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Monday, March 29, 2004

Weird Cowlishaw column 

Tim Cowlishaw is picking the Twins to win it all, because....

Well, apparently, just because.

He doesn't really give a reason, other than to say that the Twins are the A's without the "Moneyball" hype. Of course, the Twins are also the A's without the great young pitchers (although the Twins do have Johan Santana), or the emphasis on college draftees and plate discipline, or the savvy front office moves...

So, really, the Twins are nothing like the A's, except they are a small market team who has had some success...

Disappointing...I expect better from Cowlishaw than this mindless fluff...

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Sunday, March 28, 2004

Harden heading for the minors? 

Sounds like the Oakland A's might send stud pitching prospect Rich Harden, who has been struggling this spring, to AAA to start the season.

Harden came into the spring with a lock on the #5 spot, but has been wild, and the early season schedule would allow the A's to go with a 4 man rostation for the first few weeks.

Sending Harden down would likely allow the A's to hang on to former Ranger prospect Justin Duchscherer for a little longer. Duchscherer is out of options, and seemed to have lost out on the last bullpen spot, which meant that the A's would either have to trade him or put him on waivers, with some team likely claiming him. If Harden starts the season in AAA, Duchscherer can start the season on the Oakland roster.


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Scary comments from Orel Hershiser 

Despite the fact that this season is purportedly a rebuilding year, a season for looking at what the young pitchers can do, Orel Hershiser has come out in favor of keeping older pitchers, and sending those pitchers with options down to AAA.

That would seem to put R.A. Dickey, Ricardo Rodriguez and Colby Lewis (all of whom have options) in danger of not making the team, in order to make room for retreads like Glendon Rusch, Mickey Callaway, and Jay Powell.

RicRod, I can sort of understand sending down...he's struggled with his command and missed a lot of last season with an injury, so it might make sense to send him down and shake off the rust in a low-pressure environment.

But the signals now coming out of camp, that maybe the young pitchers that we are supposed to build around might get shipped out, is very disturbing, and gives some credence to those who say that the Rangers have no plan in place. Particularly when one also takes into account the mystifying catching situation, where Gerald Laird has apparently outplayed Einar Diaz, and has gotten the nod as the catcher of the future, but might go back to AAA because...well, because no one will trade for Diaz right now, and Buck seems to want to play Diaz, and the team is strangely reluctant to just cut their losses with him and release him.

I also have to wonder if there isn't some internal conflict within the Rangers' management right now...Benoit and Laird are supposedly favorites of the player development people (i.e., Fuson and his guys), while the coaching staff likes Diaz (who, of course, Hart had in Cleveland and brought with him to Texas) and wants to cut ties with Benoit. Prominent on the coaching staff are Buck Showalter, a Hart hire whose job could be in jeopardy if and when Grady Fuson takes over, and Orel Hershiser, another Hart crony who came over to Texas to be Hart's majordomo in the front office, and took over the pitching coach job when Oscar Acosta was run off.

There are certainly enough problems right now without a power struggle erupting between the lame duck G.M. and those loyal to him, and the farm director and G.M.-in-waiting, who, incidentally, is held in much higher regard by the DFW media than John Hart is.

The other troubling aspect of this article is Tom Hicks specifically signing on with the plan to keep older pitchers, saying that he sees no difference between a 26 year old and a 29 year old pitcher. This suggests, to me, that Hicks is starting to panic...in the aftermath of an offseason that was an unmitigated P.R. disaster, Hicks is worried about the prospect of a 8-18 April leading to empty seats for the rest of the summer, and is ordering the baseball people to hold off on the rebuilding so that they can run vets out the first couple of months, who might keep the Rangers near .500.

I really hope this isn't the case, since it would be an instance of Hicks sabotaging the long-term interests of the team in order to protect the very short-term bottom line...but given what has transpired this offseason, I wouldn't be surprised if orders sending Lewis and RicRod down to make room for the veteran journeymen came down from on high...

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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Bud Smith designated for assignment 

The main piece Philadelphia got in return in the Scott Rolen trade, Bud Smith, has been designated for assignment.

He was a top prospect burst on the scene in 2001, was left out on the mound for way too pitches when he threw a no-hitter towards the end of the season, hurt his shoulder, and has basically been a non-entity since...

Be interesting to see if the Rangers try to pick him up...

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Roger Cedeno being auctioned off 

Head over to ebay, and you can have the privilege of taking Roger Cedeno off the hands of the Mets...

Just $7 million right now...

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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Rangers get Arias as PTBNL in ARod deal 

Bleah.

Stupid Alex Rodriguez trade.

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Monday, March 22, 2004

Things could be worse...I could be a Tigers fan... 

You know, Buck Showalter makes me angry with some of the asinine things that he does.

But then, when I think he may be making the stupidest decisions of any manager in baseball, I read something like this piece on Brandon Inge.

For those of you who don't know, Brandon Inge is a terrible player. A catcher who turns 27 in May, Inge has a career .198/.254/.314 line with the Tigers in almost 900 major league plate appearances, and a career EQA of .202. He's got a reputation for being a pretty good defensive catcher, which had kept him in the league so far, despite his sub-replacement-level hitting.

This year, however, the Tigers have signed Pudge Rodriguez to be their catcher, and selected catching prospect Chris Shelton from the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft. One would think that this would spell the end of Brandon Inge's career in Detroit, since he's out of options.

You would think wrong, however...the Tigers instead are trying Inge at 2B and SS, so that they can make this poor hitting catcher into a poor hitting utility man.

And appear to be dead serious about it.

The article is about as high on the unintentional comedy scale as anything I've read in baseball. Some highlights:

They came up with the utility plan to find a place for him on the 25-man roster.

Because, of course, one can't be without a .198 hitting catcher on the roster...

"He's on the team some way, somehow," [Alan Trammell] said. "We just have to create a spot."

But this is my favorite...

For all the questions about his hitting potential over the years, the team still believes he's a talented young catcher, a position where he'd probably stay if not for Mike DiFelice.

Mike DiFelice is a 35 year old bad catcher.

When you are being forced into a position change because of Mike DiFelice, that's a sign that maybe major league baseball isn't for you...

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The Continuing Cluelessness of Evan Grant... 

In his weekly Q&A, we get more of Evan Grant fawning over Michael Young. And in not just one, but two items...

First, a reader's question about the status of contract talks between Young and the Rangers is used as an excuse for Grant to get back on his platform about how badly the team has treated Young, and whining about how they didn't show enough confidence in Young after the 2002 season. Nevermind that he didn't hit in 2001, didn't hit in 2002, and didn't hit all that well in 2003.

Then, later, Grant claims that the Rangers' 2003 ERA would have been above 6.00 without ARod and Young at short and second last year.

Given that the Rangers' team ERA was 5.67 last year, that means that Grant is crediting ARod and Young with saving 55-60 runs last year...given that, as middle infielders, any hits they save are singles, it is the equivalent of saving about 150 hits last year.

The question is, 55-60 runs versus what? Having no second baseman or shortstop? Having me at second and the Rangers Captain at shortstop?

How about compared to having the worst defensive middle infield combo in the league last year, Jeter and Soriano?

Well, statistically, according to Baseball Prospectus, Young graded out significantly worse than Soriano at 2B last year, while ARod was 27 runs better than the horrific Jeter. Net, about 15 runs...

That's the problem with beat writers like Grant...they through comments out there like that, but have nothing to substantiate it, other than, this is what a scout I talked to said, or that's based on watching all the games and seeing how great Mike Young is. They don't want to see the numbers...they'd rather base their opinions on how good a guy they think a player is, how scrappy they are, how they look out on the field...

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Saturday, March 20, 2004

How "Moneyball" Got it Wrong -- Revisiting Grady Fuson's 2001 Draft 

In Michael Lewis's ubiquitous book "Moneyball", there is an infamous anecdote about Billy Beane throwing a chair through a wall, supposedly because Farm Director Grady Fuson (now the Rangers' Assistant G.M. and John Hart's heir apparent) chose Jeremy Bonderman with a first round pick. Lewis characterized the draft as an "expensive disaster" that supposedly cost Fuson his job, and led to Beane taking over the drafting process in 2002 and implementing his own methodology. This, Lewis seemed to imply, was the future of scouting, and with their plethora of first rounders in 2002 (the A's received six extra picks for losing free agents Jason Giambi, Jason Isringhausen, and Johnny Damon), Oakland would help correct the mistakes Lewis assured us were made by Fuson in 2001.

A year after the book came out, though, one can gauge each of these two drafts a little better...and it is beginning to look as if the 2002 draft, even with all the bonus high choices, isn't measuring up to Fuson's much-maligned 2001 draft.

Oakland had two first round choices in the 2001 draft, along with a compensatory "sandwich" pick between the first and second rounds. They were used to select Bobby Crosby, Jeremy Bonderman, and John Rheinecker.

Crosby is stepping in at shortstop this year for the departed Miguel Tejada after posting a .308/.398/.544 line at AAA Sacramento last year; Baseball America named him the #1 prospect in the Oakland organization, and the #32 prospect in all of baseball (coincidentally, the same spot Colby Lewis held coming into 2003). Crosby is a solid, if unspectacular, defensive shortstop with plate discipline and power, a guy who can step in right now and should be a terrific player, if not a superstar, for the next dozen years. Even Lewis would probably have to admit that they hit with him.

Bonderman was dealt to the Tigers in 2002 in a three-way deal also involving New York. The trade appears to have simply been a way for Beane to get rid of some guys he no longer wanted, as he packaged Bonderman, relief prospect Franklyn German, and the recently acquired Carlos Pena (who had been picked up from Texas, given the starting first base job, alienated the brass, and sent to AAA in the span of just a couple of months) for Yankees prospects Jason Arnold and John-Ford Griffin (who were later sent to Toronto in a four-way deal that brought Erubiel Durazo to Oakland) and the ever-tempting, but never quite delivering, Ted Lilly (who was sent to, yes, Toronto, for Bobby Kielty this offseason). Beane was apparently unhappy that Fuson had picked Bonderman -- a high school junior -- and wanted to get him out of town while his value was still high.

Bonderman quickly impressed in Detroit, and was the Tigers' #1 prospect (#20 overall) according to Baseball America at the start of 2003. Despite being barely 20 years old, he was, in a bizarre move by Detroit, inserted in the Tiger rotation from the beginning of the year, and struggled. Nevertheless, he has impressed those who have seen him, and the statheads extraordinaire at Baseball Prospectus still project him to be a quality starting pitcher during the projectable period of their PECOTA system -- which still only gets him to age 25, the age when pitchers are generally just starting to enter their prime. Despite his struggles, he is still viewed as being one of the most promising young pitchers in the game, a pitcher with true ace potential who is viewed as the anchor of the rotation for the next good Detroit team. Beane's tantrum notwithstanding, Bonderman, at this point, looks like a pretty good selection...especially since, of the players selected after Bonderman in the first three rounds, only a handful -- Jesse Foppert, Dan Haren, Jeff Mathis, J.J. Hardy, Dallas McPherson, and Neal Cotts -- are anywhere close to Bonderman in terms of value.

Rheinecker, a college pitcher with a reputation for having good "pitchability" (a trait Fuson searches for), was the sandwich pick. He was one of the A's top prospects coming into 2003, but took a step backwards, putting up mediocre numbers in AA Midland and leading observers to question whether he has the "stuff" to get batters out on the major league level. Nevertheless, he'll be in the rotation for AAA Sacramento this year, and still is on the board as a prospect.

What about the rest of the draft, after the first round? Well, in the second round, Fuson grabbed one of the players I mentioned above as being in the same league as Bonderman -- Neal Cotts, a lefthander out of Illinois State University. Cotts was a throw-in for the White Sox in the deal that brought Keith Foulke to Oakland, and has become one of Chicago's top prospects, a guy who dominated at AA Birmingham last season, but got knocked around in four starts (lasting a total of just 13 1/3 innings) with the big club. Still, his AA stats (108 1/3 IP, 133 strikeouts, 67 hits, and only 2 homers allowed, albeit with 56 walks) are as electrifying as you'll see, and he came in as the ChiSox's #3 prospect for 2004.

The 2001 draft also garnered the A's Dan Johnson, a lefty first baseman who BA ranks as their #3 prospect; Mike Wood, a righthanded sinkerballer who posted a 3.06 ERA in Sacramento last year; and Chris Mabeus, who, after a couple of unimpressive seasons, took a huge step forward in 2003 with impressive bullpen work, and was selected by the Rangers in the Rule 5 draft.

A pretty nice haul for an "expensive disaster", no?

Meanwhile, the 2002 "Moneyball" draft that was supposed to revolutionize baseball has been a disappointment. Stathead and BP author David Cameron wrote a scathing critique of the Big Seven first round selections early last year, and much of what he says still holds true. While Joe Blanton has been terrific, putting up incredible numbers in low-A Kane County for most of 2003 before a late season promotion to Midland (where he did even better), the rest have been much less inspiring.

Nick Swisher, the first player Oakland took in the 2002 draft, hit well in A-ball but struggled badly when he was promoted to AA, posting a .230/.330/.380 line in 287 ABs at Midland. He's still well thought of (he and Blanton, at #2 and #6, were the only two Moneyball draftees to crack BA's top 10 for the organization), but doesn't project as a star, and can't handle centerfield defensively...as a major leaguer, if he pans out, he would seem to project very similarly to Oakland's offseason acquisitions Bobby Kielty and Mark Kotsay (albeit without Kotsay's defense in center).

Jeremy Brown, the catcher whose physique prompted Beane's famous "we're not selling jeans comments", also struggled at AA Midland. He hit .275 with a ton of walks, posting a .388 OBP, but his power disappeared, as Brown posted just a .391 slugging percentage. Brown's season ended prematurely with a thumb injury, but even before the injury, he had a ton of skeptics, and even the statheads at BP admit in their new book that "Brown's performance hasn't lived up to the hype". The big question is on Brown's defense, as the consensus seems to be that those inside the Oakland organization like it, and those outside the organization don't. If he can handle catching on a major league level, he'll probably have some sort of a career, and will likely be a decent starter, since he'll draw enough walks to keep his OBP high enough to be valuable. If he can't, though, he's pretty much useless as a player.

The other four draft picks are barely on the prospect radar at this point. John McCurdy has no real position, and has posted two straight seasons with a sub-.700 OPS in short-season A and low-A. Mark Teahen posted a .283/.377/.380 line in high-A Modesto, after putting up a .239/.307/.299 line in Modesto in 2002, with a total of 4 homers in almost 700 ABs in the California League over the past two years. Teahen's defense is purportedly very good, but if he doesn't start showing some power soon, his future is quite limited. Ben Fritz, a righthander out of Fresno State, posted an ERA of almost 5 at Modesto, and although he averaged a strikeout per inning, his walk rate is way too high, and he is starting to look like more of a relief prospect (which Beane has no use for anyway). Steve Obenchain, the final Moneyball pick, was hurt for much of last year, and split time between low-A and high-A. He posted a 2.57 ERA for Kane County, but a 5.15 ERA at Modesto, and his peripherals were unimpressive in both places.

As for the rest of the draft, Steve Stanley, a 2nd round pick as a senior outfielder out of Notre Dame, spent the whole season in Midland but posted just a 700 OPS, and his ceiling appears to be as a 4th outfielder. Bill Murphy, their 3rd rounder from Cal State Northridge, was shipped to Florida as part of the deal to obtain Mark Redman, and is a fringe prospect at this point, showing potential at Kane County after a rough 2002 season in the Northwest League, but then regressing when the A's jumped him to AA. John Baker, another catcher, is similar to Murphy, putting up good numbers at Kane County before putting up just a 596 OPS in 43 games in AA. Shane Komine appeared on a few lists as a guy to watch after posting nice ERAs in Kane County and Midland in 2003, but his peripherals were uninspiring, and he still looks like a longshot to have a career.

So what's the upshot of all this? Despite 7 first round picks, only one Moneyball choice, Joe Blanton, appears to be a home run...and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who would take him above 2001 draftees Bobby Crosby and Jeremy Bonderman. There are other intriguing players in the Moneyball draft, but other than possibly Swisher, none of them would be taken ahead of 2001 draftees Neal Cotts and Dan Johnson...

Michael Lewis has said that he is going to write another book, following the progress of the Moneyball draft picks. Someone might suggest to him, though, that it might be more worthwhile to follow the "expensive disasters" of the 2001 draft...it is starting to look like they are going to end up being the better players after all.


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Garret Anderson's high opinion of himself 

According to the LA Times, Garret Anderson and the Anaheim Angels are far apart on a contract extension.

Anaheim is offering 4 years, $40 million, which in and of itself would be great news for Rangers fans, as it would be overpaying the overrated Anderson during his age 33-36 years.

Anderson, however, is balking, wanting to receive, instead, a $56 million deal over 4 years, since that would average the same $14 million per year that the Angels gave Vlad Guerrero. The fact that Guerrero is four years younger than Anderson, and a much better player, to boot, doesn't seem to be fazing Anderson in making this rather ludicrous request.

Anderson is coming off his two best years, although that just means that he went from being an average, at best, left fielder to a pretty good left fielder. As a free-swinger, though, with just decent speed and pretty good, but not great, power, he's not a player who would seem to age real well. The more Pollyanna-ish Angels fans talk about Anderson being a Hall of Fame and 3000 hit candidate, which would require him to be a much better player throughout his 30s than he ever was in his 20s...and BP's PECOTA projection system takes the opposite view, seeing Anderson regressing from 2005-2008 (the years covered by his contract) back into, more or less, the player he was in his mid-30s.

The only thing more ludicrous than Anderson demanding the same annual salary as Vlad Guerrero, a legitimate superstar, is the Angels' willingness to pay him $10 million per year. An ideal scenario for Rangers fans would be for Anaheim to compromise and give Anderson $12 million per year, thus paying him about 3-4 times what he will be worth over that four year span...


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Friday, March 19, 2004

DMN on the Rangers minor league pitching 

Nice piece in the DMN today about the young pitchers in the Rangers' farm system.

Since it was written by Todd Wills, rather than Gerry Fraley or Evan Grant, it is even free of the usual backhanded compliments and wailing about how much better the farm would be if Tom Hicks had kept Doug Melvin around...

The most interesting thing in my mind is that, according to this article, Erik Thompson and Kameron Loe will both be starting the season at AA Frisco, with John Hudgins and Wes Littleton starting at high-A Stockton. Loe and Thompson each split last season between Stockton and low-A Clinton, and although they dominated at each level, there has been some thought that they'd start the season at Stockton before moving up to Frisco. That, apparently, won't be the case.

Similarly, while Littleton impressed everyone with his performance in short-season ball at Spokane, Hudgins was essentially shut down after the College World Series. It is an indication of how highly the organization thinks of Littleton and Hudgins, and how advanced Fuson & Co. think these two are, that they are apparently skipping low-A and going straight to high-A. There's some talk that Littleton, whom BA called the most advanced prospect in California last year, may actually pitch in the majors this year...

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Notes from T.R. Sullivan 

Good notes column today from T.R. Sullivan.

Among the more interesting items...Sullivan is projecting the season will start with a rotation of Rogers, the Ho, Dickey, Lewis, and Rusch, with Ricardo Rodriguez spending a month or two in AAA to work on his command, after missing the second half of last season with a hip injury.

It makes it difficult, though, to look at that rotation and buy into the whole "rebuilding" idea, given that there is only one young pitcher in the group. But with Rodriguez, Juan Dominguez, Ryan Snare and Edwin Moreno in AAA, we could see some rapid changes if guys aren't getting it done...I'd be surprised if more than two of the original five are still in the rotation come the end of August.

Joaquin Benoit is being shopped, according to Sullivan. My guess would be that he'll end up in Milwaukee, where Doug Melvin is collecting various Rangers cast-offs. And Sullivan says another Ranger-turned-Brewer, Danny Kolb, is having shoulder problems once again...

The most disappointing news in his piece today, though, was the word that Jeff Zimmerman's comeback looks to be stalled. Tommy John surgery has advanced to the point where we think it is almost automatic for pitchers to come back as good as ever, but Zimmerman is now looking at starting his third straight season on the D.L. I'm beginning to think that he'll end up not throwing a single major league pitch over the course of the three year contract he signed in the spring of 2002.

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Thursday, March 18, 2004

BP projects the 2004 AL West standings 

76-86 for the Rangers.

For what it is worth, I made several hundred dollars betting the over/under win totals last year, based on BP's PECOTA standings projections (losing only by betting the under on Atlanta)...


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A's sign Chavez -- 6 years, $66 million 

That's a lot of money.

I like Chavez, but unless he starts to hit lefties, I think they overpaid a bit...

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Ken Rosenthal's insane trade proposal 

Ken Rosenthal says that the Rangers should trade Alfonso Soriano and $1.65 million to the Giants for Neifi Perez, Jeffrey Hammonds, Todd Linden, and Matt Cain.

This is supposedly a deal that works for both teams, although I can't see any reason why it would make sense for the Rangers to do this trade.

Jeffrey Hammonds and Neifi Perez are thrown in the deal to help offset the salaries (which is also why the Rangers are supposed to kick in $1.65 million). They are useless, though...Hammonds is a mediocre outfielder who can't stay healthy, and Neifi Perez is one of the worst players in baseball, a guy who makes Donnie Sadler look competent. The Rangers would be better off releasing both players than actually letting them play, even though Rosenthal says that the Rangers should put Perez at short so that Michael Young can move back to second, "where he belongs".

(And as a sidenote...would someone please explain to me why so many in the media act like the Rangers' decision to move Young to shortstop is a crime against humanity, and Young should have gotten the lead in Mel Gibson's movie for agreeing to the move? Young was originally a shortstop, and only moved to second base because of the ARod signing. And as a shortstop, his mediocre offense is much less of a liability, making him a more valuable player and giving him the opportunity to make more money down the road. This helps Young's career, rather than hurting it...)

In any case...Hammonds and Perez are worthless, but the Rangers' motivation for doing the deal, I guess, is to get the prospects. Unfortunately, Linden is a 23 year old corner outfield prospect who has yet to crack an 800 OPS in two attempts at AAA. A switch-hitter, some scouts seem to think he'll add power, but right now, he looks like a poor man's Bobby Kielty...which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but isn't someone you want to deal one of the best second basemen in the game for.

Matt Cain, meanwhile, is a 19 year old pitcher with less than 100 professional innings, none of them above low-A. He's got a ton of potential, but of course, There's No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect, and even if Cain does make it, he's three-four years away from really being an impact major leaguer.

So Rosenthal proposes the Rangers trade Soriano for crap, more crap, a mediocre AAA outfield prospect, and a terrific 19 year old pitching prospect who, if he defies the odds and makes it (and more likely than not, he'll flame out), won't help the Rangers until 2007.

And they'll essentially pay all of Soriano's contract for the privilege.

Yeah, Kenny, that makes a lot of sense...

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Monday, March 15, 2004

Johnny Damon, Unfrozen Caveman Centerfielder... 

Wow...

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More scary Buck quotes 

From the notes section of the S-T today...

Buck says that Mench "may play both [right and left field] if he makes our club". Hopefully, that is more of Buck simply trying to keep the fire lit under Mench, not a serious suggestion that Mench will be sent down so that Jason Jones and David Dellucci can play everyday.

Meanwhile...they also say that Buck likes proven mediocrity Chad Allen, because "he knows how to play the game".

One would think that someone who knows how to play the game would have a better track record. Allen is one of these guys who is scary to have around, since he's a lousy player, but he hustles and scraps and is just good enough that Buck could conceivably decide to let him stick, and be lousy in the majors, rather than give playing time to someone who might have a future.


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Sunday, March 14, 2004

Bad news for Jeff Zimmerman 

Jeff Zimmerman was pulled from a B game today when his elbow locked up.

Bad news for Zim, who is trying to come back from TJ surgery, which has cost him the last two years.

It makes it a lot more likely he'll start the season on the D.L.


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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Sen. John McCain doesn't have enough to do 

Apparently deciding that real issues have been getting too much attention, flaky Arizona Senator John McCain is threatening the player's union on steroids.

He is threatening the player's union with "legislative remedies" if they don't agree to implement the NFL's steroid policies (which must be working great -- you never hear about an NFL player testing positive, and I'm sure all those 350 pound linemen and 260 pound linebackers are All Natural).

What I don't understand is what the Senate Commerce Committee is doing getting involved with major league baseball's drug policy? What does this have to do with federal commerce issues? And on what Constitutional grounds does McCain think he's going to be able to get something passed?

Absurd...

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Strange Evan Grant comments 

Evan Grant suggest free agent pitchers this offseason that the Rangers should be interested in.

However, the pitchers he is interested in, in the free agent market this offseason, would be Russ Ortiz, Matt Clement, and Odalis Perez.

Here's what I don't get...

Ortiz: career ERA+ of 102, ERA+ in 2003 of 109, and a guy who walks a lot of batters.

Clement: career ERA+ of 95, ERA+ in 2003 of 103, and a guy who walks a lot of batters and gives up a lot of homers

Perez: career ERA+ of 95, ERA+ in 2003 of 89, and a guy who gives up a ton of homers in Chavez Ravine

Tell me...why would any of these three be a good fit in Texas, particularly for the amount of money it would take to bring them here?

Ortiz and Clement are good, not great, pitchers with high walk totals (a very bad thing in TBIA), and who are generally overrated anyway.

With Perez, I could overlook the high homer rate if it weren't for the fact that he's not a good pitcher. He had one good season, in 2002, which appears pretty fluky, since his DIPS numbers weren't that impressive and he allowed a batting average on balls in play of less than .240 (which suggests that his low ERA owed a lot to luck and a good defense).

Besides, giving up 49 homers in two seasons while pitching half your games in Chavez Ravine is obscene...if he pitched a full season in the Ranger rotation, he'd threaten Bert Blyleven's record for homers allowed in a season.


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Baseball Prospectus on the Texas Rangers 

A piece in their free section on Blalock's contract extension.


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Monday, March 08, 2004

Tom Hicks retiring from Hicks, Muse 

Tom Hicks is stepping down as chairman of Hicks, Muse.

Apparently, it is, in part, so he can spend more time with his family and in managing the Rangers and Stars.

Oh, joy.


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Sunday, March 07, 2004

Awful Zimmerman debut 

In his first spring outing, Jeff Zimmerman allowed 7 earned runs and got no one out.

That's very disappointing...yes, it is just spring, but for someone who hasn't pitched in the majors in two years, you'd like to see something better than that.

Gerald Laird had a nice game, though...let's hope he ends up as the Rangers starting catcher come Opening Day...

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My PTBNL prediction 

I was holding off on guessing who the Rangers were going to opt for as the PTBNL in the ARod trade...but since it was pointed out to me that Ramirez is apparently not on the list of available players, I'm predicting that the Rangers will take 20 year old Hitter Without Position Bronson Sardhinha.

The Yankees seem to have rushed him a bit, but he has good plate discipline for a player as young as he is, projects to add some power, and will likely be at 3B for the time being. Seems like a Fuson-type pick, more so than the collection of toolsy types that make up the other four options.


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Edgar Martinez hurting 

Fragile Mariner DH Edgar Martinez, who needs to be healthy and productive this year for the Mariners to win the AL West, is suffering from a bone spur in his neck. This, along with his perpetual hamstring problems, would seem to suggest that Mariners could use a productive bench guy who can DH...even better if he's a righty who can play first, since John Olerud can't hit lefties any more.

Greg Colbrunn would seem to be a perfect fit for the Mariners...and why isn't he there any more? Oh yeah, the Mariners decided to trade him to the D-Backs (with cash) for Quinton McCracken, who can run fast.

Well, maybe the D-Backs would be willing to send him back to Seattle. It would probably cost more than McCracken to get him, but what the hell...

Oh, and the D-Backs are also really hyped about Conor Jackson, whom they drafted with Seattle's first round pick in 2003...the one Seattle gave up as a result of signing Greg Colbrunn in the first place.

Well, at least there is one A.L. West team whose management seems to be giving the Rangers a run for their money in the incompetence department...

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Jack McDowell is a moron 

Anyone who had any doubts about this (and there should be none after his screeds about how today's pitchers have arm problems because they're wimps who have been babied -- unlike McDowell himself, who gutted it out and was a workhorse until he finally fell apart at age 30) should be convinced by his A.L. preview.

His entire comment on the Rangers deals with how the Rangers can finally rebuild now that they've shed themselves of the supposed albatross that is Alex Rodriguez. Nevermind that the whopping $16 million per year that the Rangers save cannot buy enough in free agency to make up for the loss of ARod...the Old School Conventional Wisdom is that Alex Rodriguez was killing the Rangers, and McDowell is nothing if not a Professor Emeritus at the Old School of Baseball Thought.

And McDowell crows about how fortunate the Rangers will now be that John Hart has the ability to spend money again...apparently ignoring the fact that, when given a virtually unlimited budget upon his arrival in Texas, he spent that money on Chan Ho Park, Jay Powell, Todd Van Poppel, and Juan Gonzalez, all of whom were unmitigated disasters, with Park's deal being a franchise killer which directly led to the Alex Rodriguez trade.

As a side note, in a pitying comment about the D-Rays, McDowell says that "hopefully the draft this June will give them a stud to begin building around". Um, Jack...ever heard of Rocco Baldelli? Carl Crawford? B.J. Upton? Aubrey Huff?



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I just don't get it... 

What's with the love affair the DFW media has with Mike Young???

Randy Galloway's column is a lengthy love letter to Young, fawning over what a great person and team leader he is, while condemning the team for 1) not signing him to a long-term extension yet, and 2) moving him to shortstop.

Once again, the DFW media seems to be treating the decision to move Young to shortstop as a slap in the face, rather than a compliment and an acknowledgement that Young's superior defensive abilities make him the best option on the team to take over at shortstop. And if he plays the position well, in the long-term, it makes him more valuable than if he's a second baseman, which will mean more money for Young in the future.

Galloway has one howler, in particular, when he claims that Young was "well on [his] way to becoming the best all-around second baseman in ball". With Jose Vidro, Bret Boone, Ray Durham, Jeff Kent, and Luis Castillo still in baseball, Young isn't close to being the best all-around second baseman in baseball.

And mark this down...when Mike Young goes back to hitting .260-.270 this year, Galloway, Fraley, Evan Grant, and the rest of the DFW media will be blaming it on the stress of moving to short from his natural position of second base...

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Friday, March 05, 2004

Farm System Overview 

Okay piece that focuses mainly on the lower-level pitchers. Designed as an overview, primarily for fantasy players, but a decent read.


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Thursday, March 04, 2004

BP Analyzes the proposed Soriano to the Mets deals 

In yesterday's Triple Play, Baseball Prospectus takes a look at whether or not the Mets should trade Jose Reyes or Scott Kazmir to the Rangers for Alfonso Soriano.

(And yes, you have to scroll down past the Baltimore and Rockies pieces to get there, but go ahead...it won't hurt you...)

Interesting analysis, particularly their contention that Reyes is likely to be better than Soriano by 2006.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The ARod trade PTBNL 

The Sports Network has a piece on the top 10 Yankee prospects.

It includes scouting reports on four of the five players who are available to the Rangers (only Bronson Sardinha doesn't make the list). It is worth noting that three of the four listed aren't projected to make the majors until 2007...

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Tuesday, March 02, 2004

This year's Laynce Nix... 

Last year, Buck Showalter became infatuated with Laynce Nix in spring training. He shipped him out to the minor league camp early on, supposedly so he wouldn't be tempted to bring him North with the team, but brought Nix over to play in so many A-squad games that it became a running joke. Even though Nix had never played a game above high-A, he almost made the Rangers opening day roster, before ultimately getting called up for good in July.

So who could be this year's Laynce Nix...the prospect thought to be a year or two away, who catches Buck's eye and lands him on the map sooner than anticipated? My guess is Jason Bourgeois. Buck had good things to say about Bourgeois in Wednesday's DMN, and he seems to be generating a lot of positive buzz in the camp. If Soriano stays at second base, there doesn't seem to be any room for Bourgeois on the big league team. But the scrappy second baseman, who had a breakout campaign in Stockton last year before coming up to AA Frisco and struggling a bit before hitting his stride, has gotten positive reviews for his attitude and work ethic, and as a speedy guy who hits for average and draws walks, he could catch Buck's eye as a possible solution to the leadoff problem.

For all the talk of guys like Jason Tyner and Ramon Nivar pushing Kevin Mench in left field, if Buck really starts to sour on the Mench Man, I'd expect to see the Rangers take a look at Soriano at left field and give Bourgeois a longer look at second. Regardless, I'm guessing we'll be hearing a lot of glowing reviews out of Surprise for the next few weeks about what Jason Bourgeois brings to the table, and I think, by the end of spring training, Bourgeois will have put himself on Buck's shortlist of guys he's going to want in Arlington as soon as possible.


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Note to keep in mind come draft time -- Jeremy Slayden 

Georgia Tech junior outfielder Jeremy Slayden, a first-team pre-season All-American, will miss the season because of rotator cuff surgery.

After an early slump, Slayden had posted a .294/.394/.523 line in 2003, a slight step backwards after an electrifying freshman season where he hit .348/.442/.625, with a GaTech freshman record 18 homers. BA had him as their #30 college prospect coming into the 2004 season, and John Manuel pegged him as a possible first-round pick in 2004.

So what does this have to do with the Rangers? Slayden is the type of player Fuson has focused on in past drafts -- a corner outfielder without a lot of athleticism, but with good plate discipline (note the 100 point spread between batting average and OBP) and power potential. Very similar to 2003 draftees Andrew Wishy and Jeremy Cleveland (although both Wishy and Cleveland are bigger than the 6'0" Slayden), who turned a lot of heads with impressive performances in Spokane. In short, a guy who can hit.

As a player who appeared to be a late first- or second-rounder in 2004, Slayden was looking at a significant payday. I'm not positive of the NCAA eligibility rules, but having played only 9 games this year, I think Slayden can red-shirt, which would give him a significant negotiating advantage, since he would have two years of eligibility remaining (much as Vince Sinisi did this year). Such a situation would likely make Slayden slide into the later parts of the draft, since a team is likely to be loathe to burn a high pick on a player who missed the majority of the prior season to injury, and who would likely demand at least second- or third-round money to sign. And Grady Fuson has a history of spending above-bracket money to get a guy who slid because of signability concerns -- Patrick Boyd, Kiki Bengochea, Marc LaMacchia, and Sinisi all come to mind. With the major league payroll now almost $50 million lower than last season, Fuson surely has the flexibility to stretch the budget to try to sign a first or second round talent, if he could snag him in rounds 10-15.

In any case, it seems like something to keep an eye out for...Slayden's profile seems to fit what Fuson looks for in a player, and he's pulled the trigger on these types of tough signs in the past. I wouldn't be surprised if he snagged Slayden in the June draft in round 12 or 13, gave him a couple of months to see how his shoulder is progressing, and then gave him second-round money to bring him into the fold.


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A ray of hope 

In the intrasquad game today, CHP pitched two perfect innings, with three strikeouts.

What does it say about me as a Ranger fan, that I'm finding myself being disproportionately happy over Park's performance in two innings in an intrasquad game in early March?

Still, it is a tiny hint that maybe the Ho won't suck this year.


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CNNSI's AL West preview 

A decent preview piece from John Donovan.

Although I disagree on his contention that the Rangers have the worst bullpen in the AL West, and "no closer to speak of". I'm not sure what more Francisco Cordero has to do to be acknowledged as a quality closer...and if Jeff Zimmerman is healthy, that actually gives the Rangers two pitchers with a history of success in that role.

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Correction on Ryan Drese option status 

In my preview, below, I mentioned that Ryan Drese is out of options.

However, the DMN is reporting that the Rangers have "found" a fourth option for Drese.

That means he'll be in Oklahoma to start the year, although whether he'll be in the rotation, or in the pen (where he may be better suited), is up in the air.


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Steroid accusations sweep up Bonds, Giambi, and former Ranger Velarde 

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that BALCO, the lab currently being investigated for trafficking in steroids and other illegal performance enhancers, provided steroids to Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Benito Santiago, Marvin Benard, and former Ranger Randy Velarde, along with NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski.

Bonds also reportedly was receiving Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which is thought to be stronger and more dangerous than steroids, and which is largely undetectable through normal testing procedures.


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Monday, March 01, 2004

2004 Preview -- The Ranger Rotation 

As mentioned previously, several AL West bloggers got together to collectively look at the 2004 season and compare how we believe different elements of the rival teams will improve or decline. In conducting this review the participating bloggers are taking a somewhat different approach than is followed by many fans. The basic assumption that most people make when they review teams is to expect a similar output from each player in the coming year as that player produced in the preceding year. Statistics and experience, however, show that it's far more likely that a player's performance will change from year to year than remain the same. Therefore, an alternate way of considering changes is to assume that the contribution from each position will change in the coming year, and focus on assessing whether change is more likely to be an improvement or a decline.

The following links have some background on the approach we are trying to use in this evaluation:
The Basic Bad Assumption
The Better Assumption
As part of the collaboration with Athletics Nation, Mariners Wheelhouse, and Fire Bavasi, here is my look at the Rangers starting pitching expectations for 2004.

RANGERS STARTING PITCHING REVIEW

The 2004 Texas Rangers starting pitching. What a mess.

Probably the best thing that one could say about this year’s Ranger rotation is that it can’t be any worse than last year’s rotation. 2003 Rangers starters posted an aggregate 6.24 ERA, a figure that would be bad even in Colorado. Only one Ranger starter in 2003 posted a sub-5 ERA or had at least 30 starts, and that pitcher, John Thomson, has since departed Texas for Atlanta. Sixteen Ranger pitchers started games last season; of that group, only seven are still around, and two of those seven, Ryan Drese and Mickey Calloway, are more likely than not to be gone from the 40 man roster come Opening Day.

In the disaster which was the 2003 Texas Ranger season, the starting rotation was by far the worst area of the team. Chan Ho Park, making $12 million in 2003, gave the team 29 2/3 IP. Ismael Valdes, the veteran signed to bring some stability and productivity to the rotation, logged just 22 starts and put up a 6.10 ERA. Colby Lewis was all over the map during the season, starting off in the rotation, getting demoted, coming back, and ultimately posted a 7.30 ERA. Worst of all, in the equivalent of the #5 spot in the rotation, Tony Mounce, Chan Ho Park, Juan Dominguez, Robert Ellis, Mickey Calloway, Alan Benes, and Doug Davis posted an aggregate 8.29 ERA in 33 starts.

So is there any reason to believe there will be any improvement? Despite the loss of Thomson and Valdes, and the lack of progress from Colby Lewis and other youngsters last year, there is some glimmer of hope. The Ranger rotation should post an ERA better than 6.24 in 2004. And clearly, given how bad the rotation was in 2003, pitchers just coming close to being average would represent a significant step forward, and result in a big improvement in the overall record for the team. Whether or not that occurs depends on the following guys:

Kenny Rogers

The Gambler is back, for his third time around with the Rangers. Rogers is essentially taking over John Thomson’s role last year as veteran inning-eater and stabilizer for a young rotation that will likely see a lot of turnover during the season, and while the Rangers are no doubt hoping for a season similar to Kenny’s 2002 campaign with Texas (210 2/3 IP, 3.84 ERA, 128 ERA+), they would likely be satisfied with the 4.57 ERA he posted in Minnesota last season.

The Rangers received a great deal of criticism for letting Thomson, their only solid starting pitcher in 2003, accept Atlanta’s 2 year, $7 million deal, rather than upping their offer to $8 million over two years to try to keep him in Texas. While I have been a big Thomson fan, and thought landing him for $1.3 million on a one year deal last season was quite the coup for the Rangers, I can’t really quibble with the decision to let him walk. The Rangers made a reasonable 2 year, $6 million offer to Thomson, and offered him arbitration in order to maintain negotiating rights. By offering arbitration, they ended up with Atlanta’s first round pick when Thomson signed with the Braves. Given the choice between Thomson at 2 years, $8 million, or Rogers at 2 years, $6 million, plus a first rounder, this team is probably better off at this point with Rogers and the pick.

Texas has been criticized for overpaying Rogers, and that criticism is probably somewhat justified; Rogers only made $2 million from the Twins last season on a one year deal, and while he had a solid season, he didn’t put up the type of numbers that would seem to warrant a two year guaranteed deal plus a raise. Nevertheless, Rogers is the type of pitcher that Grady Fuson is pushing to bring to Texas, a lefty with an emphasis on “pitchability” who avoids walks, puts the ball in play, and has a history of success in TBIA. He’s had only two bad seasons his career – his bizarre 1997 campaign with the Yankees, that resulted in banishment to Oakland, and his 2001 season, where he suffered from the nerve condition that led to the removal of a rib.

Rogers will turn 39 in early April, and pitchers at that age have a tendency to lose it pretty quickly; nevertheless, the two most comparable pitchers to Rogers at age 38, per Baseball Reference, are David Wells and Jamie Moyer, guys who have managed to keep it together into their 40s. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have Rogers checking in with a 4.94 ERA for the Rangers in 2004, and Rogers’ K/BB ratio actually improved from 2002 to 2003.

As a groundball pitcher, playing in Minnesota most likely benefited him less than it would most other pitchers; the fast Minnesota turf leads to more grounders getting through the infield, and since Rogers allows very few flyballs, he was less able to take advantage of Torii Hunter’s incredible range in center. Rogers’ chances for success in Texas were much better when he was going to have ARod and Young up the middle behind him; with Young moving to shortstop, being replaced at second by the sub-mediocre (defensively, anyway) Alfonso Soriano, Rogers is going to suffer somewhat. Still, keeping in mind the usual caveat involving a player approaching 40, Rogers seems like a relatively safe bet to post an ERA in the 4.75-5.00 range for the coming season.

Overall, Rogers will probably be a slight downgrade in 2004 from Thomson. The real worry with Rogers is going to be in 2005…

Chan Ho Park

Chan Ho. The enigma. The bane of the Ranger fan. The player who some (including yours truly) believe was ultimately responsible for Alex Rodriguez being a Yankee, since, if he hadn’t been such an expensive, franchise-crippling disaster after signing his 5 year, $65 million deal, Tom Hicks would have been much less likely to go into slash-and-burn mode with this team.

Chan Ho was signed at Christmastime, 2001, with the notion being that the Rangers were getting the gift of a legitimate #1 starter. There still is some question about whether John Hart was the driving force behind bringing the Ho to Texas (he’s the classic John Hart type pitcher), or whether Tom Hicks, succumbing to the wiles of Scott Boras, took the initiative and brought the Ho here on his own. Either way, Park has been an unmitigated disaster, representing an empty pit down which the Rangers are continuing to throw millions of dollars, with no relief available until after 2006.

The entire Park signing was one that I railed about at the time; long-term deals for pitchers are dicey anyway, and giving a 5 year deal at $13 million per to a pitcher who had posted an ERA+ of over 115 only once in his career, and who had never had any success outside of Chavez Ravine, seemed like betting on the longest of longshots. Best case, Park would come to Texas and be a good #2 starter (while collecting #1 starter paychecks). What the Rangers have got is a pitcher whose confidence has been shot, whose velocity has disappeared, and who has suffered from a variety of difficult to diagnose physical ailments (which, many suggest, originated between his ears).

The latest story from the Park camp is that Park’s two years of struggles are all Oscar Acosta’s fault. The former Cub pitching coach, hand-picked by John Hart to take over as Ranger pitching coach (and run out of town less than halfway through his first season in Texas), supposedly prevented Park from doing his usual running in the spring of 2002. His inability to run resulted in hamstring problems which kept Park from being able to properly push-off to generate the necessary torque to throw his 95 mph fastball; the hamstring problems led to the back problems that Park suffered through last season. It has also been suggested that Park’s sense of pride, and the pressure of trying to justify his enormous contract, led him to try to pitch through his injuries, exacerbating the problem. Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus reported a (possibly apocryphal) anecdote last season, where Orel Hershiser supposedly told Chan Ho Park, “You must be hurt, because if you weren’t, you’d be able to throw strikes.”

Now, of course, it is spring training, and hope springs eternal. Chan Ho is back, supposedly healthy, throwing with the rest of the team, and Buck Showalter is reporting that the Ho looks good. I think management has given up on the possibility of the Ho posting a sub-4 ERA for the Rangers; he walks too many batters and gives up too many homers to really be successful in TBIA (something that you think John Hart or Tom Hicks would have taken note of before signing him in the first place).

However, Park did post a 4.28 ERA in the second half of the 2002 season (albeit with an unimpressive K/BB ratio and a .297 BABIP), the last time he was purportedly healthy. If Park is physically and mentally right – and that is about as big an “if” as you will encounter – an ERA in the range of 4.25-4.75 is not an unreasonable expectation. However, there’s no telling if this acupuncture and workout regimens over the last year have restored him to health. And there’s no telling if the pressure of pitching in a hitter’s park, with the huge contract, has ruined Park in Texas – Dodger fans still remember the way he collapsed down the stretch in 2001, when he was pitching for a big free agent contract.

So it is an absolute crapshoot trying to figure out what will happen with Park in 2004. If he struggles again, however, expect the Rangers to try to work a buyout of his deal, or possibly even release him outright; they have shown, with Todd Van Poppel and Mark Petkovsek, that they understand the value of sunk costs and are willing to release players in order to move on. But if the Rangers are going to return to respectability anytime soon, they need Chan Ho Park to start resembling a big league pitcher pretty soon.

Ismael Valdes (now Valdez) had a 6.10 ERA last year in 22 starts from what was nominally the #2 spot. If I had to guess, I’d say Park will put up better numbers than that this year, but it may just be the optimist in me talking. If Park matches Valdez’s numbers from last year, expect the Rangers to start talking buyout.

Colby Lewis

Strangely enough, Lewis, the 24 year old wunderkind pitching prospect who has gotten shots each of the last two years, has quite a bit in common with Chan Ho Park, despite being more than a half-decade younger and making about 3% of what Park does. Lewis, like Park, has a thunderbolt for a right arm and a ton of ability; Lewis, like Park, has developed a reputation for being a bit of a headcase; and Lewis, like Park, has frustrated the Rangers the past two years with poor performances at the major league level.

What is particularly frustrating with Colby Lewis is the fact that he has performed in AAA; it simply hasn’t translated in the majors. Over the past two years, Lewis has posted ERAs of 3.63 and 3.07 in AAA Oklahoma, with an aggregate 142/47 K/BB ratio in 154 1/3 IP, and just 10 homers allowed. Those are the types of numbers that make statheads salivate. Scouts, meanwhile, are equally enamored with Lewis’s mid-90s fastball, hammer curve, and fluid delivery. The combination should result in Colby having established himself as one of the majors top young pitchers; instead, he has a 7.08 ERA in 41 major league games, and was the worst starting pitcher in baseball last year.

There are several theories about why Colby has struggled; Tom Seaver, while announcing a game he pitched against the Mets last season, said flat out that Lewis was tipping his pitches, and that the Mets (and the rest of the league) had picked up on it and were teeing off. Others blame Lewis’s inability to develop a third pitch, saying that he didn’t work on it enough in the minors because he could blow hitters away. Still others see a young pitcher who just doesn’t know how to pitch.

The maddening inconsistency that has plagued Lewis is illustrated by his monthly splits from last year. Lewis posted a 4.45 ERA in April, a 12.05 ERA in May, 12.71 ERA in June, 3.86 ERA in July, 8.88 ERA in August, and 4.55 ERA in September. Lewis seemed to make progress, after his mid-season demotion, although Buck practiced tough-love with him – after good outings late in the season, Buck would basically say, “That was nice, but he needs to do it again in his next start.” Post-ASB, while Lewis did post a disappointing 6.03 ERA, he managed a 43/22 K/BB ratio in 65 2/3 IP. As a flyball pitcher, Lewis seems particularly susceptible to problems with the poor defensive outfield the Rangers had for much of 2003.

Grady Fuson has already said that this season is put up or shut up time for Colby Lewis, and he seems to have embraced the challenge, showing up to training camp having lost 15 pounds, and looking in better shape than the somewhat doughy specimen that showed up for camp last year. Orel Hershiser, who has gotten mixed reviews for his work as pitching coach so far, but who is unquestionably one of the best there is at understanding the science of pitching, has worked with Colby to use his slider more and to generally increase his baseball I.Q. Barring a disastrous camp, Lewis should start the season in the rotation, but if he struggles once more, he’ll likely be banished to the bullpen for good, with the Rangers seeing if he can make a Dotel/Gagne-esque conversion to a setup or closer role.

It is tough to say what to expect from Colby in 2004. Most of the stathead methodologies were predicting big things from Colby in 2003, and after his disappointing season, they have scaled back, for the most part, pegging him in the 5.25-5.50 range (which, in TBIA, isn’t all that bad). Colby reminds me a lot of Bobby Witt, a guy with a great arm and a ton of ability who just doesn’t seem to be able to put it together. I think Lewis will either step up and establish himself as a guy who is a #2/#3 caliber starting pitcher this year, giving the Rangers a sub-4.80 ERA as a starter, or else he’ll be working out of the pen as a setup man come Labor Day with an ERA over 6 while in the rotation. Which one of those is more likely, at this point, I have no idea.

Lewis was second on the team in starts last year, with 26, despite the 7.30 ERA. My guess is that he’ll improve on that figure this year – but if he doesn’t, he won’t get close to 26 starts. Lewis, or whomever would end up taking over his slot in the rotation, should be able to improve on last year’s performance from this slot by at least a full run of ERA.

Ricardo Rodriguez

Ricardo Rodriguez came to the Rangers along with Shane Spencer last year in exchange for Ryan Ludwick. Supposedly, the Rangers were working on a Kevin Mench for Rodriguez deal when Mench broke his wrist, ultimately ending his season, and decided to give up Ludwick (whom the organization seemed higher on than Mench) to go ahead and get the deal done. Rodriguez never pitched for the Rangers last year, having suffered a hip injury prior to the trade which ended his season, but he has come to spring training at 100% (according to reports), and is expecting to nail down a rotation spot.

Rodriguez was a top Dodger pitching prospect in 2002 when he was traded to the Indians in part of a deal for Paul Shuey. The deal was largely panned at the time, with the perception being that the Dodgers gave up too much to land Shuey, but Rodriguez struggled with the Indians, both in 2002 and in 2003, before succumbing to his injury. Rodriguez also hasn’t been particularly young for his respective leagues – he was 23 when he had his breakout season at high-A Vero Beach in 2001, posting a 3.21 ERA with 154 Ks versus 60 walks in 154 innings – and, coming from the Dominican, there are always going to be some questions about his “real” age.

That said, what there are no questions about are his arm. Rodriguez throws in the low-90s, with a good curveball and change. While he isn’t ace material, he’s generally thought of as a pitcher who could be a good middle-of-the-rotation starter, possibly a #2. The jury is still out on him, though, as injuries have plagued him the last two years, and kept him from establishing much of a track record at the upper levels – Rodriguez has just 113 innings at AA and AAA combined, and 123 innings in the majors. While his innings in the upper minors have been impressive, like Colby Lewis, he has struggled thusfar making the translation to the majors.

Also like Lewis, Rodriguez’s 2003 monthly splits are particularly informative. He started off well, posting a 3.32 ERA in April, before dropping to a 6.04 ERA in May and a 9.88 ERA in June, before being demoted to AAA Buffalo, and ultimately getting shut down for the season. While Rodriguez’s supporters say that the decline is evidence of the hip problem (which was initially misdiagnosed by the Indian medical staff), his detractors claim that the physical problems cropped up late in his run, and that his struggles were just a matter of the league catching up to him.

Like Lewis, once again, 2004 is put up or shut up time for Rodriguez. He turns 26 in May, and another lost season moves him from the realm of promising young pitchers to the category of busted pitching prospects. Rodriguez’s repertoire seems more suited to starting than relieving; unlike Lewis, he doesn’t have the big fastball, so he seems less suited to a translation to the bullpen, and thus may get more opportunities in the rotation than Lewis will. Still, given the number of pitching prospects the Rangers have pushing up from the minors, Rodriguez’s window of opportunity is starting to shut; if he doesn’t impress by the All-Star Break of 2004, he could find himself shunted aside.

Unlike Lewis, I see Rodriguez as a guy who could end up posting decent bottom-of-the-rotation numbers this year, and thus staying in the rotation picture without having a true breakout season. The stathead projections for Rodriguez are similar to that for Lewis, but unlike Lewis, I don’t see Rodriguez stepping up and posting huge numbers this year. Even before his injury problems last year, his K/BB ratio was troubling, and his minor league walk totals and ratios suggest a pitcher who won’t be dominating. I think the Rangers would be satisfied with an ERA in the 5.00-5.50 range from Rodriguez this year, and I think that’s a reasonable expectation for him in the coming season, if he can stay healthy.

The Rangers are going to be extremely disappointed if Rodriguez doesn’t perform better than the grab-bag of miscellaneous filler that the Rangers plugged in at the back of their rotation last year. He’s just a couple of years removed from being the Dodgers’ #1 prospect, and although he doesn’t appear to have ace potential, the Rangers view him as someone who can be a building block in the rotation for the next several years. Like Lewis, the leash on Rodriguez will be relatively short, particularly given the number of alternatives in the system. One would expect an improvement from last year, both against his 2003 performance and against the performance of the 2003 Rangers back of the rotation starters; however, as with Lewis, the possible Beta is very high, and we could see a 2 run per game improvement from this slot, or another collection of 7+ ERAs.

R.A. Dickey

The gritty, gutty, R.A. Dickey. A favorite of Showalter, Hershiser, and the Ranger fans, Dickey is the polar opposite of rotation-mates Lewis and Park. A first round pick out of Tennessee early in the Doug Melvin years, a Ranger doctor noticed that Dickey’s arm hung at a funny angle in an Olympic team photo; a subsequent examination detected that Dickey had no ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, which made the fact that he was even capable of pitching a minor miracle. Without the ligament, his status dropped dramatically, and he ended up signing with Texas for a fraction of the usual first round money. Until last season, it looked like he’d be nothing more than a footnote in Ranger history, having toiled at AAA Oklahoma for four straight years.

Early on, however, he caught the eye of Buck Showalter, who has (for better or worse) tended to taking a liking to guys with more guts than ability. It probably didn’t also hurt that Dickey had added a circle-change to his repertoire, giving him an additional weapon for his arsenal. Buck was taken by Dickey’s heart and attitude – he proclaimed at one point that he could pitch in the rotation and out of the pen if Buck needed him to, since he didn’t have an elbow ligament to damage anyway – and called Dickey up early in the season. After riding the shuttle a couple of times, while pitching long relief out of the pen, Dickey finally got a shot at the rotation, and did a respectable job, putting up a 5.25 ERA in 13 starts.

Dickey is very similar to Seattle fifth starter Ryan Franklin – at age 29, he’s older than most pitchers just cracking the majors. Because he doesn't have great natural ability or one dominant pitch, Dickey, like Franklin, substitutes a full arsenal of pitches, a knowledge of how to pitch, and a willingness to grit it out and throw strikes. He seems like someone who would be best utilized as a middle or long reliever – I was critical of the decision to put him in the rotation, thinking that it would result in him being overexposed – but he continued to confound his critics by pitching well, although he did fade late, posting a 5.95 ERA in his last four starts.

Dickey will be on the staff to start the season, and likely will be in the rotation, due in no small part to Showalter’s loyalty to him. I still question whether he can have success long-term as a starter, and think that his highest and best use is as a versatile swingman out of the pen who can spot start if need be. If he gets 30 starts this year, I’d peg him at a 5.50-5.80 ERA for the season. But Dickey has surprised me before…and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he surprised me again this year. I expect a drop in performance compared to last season, compared to what Dickey did last year in the rotation, but if he gets 30 starts, he shouldn’t do any worse than the pitchers at the end of the rotation in 2003 for the Rangers.

The Other Candidates

The Ranger rotation is as unsettled as any in baseball, and though the rotation seems likely to be Rogers, Park, Lewis, Rodriguez, and Dickey to start the season, there are other candidates who could earn starting jobs, either because of injuries, bad springs, or simply someone stepping up and staking a claim.

Mickey Callaway was claimed off of waivers late last season, and has managed to hang on to a spot on the 40 man roster, against all odds. The Rangers saw something in him last year, and Orel Hershiser worked with him on his mechanics, ultimately resulting in Callaway adding a few mph to his fastball and showing real progress late in the season. Management is intrigued by Callaway, who has bounced around with Tampa Bay and Anaheim before landed in Texas, and will give him a long look in the spring. He seems to be the top candidate to end up in the rotation should one of the above candidates falter, and could be a real sleeper coming into the 2004 season.

Glendon Rusch was signed as a non-roster invitee, after being released by Milwaukee after the 2003 season. Rusch looked like he was going to have a nice major league career after the 2000 season, when the former Royal farmhand posted a 4.01 ERA while going 11-11 for the Mets. Rusch regressed each year afterwards, however, until finally, in 2003, he posted a 6.42 ERA with the Brewers while going 1-12, and suffering the indignity of a mid-season demotion to AAA. As a lefty who is actually younger than R.A. Dickey, the Rangers will give him a look, but given his steady regression, and his tendency to give up the gopher ball, it seems unlikely he’ll crack the rotation unless the Ho gets hurt again, and Lewis or Rodriguez end up imploding.

Joaquin Benoit and Ryan Drese are both still hanging around, hoping for one more chance. Benoit is the more likely of the two to stick, albeit most likely in the pen. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, but has frustrated the Rangers with his inconsistency and lack of focus, although his 5.55 ERA in 17 starts last season was third on the team among starters. He’s best known for coming in from the pen in the 2002 season, in a game where Aaron Myette was ejected for throwing at the first batter of the game, and giving the Rangers 7 strong innings and almost completing a no hitter. He’ll likely end up in the long relief role to start the season, getting spot starts and possibly a chance to crack the rotation. Drese, who came over from Cleveland in the Einar Diaz/Travis Hafner deal, was a bust in the rotation last year, was relegated to AAA, got chewed out down there because of his attitude, and ended up pitching pretty well at Oklahoma to end the year. Out of options, he’s likely to end up clearing waivers and joining the Redhawk rotation, but he’s a possibility to stick at the end of the rotation this year, as well. Benoit, who has the ability but not the consistency, is a better bet to perform if given the chance than Drese, who looks like AAAA material.

In Conclusion…

As I mentioned before, the good news is that the Rangers’ rotation can’t get much worse than it was in 2004. The Rangers have a decent set of options available to start the year, with Juan Dominguez and Ryan Snare waiting in the wings in AAA, likely ready to come up at the All-Star Break if someone isn’t getting the job done, and Edwin Moreno, Nick Regilio, Erik Thompson, and Wes Littleton among those who could be knocking at the door come September.

If the Rangers are going to return to respectability this year, the improvement is going to have to come from the rotation. For that improvement to occur, they need good seasons from at least two of the Park, Rodriguez and Lewis trio. Those three represent the biggest question marks on the team right now, and could end up sinking the team if they struggle. On the other hand, they also represent the best chance for the team to, in the words of Tom Hicks, get better, faster, faster than anyone thinks.


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Baseball Prospectus needs fact checkers 

In their Triple Play today, BP identifies Mike Lamb as a righthanded hitter with a reverse platoon split.

He's a lefty, of course, without much split one way or the other.

For a publication like BP, getting a basic thing like that wrong is like a major league outfielder forgetting how many outs there are in an inning.

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Scary Buck news 

Buck Showalter is talking about Jason Tyner playing centerfield.

And leading off.

Jason Tyner is a player of Donnie Sadler-esque awfulness.

I certainly hope that this is just a motivational ploy for Kevin Mench.

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