Archive for the ‘ Player Profiles ’ Category

A Tale Of Two Pitchers

One is one of the AL’s best pitchers in 2012 and will barely get a whisper of consideration for the Cy Young Award. The other was a trade that didn’t go well for the Rangers a year ago. Both pitchers were nails in Sunday, allowing the Texas Rangers to get a little more breathing room against the hard-charging Oakland A’s.

PITCHER #1

 

Matt Harrison

Matt Harrison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matt Harrison was magnificent Sunday, picking up his 17th win and almost getting a complete game in beating the Seattle Mariners on his 27th birthday, 2-1. The only blemish for Harrison was a lead-off 8th inning home run by former Ranger Justin Smoak. Harrison’s only walk came in the 9th inning.

Harrison was the second big piece acquired on that fateful trade deadline day years ago, when young GM Jon Daniels acquired Harry along with Elvis Andrus from the Braves system for Mark Teixeira. He’s been a part of the Rangers every year, but it wasn’t until 2011 that Harrison turned a corner and became an effective starter. Harry said he read a book in the off-season that year that helped him change his mental approach on the mound. True or not, something worked. He won 14 games for the Rangers last year and has added 17 this year, with an outside shot at being a 20-game winner on the season.

This year, Harrison has arguably been the Rangers’ most consistent starter from beginning of the season to today. He’s not a strikeout pitcher at a little over 5.5 strikeouts per 9 innings. He gives up about a hit per inning. He also gets ground-outs. Lots of ground-outs. That leads to lots of double plays. With three more today, his total is now at 23 double plays induced in 2012.

All Matt Harrison does is give you innings and win. You’ll see his name near the top of the charts in all sorts of categories: Wins, WAR for pitchers, ERA, WL%, Innings Pitched, Complete Games, Shutouts, Home Runs Per 9 Innings (among the lowest rates), Adjusted ERA, Adjusted Pitching Runs, you get the idea.

Yet when the votes for the Cy Young Award get tabulated, Matt Harrison is almost guaranteed to finish no better than fifth to a group that includes the names Hernandez, Verlander, Weaver, Price and Sale. There’s an outside chance fellow Ranger Yu Darvish will get more votes than Harrison. It’s all a shame. One could make the case it’s harder for a pitcher like Harrison to reach the heights he has since he doesn’t have the raw stuff of those other pitchers mentioned, so he should be entitled to more votes. But it won’t happen.

In fact, here’s a new twist. It is also conceivable that Matt Harrison, the Rangers most consistent pitcher of 2012, will be no more than the #4 starter in post-season play. Yu Darvish has been pitching more and more like an ace his last five starts, so he could get the #1 nod. If the Rangers rotate between righthanders and lefthanders, Harrison would be either #2 or #4, and Derek Holland has started to look a little more like a solid #2 lately as well. The Rangers top winner a #4 playoff starter? It could happen.

PITCHER #2

The day before the July trade deadline a year ago, the Rangers were rumored to be hot and heavy in on Heath Bell, then of the Padres. A deal hadn’t been made yet, with speculation a trade could fall through. Just in case, Jon Daniels swung another deal, sending Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter to the Orioles for righthander Koji Uehara.

The Japanese import had been nails in the Birds bullpen all year, compiling a 1-1 record with 13 holds and a 1.72 ERA in 43 appearances. Opponents were hitting just .152 off Uehara and his strikeout to walk ratio was an astounding 62-8. When the Rangers added the Padres’ Mike Adams a day later, Rangers fans were salivating over a 7th, 8th and 9th inning featuring Uehara, Adams and Neftali Feliz.

Uehara, though, would be a bust for the Rangers. While some of his peripherals still were decent, he gave up 5 home runs in just 18 innings of work, helping explain his 4.00 ERA in a Texas uniform. The playoffs were even worse. In two appearances over the ALDS and ALCS, Uehara surrendered three home runs and five runs in just an inning and a third of work. The Rangers didn’t even use Uehara in the World Series.

His confidence shattered, Uehara spoke openly of preferring Baltimore to Texas and it appeared the Rangers’ front office tried hard to make a trade back to the Orioles a reality. It never came to fruition.

Instead, Uehara started 2012 in a Rangers uniform once again. The difference was, instead of being a trusted late-inning reliever, the man with the long sideburns was now brought into games for mop-up work: either big wins or big losses. That’s the way Ron Washington operates: Show me you can fill this role, then I’ll give you a better role to see if you can handle that.

Koji filled that role and was actually doing quite well in it. By June 2nd, his ERA was down to 1.33 over 19 appearances, but he was only credited with three holds over that time. Following a bad outing June 9th against the Giants, Uehara was placed on the DL, where he spent the next two and a half months with a strained rib cage.

When activated August 26th, Uehara was back in the mop-up role again. Now Wash started seeing something he hadn’t seen for awhile. Uehara, a righthander who had always handled lefthanded hitters well, started getting leftys out with regularity again. Last week, Koji was given another chance. With set-up man Mike Adams on the shelf with tightness in his back, Uehara was given the 8th inning again. Appearing in 4 consecutive games, Uehara allowed just one hit in 3 innings with 4 strikeouts, all with low pitch counts.

Sunday, with runners or the corners and two outs in the 9th inning of a 2-1 game, it was Uehara brought in to try to nail down the save, not overworked closer Joe Nathan or the usual second-best option Alexi Ogando. No, it was Koji Uehara, who proceeded to strike out the only batter he needed to face on four pitches to nail down his first save since 2010.

Koji Uehara gave up 11 home runs in the regular season a year ago and three in the playoffs. He’s only given up four in 2012. His strikeout to walk ratio is now 30-3, the Batting Average Against .184. Four weeks ago, the names being discussed for the post-season bullpen featured names like Michael Kirkman and Tanner Scheppers. Today the name Koji Uehara is prominent, which is what the Rangers were expecting when they traded for him a year ago.

Before They Were The Rangers: President Kennedy & Senator Kennedy

John F Kennedy, Leader of the Free World in 1962

Things were not going well in the Kennedy White House on September 5th, 1962. In another month, the Cuban Missile Crisis would hit. Here in September, things were already heating up over a possible confrontation with the Soviet Union. With a new Communist dictator, Fidel Castro, now firmly in control in Cuba, President Kennedy announced September 5th the United States would use any means necessary to prevent Cuban aggression anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Hemisphere, the Soviet Union was claiming a US U-2 spy plane had flown over Soviet airspace five days before, despite a US ban on such flights agreed to as a result of the downed U-2 plane during the latter days of the Eisenhower administration in 1960. The US government had to admit that yes, the plane may have “inadvertently” violated Soviet airspace, but it was an honest mistake and the reconnaissance ban was indeed still in effect. No, September 5th, 1962 wasn’t shaping up as a particularly good day for the Kennedy Administration. Why, it could be enough to forever tarnish the name of John Kennedy.

That night, the expansion Washington Senators were suiting up to play a doubleheader with the previous Washington Senators team, now playing as the Minnesota Twins. The Twins were on a 4-game winning streak and came to town sporting an 80-61 record. The Senators, now in their second season, checked in at a meager 54-88 under manager Mickey Vernon. The pitching match-up was Dave Stenhouse for the Senators against Dick Stigman for the Twins.

Minnesota struck early, plating two runs in the first on a 2-run Harmon Killebrew home run. The Senators first consisted of two groundouts and a fly to right. The Twins added another run in the second on a lead-off homer from catcher Earl Battey. The Senators went quietly on 2 strikeouts and a fly to center.

The Twins chased Stenhouse in the third. After a sacrifice fly plated the fourth run of the game, Stenhouse walked the next two batters and got an early trip to the showers. Another run would score to make it 5-0 after just 2 1/2 innings of play. The Nats went down in the third, again on two strikeouts and a fly to center.

By the time the bottom of the sixth inning came, the Twins were not only up 5-0, their pitcher Dick Stigman had faced 15 batters and recorded 15 outs. A walk was the only blemish on his record and a double play took care of that baserunner in a hurry.A fly ball and a groundout put Stigman in rarefied air: a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings. With two outs and the pitcher’s spot in the line-up scheduled to bat, Vernon decided to send a pinch-hitter to the plate. It would be the batter’s major league debut, in front of maybe 7,000 fans.

John E Kennedy, Rookie with the Washington Senators in 1962

The batter stepping to the plate in DC Stadium in Washington, DC on September 5th, 1962? John Kennedy.

No, he wasn’t the President of the United States, but he shared the same first and last name of the President. Coincidentally, he also shared the same birthday as JFK, May 29th.

So here was John Kennedy, making his major league debut in Washington DC in the middle of the John Kennedy Administration. We already know JFK wasn’t enjoying a great day in office that day. How would his namesake do in the batters box facing a pitcher throwing a no-hitter?

The 21-year-old from Chicago did what every kid dreams of when he hits the big leagues: he homered in his first major league at-bat. Stigman lost his no-hitter and his shutout to DC’s own John Kennedy.

It would be perhaps the only day John Kennedy bested his better known namesake throughout the Kennedy administration. Although the baseball player John Kennedy enjoyed a 12-year major league career and even played in two World Series with the Dodgers, his overall career numbers in Washington in 1962 and ’63 consisted of a .212 batting average in 50 games with only 6 RBI in 104 AB’s with 8 walks and 29 strikeouts in that span, along with one home run, achieved in his first major league at bat.

Before They Were The Rangers, Pt. 3: Ted Williams and Nellie Fox

English: Chicago White Sox second baseman . Le...

Nellie Fox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nellie Fox was a Hall of Fame player. Inducted by the Veterans Committee in 1997, Fox enjoyed a 19 year career as a second baseman, mainly for the Chicago White Sox. Fox was the epitome of the “pesky” hitter. He only hit 35 home runs in his career, but he struck out less than any player of his era. Look at Fox’ career stats at Baseball-Reference.com and you’ll see that in an average 162-game season, Fox would strike out only 15 times. The man made contact with the ball, constantly, and rode it to a career .288 average.

Fox ended his career with the expansion Houston Astros in 1964 and 1965. Another Hall of Fame second baseman, Joe Morgan, credits Fox for helping him with his approach at the plate and to baseball. It is this aspect that Nellie Fox isn’t as well known for, but he should.

English: An image of Major League Baseball hal...

Ted Williams. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ted Williams was also a Hall of Famer. The Splendid Splinter was perhaps the best pure hitter in baseball history, A career .344 hitter, Williams is baseball’s all-time On Base Percentage leader, reaching base over 48% of the time for his career.

Both Fox and Williams were great players. The first time they got together after their playing careers was nothing short of miraculous.

The expansion Senators had been in the American League since 1961 and had nary a single winning season to show for it. In 1968, they were coming off a 65-96 campaign under first-year manager Jim Lemon. New owner Bob Short, who three years later would move the team to Texas, decided a change was needed. Lemon was dismissed and the Senators, also hurting at the gate, made a decision that was as much based on getting people through the gates as they were with improving the team. They hired one of the greatest players of all time, Ted Williams, to manage the team.

Williams had to cringe when looking at his team for the first time. He was taking over a team that had a TEAM batting average of .224 in 1968. Even taking away pitchers’ at bats, the Senators hit a woeful .231.

Williams wasn’t hired as a hitting coach. He was the manager. Someone else would have to handle the day to day chores of working with the batters. In fact, it might have even been a necessity. Williams was cantankerous as a player and had a little patience when dealing with athletes who didn’t match his own talent level. Williams turned to his fellow All-Star, Nellie Fox. Fox, the hitting coach for the ’68 team, stayed on board and would be Williams’ hitting coach through his entire tenure as manager of the Senators and Rangers.

Both the manager Williams and the hitting coach Fox had reputations for making contact, not striking out much and drawing walks. Both routinely walked multiple more times than they struck out. Now they were coaching a team for whom recognizing the strike zone was a challenge. The Senators big slugger, Frank Howard, hit 44 home runs and drove in 106 runs in ’68, but he also struck out 141 times. Epstein struck out 91 times while only managing 13 homers.

Williams had not yet written his book “The Science of Hitting.” He had it in his head, though, and for the first time, he had a blank canvas to put it to the test. In Nellie Fox, he had a kindred hitting spirit who had better rapport with the players and who could help explain things better, having been a player who had to work harder than anyone to milk everything he could get from his limited athleticism.

The 1969 Rangers were essentially a carbon copy of the ’68 team in terms of personnel. Among the players Fox inherited was first baseman Mike Epstein, a power hitter with a .234 average in ’68; second baseman Bernie Allen (.241), center fielder Del Unser (.230), right fielder Ed Stroud (.239) and shortstop Ed Brinkman (.187). Fox had his work cut out for him.

Here’s what Williams and Fox accomplished in their first year with the Senators. Epstein went from .234 to .278. In ’68 he had 48 walks and 91 strikeouts. In ’69 he improved to 85 walks and 99 strikeouts. His home run output also increased dramatically, going from 13 to 30 in one year’s time. Second baseman Allen only went from .241 to .247 in batting average but his OBP went from .301 to .337, thanks to increasing his walks from 28 to 50. Frank Howard still slugged his way to 48 homers and 111 RBI, but his walks went from 54 to 102 while cutting his strikeouts from 141 to 96. Del Unser’s batting average went up 56 points in one season. And perhaps the biggest turnaround at the plate came from the light-hitting shortstop.

Ed Brinkman

Ed Brinkman had a reputation as a great defensive shortstop. The problem with Brinkman was he couldn’t hit a lick in the majors. One of the original Senators thanks to a September call-up in 1961, Brinkman entered the 1969 season as a career .208 hitter. He had a little extra base power, with a career high 8 home runs in 1964, but he was a pretty free swinger. In 1964, he had 26 walks and 99 strikeouts. Two years later he walked only 29 times while whiffing 105 times. Brinkman was a mess, so much so that by ’68 he had lost his job to Ron Hansen, getting it back only because Hansen was traded to the White Sox.

Brinkman never became what could be considered an outstanding offensive player, but he blossomed and had the best years of his career under the tutelage of Fox and Williams. From .185 in 1968, Brinkman became a .266 hitter in 1969. From someone who once had 105 strikeouts to 29 walks, the 1969 season saw Brinkman draw a career high 50 walks while striking out a mere 42 times. The 1970 season turned out even better, with Brinkman hitting about the same at .262, while increasing his walks to 60.

As a team, the Senators as a team saw their batting average increase from .224 to .251, their On Base Percentage increase from .287 to .330 and their runs scored from 524 to 694, all with virtually the same players from the previous year. Not surprisingly, the Senators went from 65-96 in 1968 to 86-76 in 1969, the only winning season the Senators had before moving to Texas.

Ted Williams gets all the credit for the Senators 1969 season and, in fact, earned AL Manager of the Year honors that season. At the very least, Nellie Fox deserves an honorable mention for the part he played on that team.

 

Texas Rangers: The Next Generation

Mike Olt, Next Generation Ranger

Mike Olt, whose name had constantly been brought up in trade deadline discussions, will join the Rangers tonight for the series finale against the Los Angeles Angels. With AA Frisco, Olt was hitting .288 with 28 homers and 82 RBI. Olt was a first round supplemental pick in the 2010 draft and moved rapidly through the Rangers farm system. His power in the Arizona Fall League last year earned him the promotion to Frisco this year. While strikeout prone, Olt has a good eye at the plate, drawing 60 walks in 95 games this year.

Olt will be replacing Brandon Snyder, who was optioned to AAA Round Rock. This is a case where Snyder didn’t do anything wrong, hitting .281 with 3 homers and 9 RBI as a part-time player. No, Snyder didn’t do anything wrong. Olt has just done a lot of things right and Snyder was the odd man out.

The implications of the move are huge. Olt was drafted as a third baseman and is said to be an outstanding defensive third baseman. The Rangers, however, have the game’s best defensive third baseman already in Adrian Beltre and will have him for the next four years. So there isn’t room for Olt at third. He has played some first base, so here’s where it gets tricky.

Mitch Moreland is the Rangers first baseman, at least against right-handed pitchers. Moreland just returned from the DL and has hits in each of his first three games back. Moreland isn’t going anywhere. So Olt is blocked at third and you can’t imagine he’s being called up simply to be used like Snyder, meaning rarely. No, Olt is being brought up to get some at bats. Those at bats can only be coming two ways: as a platoon first baseman or as a designated hitter. So guess who the Rangers are currently using in that role? None other than the oft-described “Face of the Franchise”, Michael Young.

Michael Young, Current Generation Ranger

Young is having what is easily his worst year as a fulltime player. His batting average is hovering around .270. He has only three extra base hits since the All-Star break and no home runs since late May. Largely in the 5 spot of the batting order, Young has only managed 40 RBI. His walk rate has also declined drastically. Even when he hits the ball, he’s had a lot of weak ground balls over the past couple of months.

I don’t see any other way Olt is going to get at bats other than by getting them at the expense of Michael Young. Olt will probably see his first action tonight against CJ Wilson, either as the DH or the first baseman. Young will most likely play tonight as well at whatever position Olt doesn’t play. But what happens after tonight?

I think Olt becomes the platoon first baseman or DH when a left-hander starts. Against righthanders, Young will take a seat on the bench occasionally while Olt plays third and Adrian Beltre gets a DH day. He might DH when Young gives Ian Kinsler a day off to play second. But what happens when Geovany Soto gets the start at catcher? Young could ride pine then as well, so the Rangers can use the power bat of Mike Napoli at DH while Olt plays first.

The Next Generation of Texas Rangers is here. Today it’s Mike Olt. Next season, he will probably be joined by Jurickson Profar, Leonys Martin and Martin Perez. With last night’s move, even with another year left on his contract, there is no other way to view this than the Rangers have started preparing for a life without Michael Young.

Texas Rangers History Lesson #2: Dick Donovan

The last time I delved into the Texas Rangers’ pre-Texas history as the Washington Senators, I focused on Darold Knowles incredible 2-14 season of 1970. Today we’ll go back all the way to the first season of the Washington Senators, 1961.

To do that, we need to go back a few more months to 1960, when the first MLB expansion draft took place on December 14th. The California Angels and Washington Senators were the first expansion teams in MLB history and they took turns drafting players from the other AL teams’ 40-man rosters. With one of the last picks, the Senators at #54 nabbed Dick Donovan from the Chicago White Sox.

Donovan had been a starter for the first five of his six years in Chicago, winning as many as 16 games for the Chisox in 1957. Despite pitching for the White Sox in the 1959 World Series, by 1960 Donovan’s  luck had run out. In April and May of ’60, Donovan made six starts, never going longer than 6 2/3 innings and only once having what is considered today as a quality start. Once he failed to make it out of the first. Another time he only made it through two innings. After seven starts in which he miraculously managed five no decisions and a 1-1 record, Donovan was banished to the bullpen. As a starter in ’59, Donovan was 1-1 with a 6.61 ERA. He was better as a reliever, going 5-0 with three saves and a 4.50 ERA. Still, these were numbers that showed Donovan was totally expendable.

Dick Donovan

With a chance to get his career back on track, Donovan drew the honor of being the first starting pitcher in the new Washington Senators’ history. While he lost the game, Donovan showed signs of things to come, throwing a 99-pitch complete game against his old team, allowing six hits and four runs, only two of which were earned. He followed that up six days later with eight strong innings against the Indians in another loss. By the end of April, Donovan was 0-4, but had a sparkling 2.67 ERA, a good indication of how offensively challenged the ’61 Senators were.

Donovan apparantly went on the disabled list following his last April start, as he didn’t appear again for three weeks and made only two appearances in the month, the first being his only relief stint of the year.

June was a sign that Donovan was doing a good job of resurrecting his career. He earned wins in each of his first three starts in June, including a 10-inning, 6-hit shutout of, guess who, his former team the White Sox. At month’s end, Donovan stood at 3-8 albeit with a still sparkling 3.09 ERA.

If June was a sign, July was the proof Dick Donovan was back. In four July starts, Donovan was 4-0 and gave up only three earned runs in 36 innings. All of his July starts were complete games, including his second shutout of the season, a 4-hitter against the Orioles. With a 7-8 record and an ERA now at 2.39, Donovan was the Senators first representative in the All-Star game. Two All-Star games were played in 1961. Donovan appeared in the first one, pitching two scoreless innings for the AL squad.

Donovan’s August began the same way July went. He won his fifth and sixth consecutive starts on his fifth and sixth consecutive complete games to move to 9-8 on the season for the expansion team. Following an August 29th start against the Indians, Donovan apparently went on the DL for a second time, as he didn’t appear in a game again until September 24th. He closed out the season with a complete game win over the Twins, who had been the old Senators just the year before, and a loss to fellow expansionists the California Angels.

At season’s end, Dick Donovan had brought his career back to relevance. He actually received MVP votes, finishing 17th in the balloting. He also accomplished what no pitcher for an expansion team has ever done since: he won the American League’s ERA crown, finishing with a 2.40 ERA. While the stat wasn’t even known then, Donovan also led the league in WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched) at 1.026.

Here’s something even more remarkable. Donovan pitched 168 2/3 innings for the Senators and only struck out 62 batters, an average of only 3.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

Sadly, after re-establishing his career, Donovan would pitch for the Senators no more. During the off-season, Washington shipped him off to Cleveland in exchange for Jimmy Piersall. Donovan would be a 20-game winner for the Tribe in 1962, while Piersall would only contribute a .244 average and 4 home runs in 515 at bats.

 

Remembering The Washington Senators, Part 1

Longtime readers of this blog know I’ve been a Texas Rangers fan since before they were the Texas Rangers. Fanhood for me started when the Rangers were the second incarnation of the Washington Senators (the original Senators became the Minnesota Twins).

This is the 40th Anniversary of the Rangers being in Texas. As much as this current run pleases me I fear, as Abraham Lincoln so famously put it, people will little note nor long remember the 11 years the team spent in our nation’s capitol before moving to Arlington. The Senators only had one winning record in their 11 seasons in Washington and never finished above 4th place in the American League.

There was usually very little to talk about with the Senators, although they did make waves in the last few years by 1) hiring Ted Williams to be their manager in 1969; 2) trading for former 30-game winner Denny McLain; and 3) signing Curt Flood, the man who famously sat out of baseball to challenge the reserve clause that kept players from becoming free agents.

On occasion, then, this space will cover some aspect of the Senators years and I find no better place to start than looking at one of the stranger years by any pitcher, that of Darold Knowles in 1970.

Darold Knowles

Coming off a year in which he was named to the All-Star team in 1969, Knowles truly had one of the best bad records of any relief pitcher in history in 1970. He tied for tenth in the American League with 14 losses, the only relief pitcher to be among the loss leaders. Ok, you say, but he was pitching for a bad team. Maybe so, but they weren’t that bad. The 1970 Senators finished at 70-92. In fact, they won enough games that Knowles was third in the American League in saves with 27 (career high). The pitching staff was right in the middle of the pack in ERA and defensively the Senators ended with the highest fielding percentage in the AL. Despite not being historically bad, when the 1970 season ended, Knowles stood at 2 wins, 14 losses, 27 saves, 10 blown saves and a 2.04 ERA. He was third in the AL in appearances with 71 (career high) and fourth in Games Finished with 49.

Knowles’ best stretch in the 1970 season cam from May 18th to June 19th, when he allowed only one earned run in 25 1/3 innings pitched, a 0.35 ERA. The one run he gave up in that 15-game span resulted in a blown save and a loss, so he was only 1-1 over that month with ten of his saves. The next run he gave up came in the second game of a doubleheader with the Orioles, when he was forced to go 5 2/3 innings in a 13-inning game after pitching an inning in the first game as well.

Through the first five innings, Knowles allowed two walks and no hits to the team that had gone to the World Series the previous year. Finally, in his sixth inning of work, Knowles gave up a lead-off double to Dave Johnson. An intentional walk to Mark Belanger followed. After getting pinch-hitter Curt Motton to pop out his sacrifice bunt attempt and getting Don Buford to pop out to short, Merv Rettenmund hit a walk-off single to center that plated Johnson. Naturally, the one run meant Knowles was tagged with the loss.

Overall, part of the problem for Knowles was Washington’s woeful offensive attack. The Senators finished last in the AL in batting in 1970 at .238, something that must have irritated their Hall of Fame manager Williams to no end. For his role as closer, Knowles really had no margin for error. If he gave up a run, the odds were pretty good the Senators wouldn’t be able to come back.

Everything about Darold Knowles’ 1970 season says it was among the best of his career and one many relief pitchers would envy: only 4 home runs given up in 119 innings pitched (career high), an ERA+ of 174, WAR of 3.3 (career best), a .231 Batting Average Against, a .644 OPS Against and only two baserunners stole a base while he was pitching. Knowles only allowed 27% of his inherited runners to score. He gave up more than two runs only once all season. He pitched in both games of a doubleheader four times. Yet all most people will remember about Darold Knowles in 1970, if they remember or do a quick glance at the record books at all, is that 2-14 record.

Spare Parts

When you talk about the first World Series run by the Rangers, the names that come to mind are Josh Hamilton, American League MVP; Cliff Lee, mid-season acquisition and Yankee Killer in the ALCS; Michael Young, the long-time “Face” of the franchise; and Nelson Cruz, who can carry a team on his back for two-week stretches, including the playoffs.

Those players deservedly got a lot of the press, but another key to the Rangers first run to the pennant were the spare parts. Jarrod Saltalamacchia went on the DL after just two games. Enter last-minute Spring Training acquisition Matt Treanor. Treanor held down the fort so well until the July acquisition of Bengie Molina, Saltalamacchia never again wore a Rangers uniform. Salty was optioned to AAA after coming off the DL, then went to the Red Sox in a September deal.

The Rangers had a winning record during Nelson Cruz’ three trips to the DL in 2010, thanks to the emergence of David Murphy as a viable 4th outfielder. Murphy remains an integral piece of the Rangers today, though speculation grows he’ll become part of a deal sometime this summer.

Ian Kinsler also had two DL stints in 2010. Again, Texas survived just fine, especially in mid-August when Andres Blanco filled in for 19 games and hit .333 with 8 doubles and .818 OPS, playing sterling defense as well.

The pitching staff also had its moments. Rich Harden and Scott Feldman, expected to be the top two rotation pieces, never panned out. It was new acquisition Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson, moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation, who helped keep the Rangers above-board until the trade for Cliff Lee. Likewise, the bullpen got a boost when Alexi Ogando was recalled from Oklahoma City. All Ogando did was earn wins in his first three relief appearances and ended up being the Rangers 7th inning go-to guy.

The pattern repeated itself in 2011. When center fielder Julio Borbon went down in May with an injury, Endy Chavez was called up from Round Rock, hit .301 in 83 games and banished Borbon to the minors, where he remains today. Ogando again served as a vital piece, this time moving into the starting rotation when off-season signee Brandon Webb proved not ready to go out of Spring Training. Ogando thrived as a starter, making the All-Star team. Yorvit Torrealba was expected to be the primary catcher, until Mike Napoli had an offensive year that nobody saw coming.

The stars propel teams, but the spare parts are often the ones that give winning teams the extra edge. The previous 400 words were all written with Robbie Ross in mind.

Robbie Ross, Texas Ranger

Just a year ago today, Ross was pitching for High-A Myrtle Beach. The Rangers 2nd round draft pick in 2008, Ross compiled a 9-4 record with a 2.26 ERA as a starter  to earn a late season promotion to AA Frisco. In 6 games with Frisco, Ross was 1-1 with a 2.61 ERA. Those stats earned Ross an invite to big league camp for Spring Training in 2012.

Ross was expected to do what most rookies his age (21) do. Stick around big league camp for a couple of weeks, mop up a few games, then return to minor league camp, where he would most likely start the season at Frisco, maybe Round Rock if he was lucky.

Ross, however, didn’t recognize his long odds. He just did what he’d been doing since being drafted. He threw strikes. Because he threw strikes, he got outs. There were veteran southpaws in the Rangers camp this year, looking to fill the role vacated by Darren Oliver when he departed for the Blue Jays, chief among them Joe Beimel. He didn’t pitch badly, but a late camp injury ended his chances. Michael Kirkman, who contributed key late-season innings in 2010 but slipped in 2011, was another prime candidate. Kirkman struggled from the outset and has continued to struggle at Round Rock in 2012.

By the time Spring Training was over, Ross had leap-frogged everyone and earned a spot on the Rangers roster. He was expected to be brought around slowly, used in mop-up roles to get his feet wet. Most thought Ross would just hold down the fort until the Rangers either re-signed Mike Gonzalez or traded for another lefty in the pen.

All Ross has done is succeed, in whatever role the Rangers have asked him. Sunday, he was asked to replace another famous spare part, Alexi Ogando. Ogando, who was made a starter again when Derek Holland went on the DL, threw three hitless innings, then strained his groin legging out a bunt single that was supposed to be just a sacrifice bunt. Ross came in and this time threw four innings of 1-hit ball at the Giants and earning the victory. Ross is now 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA. If Ogando goes on the disabled list, Ross could be the Rangers starter this Saturday against the Astros.

Not bad for someone who wasn’t even projected to be in the big leagues until next year at the earliest. Let’s hear it for spare parts!

Pudge

June 20, 1991. I was getting ready to watch another Rangers game on TV, this one a road contest against the Chicago White Sox. It was the first full year of the Bobby Valentine era.

Rangers fans had some hope in 1991. Nolan Ryan was heading the rotation. Jose Guzman was having a good year and Kevin Brown was coming off back to back 12-win seasons. The offense was shaping up as one of the more prolific ones the Rangers had ever had, with Juan Gonzalez in his first full season as a Ranger, teaming up with veterans Rafael Palmeiro, Julio Franco and Ruben Sierra.

Overall, the Rangers were doing OK. They were in third place in the West at 33-27, but only four games off the lead. They did have a weakness, though, at catcher. The names Geno Petralli, Mike Stanley, Chad Kreuter and Mark Parent weren’t making anyone forget Jim Sundberg, the best catcher in Rangers history.

It was on June 20th, 1991 the Rangers decided to make a change. They called up a 19-year-old catcher and announced he would be in the starting line-up against the White Sox that game. This youngster, who had just gotten married in celebration of the call-up, was a kid named Ivan Rodriguez.

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, Future Hall of Famer

I had no idea who this kid was. I was a Texas Rangers fan, but I’d never paid real close attention to what was going on in the Rangers minor league system. The TV announcers at the time (Merle Harmon and Norm Hitzges maybe?) said Rodriguez, like Juan Gonzalez and Ruben Sierra, was part of the Rangers new pipeline of talent from Puerto Rico. That was the extent of my knowledge.

What I did know was it was a pretty decent pitching match-up: Kevin Brown for the Rangers vs. Black Jack McDowell for the White Sox.  For awhile, it was a pitcher’s duel. Through six innings, the Rangers were nursing a 1-0 lead. Rodriguez flied out and grounded out in his first two at bats.

More importantly, Rangers fans saw something in the top of the 5th inning. With one out, Joey Cora was hit by a Kevin Brown pitch. Cora decided to try to steal second two pitches later. Cora failed. Rodriguez fired a perfect strike to second to nail him, keeping the Rangers on top, 1-0.

Texas would up the lead to 2-0 in the top of the 7th on a Juan Gonzalez home run, but Brown ran out of gas in the bottom of the inning. The Chisox tallied three runs to go up 3-2.

In the 8th, Chicago got a 1-out single from Warren Newson. Looking for an insurance run, Newson took off on the next pitch. Another perfect throw from Rodriguez to second. Newson was out. The kid was 2-2 throwing out runners in his major league debut and looked to have a cannon for an arm.

Top of the 9th, White Sox still up 3-2. Bobby Thigpen walked Rafael Palmeiro, then gave up back to back bombs to Ruben Sierra and Julio Franco to put Texas up 5-3. Two outs later, with runners on 2nd and 3rd, the rookie stepped to the plate and hit a single on a 2-1 pitch to plate the final two runs of the game.

1-4 with 2 RBI and two runners caught stealing. That was the first time I saw Ivan Rodriguez play. 21 years later, Pudge will be honored today at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and throw out the first pitch in his official retirement ceremony. Sometime in the near future, his #7 is bound to be retired (sorry, David Murphy).

Nolan Ryan was the first man to enter baseball’s Hall of Fame wearing a Rangers uniform, but much of his glory came before he even donned a Rangers uniform. Five or six years from now, Pudge Rodriguez will become the second man to wear a Rangers uniform to the Hall, but he’ll be the first to do so after coming through the Rangers system first before entering the Rangers dugout.

Pudge spent the first 12 years of his career with the Rangers and had a brief stint at the end of the 2009 season. With Texas he had a career .304 average with 217 Home Runs, 842 RBI, 81 steals, an MVP Award in 1999, 10 of his 13 career Gold Gloves, six of his seven Silver Slugger Awards, ten of his 14 All-Star Games berths and for his career caught 46% of all runners who tried to steal on him. That stat doesn’t even cover the number of runners he picked off first before they even had a chance to steal. He is baseball’s all-time leader in games caught.

Tonight he receives the first official thanks for a job well done. The next official one will be in Cooperstown.

Thanks for the memories, Pudge.

The Annual Good News Story

In an era when the average pitcher stands 6’4″ to 6’7″ tall, he stands a rather pedestrian 5’11″.

On a team built for playoff success, full of veterans who know what it takes to win, he has never pitched an inning above the AA level. And only 10% of his 381 career innings have even come at that high level.

Yet on Friday, April 6th, this 22-year-old will join only 24 other players who can claim the distinction of being an active member of the Texas Rangers.

I have only managed to see one televised game this spring with the Rangers. In that game, every pitcher the Rangers used had trouble with their command, including Yu Darvish. Every pitcher except one. Robbie Ross.

Robbie Ross, Texas Ranger

Ross will be a Texas Rangers player on Friday because he did it the old-fashioned way. He earned his way onto the team.

Ross was an afterthought, a non-roster player destined for AA Frisco, in camp just to be among the contingent of pitchers used to finish off the exhibition games. While many of those pitchers were giving up runs and helping the Rangers drop as low as 6-16 at one point in Spring Training, Ross just threw strikes. In 12 innings, Ross allowed 10 hits and only two runs, walking two and striking out 11. Another 19 of the outs he recorded were groundouts. Only three of the 36 outs credited to Ross were fly balls.

Over the course of a month, Robbie Ross passed by proven major leaguers like Joe Beimel, favored candidates like Michael Kirkman and even outpitched probable teammates Koji Uehara and Mark Lowe. In his next to last outing, Ross’ only remaining competition, Neal Cotts, injured himself on his last pitch, making the 2008 2nd round draft pick the last man in the bullpen and a major leaguer at least one full year ahead of schedule.

It’s a great story, but anyone who has followed major league baseball for a while has seen this many times before. Almost every team has a great story like Ross coming out of camp, only to see them flop once the games actually count. More often than not, these phenoms are back in the minors by May 1st.

This could very well be the eventual fate for Robbie Ross in 2012. But for now, he’s a full-fledged member of the Texas Rangers, and as long as he keeps throwing strikes and getting groundouts, he’ll continue to be one. I hope that proves to be the case.

Bonus Post: Ian Kinsler

When MLBlogs first announced the move over to WordPress, I didn’t know what to expect. What I found is several features I like, such as an accurate count of visitors, what posts they’re reading and even how they found my little corner of the world.

What I’ve found, since the playoffs started, is there have been an awful lot of inquiries into one Ian Kinsler. It has pushed the traffic to this site up by quite a bit. Apparently there are a lot of people interested in Ian Kinsler.

The bad news is, most of them have been directed to a post I did way back in May or June concerning the wide disparity at the time of Kinsler’s home and road hitting stats.

Somehow, I get the feeling that’s not really the type of article this large influx of people doing Ian Kinsler searches is looking for. While I can’t say for sure, I have a sneaking suspicion the vast majority of these searches have been made by women. I also suspect they don’t want to read a lot of wordy articles on Kinsler, either.

For those of you coming here because of an Ian Kinsler search, here is what I suspect you’re looking for:

And here’s another one for good measure:

And the other information you might REALLY want to know about instead of boring baseball stats:

6′ Tall

200 pounds

Born 6/22/82 (That makes him a Cancer)

He lives in the Dallas Metroplex year-round.

He’s married (sorry) and has two kids.

I hope this post has been far more interesting than the last one you were directed to.

Not my usual kind of post but hey, you’ve got to give the people what they want!

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