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March 31, 2008

Predictions

AL West:

LAA: 84-78
OAK: 81-81
SEA: 77-85
TEX: 77-85

I originally pegged LA for 87-88 wins, champions by default, but the injuries to Escobar and Lackey make the division competitive. Torii Hunter’s a long-term liability, but for now he’s a huge addition to an offense that suddenly has more responsibility for LA’s fortune.

Despite the housecleaning, I think Oakland can compete. Last year’s squad was hindered by injuries and dubious allotments of playing time (900+ plate appearances by Jason Kendall and Shannon Stewart).

Seattle will score and allow 50 fewer runs, and Pythagoras won’t permit a repeat of last year’s fluky 89 wins. The offense was last in walks, 12th in doubles, 10th in homers, and the offseason consisted of replacing Jose Guillen and Adam Jones with Brad Wilkerson.

My computer says Texas will score 812 runs and allow 869; that’s a gain of two runs on offense and a loss of 25 runs on pitching/defense compared to last year. (That indicates only 76 wins, but I think the computer’s being a little hard on Michael Young and Vicente Padilla.)

Part of the increase in runs allowed is park-related; The Ballpark was weirdly pitcher-friendly last year and I’m assuming a return to normalcy. The other part is the million questions surrounding the staff. Can Millwood and Padilla rebound? Can Jennings? Is Gabbard better than the batting-practice pitcher he often resembled this spring? Can Luis Mendoza pull off a 2004 Ryan Drese imitation? If needed, do Patterson or Ponson bring anything to the table? Might Hurley (or Murray or Harrison) announce his presence with authority? Can Wilson retire righties? Does Guardado offer anything? Will Fukumori translate to the U.S.? Etc.

The offense is respectable when it contains both Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley. How often will that be? If they’re both out, Texas has an outfield of Catalanotto/Botts, Murphy and Byrd, and a dicey middle of the order. The pivotal season belongs to Hank Blalock. Texas badly needs his bat and to find out whether he’s worth extending. As I’ve mentioned, for his career Blalock has hit lefties considerably worse than Ben Broussard. Without improvement, he’s just not an everyday player. If that’s the case, would the Rangers offer, and would he accept, a discounted extension and a platoon role? Probably not. If not, does German Duran have the arm and bat to man third on a regular basis?

Last year I calculated the Rangers would score 800 runs and allow 834. They actually scored 816 and allowed 844. Yay, me. Unfortunately, being the hopeful sort, I picked them to win 81 games despite the run deficit. Boo.

AL Central: Cleveland

Detroit has a bunch of hitters on the ugly side of 30 and some questions in its rotation and bullpen. Cleveland won’t win 96 games again, but they’ll hold off the Tigers.

AL East: New York
AL Wild Card: Boston

My computer shows the Yankees winning comfortably over the Sox. I don’t believe it. It shows good seasons from Chamberlain, Hughes and Kennedy, but one (or two) of them ought to suffer an injury or be terrible. In an case, Boston and New York should both play in October, and Detroit again will fall just short.

NL West: San Diego

Really? I’ve got the Pads with 86 wins, barely above LA and Arizona. A wide open division.

NL Central: Milwaukee

What a great offense. What an ugly defense. They won’t collapse this time and will barely hold off the Cubbies.

NL East: New York

Atlanta and Philadephia will challenge but fall short.

NL Wild Card: Chicago

Again, Atlanta and Philadephia will challenge but fall short.

World Series: Yankees over Mets

I really hope I’m wrong about this.

I don’t have anyone winning or losing 100 games. If anyone’s a 100-game loser, it’s the Giants. I see the Orioles as just bad, not epically bad.

Posted by Lucas at 05:30 PM

Opening Day

Opening Day greetings to Courtney, the best baseball wife in the world.

Disch-Falk Field, Austin, 24 Feb 2008

Posted by Lucas at 05:15 PM

Solace

No matter how the Rangers perform this year, at least they won't be using Brett Tomko to hold a one-run lead in the 8th inning.

Posted by Lucas at 02:43 PM

Final Transactions

Texas purchased the contracts of pitchers FRANKLYN GERMAN and JAMEY WRIGHT and catcher ADAM MELHUSE, optioned reliever WES LITTLETON to AAA Oklahoma, and designated pitcher ROBINSON TEJEDA and outfielder NELSON CRUZ for assignment.

Dustin Nippert’s arrival sealed Tejeda’s fate, but Tejeda also lost out to non-roster invites Wright and German. Here’s an interesting comparison:

--
Pitcher A
Pitcher B
MLB Career
ERA+ 95 92
HR% 2.5% 2.8%
BB% 11.1% 12.4%
SO% 11.9% 15.7%
08 Spring
IP
8.2
8.2
H
13
7
HR
0
1
BB
3
3
SO
5
8

Pitcher A has walked far too many people and doesn’t miss enough bats. Opponents batted .320/.370/.340 against him this spring.

Pitcher B is even wilder than Pitcher A but at least has produced a league-average K rate. He surrendered a .260/.309/.460 line in March.

“A? is Wright, “B? Tejeda. Aside from the homer that inflated his opposing slugging percentage, Tejeda pitched more effectively this spring and has comparable (if uninspiring) Major League results. Yet it was Wright who once again, for reasons not completely clear to me, secured a job in mid-March. Here’s one reason: despite the extra hits allowed, Wright pulled down a 3.11 ERA compared to Tejeda’s 6.23. Wright spread out the damage, Tejeda allowed baserunners in ugly clumps.

I don’t think it matters much whether Wright or Tejeda is mopping up. But I would point out that Wright’s 3.62 ERA was the result of some seemingly unrepeatable splits. Wright was terrible out of the gate (opponents batted .391/.475/.478 when leading off an inning) but brilliant with runners in scoring position (.188/.284/.325). He also walked more batters than he struck out. A more typical distribution of baserunners should push his ERA into the fives. Again, that doesn’t hurt much if he’s only pitching in blowouts. Still, I don’t think Tejeda’s any worse than Wright, and there’s still a small chance he might improve.

Jason Botts won the battle with Cruz and Kevin Mench, for which his reward will be encasement in carbonite at the end of Ron Washington’s bench. I maintain that Botts’s willingness to adjust indicates a possibility of success against Major League pitching, while Cruz’s stubborn “grip and rip? philosophy (even after demotion to AAA last summer) shows he’s topped out. Botts needs 197 MLB appearances to catch Cruz on the Tryout-o-meter.

German supposedly cured his wildness this spring, yet he ended up walking five of 39 batters faced (12.8%, actually substantially lower than his awful career rate of 16.4%).

Melhuse has adequate defensive skills (though nailing basestealers isn’t among them) and hasn’t hit a lick since 2004. He’s absolutely unsuitable as a fill-in if Laird gets hurt.

Posted by Lucas at 12:33 PM

March 28, 2008

Weekend Photo


John Mayberry Jr., Surprise, Arizona, 21 March 2008

Posted by Lucas at 10:16 PM

Nippert Obtained

Texas traded minor-league reliever JOSE MARTE to Arizona for pitcher DUSTIN NIPPERT.

In 2007, Arizona was 80-46 in games in which Nippert didn’t appear, so clearly, the answer is to limit him to about five innings all year. Anyway…

The soon-to-be 27-year-old had a 5.56 ERA in 45 innings, but his opposing line was a tolerable .267/.327/.417. That indicates some ugly baserunner-clumping, and sure enough, Nippert allowed 30% of his season’s 30 runs in two consecutive appearances. His minor-league stats are all over the place, though he’s maintained a fine strikeout rate. Is he an improvement over Robinson Tejeda? Maybe. Probably won’t make much difference one way or the other. Both players are out of options.

Marte is big, hard thrower. Only two years younger than Nippert, he has yet to clear A ball. In 2007, he struck out 27% of opposing batters… and walked 17%. Neither Jamey Newberg nor I ranked him among Texas’s top 72 prospects.

Posted by Lucas at 10:04 PM

March 27, 2008

Opening Day Lineup

Per T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com:

Manager Ron Washington has set his Opening Day lineup. Here is what [lefty] Erik Bedard will be facing

2B Ian Kinsler
SS Michael Young
CF Josh Hamilton
3B Hank Blalock
DH Milton Bradley
LF David Murphy
RF Marlon Byrd
C Gerald Laird
1B Ben Broussard

Yes, Washington is going with Blalock at cleanup hitter. He said Bradley is not ready for the role and Blalock has convinced him that he can bat cleanup. Frank Catalanotto will be on the bench for Opening Day but will still be out there plenty against right-handed pitchers. Broussard will bat last.

Texas has never had an Opening Day first baseman hit ninth. Here’s the previous 36 years:

1st -- 1
2nd -- 3
3rd -- 12
4th -- 3
5th -- 10
6th -- 4
7th -- 2
8th -- 1
9th -- 0

Mike Jorgensen played first and batted 8th for the ’79 edition. He’d been a good hitter in the early 70s, but with Texas he soon lost his job to a younger Pat Putnam. Putnam hit 7th on Opening Day 1981, and Lee Stevens hit 7th for the ’99 offensive juggernaut.

I don’t get too bent out of shape about lineups, but: May I cautiously suggest that if a team’s first baseman is batting ninth on Opening Day, something is wrong. The player shouldn’t be in the lineup... the regular 1B is hurt... the manager is misguided... something.

Regarding Washington’s quote about Bradley, Milton has started 62 games at cleanup and batted .338/.447/.546. He also has more career at-bats in the #3 spot than anywhere else. May I cautiously suggest that Bradley could hit higher than fifth, even coming off an injury.

Interestingly, in light of the common knowledge that Broussard doesn’t hit lefties, he has a better line against them than Blalock: .227/.290/.399 versus .226/.280/.349. At least in terms of historical performance, Texas inarguably will have its worst lefty hitter batting cleanup, Washington's convictions notwithstanding.

Maybe this kitteh picture will relieve my frustration:

Posted by Lucas at 01:55 PM

March 24, 2008

Surprise

Brennan Garr, 19 March 2008, Surprise, Arizona

Posted by Lucas at 09:11 PM

March 15, 2008

All Rangers, All The Time


Las Vegas, 2 March 2008

Posted by Lucas at 12:32 PM

March 09, 2008

Wonderin'

Manager Ron Washington has been adamant [that Ben] Broussard will open the season playing regularly against lefties. The Rangers are expected to face Seattle lefty Erik Bedard on opening day.

"I don't want him coming to the park every day wondering if he's going to play against a left-hander," Washington said. "He's going to play against them until he proves he can't."

I know how to keep Broussard from wondering. You say: “NO! Ben, you will not start against lefties! Ever, ever, ever! When you do start, you will be pulled for a pinch-hitter if the opposition brings in a lefty. When you don’t start, you’ll pinch-hit against righty relievers.”

And then, for good measure, you type those words and tape them to his locker. Voila, no more wondering.

Was Broussard unfairly cast into a platoon role early in his career? I think not, but even if so, the fact remains that he’s 31 years old and hasn’t hit lefties well since A-ball. Broussard has a line of .227/.290/.399 in 387 MLB appearances against lefties. In 114 appearances in AA and AAA, he batted .214/.289/.369. 501 PAs with a sub-.300 on-base percentage may not provide absolute proof that he doesn’t deserve to play against lefties, but the evidence is beyond a reasonable doubt.

Meanwhile…

Player
Bats
MLB PA
MLB Line
AA-AAA PA
AA-AAA Line
Broussard
L
387
.227/.290/.399
114
.214/.289/.369
Botts
S
61
.283/.361/.358
380
.357/.432/.646
Shelton
R
256
.269/.323/.420
218
.277/.390/.495

…Chris Shelton and Jason Botts have far superior records in both the Majors and high minors against righties. Botts hasn’t translated his sterling AAA record into big-league success, but he’s at least shown some aptitude at reaching base against lefties. Also, unlike the placeholders Broussard and Shelton, Botts has a small chance at a role on the next good Rangers team.

How about Frank Catalanotto at first (career .248/.332/.344)? Stupid, right? Well, replacing Broussard with Frank Catalanotto gains 30 points of OBP but loses over 50 in slugging, pretty close to a wash. That only emphasizes the absurdity of this situation. Nobody would suggest starting Cat at first against lefties, yet the record indicates he’d be no worse than Broussard.

Washington has an obligation to start either the best players, or those who could become the best. Against lefties, Broussard fits neither description.

Posted by Lucas at 10:35 PM

March 04, 2008

Weekday Photo


Las Vegas, 2 March 2008

Posted by Lucas at 06:46 PM