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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ryan Expressed?

Well, Rangers fans. It wasn't long ago at all that we were all geared up for the 2014 season. Our starting lineup was shaping up like so...



Our rotation was looking beyond solid. If you had asked me who our 5 starters were going to be going into the season I would have pretty confidently said (ceteris paribus of course):



Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, and/or Alexi Ogando/Colby Lewis



Stout on both sides of the ball, right?


Even though we all eagerly await pitchers and catchers reporting and spring training games, in reality we just need our pitchers to get their work in, get your hitters their at-bats so they're opening day ready, and allow newer players to try and earn a roster spot...


Maybe a celebrity or two.


Sure statistics are kept and wins and losses are recorded, but you really just want to accomplish the above while escaping relatively injury free (oops). I mean, games can end in ties, for the love of god. Not that it matters but the Rangers are currently sitting near the bottom of the Cactus League at 10-15-3. They've averaged 13 wins since 2010 in the Cactus League, which is about average...for what it's worth. Again these are innocuous statistics...





Then, a funny thing happened on the way to opening day 2014...


Derek Holland

Jurickson Profar

Geovany Soto


These were your major injuries, then we lose Yu  for opening day, to boot! At this point, I literally expect there to be a new injury every day when I check on the team. I have since spent many conversations via FB, text or otherwise talking my fellow Rangers fans off the ledge. The conversations go something like this, "Did you hear about ____? We'll be fine, I think. What do you think? Are you still there?





Haha. Meanwhile (LilyAg voice), the rest of the time I'm actually talking myself off the ledge. It's times like these when a team's depth is truly tested. Unfortunately for us it reaches beyond pitching depth into our bench itself right now. Just take a look at how the lineup is shaping up now...


LineupPlayerPOSABRHRRBISBAVGOBPSLGFVal
1Shin-Soo ChooOF545841856190.2680.3990.435$13
2Elvis AndrusInjurySS54581355320.2790.3430.349$10
3Prince Fielder1B55587309810.2940.3890.512$33
4Adrian Beltre3B545822810510.3100.3640.519$32
5Alex RiosOF530751681310.2810.3260.440$23
6Mitch MorelandDH43056206300.2560.3250.451$0
7Leonys MartinOF48570963380.2700.3240.404$13
8J.P. ArencibiaCatcher27530133600.2330.2700.415$-19
9Adam Rosales2B1802052100.2440.3060.361$-31


(Plug in Michael Choice anywhere after cleanup, by the way. He stands to be a huge factor/difference maker for us)



Our starting rotation now (if I had to guess) will probably consist of:



Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, Robbie Ross, Joe Saunders with Yu and Matty hopefully coming back into the fold pretty quickly.



What a difference a couple of months makes!



The lineup is perhaps not as big a worry as the rotation, barring any further injuries (knock on wood). For example, lets speculate what losing Kinsler and AJP for 10-12 weeks in 2013 for the Rangers would have yielded, which is tantamount to losing Profar and Soto this year. That would have been disastrous for last year's offensively challenged team. 



For the time being, we'll have to rely on Adam Rosales to just field his position. If his name never comes up that would fine by me. You don't have to impress me, just don't disappoint me. If only I could think of another infielder whose natural position is second base out there that we could easily sign. Hmm...


I'm waiting...


Haha. We'll make due, I hope. Somewhere Ian Kinsler is laughing...


0-162, baby!


Goooood. Gooood....

We also cannot ignore that the catcher position has to be something of a concern for these next 10-12 weeks. J.P. Arencibia or Robinsin Chirinos? Err, is there a 3rd option? Haha. Here we have a couple of career .200 hitters. J.P. has some pop which I'll take from the catcher position any day e.g. he's good for 20 or so HRs on average. AJP/Soto was a suitable tandem last year for the Rangers, but in reality the catcher position has been in flux for quite some time. I remember asking Jenn at some point during last season if she would take the Salty/Napoli combo (both former Rangers of course) the Red Sox were using over AJP/Soto. Hindsight, I know. AJP joined those same Red Sox this offseason. I die a little bit inside when I remember Salty and Nap have rings now...








Blah. So, when free agency began I knew this team had other needs, but I thought catcher would be a priority. Catcher by committee and stop gaps can only get you by for so long. Even at 30 years old, Brian McCann was immediately on my Rangers wishlist, but not for 5 years and 85 mil...






I don't know that he would have solved all our catching problems, but Soto goes down and boom!





Look what happens. Suddenly we're scrambling. At least the future looks bright with our latest 'can't miss' prospect, 20 year old Jorge Alfaro...






As for that starting rotation of ours I tend to blame myself for not worrying about it for the SECOND year in a row. Injuries have forced relievers Tanner Scheppers (your opening day starter!) and possibly Robbie Ross into the rotation. Alexi Ogando and Nick Tepesch looked TERRIBLE this spring. So did Colby Lewis up until this game. Throw in veteran Joe Saunders and Tommy Hanson for some not-much-better options and you begin to see the conundrum we're currently experiencing. Yu Darvish should be ready to go soon, leaving Martin Perez as our ONLY projected starter that will be ready to go when the season begins. Just think about that without freaking out *just a bit*...
 



Not that the Rangers are strangers to their current plight. Injuries in the rotation have really become something of a trend in recent years. Here's a team that employed 11 different starting pitchers in each of the past 2 seasons. 11! Last season, the 78 win-Angels and 71 win-M's both used 11 as well. The 51-111 Astros used 10 different starters in 2013. Let that sink in for a second. Oh and guess where Joe Saunders and Tommy Hansen pitched last season? Seattle and Anaheim...






Now imagine trying to manage this mess, let alone being the architect of which. Now, I hear people saying this is the "Curse of Nolan Ryan". If I'm going to believe that I might as well also believe C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton dabble in voodoo.



Yay! It worked!


As you well know by now (maybe), I've been in JD's corner for the most part as evidenced here (once again)...



http://162plus.blogspot.com/2013/04/wwjdd-haha-getting-to-know-jon-daniels.html




...and here (again)...



http://162plus.blogspot.com/2014/01/a-new-year-prince-and-lots-more-to-choo.html




Despite all this current calamity I still have supreme confidence in JD, Wash, and the team, but that one name just keeps coming to mind...



Do you go to the State Fair to see your Big Tex?


If we take a step back and examine (again) we remember that JD arrived in 2006 and Ryan in 2008, but real success didn't arrive until 2010. In a perfect world, I like to idealize their relationship as a symbiotic one; one's success not existing without the other. What about the culture change Ryan ushered in though? The emphasis was put on pitching and defense. For instance, the Rangers team ERA was 5.37 in 2008 when he arrived, 4.38 in 2009, 3.93 in 2010, 3.79 in 2011, 3.99 in 2012, and 3.62 in 2013. You get the picture. You know the cliches too: The Rangers were never known for their pitching. The team wilts in the Texas heat after the all-star break. They're in a hitter-friendly ballpark etc. and blah blah...


Hitter friendly meaning beautiful...


More specifically though, Ryan (along with pitching coach Mike Maddux) de-emphasized the pitch count.


"I really think that what you have to do if you're gonna ask people to throw more innings and throw more pitches, you have to get them physically prepared to do that and mentally they have to accept that." -Nolan Ryan


Vis-à-vis conditioning and arm strength.


"If we put a pitch count on them, we put a limit on it. We put a ceiling on them. Why don't we just lift the ceiling and let them go as long as they can?" -Mike Maddux





No Limit...



Nolan was 'bout it 'bout it.


So this myth of '100 pitches' was out the window.  The Rangers have had varying results with this philosophy. Derek Holland and Matt Harrison made names for themselves during this time period. More recently you might see Yu Darvish toss 130 pitches on any given night. Then, relievers like C.J Wilson and Alexi Ogando come to mind. What gives us pause is former Rookie of the Year and lights out closer Neftali Feliz and how he may never be the same again after stretching out as a starter. He'll be starting this season at triple A if you hadn't heard. Ogando is back in the bullpen this season. Remind me again about C.J. Wilson's postseason success with the Rangers...



Only time will tell what becomes of Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross if they have to be in the rotation for longer than we need them to, or if we even need both in the rotation. Now, this really just begs the question, is this philosophy to blame for our constant injury riddled rotations? Hmm...


The Rangers were also dead last in fielding in the AL in 2008 with 132 errors, by the way. They ranked 4th with 85 errors 4 years later.


In the final analysis, I guess we'll never know what really happened between JD and the Ryan Express. Did he force Ryan out? Was this a power struggle?





Now that Ryan has taken a 'special consultant' position with Houston we'll see how JD fares in his absence and vice-versa. Lets not kid ourselves though. These 2014 Rangers are NOT the 2006 or 2007 Rangers. In any event, the last thing we want is Jimmy Johnson/Jerry Jones comparisons/musings/aphorisms...


What might have been...



What I found interesting was JD being quoted this week as saying the Matt Garza trade has the potential to 'haunt' him. I couldn't say with confidence that it was a good move at the time, much less now. Will anything become of C.J Edwards, Justin Grimm, and Mike Olt with the Cubs? Could they have helped us in our current decimated state? Are there any other assets JD traded away recently that would be nice to have in our pockets right now? Probably not. The Cubs also have Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks which we sent them for renting Ryan Dempster in 2012. JD also picked up Koji Uehara in 2011 for the pennant race in exchange for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter if you remember...



53 HRs. 53!


I can't really say that Garza, Uehara, or Dempster were worth it in retrospect, but consider the alternative being the Rangers standing pat for the last 4 years in a row at the deadline. We know good and well that wouldn't fly. Nevertheless, none of these players are Rangers at this point and a couple of them (along with Salty and Nap) have World Series rings now...


Who saw this coming?


A sobering thought...



All of a sudden you even hear people calling JD the 'anti-Jerry Jones'. If you're a Cowboys fan you've seen the salary cap hell that Jerry Jones' perceived loyalty to his players has put the Cowboys in. What's the old adage? Better a year too soon than a year too late? Think about some of the players that JD has either let go, traded, or whose offers he didn't match (usually because the price was outrageous), and still others he probably perceived to be on the decline, and still others he just plain decided to moved on from. Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Vladimir Guererro (kinda), Mike Napoli (twice?), Cliff Lee (I guess?), Nelson Cruz, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson and so on. They weren't all classy exits either. Then, I begin to wonder if there's any credence to Ian's 'sleazeball GM' comments. Even though verisimilitude escapes Ian for most Rangers fans these days...




Should we add Nolan Ryan to that list of spurned Rangers? Not that I'm trying to now paint JD as a tyrant/dictator. Emperor even...





...but maybe his 'New England Patriots'-like approach isn't a bad thing. Just ask Tom Hicks if you can have just ONE 25 million dollar a year player and still field a competitive team...



The genesis of the exorbitant contract.



Really, dawg!?


Hell, you could accumulate players like that if you wanted to, but what kind of team would you have on your hands? A bunch of 30 something has-beens? Not much a team if you ask me. Just look at the Yankees. They have excess of 120 million dollars invested in 8 30-something-year old players! That doesn't even count A-Rod's 29 mil that he's no longer owed due to suspension...


Now we have to ask ourselves another question: will we survive until around mid-season when we are (hopefully) completely healthy again? I'm not typically a glass half full, Mickey Spagnola type, but an above average left handed starting pitcher, a great second baseman, and a serviceable catcher damn sure sound like some welcome additions no matter where we stand.


You can't play the 'woe is me' card in baseball, after all. It's not like we're the only team in the League, or even our own division, dealing with injuries. Maybe not to the point we've experienced, but sometimes it's an inevitability. The Angels are pretty frail/shaky in their rotation after Weaver and Wilson. The A's will be without Jarrod Parker (for the season) and A.J. Griffin (on the DL)...






Not really sure what to make of the M's no matter if they're healthy or not. The Astros? Scott Feldman, guys? Really?


This about sums it up...


So now we have one mere 'Big League' weekend left between us and opening day.





By Big League weekend I mean the Rangers playing 2 exhibitions games against the Little League Astros at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio. JD wants that San Antonio market, I suppose. Not bad for the anti-Jerry Jones.  Speaking of the Astros though, now Nolan Ryan has been quoted as saying the Astros remind him of the Rangers in 2008.






Maybe in the farm system, but big league wise? Now, I'm not kidding myself here, either, that those Rangers and their predecessors weren't bad, but they weren't routine 100-loss bad!



Seriously! Before I forget, though, I made my own recent off season trades in an effort to realign the baseball gods for us, by trading this....






...for these...





...annnnd this bobblehead....






...for a bobblehead to be named later...



Gotta have it!



Haha....





Anyway, whether you're in panic mode or optimistic, Team Daniels or Team Ryan, I know we're all team Rangers, goddammit.





Bring on the Phillies! Bring on Cliff Lee!





4 Days...

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