March 2011

Opening Day Eve: Random Thoughts

While thinking of story ideas, so many random thoughts came to mind now that the regular season is upon us, it’s time for one of those hodgepodge columns with no defining topic…

  • In the Rangers last exhibition game against AAA Round Rock, Darren O’Day gave up yet another home run. That’s six now in his last 9 Spring Training innings and 12 HR in his last 22 innings, including the regular season and post-season of 2010. This is one pitcher I’m VERY worried about.
  • Key to the 2011 season? Let’s take injuries out of the equation. All teams have to deal with injuries. So, assuming a relatively injury-free year, the biggest key is Derek Holland. I see Colby Lewis having a better year than 2010, CJ Wilson an equal or slightly lower year. For his third go-round with the big club, it’s time for Holland to put it together. We’ve seen some tantalizingly good games from Derek, but it’s been more like three average to subpar outings for every great one. It HAS to turn around in the other direction for the Rangers to repeat in the West.
  • As if the feeling that the starting pitching depth isn’t as good as initially thought wasn’t bad enough, Michael Kirkman only lasted an inning and a third in the exhibition game last night. Kirkman left after taking a Nelson Cruz line drive to the elbow. Kirkman doesn’t think it’s anything for than a giant owwie, but it sure doesn’t help in the peace of mind department.
  • Second key to the 2011 season: Elvis Andrus in the 2 hole. He led the team in batting average with runners in scoring position in 2010. He’s good at bunting guys over to second and he’s a decent contact hitter. Unfortunately, Andrus had the lowest number of extra base hits of any everyday player in baseball last year as well. Maybe it was because he knew as the leadoff guy in 2010, the Rangers didn’t want power from him, just for him to get on base. Still, like Holland, Andrus HAS to step up his offensive game or he won’t be in the two hole for long.
  • I’ve been antsy all week waiting for the season to start. Will be in Arlington on Saturday with my oldest to see the Rangers get their AmericanLeague Championship rings before Colby Lewis matches up with John Lackey. Lackey played junior college ball right up the road from Dallas at Grayson County College in the Sherman-Denison area. The Rangers have a pretty good track record against Lackey over the past few years. I hope that continues on Saturday.
  • 18-Year-Ranger-Fan plans to see two of the three games between the Rangers and Orioles in Baltimore next week, along with Ranger Fan-In-Law. He’s also excited to see the Rangers High-A club in Myrtle Beach, as he’ll get a chance to see the Pelicans when they visit his hometown Frederick Keys this season. Looking forward to his reports this year as well.
  • Prediction 1: The Astros are my pick for the surprise team in baseball this year. They did pretty well after Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman left last year. A bunch of young, hungry, unknown players. Even if the finish somewhere around 78-84, that would be more than many are expecting of them. I’ll also be interested in seeing how Clint Hurdle does managing the Pirates.
  • Prediction 2: The Phillies may win the NL East, but they won’t be as good as people think they’ll be with that starting staff. I’m guessing the absence of Chase Uttley is going to hurt the offense more than thought, making for a lot of low-scoring games for the Phils this year. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves nose ‘em out for the division title.
  • I already miss Matt Treanor. I just looked at the roster the Royals are heading into 2011 with and I’m willing to bet Treanor misses the Rangers just as much right around now. KC is supposed to be very close to having a contending team, with a whole slew of young bucks ready to hit the big time. Let’s just say they haven’t arrived on 3/31/11.
  • I read a fan poster the other day who opines that when Jason Kendall comes off the Royals DL, Treanor will come back to the Rangers as the “player to be named” in the trade a couple weeks ago of minor league infielder Johnny Whittleman. I can actually see that happening.

 

    The regular season has arrived. Here’s hoping the expected bad weather doesn’t cause postponements of any of the six openers today.

And Just Like That…

This is what the end of Spring Training is like. Just two hours after my last post, word filters down that the Rangers have traded back-up catcher Matt Treanor to the Kansas City Royals for cash considerations.

Matt Treanor at Rangers FanFest 2011It’s not often the trade of a back-up surprises me, but this one did and I hate to see Treanor go. He was one of those intangibles guys and I think he’ll be missed by the Rangers. Treanor was CJ Wilson’s “personal catcher”. The pitching staff really appreciated his work behind the plate in calling a game. I think he had more 8+ pitch at bats than anyone in the Rangers line-up in 2010. He didn’t hit a lot, but he had a lot of quality at-bats and productive outs.

The move has several implications. It could mean the Rangers will go with a 13-man pitching staff at the outset of the season. Or, as was opined here a week or two ago, it could create an opening for Chris Davis to break camp with the big club.

Either way, Mike Napoli has now become the back-up catcher for Texas. Napoli is not known for his defense, and Ron Washington has often said he considers defense and game calling to be the primary focus of his catchers with offense coming last.

Can’t help but think more moves are coming. The next four days could be an interesting ride!

Counting Down The Days

In a little bit of a surprise move, the Rangers added veteran Dave Bush to the Opening Day roster as the club’s long-relief man. Texas had to make a decision on Bush yesterday, either giving him a roster spot or giving him his release, as Bush did not have to accept a minor league assignment.

 

Does this make the Rangers a stronger team to begin the season April 1? I doubt it. Is it a smart move by the Rangers? Maybe so.

 

There are certainly pitchers who have done better in camp than Bush. The Rangers also boasted plenty of depth at the outset of Spring Training. The problem is, you don’t want to go through all that depth right from the start.

 

Tommy Hunter’s groin injury set all kinds of things in motion and the Rangers had to look at all possibilities. Michael Kirkman may have been the better pitcher in training camp. Brett Tomko too, for that matter. Those two still have options, though. It makes more sense to give Bush a shot at the job. If it doesn’t work, fine. You can still bring Kirkman or Tomko up and you haven’t lost much. If Texas let Bush go, though, and either Kirkman or Tomko didn’t work out, now the depth starts to spread thin.

 

Meanwhile, as quickly as Chris Davis tried to force himself into the picture, he hit himself right out of the picture, going 2-11 with 8 strikeouts in the last four games. Round Rock calls, Mr. Davis, and you may not ever see the bigs again in a Rangers uniform.

 

With 5 days to go ’til Opening Day, here’s the roster as far as it’s known:

 

1B        Mitch Moreland                                    SP        CJ Wilson

2B        Ian Kinsler                                            SP        Colby Lewis

SS        Elvis Andrus                                         SP        Derek Holland

3B        Adrian Beltre                                        SP        Matt Harrison

C         Yorvit Torrealba                                   SP

LF        Josh Hamilton                                       LR       Dave Bush

CF       Julio Borbon                                         SU       Darren O’Day

RF       Nelson Cruz                                          SU       Darren Oliver

DH       Michael Young                                     SU       Arthur Rhodes

C         Matt Treanor                                         SU       Alexi Ogando

1B        Mike Napoli                                         CL       Neftali Feliz

OF       David Murphy

IF         Andres Blanco

 

In essence, there are just two openings left, with everything depending on whether Alexi Ogando stays in the bullpen or is chosen to be the starter while Tommy Hunter is on the DL. Battling for the final two slots if they’re both in relief are Brett Tomko, Rule 5 pick Mason Tobin and Mark Lowe, who hasn’t had a good camp. If Ogando remains in relief, Michael Kirkman might find his way back into the mix.

 

I’m just ready for the season to start! As the Black-Eyed Peas sang: Let’s get it started!

Is The Sky Falling Or Are The Clouds Just Dark?

 Even coming off a World Series appearance, we Rangers fans are a pessimistic lot. Give us one thing wrong and soon we’re ready to roll that snowball down the hill watching for the avalanch to start.

Thus it is, one week from Opening Day, that we’re already biting our nails, wondering if this confluence of events is a sign of a disastrous regular season to come:

1) Neftali Feliz will remain the closer.

    Regular readers know I have no problem with this one, but there sure are a considerable number of fans out there who liken this decision to going to war with one of your generals wearing a colonel’s uniform.

2) Tommy Hunter pulls a groin.

    Not two hours after the Rangers announcement of Feliz staying in the bullpen, Tommy Hunter goes and pulls a groin muscle and appears headed for the DL to start the season. Those in the Feliz as starter camp start howling even louder.

3) The Rest of the Bullpen

    A big reason for the Feliz staying as closer decision has to do with the Spring Training performance of the bullpen. Among the ERA’s: Alexi Ogando 5.59, Darren O’Day 9.00, Arthur Rhodes 12.60, Mark Lowe 14.14. Among the returning set-up men, only Darren Oliver at 2.25 has had what would be considered decent spring numbers while Pedro Strop is making a real play to be added to the mix at 2.00.

4) Brandon Webb Suffers Another Setback

    The former Diamondbacks ace, who’s missed most of the past two seasons with shoulder problems, has yet to pitch in a game for the Rangers. A few days ago, he couldn’t get loose and had a planned batting practice pitching session cancelled. At best, Webb won’t be ready to pitch for the Rangers until May.

5) Julio Borbon’s 5 errors and Michael Young’s 2 errors at 1st Base

    Immediate howls to send Borbon down to AAA and debates on why it’s horsehockey that Josh Hamilton would be more prone to injury in center field as opposed to left field. Move Hamilton to center! David Murphy in left! OK, let’s see Murphy in center and keep Hamilton in left!

    This series of setbacks also caused a ripple of “The front office didn’t do a good enough job in the off-season” accusations. “Feliz should be a starter, so why didn’t they go out and address the relief staff in the off-season so Feliz could start now?” is the most common example of finger-pointing. 

    What’s going on here? Isn’t it supposed to go like this? “Baseball season’s getting started, all’s right with the world.” For countless years, this fan felt that way, even when the Rangers didn’t have a chance to climb out of the cellar. It didn’t take much to envision what would happen if everything went right.

    Now we’re coming off a trip to the World Series, yet the feeling seems as pessimistic as I’ve ever seen it. What gives???

    Maybe it’s what happens once there are actual expectations for a team. Now that the Rangers have reached a level never seen before, we so don’t want it to end we see huge chasms where we once saw a little pothole. In truth, going into Spring Training, while there were questions about the starting pitching, there was no question about the depth of the starting pitching. Even with Hunter on the shelf and Webb at least a month away, the depth is still there.

    Based on past results, the bullpen should still be a strength in 2011, but the results in the exhibition games has the faithful feeling uneasy because, in truth, we don’t feel like we have a lot of depth in the bullpen. That, more than anything, is why Feliz finds himself as the team’s closer once again in 2011.

    As much as I want to see the chasm, this fan is trying mightily to retain that spirit of optimism the start of the season brings. Texas is remarkably healthy heading into the regular season, Hunter’s groin notwithstanding. There is depth in starting pitching. While past history is not necessarily a guide to future performance, there’s enough past performance to indicate the bullpen is not as bad as they’ve shown when the games haven’t counted. In addition, there are injuries on other clubs. Look at the Angels. Kendry Morales won’t be ready to go at season’s open. There’s concern about Joel Pineiro’s health and Scott Kazmir is stinking up the joint. Meanwhile, the A’s and the Mariners have good pitching but, even with additions, their offenses don’t come close to matching the firepower the Rangers have to offer.

    Oh yeah, and Michael Young and GM Jon Daniels are talking to each other again.  

    In other words, the 2011 Rangers still have to be considered favorites to win the AL West and Spring Training bullpen woes, groin pulls and errors shouldn’t make us think otherwise. I don’t like some of the things I’ve seen from the team this spring, but Mike Maddux has a great reputation as a pitching coach, Julio Borbon rates slightly above average defensively and an injury to Hunter isn’t as bad as an injury to CJ Wilson or Colby Lewis would be.    

The answer to the headline? Dark clouds that should be moving out of the area soon.

12 Days to Opening Day: Pessimism Reigns

 When can a positive become a negative? When you can see how easily it could all fall apart.

Such is the case of the Rangers relief corps as we head to the Spring Training finish line. For all the questions about the starting rotation, the relief corps has been seen as potentially one of the strongest in the American League. So strong that many could see no shortage of depth even if 2010 closer Neftali Feliz joined the starting rotation in 2011.

Please, Rangers coaching staff, don’t let that happen. I’m beginning to think Feliz as closer is essential to the Rangers successfully defending the AL West.

Look at the two people most prominently mentioned as candidates to replace Feliz as closer. Mark Lowe has gotten torched in Spring Training: 7 Innings, 14 Hits, 11 Earned Runs. Alexi Ogando, who’s been stretched out as a starter candidate, was doing OK until his last appearance when he couldn’t make it out of the 8th against the Dodgers.

Also consider the Rangers two LOOGY’s: Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver, are 41 and 40 years of age respectively. And lastly, there’s the 7th inning guy, Darren O’Day.

 

Darren_O'Day.jpgO’Day is the one I am most concerned with at this point. The righthanded sidearmer has had a wonderful two year run with the Rangers, a 1.99 ERA over 136 games, a 0.918 WHIP and a 3.41 strikeout to walk ratio. Rangers fans have taken to singing his name when he comes into games, changing the familiar soccer tune “Ole Ole” to “O’Day O’Day”. As of September 3rd, O’Day’s 2010 featured a sparkling 1.51 ERA, only 36 hits given up in almost 54 innings and only one home run given up the whole season.

Since September 3rd, though, life has not been good for Darren O’Day. He closed out the regular season giving up four home runs in his last nine games over just 8 1/3 innings. In the post-season, O’Day pitched 11 more games, but only lasting 4 2/3 innings in that time, giving up two more bombs and compiling a 7.71 ERA. 

Now, in Spring Training, O’Day has pitched in six games. In 7 innings of work, he’s given up 16 hits, 8 runs and 5 home runs. Since September 3rd of last year, all told he has given up 11 home runs over his last 20 innings. Making matters worse, O’Day says he and pitching coach Mike Maddux have been going over video and can’t find any flaws in his delivery.

This is beginning to remind me of a pitcher the Angels had in their glory days of ’02 and ’03. Ben Weber had a different type of delivery (nothing like O’Day’s) and had ERA’s of 2.54 on 2002 and 2.69 in 2003 has one of the Angels’ set-up guys. His post-season ERA in 2002, though, was a robust 10.80. In 2004, the wheels came off. Weber went 0-2 with a 8.06 ERA in 18 games with the Angels, followed by 10 games with an 8.03 ERA for the Reds in 2005 and his major league career was over.

Some pitchers, once batters figure them out, never recover. Will this be Darren O’Day’s fate? I sure hope not. But that thought, combined with the other potential threats mentioned earlier among the relief corps, has me hoping the Rangers keep Feliz in the bullpen.

In other news: A week ago, the competition couldn’t have been stronger for the 3rd, 4th and 5th slots in the starting rotation. Then nobody pitched as though they wanted it badly enough. Derek Holland, Michael Kirkman, Tommy Hunter, Eric Hurley and Matt Harrison all had middling to poor outings over the past week. Holland recovered to pitch five solid innings against the Royals on Sunday.

In a radio interview, Mike Maddux indicated the Rangers are pretty close to deciding on Harrison and Hunter for two of the three available starting slots, leaving one slot open for Kirkman, Holland or Feliz (Hurley was optioned to AAA Round Rock the other day). If Feliz goes to the bullpen (and he pitched 5 solid innings Saturday), I see Holland as the last rotation slot. If Feliz stays a starter, he’ll probably get the last spot with Holland either going to long relief or back to Round Rock for now.

Too many starters is a good problem to have. If one falters, the hope is Brandon Webb will be ready by then to take his place. Most teams have one or two starters go on the DL every season as well. While all Rangers fans would love to see a true ace in the rotation, having as many as four starters on your AAA staff that already have the talent to compete on the major league level helps pave the way to inner peace!

Last item of pessimism: Julio Borbon has forgotten how to play defense. A year ago, first base coach Gary Pettis, a former center fielder himself, took Borbon under his wing and taught him the art of playing center field. His defense in 2010 was infinitely superior to what he showed in 2009.

This spring, however, Borbon has looked terrible in the field, having committed five errors- some throwing, some fielding. Even an average center fielder won’t commit five errors in an entire season, let alone 15 exhibition games. Borbon blamed the bright sun of Arizona for some of the miscues (I could buy that in the one TV game in which he had an error), but then he had two errors in a night game against the Padres. Borbon is hitting well and running the bases well this spring, but his defense is making a lot of people uneasy. The Rangers have even toyed with playing David Murphy some in center. They really do not want Josh Hamilton playing out there fulltime in 2011.

For a lot of players, the next seven days represent crunch time. Can Chris Davis hit his way onto a team with no real open position for him? Can O’Day and Lowe turn it around? Will Feliz start or finish? Will Michael Young or Davis get traded? Will there be some surprise releases or demotions? Stay tuned for our next episode, same bat time, same ball channel!

 

Sharing Space

Chris Davis is unhappy.

Much of the unhappiness is his own doing, yet his feelings are understandable.

Davis burst on the scene in 2008 following a meteoric rise through the Rangers system. When they could hold him back no longer, Davis came to the majors and tantalized the fan base with a .285 average, 17 HR’s and 55 RBI over 80 games. Rangers fans were positive Davis would make us forget about Mark Teixeira in short order.

Sadly, it seemed to be a tease. Davis at the outset of 2009 and was sent down on July 5th with a .202 average. After almost two months of scorching the ball in AAA, Davis came back and recovered enough to compile a .239 average with 21 HR’s and 59 RBI.

Last season, the Rangers were in no mood to fiddle around with slumping players. Frank Francisco was replaced as closer two weeks into the season after a few blown saves. By the end of April, Davis was at an abysmal .188 and he was sent down to AAA again, replaced by Justin Smoak.

When Smoak was traded to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal, Davis came back up July 9th, but by the 28th, he was still only hitting .188. Again Davis was sent down, this time replaced by Mitch Moreland.

Now in 2011, Moreland has pretty much secured the first base starters job. Davis, meanwhile, has had an awesome spring. After yesterday’s 3-3 showing, Davis is now hitting .405 with 3 HR’s and 11 RBI. Unfortunately for him, Moreland is hitting .359 with 2 HR’s and 7 RBI of his own.

There is no real place on the Rangers roster for Davis right now. By all accounts, he is one of the hardest workers in the Rangers organization. His defense at first base is excellent and he’s no slouch at third either. But, there’s no place for him unless there’s an injury.

Ron Washington has been paying attention. That’s probably why last night’s exhibition game against the Rockies featured Mike Napoli at catcher, Davis at first base and Moreland in right field. From a Rangers standpoint, this is a good problem to have. From Davis’ standpoint, not so much. Under such a scenario, you might envision Wash compromising on his “defense first” catchers approach and send Matt Treanor packing. Maybe, but I don’t think he’d pull that trigger.

I’d hate to see Davis leave, especially if the Rangers got little in return for him. On the other hand, I’d hate to see him force a roster move and once again not have him come through.

Davis has one option year left, Moreland has two. I actually wonder if the Rangers might consider sending Moreland back to AAA to give Davis one last chance. No matter how it goes, one of those two players will probably be sent down to AAA to start the season and neother one will deserve it.

Another Sharing Space Note: I got inspired to start this blog in two ways: one was the movie “Julie and Julia”. The other was Jamey Newberg, who was one of the original Texas Rangers bloggers. Today, Jamey and I share a space in a way. We both contributed our Rangers thoughts, independently of each other, for the blog of a fellow member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. You can check it out here:  http://www.cardinal70.com/playing-pepper/playing-pepper-2011-texas-rang.php

 

17 Days From Opening Day: Some Things Shaping Up

One week ago, I wrote of my biggest fear for 2011: Elvis Andrus in the 2 hole in the line-up. I even posited the Rangers would have a steep drop-off in RBI’s with Andrus at #2 as opposed to Michael Young, who has been in the 2 slot for years.

If the past week is any indication, my fears have subsided a bit. After a slow start at the plate, Andrus picked it up this week and capped it off yesterday with 5 RBI against the Giants.

In his first two seasons, Andrus has mostly batted 9th in 2009 and 1st in 2010. These are not prime RBI positions. Yet, in 2010, Elvis was one of the Rangers best hitters with runners in scoring position at .347. Keeping him fulltime in the #2 slot is still a concern for me, but not as big a one as it was a week ago.

Concern was also expressed about the lack of playing time in spring games for new catcher Yorvit Torrealba. Again, my fears appeared groundless. Torrealba played consistently all week long and is off to a great start with the bat: a .500 average with four doubles, one in each of the last four games.

Adrian Beltre makes his spring debut today, so I have decided not to worry about him yet.

The competition for the last three starting spots is as heated as ever. Ron Washington will not have an easy decision here. Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson are the only two starters assured of jobs. Tommy Hunter is supposed to be the top guy for the #3 slot, but last year’s 13 game winner has looked horrible his last two starts, including yesterday’s 3 2/3 inning, 7 run debacle against the Giants. Hunter is not a strikeout pitcher, yet his strikeout numbers are up this spring, as they were in the 2010 post-season. Translation: Hunter seems to get rocked more when he strikes out more batters. That doesn’t seem logical, but it is what it is.

So now, with an ERA over 8 for the spring, Hunter needs to make a case for himself to stay a part of the starting rotation.

They say spring stats don’t mean anything and that’s partially true. Those assured of starting positions can take the spring to work on specific aspects of their game without worrying about the results. Don’t, however, try to tell me stat lines aren’t important for the guys fighting for positions. In Hunter’s case, it could cost him a starting job.

Here’s what the other guys going for those last three slots are doing:

Derek Holland: 1.80 ERA 6 K’s in 5 1/3 innings with no walks

Michael Kirkman: 3.00 ERA in 9 innings pitched, 2 walks, 8 K’s

Matt Harrison: 1.00 ERA in 9 innings with 2 walks, 5 K’s

Neftali Feliz: 0.00 ERA in 5 Innings

Alexi Ogando: 3.60 ERA in 5 innings

Eric Hurley: 0.00 ERA in 5 innings with 0 hits allowed

Of those six, I’m taking Feliz out of the equation. I still think he starts the year as the closer. In his last outing, Feliz went three scoreless innings, but it took him 52 pitches and it was against mostly White Sox minor leaguers. I just don’t think he’s ready. Hurley is a great story, but I think he starts out at AAA Round Rock while coming back from two years on the shelf due to injury. Ogando has an outside shot, but I still have him pegged as the 8th inning set-up guy for Feliz.

That still leaves four pitchers going for three slots (and Brandon Webb isn’t even mentioned. He won’t be ready for the start of the season). My gut tells me Hunter’s 13 wins in 2010 counts for something and he’ll still be one of the five starters.

Whoever the odd man out is, he probably will deserve a better fate.

A Very Strange Kick-Off To The Day

Author’s Note: This is a baseball blog. The subject is baseball and, more specifically, the Texas Rangers. I am not, however, incognizant of other events in the world. My thoughts and prayers this morning are for the people of Japan with hopes that those in the path of the resulting tsunami remain safe…

This is definitely baseball, because the Rangers News of the Day totally came out of left field…

Upon arising this morning, the first sports headline I see is that Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg is expected to resign today, less than a year after the ownership group he put together prevailed in their quest to buy the team from Tom Hicks.

As CEO, Greenberg has been the de facto face of the Rangers to the public since the RBE ownership group took over the reins. Greenberg was NOT the majority owner of the club, however. Most estimates put his ownership stake at only 2-3%. He WAS the guy who brought together the big money people that became the RBE Ownership Group.

There will be intense speculation as to what went wrong and when with Greenberg. I’m just one little blogger in the Rio Grande Valley, so I have no first-hand knowledge. What I can say with some certainty is that something really bad had to have happened behind the scenes for something like this to happen. It could be as simple as personality clashes with the likes of Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan or it could be as complicated as financial malfeasance. Maybe he didn’t kick in all the money he was supposed to for his ownership stake. WHO KNOWS???

What I do know is this: In his brief time with the Rangers, Greenberg was a tireless worker on behalf of the franchise. I appreciated the fact his most public face had to do with making sure Rangers fans knew he was looking out for them. Greenberg is a walking marketing machine and he recognized it’s not just the product the Rangers put on the field that matters, it’s also the experience you give to the fans. To that end, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is unveiling a new state of the art scoreboard in 2011. As soon as the ownership group took charge, Greenberg was sitting in the stands with fans from the best seats to the worst, asking questions and getting suggestions for making the fan experience better.

Greenberg immediately lowered the price of beer and other concession items, started up 7th inning specials and set up a suggestion box on the Rangers web site. At January’s FanFest event at the Arlington Convention Center, Greenberg was a constant presence. He was on stage for a question and answer session. Later he could be seen at one of the concession areas making sure things were running smoothly there. Then you’d spot him on the floor, heading off to check on other things. In that time, I also saw him patiently sign autographs for people, even though you could tell he really needed to be getting someplace else.

Like Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Greenberg did have the ability to ruffle some feathers. His comments about how the Rangers may have opened the door that allowed the Phillies to grab Cliff Lee away from the Yankees caused a little media rift with Yankees management. Many in the media viewed him as maybe a little too brash for his own good. I, for one, got his sense of humor. Like Cuban, he made sure people knew he wasn’t just an owner, he was a fan of the club as well. As a result, some of his public statements seemed to have a tinge of smack talk to them. I found it kind of refreshing.

Chuck Greenberg will still be involved with the Rangers. He remains the owner of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Rangers High-A farm club, replacing the previous Bakersfield franchise. It’s unknown as I write this whether he will retain his minority stake in the parent club after leaving as CEO, so he’ll be gone but not forgotten. 

Whatever happened behind the scenes to bring this about could be the “other side” of Chuck Greenberg that most of us don’t know, one that could make us think less of the man. The public face of Chuck Greenberg, though, is one the Rangers organization has been sorely missing over the years- someone who knows the fans make the team as much as the team itself, and I hope his departure doesn’t veer RBE from that course.

 

Simple vs. Saber: Trying To Peacefully Co-Exist

There seem to be two different camps among baseball fans- the standard fan and the sabermetric fan. Standard fans think sabermetric fans take all the fun out of baseball. Sabermetric fans think standard fans don’t know anything about the game.

 

OK, those statements are pretty generalistic. Not all standard fans belittle sabermetric fans and vice versa. I consider myself to be a standard fan, but it doesn’t mean I don’t try to understand what the sabermetric crowd is talking about.

 

I have spent time trying to understand some of the new-fangled statistics of the saber crowd. Mind you, I don’t necessarily try to understand the formulas they use to arrive at their stats, but I do try to understand why they feel these particular categories have relevance to any baseball fan.

 

As an example, a popular stat is WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which takes a player’s offensive and defensive stats to come up with a rating comparing him at his position to the average run of the mill player that would replace him. I have no idea how the formula is derived, but I appreciate the stat as it relates to what a team might be willing to pay a free agent, putting it in terms of how many million dollars a Win Above Replacement is worth.

 

For pitchers, I’ve started to try understanding the FIP stat (Fielding Independent Pitching), which rates pitchers strictly on their walks, strikeouts, hit batsmen and home runs allowed, taking any other balls hit into play out of account. The feeling here is FIP only rates things the pitcher is totally responsible for. I’m not sure I agree with this, because a pitcher giving up solid line drives and lots of doubles is pretty much responsible for those, too, but don’t have it count against them. Also, FIP is a stat that rewards high strikeout pitchers even though some finesse pitchers can be just as effective year in and year out.

 

All this brings me to some everyday stats that I think are just as effective as some of the new sabermetric stats in trying to determine a player’s worth to a team.

 

Batting Average With Runners In Scoring Position: One of the big stats these days is OPS (On Base Percentage Plus Slugging Percentage). OPS judges both a batter’s ability to get on base and his ability to hit for power. OPS can be deceiving, though, if the batter doesn’t get on base at the right time. Using Mike Napoli vs. Michael Young as an example, many in the saber community feel Napoli is a better option than Young because of his high OPS numbers and a better average against lefties than Young. Things change, though, when you look at situational hitting. Last season when runners were on base, Young advanced the runners 37% of the time compared to 34% for Napoli. In addition, 17% of runners on base when Young batted ended up scoring, compared to only 13% for Napoli. In this case, Napoli’s OPS might look good, but Young comes up as more of the clutch player.

 

Home Run/RBI Ratio: What I just finished writing about in the previous paragraph is looked at even more simply here. Over the years I’ve noticed players who hit over 20 home runs in a season generally seem to have at least three times as many runs batted in as they do home runs. I view a power hitter as being effective if they straddle along this line or exceed it. Again, using Young and Napoli as an example: In 2010, Young had 21 Home Runs and 91 RBI, a ratio of over 4-1 of RBI’s over Home Runs. Napoli had 26 homers and only 68 RBI’s in 2010, a ratio of only 2.6 RBI to HR. So even though Napoli had more home runs (in 200 less at bats, no less), he was less productive driving in runs.

 

None of this is meant to disparage Mike Napoli. I think he’s going to be a great addition to the Rangers. What I am saying is those who think acquiring Napoli makes Michael Young expendable might want to reconsider that stance. Napoli is largely going to be getting his at bats against left-handed pitchers, where he excels, but he will not be a fulltime player for the Rangers unless it’s due to someone else being injured.

26 Days From Opening Day: Hopes & Fears

The Rangers have gotten through the first week and a half of Spring Training games at 6-3. Short and sweet, here are the initial observations:

The Great:

Ian Kinsler is hitting .500 with 4 HR’s in the lead-off slot. Welcome back to the top of the order, Ian!

Michael Young, & Mitch Moreland are just as hot: Young is at .571 and Moreland .412 (even after an 0-4 today). The offense has a chance to be special this year!

The Good:

Although there’s no real spot for him on the team to start the season, Chris Davis refuses to go away. After today’s 3-4, Davis is now at .421 with 2 HR’s on the spring. Despite the logjams at first and third, Davis is letting it be known he still wants to be considered an option in case of injury. If not, his trade stock could be improving.

The starting pitching competition is just heating up and there are no clear winners yet. Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson are the only two assured of spots in the rotation. Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter and Michael Kirkman have all started out on about equal footing with nobody pulling away. Throw in Matt Harrison, who tossed three shutout innings today against the Brewers, Dave Bush, who’s given up a single run in 5 innings of work, and Eric Hurley, who threw two shutout frames in his first meaningful innings in almost three years and you’ve got a battle royale for the 3-4-5 spots. And we haven’t even begun considering Brandon Webb, who may make his exhibition debut in the next week.

Also on the plus side are the play of Mike Napoli (.462) and Julio Borbon (.500), who are hitting the ball with some authority.

The Fears:

While I’m not particularly concerned yet, Josh Hamilton started the spring games slow until today’s 3-4 effort against the Brewers put him up to .250 on the spring.

The biggest fear is Elvis Andrus. Elvis is being asked to be the #2 hitter on the club this year (he was $#9 in 2009, and the lead-off guy in ’10). While it hasn’t helped much that Ian Kinsler keeps hitting big flies, thus not giving Elvis much to work with with Kinsler on base, he’s off to a slow start at .125 and, in what few radio games I’ve had a chance to listen to, maybe had one sacrifice in getting Kinsler from second to third and very little else. My guess is, if Rangers brass senses Andrus might struggle in this role, they’ll move Michael Young back to the 2 slot and have Elvis and Borbon down at the bottom of the order.

I don’t like that we haven’t seen Adrian Beltre yet. The Rangers hierarchy says he’ll be ready for Opening Day. He also doesn’t have a history of injuries. Still, you don’t like seeing this guy you just signed for six years not in the line-up, even in exhibition games. The only thing making it more palatable is you’ve still got Michael Young and Chris Davis to back up at third.

The same can be said of Yorvit Torrealba, who finally made his first appearance at catcher on Saturday after some back trouble. Hopefully this is not a sign of things to come.

Guys Who Won’t Make The Team But Have Performed Well:

Outfielder Doug Deeds (.357, 2 HR, 4RBI), 3B Brian Barden (.444), C Jose Felix (a perfect 4-4 at the plate).

Pitchers Eric Hurley (0.00 ERA), Pedro Strop (0.00 ERA)

T-Minus 26 Days and Counting to CJ Wilson vs. Jon Lester on Opening Day!

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