Friday, July 13, 2007

Texas Rangers

I count 4 present or potential closers in a bullpen of 7 relievers:
  1. Eric Gagne
  2. Akinori Otsuka
  3. Frankie Francisco
  4. LH C.J. Wilson

That's a wow. The Rangers also have Joaquin Benoit and LH Ron Mahay pitching the best ever in their careers - which is pretty danged good in both cases; and the Rangers have superachiever Willie Eyre - having added a split finger fastball to his repertoire - demonstrating both mastery of his craft, and versatility to pitch in either starting, long relief, or set-up roles. More wow.

Unable to break into the superstrong bullpen, except in the case of injuries:

  • Wes Littleton (conceivably a future closer, or an 8th inning set-up reliever)
  • Scott Feldman (workmanlike and effective side-armer)
  • LH A.J. Murray (currently using a plus change-up to dominate as a AAA closer)
  • Either Jamey Wright, Vincent Padilla, or Robinson Tejeda, depending on which one falls out of the starting rotation.

At this moment - before a possible onslaught of trades begin - the Rangers possess the finest bullpen in franchise history. It's an absolute pleasure to watch these guys work.

I believe the Rangers, improbably, are now the equal of most baseball teams which are challenging for the playoffs. Young starters Brandon McCarthy and Kameron Loe are ready to succeed in a way they were not in April and May. Young players Marlon Byrd and Ian Kinsler are also ready to succeed in ways they were not in April and May. Early season slumping veterans Kevin Millwood, Michael Young, Brad Wilkerson, and Frank Catalanotto are now playing with excellence. Manager Ron Washington and Catcher Gerald Laird have seemingly meshed their thinking on how to call games and work with pitchers.

The Rangers were two months too young and two months too slumpy to succeed this season. It seems crazy, yet if the Rangers kept this exact team together in 2008, I would like their chances to make the playoffs. However, the odds of this team being together, even three weeks from now, are slim.

Looking to the future:

In the MLPlayoffs and the World Series, umpire's strike zones shrink a bit. Its important to have pitchers who can succeed in those umpiring conditions.

Kevin Millwood can succeed, more often than not. He can spot his fastball where he needs it - which is what you need.

Brandon McCarthy reminds me of a tall Orel Herschiser. McCarthy could become a successful playoff pitcher.

Kameron Loe will have trouble. If playoff umpires cut 3-4 inches off the bottom of the regular season strike zone, Loe's sinker and change-up may put him behind in the count against many hitters. It's the same problem Greg Maddux had in the playoffs, imo. It's the same problem Fernando Valenzquela had late in his career, when hitters began letting his sinkers go by, and umpires began carefully scrutinizing the bottom of his strike zone.

Eric Hurley could be a solution.

My solution: C.J. Wilson.

I know of no reason C.J. could not be a #1 or a #2 World Series quality starter. He certainly has the stuff, the intelligence, and the repertoire. The Rangers could be worried about C.J.'s post-operative health - yet I've not heard any actual word about that. It's said C.J. likes to get his adrenaline pumping for relief appearances. So what? I say C.J. is an intelligent and adaptable athlete. C.J. was horribly unsuccessful during two different efforts at being a starting pitcher in the major leagues. Again: so what? In a young player's career, those failures were a LIFETIME ago. Those failures were exactly like a 5 year old trying to remember when they were 3 years old: it was FOREVER ago. Who can REMEMBER that far back?!

C.J.'s repertoire could be a big asset. A starting pitcher needs to give hitters different looks during different trips through the line-up. C.J. has about 6 different pitches he can throw effectively. He's a veritable Daisuke Matusaka - right down to C.J.'s employing Daisuke's gyroball as a strike-out pitch. C.J. throws all these pitches well:

  • 4 seam FB
  • 2 seam FB
  • slider
  • curve
  • change-up

plus the gyroball; plus he's always playing around with things like a forkballs and a screwballs, and whatever else he hears about.

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