. You’ll need plenty of towels.

President of Baseball Operations

Nolan Ryan is the face of the Rangers. No one argues that undeniable fact. If they did, they would deserve to be placed into a Texas-sized headlock on the mound in Arlington and repeatedly punched in the face. But Nolan is not the brains of the Rangers. I know. It seems blasphemous for me to even write that sentence. However, that distinction belongs to Jon Daniels, Thad Levine, AJ Preller and company. The Rangers sustained success has led to a raised awareness around the league of the cyphering abilities of the young front office personnel. What could the organization do to ensure they had options when and if some rebuilding franchise comes lustily calling on one or more of the young protégé Jedi knights? The option they went with was to promote JD and create room for advancement. It was a brilliant move. Was it handled in the best of ways? Obviously not. The promotion led to a consideration of options for Nolan. Would he leave? Would he stay? If he stayed, what would his role be?

OptionsIn the end, obviously he stayed, thanks be to whatever higher power you choose to believe in. Losing Nolan would have been a public relations blow to this team, no doubt. But ask yourself this – Would the Rangers still be averaging the highest attendance in the AL if the Ryan Express has decided to take his talents elsewhere? Probably so. Ownership stepped up and reassured him of his importance. Good. He belongs here. But so do the young baseball minds who have helped shape this team into a perennial contender – arguably the best franchise in MLB. JD is the head of what happens on the field, while Nolan is the face and the embodiment of The Texas Rangers as a whole – Mr. CEO. They both are vital to this thing.

 

Cash

The Rangers have plenty of it. They don’t owe Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, or C.J. Wilson nearly half a billion dollars, although they had the in-your-face options to sign at least two of the three. I’ve read where a few fans are starting to call the front office “cheap”. Stop. But while that opinion might be up for debate, you can’t argue with the added fiscal freedom they have because of the options they chose with the Head & Shoulders boys. Off subject, but Ceej and Josh do both have magnificent heads-of-hair. I do not. Just ask my daughters.

OptionsBut, back on topic, if you look at where the Rangers are and then compared them with any other team in MLB as far as talent on the MLB roster, minor league system, revenue and cash flow, fan base, from the front office down to the parking lot attendants, which team would you choose above the Rangers? I dare you to name one. If you said the Angels, your headlock and face punches await you.

 

Decisions

The Rangers, for good and bad, have had to make many other tough choices in recent years. Wash used cocaine. Chuck Greenberg versus Nolan Ryan. Michael Young was the center of many options the Rangers have been faced with. Cliff Lee. But through it all, this team has come out on top more than it hasn’t. I’ll never forget the Newberg Report night at the ballpark in 2010. When JD was announced to a standing ovation, he reminded the crowd, “I’m still the guy who traded away Adrian Gonzalez.” He gets it. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time when presented with options. We can’t predict the future. When we fail, it’s all about how we deal with those failures. This organization learns from right and wrong decisions and moves on. They, and we as a fan base, are better off because of it. There’s no crying in baseball. (Until we win the World Series.)

 

Now and Later

Options are a good thing, and this team has more than most, if not all. The Rangers at times seem to hesitate. I don’t think that’s really the case though. We as fans, want to see the big splash. We want to see Sports Center lead with a story involving the team that Chris Berman once referred to as “The  Strangers”. I was 14 years old in 1984 when I first heard that. I’ve held that grudge for a long, long time. I still do. The Rangers aren’t a joke anymore and they won’t be moving forward. They have too many options available. Keeping your options open is what you do when you are certain better things are or will be available. When Colby Lewis and Martin Perez return from the DL, what will JD do? When Profar’s play demands his arrival, what will JD do? This farm system is rich with talent. I’m reminded of The History of the World when Dom Deluise decided to take a Treasure Bath. Google it. Google it now. You won’t regret it.

 

When the stupid amount of talent, so #wanted by many is ready, what will JD do? The talent, money, farm system, front office, and ownership and fan base alike provide this team with all the parts, pieces, and options needed to rise to the pinnacle of not just baseball, but all of sports. World Series Champions. I trust JD and Nolan and the rest of the front office and ownership and Wash and this team and its fans. How could you not? It’s all about options, buddy.

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May 082013
 
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BaseballDo Guest Contributor Michael A. Morales

 

In a 3-1 count, David “Big Papi” Ortiz stands in his arrogant, intimidating way awaiting what he knows is coming. If memory serves me, Steve Busby described it as a cutter that got a little too much of the plate. MLB.com called it a 4 seam fastball for some reason. Whatever it was, Ortiz was happy to see it coming, and happier to see it leaving. His blindingly fast bat made short work of it. And because it wasn’t enough to hit the ball so hard it apparently knocked a fan for a loop, Ortiz felt the need to watch Yu’s reaction before tossing his bat toward the third base dugout to start his triumphant trot. It’s not surprising that Ortiz hit that ball hard enough to make it seem to disappear (honestly, my first reaction was that he had swung through it). It’s not even surprising that he hit it off Yu Darvish, who has made a mistake here and there, and especially in the first inning. What was surprising was the sequence of pitches to Mike Napoli that followed Ortiz’s at bat. He got a 4-seamer for a ball, followed by three methodically placed and tightly twirling sliders, only one of which made any contact with Napoli’s bat.

Those four pitches seemed to come from a confident pitcher with a good feel for his filthy slider, not from a guy who just gave up a two-run shot. The slider had a ton of bite, and was breaking well into and out of the zone at Yu’s will. Any viewer who missed the first three batters (namely, me) would have wondered why in the world Yu didn’t throw a single slider to Ortiz rather than trying to get the hitter with the longest hit streak and the strength of two men to chase fastballs out of the zone. That viewer (again, me) might also have wondered why Yu didn’t go to the slider when the fastball plan failed. Even if Ortiz dropped the barrel and golfed one out, Yu would have had good hitting to blame, and not his own 89 MPH batting practice pitch in the heart of the zone.

A glance at MLB.com’s play by play of the previous three batters explains things somewhat, but questions still linger. Ellsbury grounded out on a cutter after watching two 4-seams go by, and Nava fouled off two sliders before becoming the first strikeout victim on a 96 MPH fastball. Pedroia then singled on a slider that Yu was obviously trying as his out pitch in a 2-2 count. Maybe that explains why Yu seems to have given up on his slider by the time Ortiz came to the plate, but Pedroia’s single was a complete fluke. It was an infield roller that was so slow Yu couldn’t cleanly field it and make the throw to first. In other words, the slider did its job, and Yu was just a victim of the BABIP gods. So why no sliders to Ortiz? I have a thought or two, though I imagine some people will think I’m crazy.

If you’ve seen the gif of Brett Wallace striking out on a slider from Yu in his start against the Astros, and you like good pitching as much as I do, you probably also get goosebumps every time you see it. Wallace took a hack at a pitch he thought would end up in the zone, while AJ had to catch the ball behind Wallace’s back leg. Let me reiterate that Wallace swung at a pitch that ended up BEHIND HIM. No one is accusing Brett Wallace of being an all-star hitter that pitchers fear, but he is a MLB hitter with the skill and talent to make a big league team. He has been involved in trades for such players as Matt Holiday and Roy Halladay, and was called up to replace Lance Berkman after Berkman was traded to the Yankees in 2010. Yu Darvish is good at throwing baseballs, and he’s even better at making them spin. So what was he thinking in that Ortiz at bat?

If I had to guess, and that’s exactly what I have to do, I would say that Yu has a penchant for experimentation. I can’t speak to the type of personality he has, and I don’t have much authority on his routine or patterns, but it seems like patterns are exactly what he is trying to avoid. Those who have watched him this season have no doubt seen that his slider has been the go-to pitch, and the pitch that is most effective. A recent article on Yahoo Sports famously quoted a scout as saying that Yu had the best slider he had ever seen. Is it possible that Yu doesn’t want to be known that well? Is he trying to stay out of patterns and use different pitches in different situations so that batters won’t learn that he goes to the slider when looking for the third strike? Does he want to be a guy who can’t be scouted? That Ortiz at bat has me baffled and looking for answers.

That same Yahoo article referenced the observation of another scout, a veteran with two decades of seniority on the previous guy, who claimed that there was not another pitcher in existence with the combination of repertoire and command of Yu Darvish. That unusually large mix of pitches may have an unintended consequence: it may leave Yu with the desire to break out some of his lesser used stuff now and then. For what reason, I have no way of knowing, and all of this is just speculation anyway. But if Yu is experimenting with what he throws in certain counts in the first inning rather than relying on what has worked in the past, that may be the reason that he seems to be vulnerable in the beginning of every game. If he was able to use every pitch he has available effectively at all times, and no batter ever knew what was coming, he would be a phenomenon like no one has ever seen. Oh, wait…

I’m no expert, but I would love to have seen Ortiz react to the slider in that at bat. Maybe he walks, and Mike Napoli strikes out anyway. The score is still 0-0 in that scenario. If Ortiz wins the battle, at least it’s not on a meat pitch that looks like a gimme. I know Yu isn’t the kind of guy who gives up, but that pitch was ugly. But in the end, a win’s a win, and a sweep’s a sweep. I’ll take it. Hopefully, Yu learned something from that first inning.

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May 072013
 
untitled

Yu Darvish, It’s now safe to call him an ace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tanner Holubar – Guest Baseballdo.com contributor

Following his second 14 strikeout performance of the season, Yu Darvish has shown nearly enough for the righty to be considered one of the top pitchers in the American League.

Darvish owns a record of 5-1, with an ERA of 2.56 and leads the major leagues with 72 strikeouts; in only 45.2 innings.

Yu keeps the Rangers in every game, and with Ron Washington letting him throw 127 pitches today, the Rangers’ skipper showed his confidence in the 6’5 Darvish.

It is arguable Wash would have pulled anybody else who had thrown so many pitches in the seventh inning, and any other pitcher would not still have been hitting 94 on the gun.

These are the traits of a top flight pitcher. With the manager leaving his guy in the late innings with the game tied, and with the pitcher being able to keep his normal velocity.

Darvish proved both of these to be true in today’s game, and if he can keep this up he can be considered the long awaited ace the Rangers and us fans have been waiting for.

Most pitchers in their second season would not be looked at as a top pitcher in baseball. With Darvish it is a different story, not only because he leads all of baseball in strikeouts, but because he holds a lower ERA than most would hold in a hitter’s haven like The Ballpark.

Darvish fools hitters like few pitchers can. He can throw high 90s heat or fool a hitter with a 60 mph curve that takes longer to get to the plate than Benjie Molina getting to first base. Darvish also throws about five other pitches that make him so unhittable at times, batters need not bring a bat to the plate.

The arrival of Darvish in Arlington shows the brilliance of what Jon Daniels has been able to keep up since he learned from the mistake of trading Adrian Gonzalez for another starter who was so disappointing the name Adam Eaton sounds like getting offered a Natural Light rather than a Shiner Bok.

Darvish also gives fans something to cheer about more than the YUUUUUUUUUUU birds that echo around Rangers Ballpark. He gives Rangers fans the joy of watching the most dominate starter the team has had since The Ryan Express was striking out hitters in his late 40s.

Darvish is now a proven commodity in the MLB, and he now only needs to win some playoff games before he takes his perch as a top five pitcher in the game.

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