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February 26, 2007

ESPN Fantasy Column

Infield Projections

2006: 727 PA, .282/.371/.514, 99 R, 33 HR, 110 RBI, 2 SB
2007: 725 PA, .290/.373/.546, 104 R, 39 HR, 124 RBI, 3 SB
Batting Position: Probably 4th to start, maybe 3rd later on.
Upside: Low
Downside: Low

Always a slow starter, Teixeira didn’t speed up until mid-July last season and disappointed owners who drafted him in the first round. Tex inexplicably struggled at home (.266 with 12 homers) and was strangely powerless in the 1st inning (.245/.368/.336). He hadn’t experienced those troubles before and should be free of them in 2007. Expect slight-to-moderate increases in all categories except steals. Also expect another mediocre April and an eventual reward for not trading him during said month. He might aggravate you during the spring, but his Teixeira’s 2006 totals of 99 runs, 33 homers and 110 RBI were his worst since his rookie season. Teixeira is as healthy as an ox. I rank him third among true first basemen behind Pujols and Howard, fourth if including David Ortiz.

2006: 473 PA, .286/.347/.454, 65 R, 14 HR, 55 RBI, 11 SB
2007: 650 PA, .276/.340/.445, 85 R, 20 HR, 80 RBI, 16 SB
Batting Position: As low as 9th against righties and probably 2nd against lefties to start the season. Could be 2nd or anywhere between 5th and 9th eventually.
Upside: Low (see below)
Downside: Moderate

Kinsler roared out of the gate as a true rookie in 2006, injured his thumb sliding into second base, and finished the season rather flat. ESPN ranks him 15th among eligible second basemen, but I believe he can help owners in all but the smallest of mixed leagues. That thumb injury held him to only 473 plate appearances last year; a reasonable 650 this season would boost his rookie numbers by 37%. Thus, Kinsler could surmount 80 runs and RBI, 20 homers and 15 steals simply by showing up. Only a handful of second basemen can say the same. I say his upside is low because I already grade him so highly.

On the downside, there is some chance that the real Kinsler is the one who hit .267/.329/.399 after the All-Star break, and his tremendous start (.320/.379/.553 during the first half) was a fluke that just about any player can have. He also hit extraordinarily well with runners in scoring position; a return to normalcy could reduce his RBI total considerably. Further, new manager Ron Washington has considered batting him ninth against righties, which would cut into all his counting stats.

Again, I’m not projecting fantasy greatness for Kinsler, just solid production at a lackluster position. Are you counting on 35-year-old Ray Durham to repeat his career-best 26 homers, or on Brandon Phillips to repeat his out-of-the-blue success, or on 39-year-old Jeff Kent to stay on the field? Kinsler just might best all of them.

2006: 646 PA, .266/.325/.401, 76 R, 16 HR, 89 RBI, 1 SB
2007: 650 PA, .269/.328/.428, 76 R, 20 HR, 87 RBI, 1 SB
Batting Position: Probably 6th to start, between 5th and 7th as the season progresses. Possibly on the bench against lefties toward the end of the season.
Upside: High
Downside: Moderate

A shoulder injury hampered Blalock during last season’s second half, but it provided only temporary cover for what has become a depressing decline into mediocrity. Blalock hit .216/.281/.315 against lefties and .253/.311/.383 on the road last year. He might be a platoon player (or worse) if not for his astounding first two full years at the ages of 22 and 23. Last year, I suggested he’d partially return to form and recommended trading him early if he started hot. This year, in small and medium-sized mixed leagues, I wouldn’t bother with him. Unlike at second base, the hot corner is rich in fantasy talent. Blalock doesn’t measure up.

That said, Blalock has publicly rededicated himself to his craft. Blalock is only 26, a year younger than both Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard, and has genuine potential to recapture his former glory. He’s a worthwhile risk in AL-only leagues and worth eyeing in mixed leagues. Alas, he has a long history of cratering in the second half. Irrespective of how well he plays to start the season, his owners should trade him by the All-Star break, even if for a seemingly modest return.

2006: 748 PA, .314/.356/.459, 93 R, 14 HR, 103 RBI, 7 SB
2007: 725 PA, .304/.351/.461, 97 R, 17 HR, 93 RBI, 7 SB
Batting Position: Probably 3rd to start, maybe 2nd later on.
Upside: Low
Downside: Low

Young finally crested at age 29, showing declines in most categories for the first time in his career. His 2005 appears to be a mild outlier, which is to say he’s only excellent, not other-worldly. Though Young won’t accrue the steals of Reyes and Rollins or the homers of Tejada, he is the rare shortstop who will surpass 90 runs and RBI. Like Teixeira, Young doesn’t get hurt or take days off. He’s averaged 734 plate appearances per season during the last four years. After the frontrunner Tejada, I rank Rollins, Young, Jeter and Reyes very closely in that order.

Posted by Lucas at 06:17 PM

February 24, 2007

Wanting More

Here’s where I pick on Victor Rojas even though I like his work on the radio. From an interview with John Vittas:

Q: Do you see Sammy Sosa batting 5th and making meaningful contributions for this ball club in 2007?

Rojas: Well, I’m rooting for him both from the standpoint of a player trying to get his career back on track and for the Rangers because they need a guy to hit in the middle of the lineup. They don’t think that they need a 35-40 homerun type of guy to protect Mark Teixeira. They need someone who’s going to hit 15-20 and drive in 80 or 90 runs to help the team.

If true, Texas had the very thing they “needed” last year. It’s name was Hank Blalock, and he hit 16 homers with 89 RBI, mostly while batting fifth and trailing Teixeira in the lineup.

Blalock had 646 plate appearances last year, not all batting fifth, but let’s use that as a basis for comparison. Per 646 PAs, the average American League #5 hitter had 24 homers and 96 RBI. Only one team had fewer than 17 homers and 82 RBI (amazingly, the Boston Red Sox.) A team should demand more from the #5 spot. Any vaguely competent hitter (or group of hitters) should collect 80 or more RBI simply because of the opportunity-rich environment.

You go back to two years ago when this team hit all those homeruns but didn’t win a lot of games. Now, you’ve got Ian Kinsler who’s capable of getting on base, Michael Young can do it, and Kenny Lofton to name a few.

I get all tingly when baseball people tout on-base percentage, but dreadful pitching is the reason Texas “hit all those homeruns but didn’t win a lot of games” in 2005. Remember those 300 innings from Chan Ho Park, Pedro Astacio, Ryan Drese and Ricardo Rodriguez? Good times.
Incidentally, greedy fan that I am, I want on-base specialists and “all those home runs” in the same season.
It’s just a matter of how many runs the 4, 5, and 6 guys in the lineup can produce, especially with two outs in an inning. I’m not a big numbers guy but it’s easy to look back and tell that two out hits just haven’t been there for the Rangers…
With runners in scoring position and two out, Texas ranked third in the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Where the Rangers failed is in creating those opportunities: they ranked 11th in RISP/2out appearances. If Lofton and company can get on base and Blalock can find himself circa 2004-2005, Blalock might drive in 110 runs. And there will be much rejoicing.

Posted by Lucas at 06:53 PM

February 23, 2007

Weekend Photo

Austin Marathon, 18 Feb 2007.

Posted by Lucas at 03:17 PM

February 16, 2007

Weekend Photo

My wife's bookcase, 9 Feb 2007. Got the bear in Surprise in 2004 and the bobblehead last season in Arlington. Let it be known that I am doing my part to sustain Tom Hicks and Major League Baseball.

Posted by Lucas at 06:07 PM

ESPN Fantasy Column

I’m Scott Lucas, would-be fantasy expert and ESPN’s correspondent for the Texas Rangers. 2007 begins my sixth year on the job. When I started in ’02 I was unmarried, unemployed, and drove a 1980 Volvo 240. Now I have a wife, a job, and a car built several years after Pink Floyd concluded its tour for The Wall. I owe it all to ESPN Fantasy Games.

ESPN now archives columns here, but if you want columns plus other bloggy goodness on the Rangers please visit rangers.scottlucas.com. Drop me a question at tex07@scottlucas.com for specific advice. Now, some first impressions:

Can Sosa Contribute?
From 2002-2005, Sammy Sosa saw annual decreases in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, runs, homers and RBI. In 2006 he sat on his couch and turned 37. I queried a list of over-35 players from 1969 to present who achieved at least 200 plate appearances in a season, then completely missed the following season (no MLB, minors or overseas play), then returned and again surpassed 200 PAs. I found six: Al Martin, Kevin Elster, Tony Fernandez, Ryne Sandberg, Ray Lankford and Andres Galarraga. Of the six, only Sandberg and Big Cat played enough and well enough to help a fantasy team. The odds are very long.

Most likely, Sosa will win a job in Spring Training after pummeling some NRIs and youngsters bound for AA, hit about .235/.310/.430 with just enough homers to avoid complete uselessness, then lose his job by mid-May. Ranger fans will recognize this as a repeat of the 2006 Phil Nevin Season Arc. Nevin himself imitated the 2003 version of Brad Fullmer, who imitated 2001’s Ken Caminiti. It’s a proud Ranger tradition. In all seriousness, Sosa is a wild card. My trusty computer tells me he’ll hit .235 with a little power, but the standard deviation is huge. Mixed leaguers drafting early should just avoid him except as a last-round what-the-heck pick. Even AL-only owners should be skeptical. Probably better to let an opponent draft him.

What Of The Other Outfielders?
It’s a mess. Kenny Lofton can still hit .300 but won’t start (or won’t hit well) against lefties. He hasn’t surpassed 80 runs since 2003. He did steal 32 bases last year and will be allowed to run, but he also hits the big Four Oh in May. Frank Catalanotto likewise won’t play much against lefties. Though he’s a steady .300 hitter, the rest is pretty thin: an average of 56 runs, eight homers and 58 RBI during the past two years, and no speed. Little Cat is for single-league owners only. Brad Wilkerson has a shiny new shoulder and hopes to avenge last year’s debacle. He may produce more fantasy happiness than the other outfielders, but he’s yet another risky selection. Nelson Cruz has shown only flashes of his potential and may end up on the wrong end of a platoon. Poor Jason Botts slugged .562 in a ferociously hitter-unfriendly AAA park last season but must await the results of the Sosa Experiment.

Eric Gagne recently threw off the mound for the first time in months, and he proclaimed himself satisfied. For three years he was possibly the most effective closer ever plus offered more strikeouts than many rotation pitchers. Now, he’s a giant question mark. Understand that if he’s healthy, the closing job is his at Akinori Otsuka’s expense. Were I drafting today, I’d rate Gagne below most decent closers with reasonable grips on their jobs but above fluid scenarios like Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Florida. Especially in AL-only leagues and large mixed leagues, I’d protect my investment by drafting Otsuka in a late round. Teams will be interested in Otsuka, and Texas may trade him if Gagne performs well.

Kevin Millwood conveniently performed to my expectations last year, allowing owners this year to draft him based on who he really is instead of the guy who posted a sub-3.00 ERA in Cleveland. Actually, his 2006 ERA of 4.52 was slightly unlucky. In 2007, he could drop to 4.25 or so with an adequate WHIP and a little over 150 strikeouts. He’ll have some use in larger mixed leagues. Vicente Padilla has an erratic track record and is tougher to predict. He has more upside and downside than Millwood. Brandon McCarthy makes the scouts drool but has yet to translate his potential into worthwhile fantasy production. Mixed leaguers (except in very large leagues) needn’t bother, single-leaguers can take a flyer on him late. Robinson Tejeda managed a 4.28 ERA but with thoroughly mediocre peripherals in 14 starts. He’s worth watching but not worth drafting outside of large AL-only leagues.

Posted by Lucas at 06:00 PM

February 09, 2007


Texas signed pitchers OMAR BELTRE, SCOTT FELDMAN, A.J. MURRAY, ALEXI OGANDO, JOSH RUPE, ROBINSON TEJEDA, and EDINSON VOLQUEZ, catcher CHRIS STEWART, infielder JOAQUIN ARIAS, and outfielder FREDDY GUZMAN to one-year contracts at or near the MLB minimum of $380,000.

All have splits that pay considerably less for time spent in the minors. Click the 40-Man Roster link at upper right for the details.

Posted by Lucas at 06:34 PM

February 05, 2007

Unknown Pleasures -- The Hitters, #1-#2

Fifth in a series on Rangers who provided unexpected help with their bats for a season. Hitters 16-20 are here, 11-15 here, 6-10 here, 3-5 here.

2. Wayne Tolleson, infielder, 1985

Plate Apps.
Season OPS+
Season (5th) 355 .313 .353 .381
Career (10 yrs) 2613 .241 .307 .293

1985 was the nadir of Ranger history. Although Texas won fewer games in 1972 and 1973, big-league baseball in Arlington was a novelty and the team had the air of an expansion team (which they weren’t, of course) that was expected to lose.

After losing 98, 85, and 92 games during 1982-1984, Texas would lose 99 in 1985. A series of mediocre drafts and disastrous trades had gutted the team. Rotation members not named Charlie Hough combined for 683 innings and a 5.53 ERA (76 ERA+). Meanwhile, Dave Righetti, Ron Darling, John Butcher, Mike Smithson (plus reliever Tom Henke) pitched for other teams. The hitters consisted of prospects of varying quality (Steve Buechele, Oddible McDowell, Curtis Wilkerson, Tom Dunbar), good players enduring tough seasons (Larry Parrish and especially Buddy Bell), and an elderly quartet (Toby Harrah, Cliff Johnson, Bob Jones, Bill Stein).

Modern-day metrics think little of Wayne Tolleson’s defensive abilities, but he must have had a solid reputation at the time because he sure didn’t hit. Texas’s 8th-rounder from 1978 never exceeded a .274 average or .354 slugging percentage at any minor-league level. Nevertheless, he became the everyday second baseman in 1983 (moved from short in favor of Bucky Dent) and batted .260/.319/.315 in one of two seasons in which he qualified for the batting title.

By mid-1984, terrible hitting had reduced Tolleson to a utility role. He entered 1985 with a ghastly career line of .228/.289/.273 and received only three plate appearances in the season’s first 16 games. Given a rare start against Toronto at the end of April, he went three-for-three. Immediately, he found himself in a greatly expanded role, sharing shortstop with Wilkerson and spot-starting at second in addition to his pinch-runner and defensive sub duties. And, for the first time in his eight professional seasons, he hit. Tolleson produced negligible power and his usual vanilla walk rate, but he also batted .313. Other than a .250 average in September he never batted below .315 in any month. Tolleson’s one home run occurred on July 21st, a ninth-inning shot that gave Texas a 7-5 victory against defending Series champ Detroit.

Yes, Tolleson was lucky. After batting .265 on balls in play from 1981-1984, he hit .362 in his magical season. No, Tolleson’s single-heavy attack didn’t produce much. From the beginning of May until mid-June, Tolleson batted .333 with 23 singles, four doubles and four walks… and drove in not a single run. But why quibble.

Tolleson had one more acceptable offensive performance in him, splitting time between the White Sox and Yankees the next season. Afterwards, he didn’t hit much and quickly devolved into a bench role. Tolleson finished his MLB career in 1990 with 18 consecutive hitless at-bats.

1. Kurt Bevacqua, everywhere, 1977

Plate Apps.
Season OPS+
Season (7th) 104 .333 .354 .604
Career (15 yrs) 2398 .236 .305 .327

How did Kurt Bevacqua earn an MLB paycheck for fifteen years? The statistics detail his longevity but don’t explain it. He was the ultimate replacement-level player with a career WARP of just 7.4 and single-season WARPs ranging from -0.5 to a dizzying height of 1.5. True, he could play any position but catcher, but according to Baseball Prospectus he rated poorly at everywhere but first, where his weak bat least belonged.

Entering 1977, his six-year career included four trades and two contract purchases (essentially a trade for a nominal amount of cash). He had a career line of .222/.281/.291 and an sub-Neifi OPS+ of 59. In the ultimate indignity, the Seattle Mariners released him eleven days before the start of their inaugural season. At age 30, he seemed finished.

Instead, he played for one of the best teams in Ranger history. Texas signed Bevacqua after Opening Day and assigned him to AAA Tucson, where he batted .351 and slugged .531 in 94 games. Still, Texas had no reason to expect anything of him. He had batted .310 and slugged .472 in over 2,000 plate appearances in AAA, impressive results that had never translated into anything useful at the Major League level. Until July 1977.

Recalled to Texas soon after the All Star break, Bevacqua inexplicably hit as if he’d never left Tucson. In the past, he’d never hit for average or power, his offensive skill set defined solely by an acceptable walk rate. In Texas he inverted his history, batting .318/.347/.545 in eighteen starts and .366/.375/.733 as a pinch-hitter and in-game substitute. He played first, second, third, left, right, and DH for Texas. His personal best might have occurred on September 25th in a doubleheader at Oakland (attendance: 2,479). In the first game, Bevacqua singled home Jim Sundberg with two outs in the ninth to pull Texas within a run in a game Texas eventually won in 14 innings. Bevacqua started at third and batted cleanup in the second game and hit a two-run double in the third to give Texas a lead it would not relinquish.

With his help, Texas climbed into first on August 18th, ahead of three teams within 1.5 games. The Rangers finished a solid 26-18, but Kansas City concluded with a ridiculous 36-9 record to win the West.

Still with Texas in 1978, Bevacqua promptly resumed hitting like the poor man’s Neifi Perez (or the rich man’s Ray Oyler, if you prefer). After the season, Texas packaged him with Mike Hargrove and Bill Fahey to San Diego for Oscar Gamble and Dave Roberts. During the 80s, Bevacqua improved enough to offer acceptable on-base skills. Otherwise, he provided his usual sub-sub-par bat and “versatility.” In the1984 World Series, he trumped his ’77 performance with Texas and rewarded Dick Williams’s bizarre decision to start him at DH by batting .412 with two homers against Detroit.

Posted by Lucas at 11:02 PM

February 02, 2007

Ned Yost, Ace Pinch-Hitter

Allow me to blow your mind:

Ned Yost once pinch-hit for Mickey Rivers… against Detroit closer Willie Hernandez… in the ninth inning… with Texas losing by one run.

I was wandering around Baseball-Reference.com and came upon Ned Yost. His entry at Baseball Reference initially reveals his managerial record, but longtime Ranger fans know him better as the woefully slight return in the Jim Sundberg trade. To be sure, Sundberg was past his prime at 32 and had batted a disastrous .201/.272/.254 in 1983. However, Yost was no improvement: already 28 himself, inferior to Sundberg defensively and holding a line of .233/.264/.372 in 368 career plate appearances. Only decent power (for a catcher, in that era) merited a positive review.

How unpopular was this trade? Pretend Texas signs Michael Young to an extension. In 2010, Young is 33, clearly fading but still capable. Then, pretend Texas trades Young for Andres Blanco. Mortifying, isn’t it? That’s what Texas did 23 years ago.

Yost didn’t engineer the trade himself but had to endure much of the fans’ disgust during a hopeless 1984 campaign in which the Rangers failed to achieve 70 wins for the second time in three years. During the opening series against Cleveland, he singled and walked in his first game, then homered in his second. So far, so good. For the rest of April, he batted .121 with two walks. By the end of May, he’d lost his regular job to Donnie Scott, a 23-year-old recalled from the minors. Yost batted .182/.201/.273 for the season and ended up playing fewer games at catcher than Scott.

Yost played in 80 games but only 78 at catcher, which brings up the improbable pinch-hit. In two games, he appeared exclusively as a pinch hitter. The concept of Yost pinch-hitting doesn’t completely shock the conscience. Perhaps manager Doug Rader let Yost bat during a blowout in an attempt to boost his confidence or just to get him off the bench. Yost had appeared in only two games during the first three weeks of July.

Curious, I opened the box score of his first PH attempt on July 21, 1984, skipped to the bottom of the page, and then heard the late Jack Buck’s voice in my head: “I don’t believe what I just saw!

Top of the 9th, Rangers batting, behind 6-7, Willie Hernandez facing 9-1-2:
Out -- W Tolleson -- Flyball: CF
Ned Yost pinch hits for Mickey Rivers batting 1st

What? WHAT? Rader yanked the leadoff hitter with a .285 average for a backup catcher hitting .164? With the game on the line? True, the outcome of this game meant little. Texas had the worst record in the AL while the fabled ’84 Tigers were on their way to winning about 259 games and the World Series. Still, I’ve no doubt that Rader would not have made such a move frivolously. Possible explanations include:

  • A wolverine ate Mickey Rivers as he stood in the on-deck circle.

    The Rangers were in Michigan, after all. But in fact, Rivers played the next day. No wolverine.

  • Rivers was injured after the eighth inning and couldn’t bat.

    I have no direct evidence that Rivers was healthy at that exact moment in time. However, he was not pulled for a defensive replacement the previous inning, and again, he did start and play all of the next day’s game. Injury is an unlikely explanation.

  • Rader was playing all-or-nothing, and Yost was more likely to homer.

    Superficially, this is at least plausible. Yost averaged one homer per 40 plate appearances during his career, Rivers one per 99. But with Pete O’Brien (.313/.370/.472 at the time) on deck and Buddy Bell (.305/.380/.445) in the hole, which batter makes the most sense in this situation?

    OBP HR%
    Player A .197 2.5%
    Player B .310 1.0%

  • Rivers had an unfavorable history with Willie Hernandez, and/or Yost had hit well against him.

    Nope. Rivers had never faced Hernandez (and never would) Yost had only one appearance, two weeks prior. He struck out with the bases loaded and Texas down by three in the bottom of the 8th. Go figure.

  • Rader was playing a favorable lefty/righty split.

    We have a winner. The lefty Hernandez devoured lefties but was rather ordinary against righties. Rivers was a lefty, and despite hitting .314 against lefties in 1981, he’d been demoted to platoon status ever since. He had only 63 plate appearances against lefties from 1982-1984 and batted a pitcher-esque .121/.138/.159. Yost was right-handed and also had a pronounced platoon split, albeit mostly a function of utter helplessness against righties (.242/.259/.388 against lefties, .184/.218/.275 against righties).

    Yost, despite that split, was not a better hitter against lefties than Rivers over the course of his career. It raises the interesting question of which situation you’d rather have:

    Hernandez (L) vs Lefties -- .211/.263/.295
    Rivers (L) vs Lefties -- .285/.320/.374 (but only .121/.138/.159 during last three years)

    Hernandez (L) vs Righties -- .260/.329/.406
    Yost (R) vs Lefties -- .242/.259/.388

I’d conclude that pinch-hitting for Rivers is defensible, even preferable. But is replacing Rivers with Yost defensible? Did Texas have a bench player that evening both right-handed and superior to Yost? A review of potential pinch-hitters from the 1984 roster:

  • Righty Billy Sample pinch-hit for lefty catcher Marv Foley against Hernandez to lead off the 8th. Righty Gary Ward then pinch-hit for lefty DH Tommy Dunbar. Donnie Scott replaced Ward and caught the rest of the game. All of these moves make sense.
  • Jeff Kunkel didn’t make his MLB debut until two days later. He may have occupied the roster that night, but the situation wasn’t suitable for his first big-league at-bat.
  • Alan Bannister was enjoying an absurdly successful season (see #9 on this list) but didn’t play between June 26th and July 30th. He may have been hurt.
  • Dave Hostetler likewise did not appear between June 29th and September 5th. I believe he was in AAA.
  • Jim Anderson didn’t play between July 16th and September 4th. He also may have been in the minors or hurt.
  • Bill Stein hit lefties at a rate of .294/.336/.421 during his 14-year career. Like so many Rangers, he seems to have disappeared during the game in question. After starting at second base the night before, he didn’t play again until September 3rd.
  • Mike Richardt and Kevin Buckley weren’t Rangers at the time.

Assuming 10 pitchers on a 24-man roster (the limit at the time), the Texas bench may have consisted of Ward, Sample, Foley, Yost, and Kunkel. With Ward, Sample and Foley unavailable and Kunkel waiting for a more appropriate opportunity, Doug Rader had to choose between Rivers and Yost.

Yost flied out to center. O’Brien struck out to end the game. Still, Rader chose correctly.

Posted by Lucas at 06:56 PM

February 01, 2007

New Email Address

At lower right, just below the cat.

More free ice cream coming soon.

Posted by Lucas at 03:23 PM