Saturday, June 06, 2009

Two Months In: Are the Texas Rangers Legitimate?

Short Answer: who knows?

The defense is legit.
The offense needs internal improvement.
The pitching: who knows?

The pitching will definitely be legitimate during years 2012 through 2020, will probably be legitimate during 2010-2011, and probably is legitimate in 2009. However: who really knows? No one. I expect the pitching is legitimate, but we shall see.

Most Rangers pitchers are having near career best seasons. Why?
  1. Natural maturation
  2. Defense improves pitching
  3. Mike Maddux good, previous pitching coach bad.
  4. Luck. Finally the Rangers are having some good pitching luck. They are due. 

Will the pitching regress?  

I don't see why the starting pitching would regress.

Millwood and Padilla are veterans who are pitching to their legitimate ability levels. 

I don't see that the league will "figure out" the younger pitchers. 

Feldman and Harrison are true pitchers who have ways to adjust and re-adjust during games and seasons. 

McCarthy has a giant curve and an overhand "rising" fastball (i.e. a fastball with a high rate of very vertical spin), a la Jim Palmer, which is thrown from a steep angle, a la Chris Young. Hitters never adjust to these factors. McCarthy is mentally fragile, and could think himself into regression.  Absent that, he should be fine.  Jim Palmer, initially, also was mentally fragile.  McCarthy needs an underwear commercial.

Holland throws fastballs all around the strike zone with control. He's not trying to fool anyone, and therefore there is no way to figure him out and thus defeat him. If Holland has control of his fastball, he will likely win.  If not, he will likely lose.

In a playoff series, the Rangers might suffer from lack of a dominant #1 starter. However, in a pennant race, the starting pitching will be competitive enough to potentially win.

Also: the Rangers are well positioned (in payroll and in minor league assets) to trade for a starting pitcher.

The relief pitching is fragile - both mentally and physically - and could regress. Recently, several relievers have produced admirable performances.  Veterans Jason Jennings and Eddie Guardado have both performed well.  A good sign.  Yet, I would not bet the farm on the stability of this group. Frankie Francisco's brain is semi fragile, his arm is fully fragile.  If Frankie goes, things get dicey.  Frankie and Kinsler are the most indispensible Rangers.  Their production cannot be replaced internally. 

On the other hand, if need arises: the Rangers are well positioned to make trades to improve the relief corps.  

The defense is legit, and will only improve as catchers Saltalamacchia and Teagarden mature their game calling skills.  Saltalamacchia's receiving skills are decent, and headed towards above average; Teagarden's are excellent.

The Rangers outfield possess speed throughout, and possess strong and accurate arms throughout. 

The infield is mobile and has big arms throughout. Young and Andrus have worrisome tendencies to throw inaccurately. I would like to see them concentrate on better balance in their throwing positions.

Young has sharp weaknesses and sharp strengths. His first step is slow, and thus he will never rob many hitters of potential base hits. If he gets to his second step, he ranges and throws on the run extremely well, and thus he will never give up many cheap hits on medium grounders or on slow rollers. If he can get to a backhand, he has a cannon arm, and thus an outstanding chance to throw the batter out.

Andrus' defense is spectacular. Kinsler is good. Chris Davis is good.  Vizquel is excellence personified.

The offense has underperformed, and therefore is unlikely to get worse. 

Only one hitter stands a serious chance of regression: Nelson Cruz. This is not a knock on Cruz, but rather an acknowledgment of his excellence so far, and an acknowledgment that Cruz' true level of skill can only be known over time. I expect Cruz will prove himself an offensive force to be feared by opponents.  We shall see.  Fingers crossed.

Kinsler has been spectacular at times, is a spectacular offensive player, and will not regress.

Young and Elvis have been good, are good, and will not regress.

Same with Murphy (after an initial slump) and Byrd: they are good, and should continue to be good.

Andruw Jones is streaky, and has been good so far.

Omar Vizquel has been excellent.

Everyone else has performed below expectations. Oddly, that bodes well for the Rangers offense during the second half of the season. Some talented hitters could show up in a big way.

Make the Playoffs?
I predicted, before Opening Day, the Rangers could make a midseason trade(s) for pitching, win 89 or 90 games, and make the playoffs.  I was over pessimistic.  The Rangers could win 89 or 90 games with this exact group of players, and without making any trade. Andruw Jones has yet to be exploited in this line up.  Hamilton, Davis, and Blalock have yet to catch fire.  If the Rangers begin trading, they could win 93 or 94.

I actually hope the Rangers do not make trades.  I would prefer to let all the talent ripen naturally.  I would prefer 89 wins and take my chances.  However, I estimate about an 80% chance of trades happening.

Playoff Series failure
If the Rangers make the playoffs, I expect playoff series failure from the starting pitching, the relief pitching, and the hitting.  

The pitching will fail due to various lack of talent or experience (though Padilla will fail b/c he chokes on a big stage).  I expect this is a big reason the Rangers will trade for pitching:  they know they have an excellent chance to make the playoffs; they know their pitching is not ready to succeed in the playoffs.  They will try to rectify this via trade. 

The offense will fail due to lack of plate discipline. Smart pitchers befuddle them. A 2005 Jamie Moyer or a 2006 Kenny Rogers would make a Rangers line-up look like Little Leaguers - and they would do it while almost never throwing a strike. They would throw a bunch of almost strikes which actually were not strikes. The almost strikes would destroy the flailing Texas Rangers hitters.  Grrrr.  

My team's batters are stupid much of the time.  They know how the ball rockets off their bat; they anticipate the ball rocketing off their bat; they try to force the issue, they try to do too much, and failure is inevitable.  They must learn to let the game come to them.

Metaphor: The strike zone is a castle. 
A hitter can counter any artillery or any attacker which attempts to breach the castle.  However, if a hitter enthusiastically charges out of the castle gates to chase after a fleeing enemy:  ambush occurs.  Disaster occurs.  4-2 playoff game losses occur.  This is what a Jamie Moyer and a Kenny Rogers do:  they entice the hitter to charge out of the castle and to chase the fleeing enemy.  The hitter is then ambushed by decisively lowered odds of success.  The Huns may be at the gate.  Fine.  But, for gosh sakes, don't come out of the castle and chase the Huns over the blind rise.  Disaster there awaits.  Instead: defend the castle.  Dominate the castle grounds.

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