Results tagged ‘ Mitch Moreland ’

Looking Ahead To 2015: Designated Hitter

There have been some great Designated Hitters in the history of baseball. David Ortiz is the first to come to mind in the here and now. Others have included Edgar Martinez, Don Baylor, Jim Thome and Frank Thomas. When the DH was first introduced, it appeared it would be the domain of aging sluggers whose best defensive years were behind them or young sluggers whose defense was shoddy at best.

As a fan, I used to want one of those sluggers in my team’s line-up, that team being the Texas Rangers. Even today, there’s a clamor among Rangers fans for Prince Fielder to transition to DH so we don’t have to put up with his lack of range as a first baseman. I no longer subscribe to that theory. The Rangers first foray into the World Series in 2010 put an end to my thinking that way.

Vladimir Guerrero

Vladimir Guerrero

In 2010, the Rangers had future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero as their Designated Hitter. It was a match made in heaven. Here was a quality power hitter whose knees could no longer take the regular pounding of playing in right field every day. Vlad’s one year with Texas was superb: a .300/.345/.496 slash line with 29 home runs and 115 RBI. Guerrero slumped in September but rebounded a little in the playoffs with a .267 average, 3 doubles and 4 RBI in 11 games. Then came the World Series.

The problem with having your everyday DH being one of your main RBI guys is something’s got to give in the World Series when you visit the National League park and can’t use a DH. Either you sit a major part of your offense on the bench or you put his less than stellar defense on the field. Ron Washington felt he had no choice. Guerrero got penciled in as the Rangers’ right fielder, where he’d played all of 16 games in the regular season.

The problems surfaced immediately. Vlad committed two errors in what turned into a 3-run 8th inning that helped propel the Giants to an 11-7 Game 1 victory. So poor was his performance, Washington decided it was better for his slugger to ride the pine in Game 2.

 

Michael Young

Michael Young

Lesson learned, right? To a certain extent. In 2011, Wash went with a carousel of Designated Hitters, led by Michael Young’s 69 games. Young also served as a sort of “Super Utility” infielder, getting starts at all four infield positions. He responded with a .338/.380/.474 year with 106 RBI despite just 11 homers. Again, Wash felt obligated to play Young in the field on the road in the 2011 World Series. Defensively, Young had a nickname among Rangers fans: PADMY, an acronym for “Past A Diving Michael Young”, heard often in the play-by-play. He wasn’t the butcher Guerrero was but there were better defensive options.

In the pivotal Game 6 in St. Louis (the One Strike Away Twice game that gave this blog its name), Young played first base and committed two errors, both eventually leading to runs. Without those errors, the Rangers may very well have been the World Series champs. We’ll never know.

That brings us to today and the Rangers are pretty certain Mitch Moreland is their primary DH. He will NOT, however, be the everyday DH for three reasons: 1) He’s a streaky hitter; 2) he doesn’t hit lefthanders well (a career .227/.289/.347) and 3) he is a walking injury case.

Fans have wanted to love Mitch Moreland for some time. He came along in 2010 when both Chris Davis and Justin Smoak bombed as the Rangers first baseman and contributed a decent 9 home runs and 25 RBI in 47 games. He further endeared himself with the fans by going 6 for 13 in the World Series, which included a Game 3 home run off  Jonathon Sanchez that led to the lone Texas win in the Series.

Mitch Moreland

Mitch Moreland

Since 2011, Moreland has spent time on the disabled list in each of the last three seasons. He missed half of June and most of July in 2012, half of June in 2013 and more than half the season a year ago, playing his last game June 7th.

This has to be considered Moreland’s last shot with the Rangers. He has power potential, which is why they keep him around, but at some point he has to deliver. either by hitting southpaws better or by staying healthy. I’m not convinced he’s able to do either.

The question is who will serve as the Rangers DH against lefthanders? Washington gave Moreland every chance against lefties. Jeff Bannister is under no obligation. That’s why DH will likely be another revolving door, which isn’t a bad thing. Odds are Mitch plays mostly against righthanders and maybe he’ll play first base on occasion so Prince Fielder can DH (Moreland is OK defensively at 1st). Against lefties, the Rangers are hopeful newly acquired Kyle Blanks will be able to overcome injuries and tape into the power potential he showed with San Diego.

The problem here is Blanks has been just as injury prone as Moreland, thus making DH as much of a battle for playing time as left field is for Texas.

Moreland will play the most games at DH if he stays healthy. Beyond that, the spot in the order for Designated Hitter is probably Bannister’s best way of rotating quality at bats for the other three bench players. Unless Moreland is productive, it might also be the weakest position in the Rangers line-up.

Looking Ahead To 2015: Left Field

“Get your scorecards here! You can’t tell the players without your scorecard. Get your scorecards here!”

Once Spring Training gets underway for Texas Rangers position players, even the coaching staff is likely to need a scorecard to unravel the players competing for the left field job in 2015. The odds are excellent no single player will truly win the job. Far more likely is two players will serve as a platoon most of the time unless or until someone gets the hot hand in mid-season and wins the right to play full-time.

First, a recap of last year and it resembles the mess that begins this season. Eight different players were left fielders for the Rangers in 2014. Shin-Soo Choo led the way with 63 games in left, but he moves to right field this year. Also seeing playing time in left, in descending order of games played, were Michael Choice, Daniel Robertson, Jim Adduci, Ryan Rua, Jake Smolinski, Mitch Moreland and Mike Carp. Of that group, Robertson, Adduci and Carp are no longer around.

Ryan Rua

Ryan Rua

Still around, though, are four players: Choice, Rua, Smolinski, and Moreland. BUT THAT’S NOT ALL, FOLKS! They’ll be joined in Spring Training by Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields and non-roster invitees Ryan Ludwick, Nate Shierholtz, Antoan Richardson, Carlos Peguero and Jared Hoying. What does this tell you? The Rangers front office is not 100% sold on any single player for left field. It’s a wide open competition. Here’s where each of them likely stand.

Ryan Rua

Rua is the “front-runner” for the job, mostly on the basis that he was the starter in left field in Game 162 in 2014. A 17th round pick, Rua could become the third Rangers’ 17th rounder to make a name for himself in the big leagues, joining Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland. He began to turn heads in the organization in 2013 when he mashed 29 homers for Class A Myrtle Beach, whose park is NOT conducive to home runs, then adding another 3 in 95 plate appearance cup of coffee with AA Frisco. The power wasn’t as prevalent in 2014, but he hit .300 with 10 home runs in half a season with Frisco, then .313 with 8 home runs in 58 games at AAA Round Rock before getting the call to Arlington just before September roster expansion. With the Rangers, he hit .295 in 28 games with 2 home runs and 11 RBI. Rua has hit at every level and had a positive defensive WAR. Though he largely played second base in the minors, he’s got some experience in left field.

Michael_Choice

Michael Choice

Michael Choice

All things considered, if I had a wish for one person to lay claim to left field, the choice would be Choice. Nothing against Rua. The difference is power. Michael Choice has more home run potential in his bat than Rua and outside of Prince Fielder, there’s no other Rangers player with 30 home run potential than Choice, at least until Joey Gallo shows up. Choice outright won the right field job in Spring Training last year after being acquired in a straight up trade that sent popular Craig Gentry to Oakland. A Dallas native, everyone was ready to love to former first round draft pick and he blew his first chance. He never got untracked at the plate, hit a paltry .182 with 9 home runs in 86 games (with a trip to Round Rock mid-season). His defense wasn’t good and Fangraphs had him listed with an overall NEGATIVE 2.1 WAR. Yep, he graded out at worse than replacement level. Still, he’s a former 1st round draft choice with pop in his bat. He will get another chance. We’ll see if he can seize it.

Mitch Moreland

Let’s not kid ourselves. Mitch Moreland will NOT be the regular left fielder. For the most part, he will serve as the Rangers designated hitter, so I will dwell on him in a later post. He is, however, going to see playing time in left field, maybe right field as well, but not as a regular.

Jake Smolinski

Jake Smolinski

Jake Smolinski

Smolinski is an interesting name to add to the mix. A former 2nd round draft pick of the Nationals, Jake signed with the Rangers as a minor league free agent after being released by the Marlins in 2013. Like Rua, Smolinski started 2014 at AA Frisco, earned a July promotion to the majors on the basis of a 10 HR, 43 RBI half season, hit .389 in 11 games before getting sent down to Round Rock when Jim Adduci returned from the DL, then returned to Texas in mid-September after rosters expanded. Overall, Smolinski contributed a .349/.391/.512 slash line to the Rangers with 3 HR and 12 RBI in 24 games. This, however, is considerably higher than the combined .267 he hit in 80 games for Frisco and Round Rock. Like Rua, he also had a low walk rate getting used to the major league strike zone. With stats so similar to Rua’s, the edge goes to the former just because he’s a year younger and thus has a little more upside. I have a feeling Smolinski will be part of a late spring trade that will bring either a utility infielder or a left-handed reliever to Texas.

Delino DeShields

Son of a former major leaguer, DeShields is a Rule V pick from the Houston Astros, which means he MUST be on the Rangers roster all year or he has to be offered back to the Astros for $25,000. That means DeShields will be given every opportunity to win the job of 4th or 5th outfielder. If nobody wins left field outright, the odds of DeShields getting a job go down substantially. The upside for DeShields is speed. In five minor league season, he’s swiped 241 bases. The downside is he’s never played above the AA level and has a “lazy” tag attached to him.

Ryan Ludwick

Ryan Ludwick

Ryan Ludwick

Ludwick is an interesting wild card here. A 12-year big league veteran, he’s only 3 years removed from a 26 home run, 80 RBI season with the Cincinnati Reds. He also once hit 37 home runs for the Cardinals. A shoulder injury in 2013 cost him a lot of his power. If he can find that power stroke again in camp, Ludwick could grab the job outright.

Nate Schierholtz

Schierholtz has played exclusively in the National league for the Giants, Cubs, Phillies and Nationals, putting up a career .253/.302/.405 line with 52 home runs. Rangers fans saw him in the 2010 World Series with the Giants. Last year was pertty forgettable for Nate, as he hit a combined .195 for the Cubs and Nationals in 122 games. A longshot at best to make the squad.

Carlos Peguero, Antoan Richardson, Jared Hoying

I’m lumping the last three together because their chances of sticking with the Rangers for the Season Opener are even more doubtful than Schierholtz. Over four seasons, Peguero has never played more than 46 games at the big league level. He’s got some pop in his bat, having hit 30 home runs for AAA Omaha last season but the odds are he’s one of those 4-A players, a AAA All-Star who just doesn’t translate to the big league level. Richardson has had two brief appearances in The Show, 4 at bats with the Braves in 2011 and 16 with the Yankees last year. He’s got little power to speak of but has 324 steals in 10 minor league seasons. If he makes the team it’s because DeShields didn’t and a lot of other people had bad springs. Hoying is a 10th round draft pick of the Rangers who became a minor league free agent and re-signed with the club. He got a non-roster invite as a courtesy after hitting 26 homers with 78 RBI for Round Rock last year. The homers were more than twice as many as he’d ever hit in a professional season. If Hoying is on the roster in April, things have gone horribly wrong for the Rangers.

A lot of people have the opportunity. Seeing how it all shakes out will be the most interesting story for the Rangers this spring.

Looking Ahead To 2015: First Base

Trivia Question: In 5 seconds, tell me who led all Texas Rangers first basemen in home runs in 2014.

Buzzer.

Sorry, time’s up. The correct answer is: J.P. Arencibia.

Yep, Arencibia hit 4 home runs as a Rangers first baseman. And the two guys you would have expected to be the 2014 leaders, Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland, checked in with 3 and 2 respectively. Even worse? When Fielder went down in May, he had 15 RBI. Arencibia ended up as the team leader for 1st basemen with 17. Prince almost led the team despite missing four months of the season!

All told, Rangers first basemen in 2014 accounted for an anemic total of 14 home runs and 67 RBI.

This is one reason for optimism about the 2015 Rangers.

Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder

By all accounts, Prince Fielder, who played in only 42 games with 3 home runs and 15 RBI before neck surgery shut him down for the season, is fully healthy entering 2015. Before the injury, Fielder was an iron man for the Brewers and the Tigers, consistently playing in 157+ games every year. If Fielder returns to his durable form, he will easily surpass the home run and RBI totals Rangers first basemen put up in 2014. Even if Fielder has started an age-related offensive decline it won’t regress as much as 14-67.

The trade-off here is defense. After Fielder went down, first base became the domain of the likes of Mitch Moreland, JP Arencibia, Adam Rosales, Ryan Rua and the almost totally forgotten Mike Carp, Carlos Pena and Brad Snyder. This motley crew actually ranked 5th in the American League defensively in UZR rating according to Fangraphs. Fielder is not Moreland. Or, apparently, Arencibia, Rosales, Rua, Carp, Pena and Snyder. There will be some defensive fall-off.

On the other hand, a presumably healthy Moreland and possibly Rua as well are sure to spell Fielder on a once a week basis, maybe even twice. New skipper Jeff Bannister almost surely will protect the Rangers financial commitment to Prince by having him DH more than Fielder would like.

It’s easy to doubt Fielder will return to form after the type of neck surgery he had. Similar to the surgery Peyton Manning had, there’s no history to refer to in baseball. Reading this story from Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News (http://res.dallasnews.com/interactives/fielder/) alleviates those concerns.

While Texas finished a respectable 5th in batting average in 2014, they were 10th in runs scored, 11th in walks and 14th in home runs, ahead of only the Royals. A healthy Prince Fielder alone will account for a rise of one or two positions in the latter two categories.

 

Texas Rangers Stars Of The Week: 6/2-6/8

Star of the WeekEvery Monday, this space names the Texas Rangers Stars of the Week. These are the guys who went above and beyond during the previous week. Each week two position players and one pitcher get special mentions. For position players, there’s a Star of the Week for a full week’s performance and one recognizing an outstanding single game. The pitching Star of the Week could be either.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Single Game and Full Week):

Nobody in the Rangers line-up is more necessary offensively these days more than Adrian Beltre. The Rangers must rely on the unquestioned leader of the clubhouse and team now that most of the potential power in the line-up has been lost to injuries. Over the past week, Beltre has not disappointed. Adrian gets the Star of the Week for the full week on the basis of a 6-game split of .478/.458/.957. Beltre scored six of the Rangers 27 runs for the week and claimed responsibility for 8 of Texas’ RBI for the week. Adrian also gets the Star of the Week for a single game for his exploits during the Rangers 6-5 loss to the Orioles. Beltre accounted for all 5 Texas runs on two home runs, a 3-run shot off the Orioles’ Bud Norris in the first inning, followed by a 2-run poke in the 5th off Norris again. If anyone keeps the Rangers contending over the long hot summer to come, Beltre’s your guy. Here are Beltre’s two bombs from Wednesday’s game:

 

Star of the WeekPitching Star of the Week: 

The week turned out miserably for the Rangers pitching staff. Joe Saunders led the starters in ERA at 3.18 but also gave up 17 hits in only 11 1/3 innings. Yu Darvish had a gritty performance on a night when his stuff wasn’t great but still allowed a 3-run home run for the first time in his MLB career. Even the bullpen had it rough. Tanner Scheppers returned from the DL and gave up home runs in each of his first two appearances. Robbie Ross Jr. had one great relief appearance against the Orioles but then had a rough outing against the Indians. Through all this, there was one picture of steadiness on the Texas pitching staff: the old veteran Jason Frasor. The former Blue Jay appeared in four games over the past week and the 38-year-old allowed only a single hit and no runs in four innings of work. For the year, Frasor has the lowest ERA on the pitching staff at 1.64 over 22 innings and 25 appearances. He hasn’t given up a run since May 17th and hasn’t allowed an earned run since May 14th.

The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be

Another week, another injury or two, another way to look at this team and say, “Is this REALLY the Texas Rangers? Come on, Donnie Murphy is your starting first baseman? And Joe Saunders is your #2 pitcher? This is a joke, right?”

Rangers fans wish it was a joke. But this is what the Rangers are going to look like pretty much the rest of the year, so we might as well get used to it. The players on the DL are better than the players actually participating in the games. Here’s your DL line-up now:

1B  Prince Fielder

2B  Jurickson Profar

3B  Kevin Kouzmanoff

C   Geovany Soto

DH  Mitch Moreland

OF  Jim Adduci

OF  Engel Beltre

SP  Derek Holland

SP Matt Harrison

SP  Martin Perez

OK, we’re missing a shortstop, an outfielder and an entire bullpen but you get the picture. The 2014 Texas Rangers are going nowhere fast and, seeing that the Houston Astros are starting to make a little noise, it’s now totally conceivable for the Rangers to finish in LAST place in the AL West. Let that sink in. LAST PLACE. The last time the Rangers were cellar dwellers was 2007, the first year of the Ron Washington era. I know, I know. The Rangers are a respectable 31-32, only a couple of games out of the Wild Card berth. True, but you can see the train wreck coming from a mile away. Wash is a great motivator of talent. He’ll get them to play at a very high level but eventually, the talent level shows. It happened a year ago when Nelson Cruz got suspended for the last 50 games. Texas came out like gangbusters at first but whimpered through September and were lucky to force a one game added regular season playoff with Tampa Bay for the right to play in the Wild Card game. This team is considerably worse than that team, talent-wise. The starting pitching is Yu Darvish and 4 guys who are, at best, #4 in the rotation pitchers. And that’s being kind. Derek Holland will return after the All-Star break but there’s no guarantee he’ll look like a #3 from the first start.

With the latest injury, Mitch Moreland’s ankle, Texas truly has no options at first base. There are a couple of guys at AAA being worked out at first base but none with regular experience there: Brad Snyder, Jim Adduci and J.P. Arencibia. Adduci just jammed the finger he broke and was rehabbing from so he’s not available right away. Arencibia had a very offensively unproductive month and a half with the Rangers and Snyder, while a power hitter, is also a strikeout machine. On the big league level, Murphy played the corner Sunday, while catchers Chris Giminez and Robinson Chirinos have both played first in the minors. None of these are very good options. I’m reasonably sure Jon Daniels is going to have to work out a trade with someone and he’s going to give up more than they should because the other GM’s know they’ve got him over a barrel. I suppose longtime fans could hold out hope for Michael Young to come out of retirement and man first base the rest of the year. Even if that were to occur, Young would need to ramp up and wouldn’t be available until the All-Star break at the earliest. Even then, as inconsistent as the offense has been, I honestly think Texas needs starting pitching help even more. You can’t have any hope of winning when four of your five starting pitchers are giving you only a hair more than 5 innings per start.

So, the Rangers got through the last week at 2-4, dropping two of three to the Orioles followed by winning only Yu Darvish’s start in three weekend games with the Indians, all at home. This week isn’t any better. After closing the 4-game set with Cleveland on Monday, Texas closes out the homestand with two against the surprising Miami Marlins. Then it’s on the road again for the West Coast swing that likely will seal the fate of the Rangers for 2014. It starts with three in Seattle against the third place Mariners, followed by three in Oakland against the first place A’s and ending with three in Anaheim with the second place Angels. Meanwhile, the resurgent Astros have their next two weeks filled with the Arizona Diamondbacks (last in the NL West), the Washington Nationals (3rd in the AL East) and 7 games with the Tampa Bay Rays (last in the AL East, worst record in the AL). It’s not a far out thought that the Rangers could be in the AL West cellar two weeks from today.

Scoreboard watching has definitely lost its flavor to me this season.

Final Reminder: A Father’s Day Gift Idea

Back in my college days as a Radio/TV major, I had the pleasure of knowing a classmate who went on to portray a character who, while only spending  a few short minutes on the screen at the end of the movie, left an indelible mark with many baseball fans. His name is Dwier Brown and he portrayed Kevin Costner’s father at the end of the classic “Field of Dreams.” I recently discovered Dwier has published a book called “If You Build It- A Book About Fathers, Fate and Field of Dreams”. He is now on a Midwest book tour, appearing a minor league stadiums and the like. It’s both memoir and stories people have told him through the years about what the movie meant to them and their own relationships with their fathers. One of my fellow Baseball Bloggers Alliance members, The Hall of Very Good, has done a 2-part interview with Dwier about the movie and the book. You can read both parts of the interview here:

http://hallofverygood.com/2014-articles/talkin-baseball-with-dwier-brown-part-one.html

http://hallofverygood.com/2014-articles/talkin-baseball-with-dwier-brown-part-two.html

The book sounds like a great Father’s Day gift as well. You can order it at his website, dwierbrown.com.

Bad Moon Rising

Adrian Beltre 2Just when it looked like things were settling down for the Texas Rangers, Adrian Beltre shakes everything up again. As Michael Corleone famously said, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

Everything was going swimmingly well for the Rangers Tuesday night. The offense was churning out hits and scoring runs at will against the Red Sox, even with a different type of line-up for Ron Washington. Michael Choice got the start in center field, leaving Leonys Martin on the bench. Mitch Moreland also got the night off against the left-hander. Wash had both ends of the second base platoon, Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy, in the game and had Beltre occupy Moreland’s DH slot. So of course, on a night when he doesn’t have to play the field to save wear and tear on his body, one of Adrian’s quads tightens up and he pulled himself from the game in the fifth inning. Beltre won’t play today’s finale, either. He’s already jetted back to Texas to get examined by the Rangers’ team doctor.

I’d love to say this is a precautionary measure and Beltre will be back in the line-up Friday night when the Astros come to town. After all, he’s dealt with bad hamstrings the last two seasons and stayed on the field. Going back further, you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody tougher than Beltre, as described in a pre-season article on ESPN.com:

Years before Beltre headed north, Welke discovered how tough the slugger could be when he visited him in the Dominican Republic shortly after an offseason gone awry prior to the 2001 campaign.

“His appendix burst and he nearly died,” Welke said.

The wound from the surgery done in the Dominican Republic also didn’t heal properly. He had to have a second surgery during spring training that year to close it, and he lost about 30 pounds. Yet he was determined to return to the field as soon as possible.

“He tried to play games with a colostomy bag attached to him under his uniform,” Welke said. “Can you imagine? That’s how badly the guy wanted to play.”

That’s what makes this early departure troublesome. Maybe it is just one of those, “We’re just two weeks into the season, let’s make sure he’s ready for everything to come” type of deals. The pessimistic me says, “Nope. This is something more.” After all, Adrian Beltre wants to play baseball. He loves to play baseball. If Wash schedules him for a day off, the odds are better than 50-50 Adrian will talk him out of it and he’ll play. This time, however, he pulled himself from the line-up in the middle of the game and apparently agreed pretty quickly to go get it checked out in Texas. That tells me this is something Adrian is REALLY worried about.

If Beltre goes on the DL, there are no really good options for Texas. Kevin Kouzmanoff had a good spring and could be brought up to replace him but face it: Nobody can replace Beltre’s defense on the field and not many can provide his offense either. A Kouzmanoff MIGHT prove adequate for a 15-day DL stint but not much more than that. Without Beltre, there’s not a lot of protection for Prince Fielder in the line-up. I can see Alex Rios moving from fifth to fourth and that will help somewhat. It will also make the bottom half of the Rangers order even weaker.

Texas pitching is on a three-week trajectory to settling down. Colby Lewis returns Saturday, Matt Harrison is about three weeks away from a return himself. The last thing the Rangers need is troubles on the offense (and defense). Losing Adrian Beltre for any amount of time could be disastrous for the Rangers chances in 2014.

The Sign Of Things To Come?

In the middle of last night’s series closer with the Phillies, I tweeted about the first two games indicating what the Texas Rangers offense potential is while Game 3 was a sign that they’re not consistently there yet. Then the bottom of the ninth came up.

Rangers trailed 3-1. A lead-off single by Adrian Beltre on a pitch out of the strike zone. A strikeout by Alex Rios. Mitch Moreland then laced a double to the right field corner to put the tying run on second. Jim Adduci, the last position player to get a spot on the 25-man roster, beat a chopper down the third base line and just managed to beat the throw to first, plating Beltre with the second run. A Leonys Martin single ties the game at three. Donnie Murphy, the next to the last position player named to the 25-man roster, coaxed a walk to load the bases. Finally, Shin-Soo Choo, signed to a big free agent deal in part because of his On Base Percentage, fell down in the count 1-2 but still managed to stay patient and let Jonathon Papelbon make the mistake. Choo walked, Adduci scored the winning run, the Rangers had their second walk-off win in as many nights and the Rangers confirmed to me their offense could potentially be something special in 2014.

Adam Morris of Lone Star Ball pointed out one fact about this opening series that provokes die-hard fans to say, “Yup. That’s baseball.” The fact? Texas only scored one run against two different Phillies starters and won both games. They scored 8 against the Phillies best starter and lost. Yup. That’s baseball.

It’s baseball when the Rangers go 2-1 in a series in which none of their starting pitchers managed to get through six innings of work. They won a series in which three relievers who may not even be with the club in another two months combined to throw four innings of shut-out baseball. They won a series when the big guy they want to provide most of the power this season was mostly impotent.

Mitch MorelandOh, yeah, and the haters are already in mid-season form. When Mitch Moreland ended a potential rally by grounding into a double play, the Twitterverse was alive with fans questioning why Jon Daniels still wanted to keep him around (despite the fact Beltre would have been the DP scapegoat two batters earlier if not for the first baseman dropping the relay throw). When he plated the game’s first run a couple of innings later with a triple, it was mostly a “Yeah but…” reaction. Even when Moreland’s double in the ninth set the stage for the rally to come, there were mostly complaints about his success, such as “Now Wash will play him all the time and we’ll NEVER see Michael Choice in the line-up.” Hey Mitch- kudos to you. You’re a big reason the Rangers won the series this time.

Winning the first series feels good, especially when the two wins are in walk-off fashion. Now it’s on to Florida for three with the Rays. Texas announced Yu Darvish will come off the DL and pitch Sunday’s series finale, another piece of good news. Who loses their rotation spot when Darvish returns is unknown but it might come down to who performs better as a starter, veteran Joe Saunders on Friday night or rookie Nick Martinez on Saturday. My guess is Martinez is here for just one start but if he excels in that start, anything could happen.

Today is an off-day, but the minor league season begins today. Matt Harrison gets the start for AA Frisco as he works his way back into the rotation mix by the end of the month. Meanwhile, I’m taking today to savor this first series win.

 Schedule for April 3, 2014

Rangers: Off

AAA: Round Rock hosts Oklahoma City

AA: Frisco hosts NW Arkansas

Hi-A: Myrtle Beach hosts Salem

A: Hickory at Greensboro

Opening Day: Who Are These Guys?

BaseballEvan Grant of the Dallas Morning News passed along this interesting tidbit yesterday.

When the Texas Rangers take on the Philadelphia Phillies today in the season opener for both teams, the Rangers Opening Day 25-man roster includes 17 players who were NOT on the Rangers Opening Day roster just one year ago today. The only holdovers? Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Jason Frasor, Alexi Ogando, Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, Leonys Martin and Adrian Beltre.

Part of the turnover is due to the current length of the Rangers disabled list. Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Geovany Soto were all on the 2013 roster when the Rangers played the Astros on Sunday Night Baseball. Still, that’s a better than 50% turnover of the roster in just one year’s time.

Gone from last year’s squad are Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, David Murphy, AJ Pierczynski, Joe Nathan, Nick Tepesch, Justin Grimm and Jeff Baker.

Of the Rangers 2010 squad that appeared in the World Series for the first time, only Andrus, Moreland and Ogando are on the Opening Day roster in 2014.

From the 2011 World Series team, you can add Adrian Beltre to the list.

Even accounting for the players currently disabled and expected back this year (Harrison, Holland and Colby Lewis), the 2014 Rangers bear only the vaguest resemblance to the team that came within an eyelash of being the 2011 World Champions. Still, this is a team that has playoff aspirations. If the injury bug that him them in Spring Training gets fixed and remains fixed, maybe they can do it. We just don’t know. To borrow a cliché, that’s why they play the games.

#1 of 162 begins today. Time to find out what these 25 guys, including the 17 newcomers, have got.

RBiA Sunset

Who Are These Guys? -or- Can You Identify That Strange Odor?

Adam Rosales and Josh Wilson your Opening Day middle infield? Doesn’t exactly strike fear into the heart of the AL West, does it?

Jurickson

Jurickson Profar

That’s a possibility for the Rangers come Opening Day against the Phillies on March 31st. We know for a fact Jurickson Profar won’t man second base for the first game, or the second, probably not for the first 81 games. Profar got diagnosed with a torn muscle in his shoulder and will miss 10-12 weeks.

Meanwhile his middle infield partner, Elvis Andrus, is still experiencing soreness on  his throwing arm. He is currently DH-ing and isn’t supposed to throw until this weekend’s final exhibition games in San Antonio, cutting the margin extremely close for the opener.

The Opening Day starter, Yu Darvish, got scratched from his last start because of a sore neck. He insisted it wasn’t an issue but the word out of Rangers camp Sunday made it sound like it hasn’t cleared up as much as he’d like.

Who will start Opening Day? For sure not Profar. Maybe not Andrus. Maybe not Mitch Moreland, still getting over and oblique strain. Maybe not Darvish. Maybe not Shin-Soo Choo, who still has left elbow soreness. Maybe not Geovany Soto, who got pulled in the first inning of Sunday’s exhibition when his leg locked up.

Question-Mark-34Let’s make matters even worse, shall we? The Rangers announced Friday Tanner Scheppers had earned a spot in the rotation and Joakim Soria will be the closer, making it a four-way battle for the last two rotation spots between Tommy Hanson, Joe Saunders, Colby Lewis and Robbie Ross. So what happens? Hanson starts on Saturday and gives up 7 runs in 5.2 innings. Advantage Saunders, right? Wrong! Saunders started Sunday and couldn’t even make it through two innings, giving up 9 runs in an inning and a third. Ross has pitched well enough to earn a rotation slot. I’ve always loved Colby Lewis but this is a guy coming off a hip replacement whose last two starts have come in minor league games. That makes the starting rotation Proven Commodity with a sore neck (Darvish), Second Year Starter who may or may not have a sophomore slump (Martin Perez), Former Reliever (Scheppers), Former Reliever (Ross) and Hip Replacement Guy (Lewis). One of them will get replaced in a few weeks by Missed All But Two Starts Last Year Guy (Matt Harrison). So there’s no concern about the starting rotation, right?

You sense a trend here? Opening Day for the first time in five seasons is filling me with dread. The optimism just isn’t there now. The Rangers have a lot of depth in the minor league system but there’s not much there now at the big league level. That’s why we have a possible starting middle infield of Adam Rosales and Josh Wilson.

Rougned Odor

Rougned Odor

A national beat writer wrote last night the Rangers wouldn’t miss a beat at second base if they start rookie Rougned Odor while Profar is on the mend. Odor is one of the Rangers top prospects, a player Rangers minor league analyst Scott Lucas says just has “that look” about him. Maybe so but he also has only 134 at bats at the Double A level. Is he ready for that big a leap? And if he succeeds, what then? Now there’s another logjam in the middle infield with three quality players for two positions.

I’m not totally against the idea of Odor playing at the big league level. He may already offer more than Rosales or Brent Lillibridge over the next three months. Or he could flame out spectacularly, which is why someone like Rosales or Lillibridge could be the stopgap measure. We know they won’t add much, but as veterans, their output is more of a known commodity. Also to be considered is if Odor hits the big stage, that accelerates his free agency timetable by at least a year. Is the front office willing to risk that year right now?

Only a week to go before Opening Day and there are still a lot of decisions to be made.

The Walking Wounded

Spring Training records mean nothing. Spring Training statistics mean nothin. I get that.

Still, I can’t help but feel a little disconcerted by the walking wounded and reclamation projects floating around Texas Rangers camp in Surprise this spring. Today brought two more entries to the list: Elvis Andrus will be out for at least a couple of days due to right arm soreness which he’s had throughout camp. Meanwhile, Mitch Moreland could find himself on the disabled list to start the regular season after suffering an oblique injury and getting pulled from a game after just one inning yesterday.

image_20121221102423If these two were the only problems it would be OK with me, but this is the latest in a long line making its way through Rangers camp. Adrian Beltre is having problems with one of his quads and has been held out of the line-up for five days now. Jurickson Profar is just now starting in the field after having shoulder tendonitis at the start of camp. Geovany Soto is only three games into his spring after ankle surgery. Leonys Martin has had some nagging injuries that have him in and out of the line-up. Same with Alex Rios. And that’s just the offense.

Over in the pitching staff Matt Harrison had his injury comeback delayed by sleeping on a bad mattress and missing two and a half weeks with a bad back. It feels like half the pitching staff is trying to come back from injuries: Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria from Tommy John surgery, Colby Lewis from elbow problems and a hip replacement, Harrison from the back issues. At this point, there are only three starters established: Yu Darvish, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando. Only Darvish has had what would be considered a good spring. Perez has been inconsistent and Ogando more bad than good thus far (8.43 ERA). Battling for the final two spots, Lewis has yo-yo’d back and forth: one good outing, one putrid. Harrison won’t be ready for the start. Nick Tepesch (11.25 ERA) was so bad he’s been optioned already. Veterans Tommy Hanson (3.24 ERA) and Joe Saunders (6.43 ERA) haven’t outperformed anyone. The two best prospects for the back-end right now are Robbie Ross (2.08 ERA) and Tanner Scheppers (3.12 ERA), but if both earn rotation spots, that leaves two big holes in the bullpen, where Ross served in a set-up capacity and Scheppers was the 8th inning guy.

Back to the offense: the Rangers have hit 15 home runs this spring. Three have been hit by players who were playing Low-A ball in 2013 and have no hope of making the club this year. The power hitting part of the line-up: Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Alex Rios and Shin-Soo Choo have combined for only three of them. The biggest bright spot has been Michael Choice, obtained from the A’s in a trade for Craig Gentry. Choice is hitting .378 with three doubles, a triple and two home runs. With Moreland a likely DL candidate, Choice will likely be the starting DH for this year’s Rangers.

J.P. Arencibia has been so bad at the plate (.156 BA, the Rangers have put him in several minor league games to face easier pitching. He, along with two starters and the projected utility infielder are all hitting under .200.

Yeah, it’s only Spring Training. The stats and the records don’t mean anything. It does breed concern for the regular season.

Choo on Field(er)ing Stats: Being a Buzzkill

Here’s the good news. The Texas Rangers have addressed the offensive malaise that was 2013 by going out and getting 1) one of the best FA bats available in Shin Soo Choo; and 2) engineering a trade that brought Prince Fielder over from the Detroit Tigers. This pretty much guarantees the Rangers will improve greatly on the number of runs they scored in 2013, when they were smack dab in the middle of the AL pack.

Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder

Here’s the bad news. As formidable as the pitching staff for the Rangers might be, they will almost certainly be to a man a little worse off in 2014. This is the trade-off on improving the offense. The defense is going to suffer.

The infield is who will have it the worst. Prince Fielder takes over at first base from Mitch Moreland. Moreland wasn’t any great shakes defensively, but he did have a better 2013 than Fielder. Moreland’s UZR rating was 3.6, Fielder’s a -5.2. Using Baseball-Reference’s Range Factor, Moreland was an 8.73 to Fielder’s 8.49. Both were below league average, but Fielder more so.

Moving on to second base, the Rangers gave up Ian Kinsler, who was outstanding in defensive metrics with a 6.5 UZR, a +51 in Defensive Runs Saved and a Ranger Factor of 4.78 (League Average 4.64). He’s replaced by Jurickson Profar, whose rookie season consisted of 32 games at second, with a UZR of -7.1, a Defensive Runs Saved of -4 and a Ranger Factor of 4.32. Profar probably won’t be THAT bad in 2014 and should benefit from playing the position full-time but he still won’t match Kinsler’s performance, at least not yet.

Add in the fact Adrian Beltre is a year older and a millisecond slower and one can only reach the conclusion the Rangers’ infield defense will be considerably more porous in 2014 than they were this past season.

In the outfield, things are a lot more fluid and require more guesswork. Baseball Reference and Fangraphs look diametrically opposed on outfield play. Take Alex Rios vs. Nelson Cruz. The Rangers had both a year ago, with Rios replacing Cruz when he got suspended. By Fangraphs take, Rios was the better outfielder with a 3.7 UZR vs. Cruz’ -4.3. Yet in the Defensive Runs Saved category, Cruz was a -3 and Rios a -5. In other words, DRS shows Rios as worse (though he did play more games overall on the year). Baseball Reference has Rios as an above average Range Factor of 2.21 vs. Cruz’ 1.95 (league average is 2.07). Rios appears to be a better choice overall in right.

Shin-Soo Choo

Shin-Soo Choo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Left field is where the difference between the two web sites is most noticeable. Shin Soo Choo played mostly center field for the Reds last year. By Baseball-Reference, Choo was a pretty decent outfielder last year. A Range Factor of 2.39 compared to an NL average of 2.13. By comparison, David Murphy was below average at 1.87 compared to the AL league average of 2.24. Go over to Fangraphs and the picture completely reverses. There Murphy checks in with a UZR of 11.0 and 7 Defensive Runs Saved, while Choo is given a -15.3 UZR with -17 Defensive Runs Saved. Two diametrically opposed stats tell me maybe it will be a wash at best defensively.

Still, the takeaway here is Texas is bulking up on offense at the expense of defense, something sure to drive Ron Washington, a defensive-minded manager, nuts. Even if you don’t see the number of errors rise dramatically, the odds are pretty good you will see ERA’s rise on the Rangers pitching staff across the board. The gamble Jon Daniels is making is the number of runs the Rangers score will be more than the increase in runs the defense gives up and that it will be the difference between first and second place. We shall see.

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