Apr 202012
 

Friday Morning KnuckleballsIt’s starting to sink in.  At first, during the off-season following the club first World Series appearance, it seemed like a temporary strength of this team that would flee to Philadelphia with Cliff Lee.  Then, throughout 2011, it seemed like the timing was just right and everyone was clicking at the same time.  Now, it’s sinking it.  Starting pitching is a true strength for this team, and will be for the foreseeable future based on the makeup of the current staff and the pipeline, both on the current roster (Ogando, Feldman, Ross) and in the minors (Perez, Ramirez, Buckel, Mendez, etc.).

“Starting pitching is, for sure,” Kinsler said when asked what was most gratifying about the Rangers current stretch. “The way they have been throwing has been outstanding. They have been keeping us in the game, 1-5, and the bullpen has been lights out.”

To put some numbers behind Kinsler’s statement, Rangers starters are now 9-0 with a 2.37 ERA over the first 13 games of the season.  According to T.R. Sullivan (MLB.com), “That’s the longest winning streak by an American League rotation to start the season since the Yankees’ starters won 16 straight decisions to open 2003.”

Friday Morning KnuckleballsYu Darvish took a big step last night in his performance on the road against a top tier offense, quieting the bats of the Detroit Tigers to the tune of 1 run on 2 hits and 5 walks, while striking out 5 over 6 1/3.

“He made another step forward,” Manager Ron Washington said. “It’s been that process since he got here and he did a great job tonight using all his pitches. He used his fastball well and threw his breaking ball in every count. I wish he had gotten through seven, but he did a great job. He really did.”

“He’s very good,” Tiger slugger Miguel Cabrera said. “He mixed his pitches very good — fastball, breaking ball, slider. I think he threw a couple changeups today. He did a very good job to stop our offense today. Today, he was very good. I think he’s only going to get better.”

“I know that if I battle and keep the team close in the game, the offense is going to come through for me,” Darvish said. “The biggest improvement was the consistency of my command. I feel close to where I want to be. I think I threw more quality strikes tonight.”

The Rangers provided run support for Darvish right off the bat, jumping to a 1-0 lead in the first inning and adding support in the 2nd, 5th and 6th, before putting the game away with a 5 run 8th.

“Well, sometimes it just isn’t your day,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “That pretty much sums it up. We just couldn’t stop them. When they hit it hard, it was a hit, when they didn’t hit it hard, it was a hit. It’s one of those nights. We just got beat up.”

3 more games to go in this series, so it’s far from over, but last night was a big step in more ways than one.

Oh yeah, the offense was once again ridiculous with Napoli hitting another bomb and Kinsler, Cruz and Young all accumulating 3 hits apiece.  Let’s not take it for granted.

Quick hits:

  •  Matt Harrison takes the mound tonight, looking to continue his hot start to the season (2-0, 0.64 ERA).  He’ll face off with another young talented pitcher in Rick Porcello who has started strong (1-0, 1.84 ERA).  First pitch – 6:05 Texas Time.
  • Harrison  has not faired well so far in his career against the Tigers, posting a 1-4 record with a 6+ ERA.  This shouldn’t be too big of a concern considering that Harrison has matured into the pitcher that he is only recently.
  • Moreland and Murphy will both be back in the line-up tonight against the right-handed Porcello.  Murphy is 7-for-9 in his career with a home run against Porcello.
  • Per Sullivan (MLB.com), “With two more wins this series, the Rangers would win their fifth straight series to start the season for just the second time in team history. The 1989 club — also the only other Rangers squad to start 11-2 — did so as well.”
  • Pudge retires at the Ballpark on Monday before the game against the Yankees.  We’ll have more on that over the weekend, and we’ll be recording our podcast immediately following the ceremony with lots of good discussion about one of the greatest Rangers ever.

Have a good weekend!

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Apr 112012
 

Wednesday Morning CurvesLast night felt good.  There wasn’t a player on this team I wanted to see succeed more than Neftali Feliz, and not just because of the bold prediction that I made in my preseason article about him, “The Other New Guy”.   Last night Neftali Feliz put together the best performance of any starting pitcher on this rotation the first time through.  The 7 inning gem was also his longest performance in his professional career (including in the Minors where max was 6 1/3).

Believe me, I know the season is still very young, and he’s got a long way to go to get to my prediction of 16 wins…but you have to be excited about what you saw last night.  Feliz proved that he is more than just a flame-throwing closer and that he does indeed have an effective changeup and a pretty salty slider that compliment his fastball – which really never reached the velocity that we’re used to seeing from Feliz, whether by design or simply because his arm strength is still ramping up.

Feliz gave up only four hits and two walks over 7 innings while striking out four – all on 108 pitches…and all in a game that seemed to be over in the blink of an eye due to his rapid pace and control.  He is only the third Rangers pitcher to ever throw at least seven scoreless innings in his first big league start.

“I was trying to throw all my pitches and keep them low and I did that,” Feliz said. “There is a big difference between being a closer and being a starter. As a starter you have to think and be calm and execute. The first inning I had to make a little adjustment. I had a little pressure on me and I had to work out of it and make my pitches.”

“Awesome,” catcher Mike Napoli said. “He did a great job. We kind of noticed his changeup was on and we were going with it and it was good pitch for him tonight. That can change from night to night. He had that going and we used it a lot. That’s what you’ve got to do as a starter. You can’t go out there and throw fastballs every single time through the lineup. You’ve got to be able mix it up and he did that.”

“Everybody knows he can throw 100, but he was mixing in a lot of pitches tonight,” Mariners DH Jesus Montero said. “He struck me out on an off-speed pitch the first time, so I kind of forgot about the fastball for a little bit. Then I got base hits on a slider and changeup. He was unbelievable tonight. Amazing.”

“He just did a really good job of pitching,” designated hitter Michael Young said. “What’s impressive is that wasn’t his routine as a closer. As a closer he would come in the ninth and throw bullets. Tonight was all pitching.”

Neftali’s next start will come this Sunday at 1:05 in Minnesota against the Twins.

Quick Hits:

  • Wednesday Morning CurvesDavid Murphy continues to perform at the plate, as he was 3-3 with two doubles and the games lone RBI last night.

“I want to stay the course,” Murphy said. “I feel like in the past if I had a start like this, I might start swinging hard and thinking in my mind that I’m playing with house money and getting outside myself. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s just five games and there’s a lot of baseball to be played.”

  • Neftali was amazing last night, and the opposing pitcher, former Rangers 1st round pick Blake Beavan was pretty salty as well.
  • Gotta love the smart base running by Adrian Beltre last night to keep a rundown going long enough for Michael Young to advance to second base.  If you missed it, T.R. Sullivan (MLB.com) broke it down and there is video.

“That’s baserunning 101 right there,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “You get caught in a rundown, you have to stay alive as long as you can to let the guy get the extra base. That’s exactly what he did.”

  • The Ian Kinsler extension is expected to be made official later today, after Kinsler completed the physical yesterday.  The Rangers fully expect the young second baseman to be declared “healthy” later today and will announce the contract shortly thereafter.

“Well deserved,” outfielder David Murphy said. “He is as complete of a player as you’ll see in the big leagues and has the best instincts of any player I’ve ever played with. He loves the game. He’s the ultimate competitor.”

Washington on Ian Kinsler as a clubhouse leader: “He’s matured into a lieutenant. We have a couple of generals and a couple of captains, he was a sergeant, now he’s a lieutenant. Kinsler has gained his respect every year, not only in our clubhouse but around the league.”

  • Mike Napoli, Josh Hamilton and Opening Day starter Colby Lewis are among the players who could still become free agents after the 2012 season.  Kinsler told Napoli that he was next yesterday in the locker room, and while I know it would be nice to get both Napoli and Hamilton locked up during the season, the lpossibility of a deal with Napoli in the near future seems more likely.

“I guess we’ll see,” Napoli said. “I don’t know, but I hope we can get something done. The bottom line is I want to be here, but I really don’t know how it is going to work out.”

  • Utility infielder Albert Gonzalez got into the game in the 9th inning last night, meaning that Brandon Snyder is the last man to get on the field.
  • The Rangers face off with former Ranger Kevin Millwood tonight, first pitch 7:05pm.  Colby Lewis will take the mound for Texas.
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Apr 022012
 

It’s Opening Day week!

Outside of baseball in October, there is no sweeter time for fans of the great game.  Every team is still in the race and has hopes of being a contender.  Rivalries will soon be renewed on the field…where they should be settled.  The moves of the off-season will play out and the moves of the coming season will soon be hot topics.

It’s here.  2012 is finally here, and It couldn’t have gotten here soon enough for us Rangers fans.  Excited about the coming season and equally as eager to put 2011 further out of our minds.

As we count-down the next five days towards Opening Day on Friday afternoon, we are going to dedicate the morning updates to the 5 Bold Baseball Do Predictions for 2012.

Monday Morning FastballsNumber 1 - Ian Kinsler will win the 2012 American League MVP

Coming off of a strong 2011 campaign, the 29 year old second baseman will take another big step forward in 2012, not only outpacing his peers at 2B (Cano, Pedroia, etc.), but ultimately winning the American League MVP.  Leading off for a potent lineup, Kinsler will set the table with a strong OBP just as often as he cleans the table with his extra-base/home run power.  A portion of the rise in Kinsler’s numbers will be attributed to the improved offensive performance of the 2-hole hitter, Elvis Andrus.

Quick Hits:

  • The Rangers finished Spring strong, winning 6 of their last 7 Spring Training games.

“We’re playing baseball like you want to at the right time,” manager Ron Washington said. “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We finished the way we wanted to finish.”

  • Robbie Ross has locked down a spot in the Rangers bullpen.  A strong overall Spring performance, the need for a left-hander in the pen, and injuries to Neal Cotts and Yoshinori Tateyama all helped in securing the opportunity for the young prospect.

“Ross earned that spot,” Washington said. “We didn’t give it away. I’m excited about that. We don’t like to hand it out, he earned it.”

“I’m like a kid on Christmas,” Ross said. “When I got drafted, that was the best day of my life. When I got married, that was the best day of my life. Now this … it’s just amazing, I couldn’t believe it. I was sitting in there thinking it was April Fools’. It has been awesome.”

  • Opening Day starter Colby Lewis wrapped up his final Spring start yesterday giving up two runs on five hits with one walk, four strikeouts and a hit batter in four innings in the Rangers’ 5-3 win over the Padres.   Colby gave up just one hit over the first three innings, but gave up four straight hits and two runs in the 4th.

“Four years ago if you’d asked me if I was going to start opening day in the big leagues, I’d have said that was crazy,” Lewis said, adding that starting that game is a big deal for his career. “I feel very blessed. I feel blessed to have a beautiful family that backs me and supports me. That’s a big key to my success.”

  • Monday Morning FastballsIt’s beginning to look more and more like David Murphy will start in left field on Opening Day and will see a lot of time in the starting lineup with Josh Hamilton greatly increasing his playing time in center field.

“I could start Murphy on Opening Day and two days later you may not see him in the lineup,” manager Ron Washington said. “Is he going to be in there every single day? No. is Hamilton going to be in center field every single day? No. He’ll play some center field. Murphy will play a lot.”

“I just think I need to keep the focus on winning and my teammates rather than me,” Murphy said. “There is no reason to put all this pressure on myself. We have a power-packed lineup. It’s not like I’m hitting in the No. 3 hole and have to carry the load. I’m not one of the featured attractions, I just have to keep the line moving.”

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Mar 282012
 

2012 has begun!  The Athletics and Mariners are over in Japan wrapping up the season opener as I type this.  One note, the Rangers will be tied with the Angels for 2nd when this game completes.  Nice article by Jim Caples (ESPN) on Ichiro’s return to Japan.

Wednesday Morning CurveballsMike Napoli hit two home runs in yesterday’s Spring Training match-up with the Padres, which was won by the Rangers when Joey Butler (of Baseball Do podcast fame) scored from third on a wild pitch.

  • Ian Kinsler continues to tear through Spring Training, compiling 3 hits in the game, raising his Spring Training batting average to .422.  I’m calling it right now – Kinsler will not hit above .422 during the regular season.
  • Robbie Ross, who is fighting for a spot in the bullpen with the Rangers, started the game and gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and a walk over 2 innings of work.

“I was up just a little bit,” Ross said. “I got behind on batter a few times. I hit my spots OK, but I think I could have attacked the guy that hit the home run better than I did. I kind of pitched around him and nit-picked a little bit.”

  • Ross made a nice defensive play, snagging a line drive hit back to the mound by Chris Denorfia.  Credit Greg Maddux with the nice glove work by the prospect.  After Ross just got out of the way of a similar line drive hit by Torii Hunter on Sunday, Maddux put Ross out on the mound and drilled 6 line drives back at him, making him field the ball rather than bail.

“He was hitting them at me, so this time I was like, ‘Oh, that’s what we worked on,’” Ross said. “It was kind of nice knowing I could stick in there with that.”

Wednesday Morning CurveballsNeftali Feliz got back on the mound for the first time since being pulled early from a game last week due to should stiffness.

  • Feliz gave up one earned run (three runs total) on six hits and one walk in four innings of work, striking out three.
  • He hit 96 MPH with his fastball in both of his final two innings of game.

“I felt good,” said Feliz through a translator. “Everything was OK. I wasn’t trying to throw hard, just trying to keep my pitches down.”

The Rangers are expected to announce their starting rotation very soon.  It’s known that Colby Lewis will start Opening Day and Neftali Feliz will take the 5th spot.  If the Rangers are truly wanting to split up their left-handers, as manager Ron Washington eluded to earlier this Spring, than the rotation should look like:

  1. Colby Lewis
  2. Derek Holland
  3. Yu Darvish
  4. Matt Harrison
  5. Neftali Feliz

Quick Hits

  • Hold your breath…Elvis Andrus left yesterday’s game with a tight right hip flexor muscle.  The plan is to rest him today and get him back in the lineup tomorrow.  Wash isn’t concerned.  Exhale…
  • Joe Nathan pitched back-to-back days for the first time this Spring on Monday & Tuesday.  His outing yesterday, against the Royals AA team, was especially gratifying as he struck out 2 and got a ground out in a quick 11 pitch inning.
  • Nathan hiy 94 MPG with his fastball and said that his arm felt strong on Tuesday than it did on Monday.

“I had good building blocks yesterday and built on that,” Nathan said.

  • The Dutch Oven pitches tonight at the Royals and Alexi Ogando will pitch in a minor league game against the Dodgers in which is expected to go 6 innings.
  • Wednesday Morning CurveballsT.R. Sullivan (MLB.com) wrote a good article on Adrian Beltre’s leadership role on the Rangers.  The article is filled with comments from his teammates and manager Ron Washington.

“It’s so easy on this team to be yourself and help others,” Beltre said. “There are not a lot of guys who get out of line. It makes it easy. I like to have fun. It helps me relax and enjoy the game. When I enjoy the game, I perform better. It’s tough to have fun when you’re losing. The good thing is this team wins a lot. It’s easier that way.”

  • Next week’s podcast will be our 2012 Season Preview Special.
  • We’re planning a giveaway in the near future for some Rangers tickets, so stay tuned.
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Mar 092012
 

Friday Morning KnuckleballsNeftali Feliz got his first Spring Training start out of the way yesterday, giving up 3 hits and 3 earned runs, striking out 2 and walking none across two innings.  Rangers lost the game 6-3.  Mitch Moreland had an RBI, and Elvis Andrus continues his march towards hitting .700 with a double and a single in the game.

  • He threw a total of 36 pitches, and it was really a tale of two different games for Neftali, and he gave up all the runs in the 1st inning off of a 3 run shot by Adam Dunn, and then shut the ChiSox down in the 2nd inning.
  • Not a bad start for Neftali, and keep in mind it’s the beginning of Spring Training.  I’m confident that he’ll only get better and I’m eager to see him when they get to the more stretched out (4IP+) Spring starts.
  • Feliz mixed in quite a few sliders and change-ups and had this to say regarding the approach, ”I know I’m not going to pitch like that, but I’m really working hard on them.  I’m obviously going to use my fastball more, but I know this is the time to work on all that stuff and not worry about the results.” – This is exactly the attitude and approach you would want to see from a young starter like Neftali at this point, and it shows that he has confidence in his stuff, as well as the Rangers management.
  • More from Feliz after the game, ”I’m not really focused on what happened today.  Obviously, Dunn got a hold of one. I’m just working on making my pitches, locating them where I want them, keeping the ball low. I’m just going to be focused on my goal and not going to worry about today too much.  In the second inning, I came out trying to attack the zone and keep the ball low, and I was more successful in the second inning than the first.” – I know it’s just talk, but it’s great to hear that he’s not too worried about that first inning.
  • Joey Nowak (MLB.com) writes about Neftali’s first Spring start, and includes some video footage of an interview with Feliz after the game.
For my thoughts on what I expect from Feliz in 2012, check out The Other New Guy.  Everyone has an opinion, and the transition that Feliz and Red Sox former-reliever-turned-starter Daniel Bard drew the attention of Jerry Crasnick and Gordon Edes (ESPN.com) who both state their cases for the success of each pitcher in 2012.  Crasnick took Neftali’s side.
  • Crasnick says “As a starter, Feliz will have more time to tinker and work on pitches in the bullpen between outings. And when he does, he’ll receive guidance from Maddux, one of baseball’s best pitching coaches, and Maddux’s brother Greg, who’s ready to share some serious baseball knowledge as a special assistant in Texas. Heck, even the team president, a guy named Nolan Ryan, might have some observations to pass along.”
  • Tristan Cockcroft (ESPN), also gives his take on Feliz in his 30 Questions: Texas Rangers article.
  • If you missed it, Feliz was my prediction for 2012 Surprise Player of the Year, which we discussed on our last podcast.

As we all, especially the team, continue to work on putting 2011 behind us, the beat writers just keep reminding us about it by writing about putting it behind us…, and to make it worse, we continue read it.  The Rangers vow to forget 2011 season’s end by Richard Justice (MLB.ccom).

  • Friday Morning KnuckleballsI like Kinsler’s quote, ”We’re still very motivated.  We’re very competitive. This year’s a completely different year than last year. Just because we went to the last two World Series doesn’t lessen our odds of going to the World Series this year. We have to prove ourselves again, and that’s the beautiful thing about this game.”
  • And of course, JD chimes in regarding the culture, ”That’s what I’m really proud of.  The people we have. The culture we have. They enjoy being with one another. We celebrate our successes, but we don’t spend a lot of time on it. By the same token, we don’t get too low when things don’t go our way.”

As you have probably all heard by now, the video clip of Nolan Ryan whipping Robin Ventura’s ass will no longer be shown in the pregame videos at Rangers Ballpark.

We’re not that sweet…

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Feb 212012
 
  • Tuesday Morning SlidersSpring Training officially starts tomorrow!
  • Jasen and I wrapped up our Spring Training Special podcast last night and I’ll have it posted up here to the site later today and available on iTunes by tomorrow.
  • My little stroll down Rangers Boulevard yesterday means there is a lot to catch up on today, so I may be brief.
Mike Napoli
  • Mike Napoli was in Surprise over the weekend, starting to test the strength of his ankle, and said he’s coming into Spring Training prepared to compete for the starting role, “I’ve always come into Spring Training trying to win a job.  That’s why I pushed myself to get ready for this spring. I come in here not expecting anything to be given to me. Torrealba is a good catcher. He has been a starter in this league and can start for us.  Hopefully we go out there and make it a competition. I always go out and try to earn a job.”
  • While Napoli’s performance from last year probably guaranteed him the starting spot behind the plate, it’s refreshing to know he has this attitude, and it’ll be interesting to see how it playing time is split up between C, DH and possibly 1B from time to time – it’ll be Ron’s decision.
    Napoli had this to say regarding Ron’s decision, “You don’t know what Wash will do.  We have guys who can play different positions. I love catching. I love being back there working with pitchers. But if I have to play first base, I’m not going to be mad. I want to be in the lineup. If it’s at first base, I’ll grab my glove and get out there.”
  • Finally, Napoli spoke about his recent contract (1 year/$9.4M) from the Rangers saying, “Hopefully we’ll get back to talking again.   We’ll see. I’m not focused on that. If it comes up, my agent will talk about it with them. Right now, I’m focused on getting ready for the season and get[ting] my ankle healthy.  From the raises I got compared to other players, it was right for me.  I really didn’t want to go into a hearing room. Talking to people who have been through it, it’s not a fun situation. I’m glad we got a deal done and hopefully something else will get worked out.”

Matt Harrison

  • Matt Harrison is coming into camp with a similar outlook to Mike Napoli as he prepared to secure a spot in the starting rotation.  While Harrison’s numbers from 2011 (14-9 with a 3.39 ERA) would seem to more than secure him that spot, it speaks to the depth the Rangers have in their rotation heading into 2012.
  • Tuesday Morning SlidersHarrison said “It’s the same way as last year: I’m coming in to fight for a spot in the rotation.  Last year was last year. I can’t take anything for granted. I’ve got to show them I’m ready to go. This is an organization that has been to the World Series for the last two years. They are not going to fool around with somebody who is not ready to go.”
  • Jasen and I covered the starting rotation extensively in the podcast last night, and it’s known that the Rangers are going to stretch out Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando.  Harrison will have to earn his spot, but seems to be the favorite headed into the competition.
  • Roy Oswalt still hasn’t signed anywhere…, to which Harrison says “Nobody has said anything to me about that.  I guess he is still waiting around. It keeps me guessing. It keeps me ready and prepared.”

Ian Kinsler

  • Kinsler, who spoke to reporters on Sunday at the Rangers Spring Training complex, spoke vaguely about Josh Hamilton’s recent relapse, “Josh is taking care of it.  He’s doing what he’s always done. He’s being open, up front and honest about it. It’s not my place to talk about it. I know I was there for a certain part of the night.”
    Kinsler added ”I’ve gotten over it.  I’m focused on this season and baseball. I support Josh and will continue to support him. All his teammates and coaches will be there for him. Josh took care of it and said what he needed to say. People can say what they want to say. That’s just outside influences driving something that’s really not there.”
  • Kinsler is in Surprise early to work out with the strength and conditioning coaches, which he is able to do pain free after after receiving a platelet-rich-plasma injection in his right ankle at the end of November.  This is the same right ankle that he injured two years ago in Spring Training.
    Kinsler had to this say regarding the relief he got from the shot and what it’s allowed him to do in his work outs, “Right away, after the soreness went away from the needle, I was 100 percent,” Kinsler said.  End of pain.  It helped everything. Working in the cage, I can take as many swings as I want. I have been able to do a lot more full-body exercises … a lot of jumping and agility. That’s when it hurt the most, but now I haven’t been feeling it at all.”
  • Kinsler, who is signed through 2012 and the Rangers have an option on for 2013 ($10M), spoke briefly about his contract and talks with the Rangers, saying ”I think I’ve been open with my feelings on that.  I want to stay here, but again, a lot of that is up to them. We’ll see how things progress. We’ll see if the conversations get fired up again this spring.  This season hasn’t even started yet.  They have some decisions to make as an organization.”
    Kinsler wrapped it up saying “There might be some things they want to talk about.  I haven’t thought about it. I’m focused on playing second base, winning a Gold Glove and helping this team win. That’s all open for discussion.”

Quick Hits

  • Tuesday Morning SlidersAlbert Pujols and Yu Darvish have already run into each other for the first time!  The meeting was unplanned and the Angels slugger said “He walked in and introduced himself — really nice guy, really humble.  He just said he’s looking forward to the battle. We’re going to be in the same division and it’s going to be fun.”
    Look at Yu already getting in his head…
  • Richard Justice (MLB.com) wrote a column on Nolan Ryan’s feelings about this years Rangers here.
  • The Rangers have signed left-handed reliever Neal Cotts to a Minor League contract.  T.R. Sullivan (MLB.com) provides a brief update here.
  • Evan Grant (SportsDay DFW) is projecting 13 wins and a sub 4 ERA for Yu Darvish this season.
  • MLB Analyst Jim Bowden joined Ben & Skin (103.3FM, ESPN) last week and had this to say about ranking the Rangers as the top MLB team for the next 5 years, “The bottom line was the Rangers’ farm system is far beyond what the Yankees’ is, and that to me was really the swing between the two. Texas’ management team is one of the best in the game, but when you look at the entire package, there is no reason why this Texas team can’t be a World Series contender over the next five years. You look at the health of the Rangers compared to every team in baseball, and right now, it’s No. 1 in the industry.”
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Feb 072012
 

2012 American League West by Position (Part 1)I recently got into an argument with a fellow Rangers fan regarding how much the Angels improved though their off-season acquisitions.  As we talked through Pujols and C.J., it lead to a position-by-position comparison of the Rangers and Angels for the 2012 season.  I’ve taken the next step here to bring the Mariners and Athletics into the argument.  While they look to have no reasonable chance to contend in the division, there are two reason to include them here:

  1. You never know.
  2. Allows us to rank 1-4 for each position.  So, even if you are primarily interested in Rangers vs. Angels, you can get an understanding of where the players actually stack up against other peers to give you a frame of reference.
We’ll break this up into four pieces to be posted over the next couple of weeks.  Feel free to chime in with your comments!
  • Catcher & Infield
  • Outfield & DH
  • Bench & Manager
  • Starting Rotation, Relievers & Closer
We’ll track inverse points (ex. Napoli is #1 catcher, so he get’s 4 points), and award a bonus point in situations where the top player has an extreme advantage over the rest of the players at that position.  We’ll define extreme advantage as a WAR (wins above replacement) variance of 2 or more in 2011.  WAR can be a bit inconsistent depending on the source, so we’ll be using fangraphs.com.

Catcher

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 1)Mike Napoli, TEX
  2. Chris Ianetta, LAA
  3. Kurt Suzuki, OAK
  4. Miguel Olivo, SEA

Nap takes the top spot here easily and get’s the +1 with a 2011 WAR of 5.6, compared to Ianetta who was at 3.3.  Even with Napoli’s season being a bit of an outlier when you look at his career, I don’t see Ianetta or Suzuki closing the gap enought in 2012 to argue against it.

The biggest debate here is between 2nd and 3rd place, primarily because Ianetta is changing leagues and may be in adjustment mode during the first part of 2012.  That said, Ianetta had a better WAR and OPS in 2011, and will be managed by a former catcher that can certainly help in improve even further behind the plate.

1st Base

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 1)Albert Pujols, LAA
  2. Mitch Moreland, TEX
  3. Justin Smoak, SEA
  4. Brandon Allen/Daric Barton/Chris Carter, OAK

Similar to catcher, you can’t argue with number one, as Pujols not only takes the prize, but also takes the bonus point with relative ease.  Pujols put up a 5.4 WAR last year in the National League with the Cardinals and a .906 OPS, which was a down year for him, compared to a .733 OPS for Moreland and .717 for Smoak.

The battle for 2nd and 3rd is a lot closer than most Rangers fans would like to think, as you can tell by the OPS stats above.  Statistically, Moreland and Smoak had  very similar years in 2011, with Moreland producing at a slightly higher level than Smoak in almost all categories.  Both are still young players that should improve even further in 2012.

I give the edge to Mitch here in a close one.  Smoak was the more highly touted prospect, so you might expect him to progress at a more accelerated rate than Moreland, but I don’t think you’ll see that in this case, primarily because of the teams that surround them.  Mitch faces far less pressure and will face many more bullpen caliber pitchers because of the extremely productive lineup that he is playing in.  Switch their situations, I would lean the other way.

2nd Base

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 1)Ian Kinsler, TEX
  2. Howie Kendrick, LAA
  3. Dustin Ackley, SEA
  4. Jemile Weeks, OAK

This is by far the best position across the board.  Kinsler had the strongest campaign in 2011 and should be the most productive in 2012, but the divide between he and Kendrick is not big enough for the bonus here.

I think the rankings are clear cut, but we could see both Ackley and Weeks close the gap even further during 2012.

All three players had an OPS in 2011 above .761, with Ian leading the pack at .832.  There is no weak player in this bunch.

3rd Base

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 1)Adrian Beltre, TEX
  2. Alberto Callaspo, LAA
  3. Scott Sizemore, OAK
  4. Kyle Seager, SEA

Clear cut number one at the hot corner, as Beltre dominated the group statistically.  Beltre’s dominance is enough to get him the bonus point here as well, outpacing Callaspo’s 2011 WAR ranking by 2.1 (5.7 for Beltre to 3.6 for Callaspo).

Callaspo get the nod for 2nd place here, but again, it could be closer than you think, and rumors of Mark Trumbo making the switch to 3rd base cloud the ranking a bit.  That said, if Callaspo is the starting 3rd basemen for the Angels in 2012, he’ll be hitting in the much more productive line-up and is better defensively.

Shortstop

  1. 2012 American League West by Position (Part 1)Elvis Andrus, TEX
  2. Erik Aybar, LAA
  3. Cliff Pennington, OAK
  4. Brendan Ryan, SEA
Close race for the top spot between Andrus and Aybar here, but Elvis takes 1st place by a small margin.  Statistically, the two are very close, with Aybar posting a higher OPS in 2011 at .743 compared to Elvis at .708.  Elvis is superior defensively and is the younger player.  Both stand to improve in 2012 as Elvis continues to mature and Aybar welcomes a much needed bat to the Angel’s line-up (Mr. Pujols).

This is my biggest decision in the rankings so far, and I have to lean towards Elvis here.  Even factoring out my bias, if that’s possible, I see Elvis improving at the plate in 2012 to an equal level of Aybar, and far outplaying Aybar defensively.

Score at the end of Round 1:

  1. Rangers: 5 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 4 = 21
  2. Angels: 3 + 5 + 3 + 3 + 3 = 17
  3. Athletics: 2 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 2 = 8
  4. Mariners: 1 + 2 + 2 + 1 + 1 = 7
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Feb 022012
 
  • Thursday Morning ChangeupsGerry Fraley (SportsDay DFW) reports that Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton will both be switching to Louisville Sluggers for the 2012 season.
    “This is not a minor item. Most players are picky about their bats. A change in bats represents a major step that can be caused by reasons ranging from a desire to get better wood to a company’s willingness to meet special specifications. Kinsler had been plagued by a rash of broken bats from his previous supplier.  Hamilton has worked with Louisville Slugger in search of an ideal bat for several years. As part of an exclusive deal with Hamilton, the market the H359 in his honor. Hamilton won the American League batting title in 2010 at .359.”
  • Jim Bowden (ESPN) recently wrote an article proposing trades for 5 contenders.  Here is his proposal for the Rangers:
    “Trade LHP Martin Perez to the Minnesota Twins for CF Denard Span
    The Twins are desperate to rebuild their rotation, and Perez should develop into a front-line starter. The Twins could then move Ben Revere to center field and put free-agent signee Josh Willingham in left.
    From the Rangers’ perspective, this would allow them to move Josh Hamilton to left field and improve their defense in center. Span also would give them a legitimate leadoff hitter and a better chance to win the World Series now than if they waited for Leonys Martin to develop.
    As an added bonus, Span is signed at a reasonable cost through 2015, which makes him far more valuable to a contender than he is to the Twins, a club that is in a bit of a rebuilding period. The Rangers are deep in rotation candidates, so Perez is expendable.”
    While many Rangers aren’t in favor of moving Perez, I’d be willing to move the left-handed pitching prospect for the right player, and I don’t think Span is that player.  My major hesitation with Span is the head injury (concussion) that he experienced last season – it’s not something to be taken lightly (see Span’s teammate Justin Morneau.
  • Thursday Morning ChangeupsChuck Morgan, Rangers Senior Vice President of Ballpark Entertainment, represented the Rangers last night on Baseball I.Q. on the MLB Network.  He faced off against some dude from the Angel’s organization.  Unfortunately, the Angels won the first showdown of 2012, but they won’t win the last.  Great show!
  • Nothing new on the Roy Oswalt front.  Looks like Roy is in no hurry to sign with any of the teams that have already made him an offer.  Could last week’s meeting really have been Nolan and JD asking Roy for some time to see what they could get in return for Matt Harrison (or one of the other starters)?  Time will tell….
  • Gordon Edes (ESPN) posted “A Red Sox source confirmed Wednesday that the team had not abandoned hopes of signing Oswalt, indicating that the 34-year-old right-hander may have a better chance at a regular turn starting with the Sox than with the other two clubs, both of whom appear to have filled their rotations. The Cardinals and Rangers, however, have the advantage of being closer to Oswalt’s Mississippi home, the Red Sox source said. Oswalt’s agent, Bob Garber, had been quoted Saturday as saying that Oswalt would not take a bullpen job.”
  • My prediction – Oswalt signs with the Charros tomorrow.
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Jan 302012
 
  • Monday Morning FastballsThe Rangers are scheduled to meet with Roy Oswalt today.  Friday, there were reports that Oswalt was close to accepting a deal from St. Louis, but it looks like the veteran right-hander wants to meet with the Rangers prior to making a final decision.
    There are arguments for both sides when it comes to the Rangers signing Oswalt (read Jasen’s here), but if he signs, it’s the dominoes that fall from there that are stirring debate.  If he does indeed sign with the Rangers, the question becomes who is out of the rotation (most talk is of Matt Harrison) and are they destined for the bullpen or a trade.
    I love the way Jamey Newberg summed it up, by writing “I’m not sure yet whether I want this supposed competition to turn out differently from the World Series, but I do feel pretty sure that if the Rangers are hoping to land the righthander, it’s likely part of a bigger plan that’s laid out on a whiteboard that none of us can see and perhaps that none of us have fully visualized.”
  • Matt Harrison fielded a question concerning his future in the rotation by saying, “My goal is to come in there and be the best I can be and make sure no matter what I give it everything I have in spring training.  It’s out of my hands whether or not they want to put me in the bullpen if they sign Roy or whatever happens from there.”
  • Monday Morning FastballsThe Negro Leagues Baseball Museum honored Ron Washington on Saturday night in Kansas City with the C.I. Taylor Award as the AL’s top manager, part of the museum’s Legacy Awards.
    Washington had this to say at the event, ”It means a lot.  It means our team did a great job. I read some of the history of the awards, and there’s quite a few great people who have won the award. I am honored.   I never doubted myself or needed any vindication.  Even in my first year, I knew it was just a matter of getting my coaches to coach and my players to play the game of baseball the way it’s supposed to be played.  There’s always other people around you that help you become successful. I am just fortunate that (general manager) Jon Daniels didn’t panic the first couple of years because, if he did, I probably wouldn’t find myself with this opportunity.”
    Jeff Wilson (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram) wrote a piece on Washington and the award here.
  • Nothing new in regards to contact talks with those that the Rangers are focused on, but Ian Kinsler had this to say regarding his situation, “The longer they wait, the more difficult it’s going to be.  It takes a lot of conversation and thinking on both sides. It’s not just a couple of phone calls and strike a deal, especially the second contract when they’re investing a lot more money.”
  • According to Bovada.com (formerly Bodog.com), the Rangers have 9/1 odds of winning the 2012 World Series.  From an odd’s perspective, that puts them in the top 5, behind or equal to the Phillies (11/2), the Angels (13/2), the Yankees (13/2), and the Tigers (also 9/1).
  • The Rangers have agreed to a minor-league contract, with an invitation to spring training, with outfielder Kyle Hudson.  Hudson has been in the Baltimore farm system since 2008, most notably contributing 119 stolen bases during his time there.
  • Christina Kahrl (ESPN’s Sweet Spot) wrote a good piece highlighting production by position, specifically looking at the “up the middle” positions (C, 2B, SS, CF).
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Dec 222011
 

Ian vs Robinson vs Dustin : Death Match *not reallyAsk most American League baseball fans who the best 2nd baseman in the AL is and you will most likely hear one of three answers – Ian Kinsler, Robinson Cano, or Dustin Pedroia. While there can be a case made for a Ben Zobrist for our purposes, he sucks.  Join me as we compare and contrast.  You might be surprised what you find out.

  • Hitting for average : Dustin Pedroia leads the pack with a .307 average but not by much. Cano has a .302 average with Ian hitting a very modest .255. In a very straight forward category, ADVANTAGE : DUSTIN PEDROIA
  • Hitting for power : In the sexiest of all the statistical categories Ian Kinsler leads the group with 32 home runs, 11 more than Dustin Pedroia and 4 more than Robinson Cano.  When you add Robinson Cano’s 1st place SLG% for 2nd basemen at .533 and Ian a distant .477 = slight ADVANTAGE : ROBINSON CANO
  • Getting on base : That scrappy Dustin Pedroia once again comes out on top in this category. He led the three with a .387 OBP with Ian at .355 and Robby (I can call him that, we are friends) at .349 ADVANTAGE : DUSTIN PEDROIA
  • Defense : Defense has historically been a tough thing to quantify. However with the emergence of advance statistics and sabermetrics those people much smarter than me have figured it out. There is a stat called Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) which measures several things including range, arm strength, double play frequency, and errors compared to other players at the same position. The higher this number is, the better the defensive player.  This category came down to Ian vs Dustin as Robinson Cano was a terrible fielder and didn’t get into the conversation. Pedroia was at 19.4 and Ian 16.2.  ADVANTAGE : DUSTIN PEDROIA

Ian vs Robinson vs Dustin : Death Match *not really

I started this experiment with a firm belief that Ian Kinsler was the best overall 2nd baseman in the AL and was surprised to see the stats say otherwise. Dustin Pedroia is a former MVP and its easy to forget about him because he doesn’t have the flashyness that your typical superstar has but he deserves his due.

With that being said, I believe that Ian is just entering his prime and has so much more in him. I expect to see the gap close next year and eventually Ian taking his place at the top of the list of best 2nd baseman in baseball.

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