Monday, April 19, 2010

Ode to Matt Treanor

When a young major league player is struggling and has minor league options remaining: send him to AAA! I don't understand any team's reticence or the hesitation to do so. At AAA, the player has a chance to breath, i.e. has a chance to perform in less pressurized circumstances. The player has a chance to refine their game: to work on specific fundamentals which will create them as a finished product who is ready for big league ball. The player has a chance to get their timing down, and thus to get into a confident groove. When the player is in a confident groove: THEN bring the player back to the major leagues.

The way the Rangers are allowing Derek Holland to refine and to gain confidence in OKC is the perfect example. Holland has a .046 ERA and has thrown 14 consecutive scoreless innings. Perfect.

When Holland was first in Arlington, he had success merely moving his fastball all around the strike zone. The club, excited by Holland's success, focused on helping him develop his secondary pitches. Amidst this process of developing secondary pitches, an unexpected complication: Holland lost the sharp control of his fastball which defined him as a pitcher, and which was the key to his success. Thus: OKC is perfect. Refine the secondary pitches in a place which will not punish mistakes - be they on breaking pitches or on fastballs - quite so severely.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a mess who ought stay at AAA for months. His career as a major leaguer is threatened in several ways:
  1. by a recurring physical problem with his neck after surgery to remove part of a rib due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
  2. possibly, hopefully related to #1: Saltalamaccia has had trouble consistently throwing the ball back to the pitcher. Once or twice a game, he makes a bad throw which eludes the pitcher. It's only 1 bad throw out of maybe 200 throws per game, yet that one bad throw can ruin a team; can properly end a catcher's career. 5 bad throws a season is okay. 10 bad throws a season raises a single eyebrow. 1 bad throw per game is 120 or so bad throws per season, and that ruins a team. It doesn't merely lose a few games, it also messes with the entire infield's psyche.
  3. Saltalamacchia, at bat, is a lost puppy. This is a shame, b/c Saltalamacchia has some true potential as a hitter.

Therefore, for Saltalamacchia: AAA. Triple A in May. Triple A in June. Triple A in July, August. Triple A until his neck is healthy, until he can throw to the pitcher, until he is no longer a lost puppy at bat. Allow Saltalamacchia to refine his batting in a less pressurized situation. It's the merciful thing. It's the smart thing for the franchise.

If he never regains ability to throw back to the pitcher: he stays in AAA and learns to play a corner OF spot.

Julio Borbon is in a slump. No big deal, really. Except: why should the big league team suffer through a slump by any player who has options remaining? Send him to AAA! Let him regain his groove and his confidence, then bring him back to Arlington. The following line-up is far superior to a line-up with Borbon in it:
  1. Elvis
  2. Young
  3. Hamilton CF
  4. Vlad
  5. Cruz RF
  6. Murphy LF
  7. Davis
  8. Arias
  9. Treanor

Taylor Teagarden has 18 ABs, 13 Ks, and a minor league option remaining. He's completely lost in the batter's box. Why would a major league team suffer through the batting slump of a player who has options remaining? Send Teagarden down, make Treanor the starter, let Max Ramirez sit on the bench until Teagarden regains his stroke and returns to the big leagues. It won't hurt Max Ramirez to sit on the bench and soak up the Major League atmosphere; soak up the way gritty veteran Matt Treanor operates behind the plate.

Speaking of Matt Treanor: he's exactly the kind of player a championship team can win with at catcher. Treanor is a gritty, gutsy, smart overachiever who understands how to call a game. Treanor can throw a bit. Treanor can defend himself as a hitter: he's a selective hitter who can control the bat enough to do hit and runs. I fully expect Treanor can bunt. An offense can successfully use a guy like that. He doesn't have to hit .280. He can hit .250 with a .320 OBP + hit and run plays + bunts. That's a workable offensive player, and Treanor's numbers are better than that right now. Treanor is a good guy to have in a clubhouse and in a dugout. He's mature. He's a 34 year old overachieving lifer who has never had anything handed to him. A player like that will be a natural leader in a clubhouse of young players; amongst a pitching staff of young pitchers. The Rangers (especially the pitchers) need Matt Treanor - his maturity, his overachieving history, his persona and his baseball gravitas - more than they need Teagarden or Saltalamacchia.

And yet, in the intense sports media market of DFW: Matt Treanor is portrayed as a cartoon figure who cannot possibly be what the team needs at the position. Ridiculous overreaction. It is written in the dailies and spoken of on numerous sports talk radio programs: the Rangers catching situation is a mess, a crisis. The Rangers must trade prospects to address their catching situation. Except, horrors(!), there is not good catching available on the market! The season is going down the drain! Ridikipoo. Treanor is a valuable role player. Treanor is a grizzled Dennis Thurman, Guy Carbonneau, or Derek Fisher: even when their skills are not supreme, they know how to play.

The Rangers catching position is covered.

First, despite my opinion that Saltalamacchia ought work on his hitting in AAA, it's nevertheless possible that Saltalamacchia will come roaring back, both as catcher and as hitter, in only a few weeks. Saltalamacchia's career, at this exact moment, is in crisis. However, a crisis equates to equal parts danger and opportunity. Saltalamacchia could roar back to life just as easily as he could collapse. We shall see. I don't see how, at this point, Saltalamacchia can be predicted. No one knows. But the picture might be much, much clearer in only a couple of weeks.

Second, Teagarden could make himself into a .250 type of hitter at any moment. This is my preferred scenario. I prefer Teagarden as the Rangers starting catcher.

Third, if both Saltalamacchia and Teagarden crater, the Rangers have options:
  • Max Ramirez (.407/.500/.481 = .981 OPS) - I say he's ready enough to do the job defensively, and will continue improving. I say he's underrated and overlooked by local media and fans, and possibly even by the franchise.
  • Organization soldier Kevin Richardson got major league playing time last season, and is fully capable of functioning as a backup to Treanor.
  • Toby Hall is a major league veteran who is recovering from injury and will be ready to contribute in midsummer.

The Rangers can sit tight. Catcher is one position where you can win without a spectacular guy: you can win with a gritty, gutsy guy who is all heart and who hits .250. The Rangers can take the division lead with a catching duo of Treanor and Kevin Richardson. The Rangers can win down the stretch and into the playoffs with a catching duo of Treanor and Toby Hall.

Now, look: a good trade is always a good trade. Always. My point is: there's no reason to panic and make a bad trade. There is no catching crisis. Local newspaper and radio media are over-dramatic fools. Daniels has actually done a good job of bringing along prospects: Saltalamacchia, Teagarden, Ramirez, while buying insurance via stockpiling major league veterans: Treanor, Hall, while keeping an emergency option around to train minor league pitchers and to emergency sit the major league bench: Richardson. Catching is an example of Jon Daniels keeping a cool head and doing a good job as GM. Daniels will only do a bad job if he now panics and makes a bad trade. Good trade = good. Sit tight = good. Panicky bad trade = I am one hissed off blogger.

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