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February 26, 2005

ESPN Column

Soriano Less Than 100%
“Tentative� was the word used by manager Buck Showalter to describe ALFONSO SORIANO’s participation in Spring Training drills. Soriano missed the last two weeks of 2004 with a torn tendon below his hamstring and didn’t start running until recently. Management considers him healed but a bit gun-shy, worried that he’ll reinjure himself, and they may hold him out of the first few intra-squad games as a precaution. He may return to the leadoff spot (where his mediocre OBP is ill-suited, but what the hey) and improve on last year’s eighteen steals. As mentioned last week, he should rebound somewhat from last year’s disappointing season, but another 40-steal season is improbable. Think high twenties.

Cordero Almost 100%
Near-elite closer FRANCISCO CORDERO missed the first few days of drills with a sore shoulder, throwing a little fear into people like me who own him in a keeper league. The team doesn’t consider the situation serious. He’s participating in long toss and could throw in anger in a few days. Fellow reliever FRANK FRANCISCO, a potentially useful reliever in AL-only leagues, hasn’t throw at all because of elbow soreness and will be shut down until at least the end of the month. OF/1B JASON BOTTS, a longshot to make the team as a DH, has been sidelined with back spasms. Botts probably will begin the season in AAA but has a chance to make a late-season impact in Texas.

Everyone Else Is Healthy
Texas didn’t participate much in the offseason feeding frenzy and should write out a lineup very similar to last year’s. Soriano will probably lead off, followed by shortstop MICHAEL YOUNG and 3B HANK BLALOCK. 1B MARK TEXIERA will bat fourth, newcomer RICHARD HIDALGO fifth, and fellow outfielder KEVIN MENCH sixth. As of today, a platoon of DAVID DELLUCCI and GREG COLBRUNN would DH. LAYNCE NIX and ROD BARAJAS will finish the order, with GARY MATTHEWS replacing Nix frequently against lefties. Young has lost his eligibility at 2B but that doesn’t affect his value much. Teixeira retained OF eligibility in ESPN leagues, giving him a slight boost. The top six batters are draft-worthy in mixed leagues. I’ll get into stat predictions and discussions of upside and downside next week.

As with last year, Cordero is the only Ranger meriting a spot on every draft list. Both KENNY ROGERS and RYAN DRESE should win their fair share of games but otherwise offer pretty mediocre fantasy stats to mixed-league owners. CHAN HO PARK is already tinkering with his delivery less than a week into Spring Training, much to Showalter’s dismay. He’ll make the rotation or finally be cut. Either way, avoid him. Vet PEDRO ASTACIO is back from two years lost to injury. Youngsters RICARDO RODRIGUEZ, CHRIS YOUNG and JUAN DOMINGUEZ have potential, but their uncertain status and lack of experience make them too risky. Should anyone step up (or out), I’ll keep you informed.

About the Ballpark
The Ballpark In Arlington (yes, I know it has a new and improved name) wasn’t always a hitter’s heaven. It played neutral or only slightly hitter-friendly until 2002, when construction of a premium group of seats known as the “Gold Club� altered wind currents near the playing field. The Ballpark “catches� the prevailing southern winds and pushes them in the opposite direction, straight out to center field. Thus, more fly balls end up in the seats, and those that don’t have warped trajectories that play havoc with center fielders. Many parks inflate homers but suppress other types of hits such as doubles and triples. Last year, The Ballpark wasn’t profoundly homer-friendly but inflated all types of hits, resulting in the best hitter’s environment in the American League.

In 2004, the aggregate batting line in the AL was .270/.333/.433. Adjusting for the home park, a Ranger would have to hit .283/.353/.455 just to be average. That’s an increase of 13 points in batting, 20 in OBP, and 22 in slugging. Similarly, a league-average AL would post an ERA of 4.63 in an average park but would have a 5.05 ERA in Texas, an increase of almost one-half run. Individual results will vary, of course; Soriano’s lackluster 2004 is living proof. Still, these are figures to keep in mind when a player joins or departs the Rangers. The Ballpark isn’t the Coors Field of the American League, but since Kansas City moved the fences back, Texas owns the best AL hitter’s environment by a healthy margin.

Posted by Lucas at February 26, 2005 02:34 PM