January 25, 2012

Darvish and Texas History

My projection for the WAR Yu Darvish needs to generate to justify his contract:

Year
$
$/WAR
Required WAR
2011
--
4.50
--
2012
58.0
4.73
12.28
2013
10.3
4.96
2.08
2014
10.8
5.21
2.07
2015
10.8
5.47
1.97
2016
10.8
5.74
1.88
2017
11.0
6.03
1.82
TOTAL
111.7
--
22.10

Assumptions:
  • Posting fee included in full in 2012
  • $800,000 annual bonus for avoiding DL achieved
  • No early departure
  • $4.50mm/WAR in 2011 (per Fangraphs calculations), 5% annual increases

How would 22.1 WAR by Darvish rank in Ranger history, which contains its share of elite pitchers but few who stayed long enough to generate eye-catching WAR totals?

Name
G
GS
IP
ERA
FIP
WAR
Kenny Rogers 528 252
1,909
4.16 4.25 31.6
Charlie Hough 344 313
2,308
3.68 4.21 27.1
Kevin Brown 187 186
1,278
3.81 3.71 23.9
Bobby Witt 276 269
1,680
4.85 4.33 23.4
Fergie Jenkins 197 190
1,410
3.56 3.58 23.1
Nolan Ryan 129 129
840
3.43 2.91 22.6
YU DARVISH
-
-
-
-
-
22.1?

7th, a fair amount behind Rogers and Hough and nearly equal to the other four. Among other big contracts, Kevin Millwood (4 and $48 plus a $12 vesting option) ranks 13th at 13.8 WAR. Chan Ho Park (5 and $65) ranks a cool 55th with 3.6, same as John Butcher and Senator holdover Jackie Brown.

Texas's posting fee for Darvish was less than $4 million below its entire 2010 payroll.

Cheap Trick, "Stiff Competition," from Heaven Tonight, 1978.

Posted by Lucas at 02:08 AM

September 30, 2011

"Old Times Were Good Times"

In January 2010, MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan solicited votes for Texas's All-Decade team (2000-2009) from media, club officials and former players. I was flattered to be among the voters. The rules were to pick one player at each position, five starting pitchers, a closer and a setup man. I partially wrote a blog entry on my selections to be published in conjunction with the announcement, but I didn't follow through when T.R. announced the winners. Given Texas's great fortune during the past two seasons, I thought a review of the 2000-2009 All-Decade Team would be entertaining.

My team:

C -- Ivan Rodriguez
1B -- Mark Teixeira
2B -- Ian Kinsler
3B -- Michael Young
SS -- Alex Rodriguez
OF -- Kevin Mench
OF -- Marlon Byrd
OF -- Gary Matthews
DH -- Rafael Palmeiro

SP -- Kenny Rogers
SP -- Kevin Millwood
SP -- Vicente Padilla
SP -- Rick Helling
SP -- Scott Feldman
CL -- Francisco Cordero
SU -- Frank Francisco

My selections mirrored the collective panel save one: I picked Kevin Mench over Josh Hamilton in the outfield, which in retrospect seems ridiculous. In my defense, through 2009, Hamilton's output with Texas was limited to one MVP-quality season and one injury-plagued mess the following year. Mench trailed Hamilton in OPS by only 30 points and led all outfielders with 80 homers. I rewarded longevity.

Under the guidelines, the other panelists and I couldn't find room for Hank Blalock, who essentially was replacement level after the 2004 All-Star break. My reasoning was that A-Rod and Kinsler had to man the middle infield, but Young was too good leave off, even though he'd played only one season at third.

What makes the list memorable is the rotation. Rogers and Millwood were easy choices, as was Helling, even though Texas non-tendered him after 2001. After those three… I remember distastefully picking Padilla over Doug Davis, Feldman over Ryan Drese. Beyond them, we're dealing with Ismael Valdez, Kam Loe, and, God help us, Brandon McCarthy (who seems like a great guy and subsequently righted his ship in Oakland). As I'd noted, simply finding 162 innings, irrespective of quality, from a homegrown pitcher daunted Texas for most of the decade.

Below are all of Texas's rotation performances (by rWAR, minimum 20 starts) from 2000-2011. Eight of the top 22 occurred in the last two seasons.

#
Player
WAR
GS
Year
IP
ERA
ERA+
1
C.J. Wilson
5.0
34
2011
223.1
2.94
152
2
Ryan Drese
4.7
33
2004
207.2
4.20
120
3
Kenny Rogers
4.7
33
2002
210.2
3.84
124
4
Kenny Rogers
4.5
34
2000
227.1
4.55
110
5
C.J. Wilson
4.4
33
2010
204.0
3.35
129
6
Kenny Rogers
4.4
30
2005
195.1
3.46
134
7
Matt Harrison
4.0
30
2011
185.2
3.39
131
8
Rick Helling
4.0
35
2000
217.0
4.48
112
9
Kenny Rogers
3.6
35
2004
211.2
4.76
106
10
Alexi Ogando
3.5
29
2011
169.0
3.51
127
11
Ismael Valdez
3.5
23
2002
146.2
3.93
122
12
Colby Lewis
3.4
32
2010
201.0
3.72
116
13
Kevin Millwood
3.4
31
2009
198.2
3.67
127
14
Doug Davis
3.4
30
2001
186.0
4.45
106
15
John Thomson
3.2
35
2003
217.0
4.85
104
16
Kevin Millwood
3.1
34
2006
215.0
4.52
102
17
Vicente Padilla
3.0
33
2006
200.0
4.50
103
18
Derek Holland
2.7
32
2011
198.0
3.95
113
19
Scott Feldman
2.7
31
2009
189.2
4.08
114
20
Chris Young
2.6
31
2005
164.2
4.26
109
21
Colby Lewis
2.2
32
2011
200.1
4.40
101
22
Tommy Hunter
2.2
22
2010
128.0
3.73
116
23
Rick Helling
1.8
34
2001
215.2
5.17
91
24
Vicente Padilla
1.0
29
2008
171.0
4.74
94
25
Kevin Millwood
0.7
29
2008
168.2
5.07
88
26
John Koronka
0.6
23
2006
125.0
5.69
81
27
Chan Ho Park
0.6
20
2005
109.2
5.66
82
28
Brandon McCarthy
0.5
22
2007
101.2
4.87
94
29
Darren Oliver
0.4
28
2001
154.0
6.02
78
30
Chan Ho Park
0.3
25
2002
145.2
5.75
83
31
Ismael Valdez
0.2
22
2003
115.0
6.10
83
32
Kenny Rogers
0.1
20
2001
120.2
6.19
76
33
Kevin Millwood
0.0
31
2007
172.2
5.16
89
34
Scott Feldman
(0.6)
25
2008
151.1
5.29
84
35
Colby Lewis
(0.6)
26
2003
127.0
7.30
69
36
Kameron Loe
(0.7)
23
2007
136.0
5.36
85
37
Vicente Padilla
(0.9)
23
2007
120.1
5.76
79
38
Darren Oliver
(1.0)
21
2000
108.0
7.42
68
39
Derek Holland
(1.3)
21
2009
138.1
6.12
76
40
Scott Feldman
(1.4)
22
2010
141.1
5.48
79

Here's the aggregation of those pitchers by years. One year sticks out, yes?

Year
20-Game Starters
Combined rWAR
2000 3 7.5
2001 4 5.7
2002 3 8.5
2003 3 2.8
2004 2 8.3
2005 3 7.6
2006 3 6.7
2007 4 -1.1
2008 3 1.1
2009 3 4.8
2010 4 8.6
2011 5 17.4

Neil Young, "Lookout Joe," from Tonight's the Night, 1973.

Posted by Lucas at 01:00 AM

October 26, 2010

Playoff Roster Tree

Includes anyone on a roster for either of previous playoff series.

RULE FOUR DRAFT

Julio Borbon (2007, Round 1 supplemental, 35th overall, compensation for loss of…)
---- Carlos Lee (acquired with Nelson Cruz)
-------- Francisco Cordero (acquired with F. Catalanotto, G. Kapler, B. Haselman, J. Thomson, A. Webb)
------------ Juan Gonzalez (amateur free agent, 1996)
------------ Danny Patterson (drafted 1987, 47th round)
------------ Gregg Zaun (acquired from Florida in conditional deal, 1998)

Derek Holland (2006, 25th round)

Tommy Hunter (2007, Round 1a supplemental, 54th overall, compensation for loss of…)
---- Mark DeRosa (minor-league free agent, 2005)

Ian Kinsler (2003, 17th round)

Michael Kirkman (2005, 5th round)

Mitch Moreland (2007, 17th round)

C.J. Wilson (2001, 5th round)

TRADE ACQUISITIONS

Elvis Andrus (acquired with N. Feliz, J. Saltamacchia, M. Harrison, B. Jones)
---- Mark Teixeira (drafted 2001, 1st round, 5th overall)
---- Ron Mahay (minor-league free agent, 2002)

Jorge Cantu
---- Evan Reed (drafted 2007, 3rd round)

Nelson Cruz (acquired with Carlos Lee)
---- Francisco Cordero (acquired with F. Catalanotto, G. Kapler, B. Haselman, J. Thomson, A. Webb)
-------- Juan Gonzalez (amateur free agent, 1996)
-------- Danny Patterson (drafted 1987, 47th round)
-------- Gregg Zaun (acquired from Florida in conditional deal, 1998)
---- Kevin Mench (drafted 1999, 4th round)
---- Laynce Nix (drafted 2000, 4th round)
---- Julian Cordero (amateur free agent, 2004ish)

Neftali Feliz (acquired with E. Andrus, J. Saltamacchia, M. Harrison, B. Jones)
---- Mark Teixeira (drafted 2001, 1st round, 5th overall)
---- Ron Mahay (minor-league free agent, 2002)

Jeff Francoeur
---- Joaquin Arias (acquired with Alfonso Soriano)
-------- Alex Rodriguez (Major League free agent, 2001)

Josh Hamilton
---- Edinson Volquez (amateur free agent, 2001)
---- Danny Ray Herrera (drafted 2006, 45th round)

Cliff Lee (acquired with Mark Lowe)
---- Justin Smoak (drafted 2008, 1st round)
---- Blake Beavan (drafted 2007, 1st round)
---- Josh Lueke (drafted 2007, 16th round)
---- Matt Lawson (drafted 2007, 14th round)

Bengie Molina
---- Michael Main (drafted 2007, 1st round compensation for loss of….)
-------- Gary Matthews Jr. (minor-league free agent, 2004)
---- Chris Ray (acquired with Ben Snyder later)
-------- Kevin Millwood (Major League free agent, 2006)

David Murphy (acquired with K. Gabbard and E. Beltre)
---- Eric Gagne (Major League free agent, 2007)

Matt Treanor
---- Ray Olmedo (minor-league free agent, 2009)

Michael Young (acquired with Darwin Cubillan)
---- Esteban Loaiza
-------- Todd Van Poppel (minor league free agent, 2007)
-------- Warren Morris (drafted 1996, 5th round)

ACQUIRED FOR CASH
Andres Blanco
Clay Rapada

MAJOR LEAGUE FREE AGENTS
Vladimir Guerrero
Colby Lewis
Darren Oliver

MINOR LEAGUE FREE AGENTS
Esteban German

WAIVER CLAIMS
Dustin Nippert (2008 from ARI)
Darren O'Day (2009 from NYM)

RULE FIVE DRAFT
Alexi Ogando (2005 from OAK)

Posted by Lucas at 11:55 PM

August 20, 2010

Chuck Norris Wishes He Was Nolan Ryan

Chris Jaffe at The Hardball Times sent me an interesting "20 years ago" piece about Nolan Ryan's outing for Texas on August 17, 1990. Too bad I'm blind and didn't see it until today. It's still worth your time. Ryan produced the best Game Score since 1976, but the back story was even more interesting. Check it out.

Posted by Lucas at 01:32 AM

March 30, 2010

Old Times Were Good Times

The Dallas Business Journal, 4 August 2006:

Hicks borrows big for 'flexibility': Funds could go to Rangers, Stars or stadiums.

If Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks were on the mound, the crowd would clearly see that he's winding up for something big.

In June, when interest rates dipped, he added $75 million in loans in addition to the $325 million he borrowed in December "for future flexibility, for whatever might come our way down the road," Hicks said.

Posted by Lucas at 01:02 AM

December 30, 2009

Sad Panda

The runaway winner in the DMN's "best moment of the decade" poll for the Texas Rangers involves a hokey contest:

I voted for Dellucci's game-winner in 2004. Nothing else comes close.

Regardless, what an awful decade.


Posted by Lucas at 06:34 PM

May 17, 2009

Eight Games Over

The Rangers are eight games over .500 for the first time since 2005 and just the third season since last winning the division in 1999. Indeed, eight represents something of a halfway point for the franchise. In 37 previous seasons, the Rangers have surpassed eight games over .500 18 times; they’ve also failed to reach that level 18 times.

In 1992, they topped out at 35-27. One month later, at 45-41, Bobby Valentine lost his job. (Remember when merely .500 ball wasn’t acceptable in Texas? Me neither.) Texas went 32-44 under Toby Harrah and finished 77-85.

How About Ten Games?

The Rangers have reached at least ten games over .500 in 18 seasons. They’ve also fallen ten or more games under .500 in 18 seasons. Texas is currently 187 games under .500 as a franchise, so the accord of these figures is a surprise.

Peaks: 1972-2008
Over .500
Under .500
>=10 games 18 18
>=15 games 5 12
>=20 games 3 9
>=25 games 2 4
>=30 games 1 4

Ah. Texas retains a perverse ability to peak at 10-12 games over .500. It’s happened 12 seasons out of 37. Once, they reached 14. Conversely, they’ve “achieved” at least 15 games below .500 in 12 seasons and at least 20 below in nine seasons.

Posted by Lucas at 11:38 AM

February 15, 2009

The Rangers Are 197 Games Under .500...

...since they moved to Arlington.

Click the pic for a bigger version.

Posted by Lucas at 11:33 AM

January 26, 2008

Scoring the Soriano-Wilkerson Trade

Assuming for the sake of argument that Armando Galarraga is claimed and not traded, the book will close on the Soriano for Wilkerson-Sledge-Galarraga deal. This is one of those trades in which the emotional fallout dwarfs the actual on-field results. Recall that Soriano walked after 2007, and Washington didn’t even offer arbitration. Meanwhile, Wilkerson wasn’t completely useless during 2007, he just looked it.

WIN SHARES
2006
2007
TOTAL
Wilkerson
5
11
16
Galarraga
0
0
0
Sledge
0
0
0
TEXAS TOTAL
16
Soriano
30
0
30
WSH TOTAL
30
DIFFERENCE
-14

Texas win share deficit: 14 (about 5 wins)

WARP
2006
2007
TOTAL
Wilkerson
1.6
3.4
5.0
Galarraga
0.0
0.1
0.1
Sledge
0.0
0.0
0.0
TEXAS TOTAL
5.1
Soriano
7.8
0.0
7.8
WSH TOTAL
7.8
DIFFERENCE
-2.7

Texas WARP deficit: -2.7 (almost 3 wins)

As for emotional and actual fallout, Texas quickly retraded Sledge with Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez for Adam Eaton (aka The Wiz) and Aki Otsuka. I haven’t included that return in the above tables because Sledge was clearly a pot sweetener, not a lynchpin. Assuming he’s about 10% of the trade value, add two win shares and .9 WARP to Texas’s totals.

Let us not speak of these trades again.

Posted by Lucas at 04:14 PM

December 21, 2007

Revisiting the Gonzalez-Young-Sledge for Eaton-Otsuka-Killian Trade

I have a theory about Adam Eaton. Not a theory in the technical sense (a rigorously tested and accepted explanation of certain phenomena; e.g., evolution) but in the non-technical sense (a crazy-ass idea; e.g., what nitwit ID’ers think of evolution)

My theory: Adam Eaton is “The Wiz” from Seinfeld.

You may remember The Wiz mostly for prancing around the coffee shop and bellowing, “I’m the Wiz and noooobody beats me!!!” More to the point, this very ordinary-looking guy had the power to entrance anyone who looked into his eyes. Upon meeting him, Elaine ditched Puddy immediately via a phone call. (“You dumped me for some idiotic TV pitchman,” he later groused.)

I believe Adam Eaton has this power. Jon Daniels looked into his eyes and turned to goo, giving up Chris Young, Adrian Gonzalez, and Terrmel Sledge for Eaton, Akinori Otsuka and Billy “Irish Red” Killian. How else to explain such affection for a pitcher who in six years had failed to pitch 162 innings four times and failed to post a league-average ERA five times.

Philly GM Pat Gillick suffered the same fate, giving Eaton $24 million in November 2006 after another spotty and injury-plagued season. Before the next season began, the Phillies were already considering moving him to the bullpen because of a surfeit of rotation candidates. He survived that scare but proceeded to have his worst season (6.29 ERA with nightmarish peripherals), was omitted from the postseason roster, and once again might be banished to relief. Oh, but to look in his eyes…

Anyway, my initial take on the trade (edited, click for full version if you dare):

Ugh.

At best a lateral move in the short run, possibly a terrible move in the long run. Both Eaton and Otsuka are free agents after 2006 [note: Aki actually couldn’t become a free agent until after 2008. Wouldn’t have changed my opinion.], Eaton will earn in excess of $4 million, and he almost certainly won’t resign with Texas. Meanwhile, Young, Gonzalez and Sledge are company property and inexpensive for the next several years.

Two weeks ago with rumors bounding, Eaton expressed mixed feelings about pitching in Arlington: “It's not conducive to my style of pitching; I'm a fly-ball pitcher. If I was to stay there, it'd have to be for crazy money. Granted, that is an offense that's going to put up some runs. You could take a Coors Field approach to the game." Texas isn’t Coors Field, but the well-spoken Eaton nailed the disconnection between his pitching style and The Ballpark. Petco Park and its predecessor kill fly balls, whereas The Ballpark propels them into the ionosphere.

Moving from Petco to The Ballpark adds about 0.90 to [Eaton’s] ERA. During the last five years Eaton never finished with an above-average ERA+ in a park tailored to his skill set, so why would he do so in The Ballpark? After the Park fiasco, I’m assuming Ranger management isn’t so daft as to ignore park factors. So, what gives?

San Diego led off the NLDS against St. Louis with Jake Peavy, Pedro Astacio and Woody Williams. Eaton would have pitched Game Four had the Pads not been swept, but what does it say when rampant mediocrities like Astacio and Williams rank higher than him on the pecking order?

Chris Young is a year younger than Eaton and signed for $1.1 million over the next two years followed by three years of arbitration-eligibility. Young struggled as summer waxed but still finished his rookie season with a WARP of 4.8, better than Eaton’s career-high of 4.6…If Eaton has a 4.75 ERA and Young’s hovers in the low threes, Ranger fans will howl. And they should.

Adrian Gonzalez has yet to display his talents to full advantage in the Majors, but his Age-23 season in pitcher-friendly Oklahoma (.338/.399/.561) indicates he warrants a full-time job. Texas surprisingly gave him a part-time DH role to start the season but seemed to sour on him within just two weeks, and he spent most of the next four months in AAA.

Otsuka keeps the ball on the ground and won’t suffer as much damage moving to Arlington. He represents a substantial addition to the bullpen at a considerable discount ($1.75 million) from the crazy-money teams are throwing at middle relievers.

My unease regarding Eaton increased substantially when he commented on his former team:

Everybody looks at everything else besides the end result, and that’s one thing I’ve kind of been able to do in the past (focusing on wins), for an offense that really didn’t put a whole bunch of runs up for me in the past few years in San Diego… I have a real hard time figuring how or what I’m going to do with run support [in Texas]. I haven’t had that luxury in a long time… [Eight runs] is like a nice two-week span for me at times. There was a time that I would be told, how hard is it to throw a shutout and hit a home run. That was true, you actually had to do that to get a “W” the past few years.

Through a little research, I determined that: 1) San Diego did not have a bad offense, 2) Eaton received better run support than the rotation as a whole, and 3) his won-loss record during 2003-2005 was better than he deserved (31-31 despite three consecutive sub-par years).

Where Are They Now?

Eaton departed after one season, as expected, and Texas didn’t offer arbitration, as expected. Otsuka spent half of 2007 injured and has yet to recover fully. Uncomfortable with offering arbitration to a convalescing 35-year-old, Texas non-tendered him. Killian never surpassed low-A and was traded to the White Sox for “future considerations” (bootleg copy of Dance Dance Revolution). After two seasons, Texas’s production from the trade is complete, without even a compensatory draft pick to provide hope of future benefits.

Meanwhile, Young and Gonzalez are signed to four-year contracts through 2010 (plus team options for 2011) for a combined $24 million. Both have postseason experience. Young tossed 6.2 shutout innings in the ’06 NLDS, and Gonzalez batted .357 with three walks. Sledge migrated to Japan after two indifferent seasons as a backup and AAA insurance policy.

How Bad Is Bad?

Once again, I’ve compared the value of this trade using Win Shares and Wins Above Replacement Player.

WIN SHARES 2006 2007
TOTAL
Gonzalez 17 27 44
Young 12 13 25
Sledge 1 4 5
SDG TOTAL 74
Eaton 2 0 2
Otsuka 11 5 16
Killian 0 0 0
TEX TOTAL 18
DIFFERENCE 56

Texas Win Share Deficit: 56 (18 wins)

WARP 2006 2007
TOTAL
Gonzalez 8.6 9.3 17.9
Young 4.9 5.7 10.6
Sledge 0.4 1.6 2.0
SDG TOTAL 30.5
Eaton 1.8 0.0 1.8
Otsuka 5.9 1.7 7.6
Killian 0.0 0.0 0.0
TEX TOTAL 9.4
DIFFERENCE 21.1

Texas WARP Deficit: 21.1 (about 21 wins)

In just two seasons, the difference in production is worth about twenty wins, an astonishing number. To salt the wound, Texas paid $9.4 million to Eaton and Otsuka during 2006-2007 while Gonzalez, Young and Sledge earned under $2.5 million.

How does this trade compare to two other infamous deals I've written about, both by John Hart: the Giles-for-Rincon trade between Cleveland and Pittsburgh and the Hafner-for-Diaz swap between the Tribe and Texas? Pretty terribly, that's how:

Trade
Win Share Deficit After Two Years
WARP Deficit After Two Years
Young / Gonzalez / Sledge for Eaton / Otsuka / Killian
56
21.1
Giles for Rincon
54
18.1
Hafner / Myette for Diaz / Drese
4
-0.4

This trade surpasses the one-sidedness of John Hart’s infamous Giles-for-Rincon deal. The Hafner trade took a while longer to inflict its pain. Hafner spent part of 2003 in the minors and generated only a .327 OBP, and in 2004 Texas received an improbably fine season from Ryan Drese. Including the entire post-trade outcome, I calculate an advantage of 50 win shares and 11.1 WARP for Cleveland, still less disastrous than the Young/Gonzalez transaction.

In sum:

This trade is already worse than the Giles-for-Rincon and Hafner-for-Diaz trades. Right now. And forever.

In a few years, I hope the trades of Teixeira, Gagne and Lofton provide the opportunity to write a similar article in Texas's favor.

Posted by Lucas at 12:43 AM

December 16, 2007

Reviewing the Lee-Cordero Trade

On July 28, 2006, Texas traded set-up man Francisco Cordero, outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix, and minor-league pitcher Julian Cordero to Milwaukee for outfielders Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz. Heading into that night’s home game against Kansas City, the Rangers were 51-51, two games behind Oakland and 1.5 back from Los Angeles. After the series with the Royals, Texas would depart for a potentially make-or-break road trip against Minnesota, LA, and Oakland.

The Rangers had decided they could live without Cordero, who lost his closer’s role after a disastrous April, and needed a more potent and consistent bat than Mench’s if they hoped to win the West. Cruz had excelled in AAA but at age 26 still hadn’t seen many MLB at-bats.

Meanwhile, the Brewers had lost 11 of 15 to fall hopelessly behind the suddenly hot Cardinals and six games out of the wild card. More hopeless was their perceived chance of re-signing free-agent-to-be Carlos Lee. Though the front-line acquisition of Cordero gave the appearance of “win now,” it was really a trade for 2008. Also, Cordero, Nix, and Mench were originally selected during GM Doug Melvin’s administration in Texas.

Press and blog reaction was mostly favorable. My initial thoughts:

In short, I like it. Yes, Lee will be a free agent and almost certainly will find himself in another uniform next season, but so will the players Texas relinquished. Now 28, Mench appears to have topped out as merely average outfielder. He does have two arbitration years remaining, but neither will be cheap since he makes $2.8 million already. Nix is three years younger but has stalled in AAA. Perhaps Texas wrecked his career in 2003 by calling him up from AA as a 22-year-old despite his unspectacular stats, but that’s a philosophical discussion for another time. Cordero had probably pitched himself out of next year’s team option [$5 million].

The wildcard is Cruz, who is three months older than Nix and a bit old for a prospect. Still, he’s batted .302/.380/.525 for AAA Toledo with good patience and a terrible strikeout rate.

(In hindsight, I’d retract that Cordero comment. I didn’t anticipate how much teams would be willing to spend on relievers.)

What Happened To Texas?

Lee and Cruz would play that very night; Lee went 2-4 as DH and Cruz pinch-hit for Rod Barajas. Despite their presence, Texas lost two of three to the dreadful Royals, who were 35-66 entering the series, and found themselves three games out of first entering the road trip.

Texas went 5-5 away from home against three winning clubs, acceptable on its face but insufficient for a team trying to win a division. Down 5.5 games after the trip, Texas won eight of its next ten, but Oakland did the same. Then, the infamous three consecutive losses to 49-75 Tampa Bay essentially closed the door. Another torpid September resulted in a 13-game deficit by season’s end.

Lee batted .322/.369/.525 with nine homers and 35 RBI as a Ranger. Management postured that they wanted him for the long haul, but it never rang true. Some desperate team (Houston, it turned out) would offer a ridiculous contract. Plus, his roly-poly effort on a Grady Sizemore blooper that became an inside-the-park home run cemented his status as a DH-in-waiting, and the 30-year-old didn’t look the type to age gracefully. Texas politely thanked him for his effort and took the compensation picks.

Cruz became a classic 4A hitter. Batters can make a living in the PCL with the solitary talent of killing mistake pitches. In the Majors, it’s not enough. He’s still with Texas, 27, out of options, and seemingly destined for waivers or the transactions wire.

What Happened To Milwaukee?

Cordero immediately stepped into Milwaukee’s closer role and saved 16 games in 28 appearances. He walked a few too many, but otherwise he pitched brilliantly. Cordero recovered quickly from his April meltdown and had provided superior relief with Texas ever since, so his excellence with the Brewers was no surprise. Milwaukee gladly picked up his $5 million option, and Cordero was among the best closers in 2007, though not without some drama. In June, he returned to Arlington for an interleague series. Entering the 9th with a 3-0 lead, and having allowed only one run all season, he allowed six consecutive two-out baserunners and lost the game. He blew another save the following night in a game Milwaukee eventually won.

Kevin Mench wiped out in his first session with the Brewers (.230/.248/.317) and came close to being non-tendered. Retained but mostly relegated to the short end of a platoon, he publicly complained about his lot in life while batting a tepid .267/.305/.441. Milwaukee set him free this winter.

Laynce Nix’s batting eye never improved. In AAA, he’s consistently batted .270 with pretty good power and a decent walk rate. In the Majors, his pitch selection drifts toward randomness, resulting in a .230 average and atrocious BB/SO ratio. Nix has 35 strikeouts and no unintentional walks in his last 104 MLB appearances. The Brewers outrighted him after the 2007 season.

The other Cordero, Julian, didn’t pitch in 2007. I don’t know what’s happened to him.

Milwaukee was the darling of the NL in June 2007, pacing the league with a 43-31 record and leading the Central by 8.5 games. Pythagoras had them at a more modest 40-34, however, and regression and injuries led to a 40-48 finish and second place. Division-mate Cincinnati offered Cordero $46 million for four years of service, an offer Milwaukee respectfully declined to exceed.

Who Won?

As with this article, I’ve compared the value of this trade using Win Shares and Wins Above Replacement Player.

WIN SHARES 2006 2007 TOTAL
F. Cordero 6 10 16
Mench 0 8 8
Nix 0 0 0
J. Cordero 0 0 0
-- '08 pick 1 0 0 0
-- '08 pick 2 0 0 0
MIL TOTAL 24
Lee 7 0 7
Cruz 3 4 7
-- Beavan 0 0 0
-- Borbon 0 0 0
TEX TOTAL 14

Texas Win Share Deficit: 10 (about three wins)

WARP 2006 2007 TOTAL
F. Cordero 3.8 6.0 9.8
Mench -0.2 1.7 1.5
Nix -0.1 -0.4 -0.5
J. Cordero 0.0 0.0 0.0
-- '08 pick 1 0.0 0.0 0.0
-- '08 pick 2 0.0 0.0 0.0
MIL TOTAL 10.8
Lee 2.2
0.0
2.2
Cruz 0.7 2.3 3.0
-- Beavan 0.0 0.0 0.0
-- Borbon 0.0 0.0 0.0
TEX TOTAL 5.2

Texas WARP Deficit: 5.6 (almost six wins)

Superficially, Milwaukee got the better of the deal. Texas won 2006 with Lee, though not by much, but by 2007 had only a failing Cruz on its roster. In terms of value per dollar, it’s nearly a tie. Milwaukee spent about $10.5 million on Cordero, Mench and Nix, getting 2.2 wins shares and 1.0 WARP per million in salary. To date, Texas has forked out $5.6 million on Lee, Cruz, and the two players drafted with its compensation picks, equivalent to 2.5 win shares and 0.9 WARP per million.

In truth, neither team has won, given that the point of the trade was to supply the missing piece for a trip to the postseason. We won’t know the ultimate winner for years. Remind me to revisit the trade in 2012, when we can assess whether Blake Beavan and Julio Borbon have paid off more than the compensation picks Milwaukee will receive in the 2008 draft.

Posted by Lucas at 01:21 PM

June 22, 2007

The Veteran Bat

Despite the achievement of his 600th homer, to date Sammy Sosa represents another failed attempt at renting a veteran bat, by which I mean an older player hired on a one-year deal.

Player
Year
Base Salary
Games
AVG/OBP/SLG
HR
RBI
OPS+
MLV
Result
Sammy Sosa
2007
$ 0.5
62
.242/.297/.458
12
53
93
(0.03)
 
Phil Nevin
2006
$ 10.5
46
.216/.307/.415
9
31
82
(0.14)
5/31, traded to CHC for Jerry Hairston
Brad Fullmer
2004
$ 1.0
76
.233/.310/.442
11
33
85
(0.09)
7/24, injured, did not return
Ruben Sierra
2003
$ 0.6
43
.263/.333/.398
3
12
85
(0.06)
6/06, traded to NYY for Marcus Thames
Andres Galarraga
2001
$ 6.0
72
.235/.310/.424
10
34
92
(0.07)
7/24, traded to SFO for Erasmo Ramirez and others
Ken Caminiti
2001
$ 3.5
54
.232/.318/.432
9
25
96
(0.03)
7/02, released

(MLV is marginal lineup value, a measure of one player’s positive or negative effect on runs scored per game. It’s not position-adjusted.)

This list isn’t entirely consistent; Texas actually traded for Nevin during 2005 and Caminiti was also commissioned to provide solid defense at third. But they fit thematically, if not technically.

Sosa’s standing among fandom at large is helped immensely by his quest for 600, his 53 RBIs and an awful surrounding cast that bestows upon him an air of relative competence. In truth, he is, at best, a very modest improvement on the veteran bats preceding him.

Posted by Lucas at 06:49 PM

June 21, 2007

History Lesson

Most Days For Texas As Worst Team in AL During A Season

Year
Days in Last
1973
132
1972
52
1985
39
1984
38
2007
27
1982
12
1987
7
1994
4
2000
4
1978
3
1990
1

Consective Days for Texas as Worst Team in AL

Period
Days
5/03/73 - 6/30/73
58
8/08/73 - 10/01/73
54
8/31/72 - 10/04/72
34
5/01/85 - 5/30/85
29
5/06/84 - 5/26/84
20
7/18/84 - 8/02/84
15
5/02/82 - 5/13/82
11
6/10/07 - 6/21/07
11
4/22/73 - 4/30/73
8
7/14/73 - 7/21/73
7
4/19/87 - 4/25/87
6
5/22/07 - 5/28/07
6
8/03/72 - 8/08/72
5
4/24/85 - 4/29/85
5

(First nine games of season are not included in either table.)

Surprisingly, Texas was never the worst AL team at any time during 2000-2006 except for one day, September 22, 2000.

Posted by Lucas at 07:08 PM

May 27, 2007

Answer To "Quick!"

Answer to “Quick!?

On June 6, 1990, Texas was 21-32, eleven games under .500. They played .569 ball (62-47) the rest of way to finish 83-79. The Rangers made no dramatic changes to the roster or lineup. They simply played better. Incidentally, on July 2nd the outfield behind Nolan Ryan consisted of Jack Daugherty, Pete Incaviglia and Kevin Reimer. They committed no errors.

In the eleven previous seasons during which the Rangers fell at least thirteen games under .500 (as is the case right now), they’ve never surpassed a 76-86 record (1976).

Posted by Lucas at 12:01 PM

May 26, 2007

Quick!

What’s the most games Texas has been under .500 and still finished with a winning record?

Posted by Lucas at 03:44 PM

May 18, 2007

Facts Are Stubborn Things

Texas has never finished better than 84-76 after starting the first 41 games with a losing record.

Texas has never won more than 73 games in a season when starting the first 41 games with 15 or fewer wins.

Texas has continued to play sub-.500 ball in ten of twelve previous seasons in which it started the first 41 games with a losing record.

Year
Record After 41 Games
Games Above / Below .500 For Rest Of Season
Final Record
1982
13-28
(19)
64-98
1973
13-28
(33)
57-105
1985
14-27
(24)
62-99
2001
14-27
(3)
73-89
2007
15-26
?
?
1984
15-26
(12)
69-92
1987
17-24
(5)
75-87
1972
17-24
(39)
54-100
2003
17-24
(13)
71-91
1994
18-23
(5)
52-62
1990
18-23
9
83-79
2002
19-22
(15)
72-90
1974
20-21
9
84-76

Posted by Lucas at 12:54 AM

April 06, 2007

A History Of 0-3 Starts

Texas has begun a season with three consecutive losses four times. What happened next?

Year
Start
Rest of April
Final Record
1973
0-3
6-7
57-105
1985
0-3
7-9
62-99
1991
0-3
8-5
85-77
2002
0-3
10-12
72-90

Only the ’91 team finished with a winning record. That was the crazy year in which Texas won 14 straight, then lost 11 of 12, then won seven straight.

The other teams were terrible, of course. However, it’s worth noting that those teams were also lousy the previous year. The ’72 team lost 100 games, the ’84 club lost 92, and the ’01 edition had lost 89. The 2007 Rangers aren’t nearly as bad as any of those teams.

Incidentally, I’m glad I’m not a paid opinion columnist who has to write about the Rangers’ opening games on a daily basis. Being just the occasional blogger, I can lay low for a few days while others offer sub-headlines like “Fans running out of reasons to believe” on the 6th of April.

That said, if the season really does fall off a cliff, a weekly cat picture may not suffice. I’ll have to turn the Rundown into Cute Overload, only with more drink recipes.

Posted by Lucas at 12:44 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

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
Season OPS+
Season (5th) 355 .313 .353 .381
45
1
18
101
Career (10 yrs) 2613 .241 .307 .293
301
9
133
66

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

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
Season OPS+
Season (7th) 104 .333 .354 .604
21
6
30
159
Career (15 yrs) 2398 .236 .305 .327
214
27
275
77

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

January 08, 2007

Run Scoring At Home And Abroad

Several Rangers have struggled to hit on the road, most notably Hank Blalock and the departed Alfonso Soriano, giving the Rangers a reputation as a poor road-hitting team. Failure to hit on the road possibly cost the team a division title in 2004.

This reputation no longer conforms to reality. Texas hasn’t achieved a .500 record during the last two years, but road hitting should not bear the blame. Indeed, last year a weak home performance contributed to an inexcusable losing record in Arlington.

The following tables show Texas’s abilty to score at home and on the road during 2003-2006. The AL average runs scored per game was adjusted for park and for home team. Irrespective of location, home teams tend to hit slightly better than visitors. All adjustments use one-year factors (no smoothing using multiple years of data), and figures are rounded. Note that The Ballpark reverted from “insanely hitter-friendly? to “reasonably hitter-friendly? in 2005.

RANGER HOME GAMES
2003
2004
2005
2006
AL Runs Scored per Game
4.89
5.01
4.76
4.97
Park Adjustment
1.22
1.22
1.08
1.08
Home Adjustment
1.01
1.01
1.02
1.04
Adjusted League-Average Runs Scored per Game
6.00
6.14
5.24
5.57
Texas Runs Scored per Game
5.93
6.06
5.79
5.28
Run Index
99
99
110
95

RANGER ROAD GAMES
2003
2004
2005
2006
AL Runs Scored per Game
4.89
5.01
4.76
4.97
Park Adjustment
0.98
0.98
0.99
0.99
Home Adjustment
0.99
1.00
0.99
0.98
Adjusted League-Average Runs Scored per Game
4.76
4.91
4.69
4.80
Texas Runs Scored per Game
4.27
4.56
4.89
5.02
Run Index
90
93
104
104

Posted by Lucas at 07:00 PM

November 22, 2006

Keltner Test: Juan Gonzalez

The Keltner Test is a Bill James creation designed to test whether a player merits selection into the Hall of Fame. I've never seen a test on Juan Gonzalez, so here goes:

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

I can’t find an example of anyone stating that Juan Gonzalez was ever the best player in baseball. Maybe, maybe, during July of 1998 when Gonzalez achieved 100 RBI by the All-Star break, someone gushed that he was the best player in the game. Otherwise, nope.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

I intend to answer these questions without using many derived statistics, but in this case the stats offer an interesting perspective. According to both WARP3 (Wins Above Replacement Player, a Baseball Prospectus stat) and Bill James’s Win Shares, Gonzalez was never clearly the best player on his team. Except for a first-place tie in Win Shares with Rafael Palmeiro in 1993, he never surpassed bridesmaid status. (Note that for obvious reasons I’ve excluded his tryouts of 1989 and 1990 and his post-2001 meltdown.)

Year
Team
WARP3
Team
Rank
Team
Best
Win
Shares
Team
Rank
Team
Best
1991
TEX
6.0
6
Palmeiro
19
4
Franco, Sierra
1992
TEX
7.9
3
K Brown
19
2
Palmeiro
1993
TEX
10.0
2
Palmeiro
31
T1
JG, Palmeiro
1994
TEX
6.3
T4
I Rodriguez
11
5
Clark
1995
TEX
3.7
10
Rogers
8
11
Rogers
1996
TEX
6.2
T5
K Hill
21
3
I Rodriguez
1997
TEX
5.6
4
I Rodriguez
19
3
I Rodriguez
1998
TEX
8.1
2
I Rodriguez
25
2
I Rodriguez
1999
TEX
7.4
3
I Rodriguez
24
3
Palmeiro
2000
DET
3.0
10
Higginson
9
11
Higginson
2001
CLE
8.6
2
R Alomar
23
3
R Alomar

Surprisingly, Gonzalez was rarely even the best hitter on his team. His predilection to swing at everything usually stranded him behind more patient hitters in terms of Equivalent Runs (another Baseball Prospectus creation):

Year
Team
Equivalent Runs
Team Rank
Team Best
1991
TEX
80
4
Palmeiro, 123
1992
TEX
91
2
Palmeiro, 92
1993
TEX
114
2
Palmeiro, 122
1994
TEX
64
3
Canseco, 90
1995
TEX
64
5
Tettleton, 91
1996
TEX
117
1
Gonzalez
1997
TEX
99
2
Greer, 119
1998
TEX
129
1
Gonzalez
1999
TEX
118
2
Palmeiro, 138
2000
DET
72
5
Higginson, 117
2001
CLE
110
3
Alomar, 130

Despite this evidence, I believe the answer to this question is more “yes” than “no.” During eleven years as an everyday player, he finished among the top three in WARP six times, in Win Shares seven times, and Equivalent Runs eight times. If I hear someone say that Gonzalez was the best player in Texas during the 1990s, I don’t agree (it’s Ivan Rodriguez), but I also don’t question that person’s faculties. It’s not an unreasonable belief.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

No and no. Barry Bonds, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Vlad Guerrero, Larry Walker, and Gary Sheffield come immediately to mind as superior corner outfielders during the 1990s. There are others.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Yes. In 1998, Texas trailed California by 3.5 games with only twenty remaining. Texas finished 13-7 with help from Gonzalez’s line of .364/.417/.688. During a critical three-game series in Anaheim in which the teams were tied entering the season’s final week, Gonzalez had a homer, two doubles, a single, and four walks(!). Texas swept the series and won the division.

Texas didn’t face much of a threat for the division title in 1999, but Gonzalez did bat .392/.433/.741 during September and October. He hit three homers and drove in seven during a series with Oakland that clinched the division.

In 2001, Cleveland won the AL Central by six games largely by taking fourteen of nineteen from chief rival Minnesota. Gonzalez batted .361/.397/.639 against the Twins.

Gonzalez played and lost in four divisional series. In 1996 he nearly won the series by himself, batting .438 with five homers and nine RBI in four games. In 1998 and 1999, he and his teammates left their bats in storage. In 2001, he again hit well for Cleveland (.348 with three doubles and two homers against the 116-46 Mariners).

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

Surely you jest. Gonzalez has played in only 186 games since turning 32. He finished four consecutive seasons on the Disabled List and hasn’t played a Major League game in August or September since 2001. In 2006 he toiled for the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks.

6. Is he the very best baseball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

He’s not better than Bert Blyleven, so “no.” The Evanses (Darrell and Dwight) are more deserving, as is Ron Santo. There’s a quick four without including his contemporaries.

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

Only four of Gonzalez’s most similar batters (per Baseball Reference) are Hall-eligible. Of those four, Johnny Mize and Duke Snider are in, and the Defiant Ones, Albert Belle and Dick Allen, are not. Of the others – Carlos Delgado, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Moises Alou, Jose Canseco and Jim Edmonds – only Ramirez seems Hall-worthy at the moment. Those who continue to play and burnish their Hall credentials will become less comparable to Gonzalez, and other, lesser players will take their places.

8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

In some respects, yes, superficially. Throw Gonzalez in the Hall and he’d rank 21st in homers, 41st in extra-base hits, 44th in RBI and 9th in slugging percentage among the 137 HOF hitters with at least 4,000 at-bats. Impressive.

Unfortunately, Gonzalez suffers terribly in consideration of the hitter-friendly era in which he’s played. Though Gonzalez would rank 21st in homers among Hall members, he presently ranks only 36th all-time. Fourteen active or recently retired players have more homers (the distant retiree being Dave Kingman). Likewise, Gonzalez’s .561 slugging percentage bests all but eight Hall-of-Famers but ranks only 21st all-time. All of the other higher-slugging players are contemporaries.

Of Bill James’s four quick-and-easy statistical tests of Hall-of-Fame worthiness – Black Ink, Grey Ink, Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor – Gonzalez falls short in three of them.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Gonzalez played mostly during an extremely hitter-friendly era and largely in favorable parks. Park effects have crept into the public consciousness to the extent that even some BBWAA members are aware of them. Voters will understand in general that the hitting climate bolstered his numbers.

Was Gonzalez a better defensive player than commonly perceived? He did spend most of his first four years in center field. My recollection is vague, but the evidence suggests he played center only because of a lack of decent-hitting alternatives. Gonzalez was the One-Eyed King amongst blind outfielders Ruben Sierra, Kevin Reimer, and Dean Palmer, and he could outhit centerfielder Gary Pettis one-handed. During 1991-1992, he started 204 games in center but was replaced or moved to a corner in 70 of those games. After two years in left, he occupied right field for the rest of his career.

Gonzalez didn’t have much range and certainly was disinclined to sacrifice his body to catch a ball. He had a very strong and pretty accurate arm. He started about one-fifth of his 1,689 games at DH, probably fewer than most people think. Also, he never descended to full-time DH and laughingstock like Jose Canseco and was never as hopeless as Manny Ramirez. Yes, that’s awfully faint praise, but I believe it’s worth noting that Gonzalez’s fielding was only garden-variety bad, not outright terrible.

That said, my perception of his defense does not nearly compensate for the era’s and parks’ effects on his offense.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

Gonzalez isn’t eligible yet, so let’s consider him in terms of his corner-outfield contemporaries. The answer is clearly no. Barry Bonds, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Vlad Guerrero, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, and several others were/are better players.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Gonzalez won two MVP awards. He deserved them about as much as 2006 winner Justin Morneau deserved his, which is to say, not at all. He wasn’t even the best hitter in the league, much less the best player, in 1996 or 1998. Nevertheless, the voters thought differently, so he gets full credit. He also finished fourth in 1993, arguably his best year in the Majors, ninth in 1997 and fifth in 2001.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

Gonzalez played in only three All-Star games, an extraordinarily low number for a Hall-of-Famer. Among the ten most similar hitters according to Baseball Reference, Hall members or not, only 1B Carlos Delgado has played in fewer. Among the ten most similar hitters through his present age of 35, none has played in fewer. Gonzalez also had three or four additional seasons of All-Star quality.

However, having two MVPs and only three All-Star appearances is not without precedent. HOFer Robin Yount also only played in three All-Star games. Roger Maris played in four, Frank Thomas five.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

In his prime, Gonzalez was better than anyone on the ’06 Tigers or ’05 White Sox. His prime tended to ebb and flow over the years, and he was almost always fighting some nagging injury. Still, the answer is yes.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

No, no, not directly, and no. Regarding new equipment, Gonzalez did take a petulant stand against baggy pants during the 1999 Hall-of-Fame game. Three years later, the Collective Bargaining Agreement contained new regulations on uniform pants, one of which discourages bagginess. Coincidence? Alas, to this day, Gonzalez’s role in the creation of the “shame on baggy pants” rule remains unclear.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

I’ve avoided the subject of steroids to this point. Jose Canseco alleged that Gonzalez was a fellow user when they were teammates. In light of the lack of evidence, I’m assuming Gonzalez played clean (an assumption that automatically disqualifies me as a nationally syndicated journalist). Obviously, proof of PED-use will make this answer a resounding no.

That issue aside, while I think branding Gonzales “unsportsmanlike” or “of bad character” is overstating the case, he did have episodes of poor behavior. The baggy pants incident, publicly berating a scorekeeper for an unfavorable call, missing too many games with seemingly minor injuries, three divorces, and general moodiness have created an unfavorable, selfish image in the minds of most observers.

SUMMARY OF ANSWERS

Absolutely HOF-worthy – 4, 11, 13
Generally Worthy – 2, 12
Generally Unworthy – 7, 8, 9, 15
Absolutely Unorthy – 1, 3, 5, 6, 10, 14

CONCLUSIONS

What might have been. Among all players through their Age 31 seasons, Gonzalez ranked eighth in homers (397) and seventh in runs batted in (1,282). His comparables included Frank Robinson, Orlando Cepeda, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray and Duke Snider. Since then, he’s hit 37 homers and driven in 122, about a season’s worth of work.

As it currently stands, Gonzalez’s body of work leaves him short of the Hall of Fame. He was a brilliant player for several years, but he lacked the consistency and durability possessed by almost all Hall members. He’ll have to settle for being one of the best Rangers during their only extended period of success. No shame in that.

Posted by Lucas at 12:32 PM

October 05, 2006

Back In The Day...

What I wrote in an ESPN column (pre-blog) on 1 November 2002 after Showalter was hired:

Reading about Buck Showalter’s zeal for discipline, you might believe Showalter previously helmed the HMS Bounty (as the sadistic Trevor Howard rather than the more nuanced Anthony Hopkins) or perhaps was the Gunnery Sergeant from “Full Metal Jacket.? Presumably, Showalter possesses skills beyond dictating the dress code on flights to Seattle. He has a 563-504 career record, helped to resurrect a faltering Yankee franchise in the early 1990s and led Arizona to the playoffs in its second year of existence. As before, he may wear out his welcome after three or four years. Despite his potentially short shelf-life, he is widely praised for his management and evaluation skills.
The “managerial tendencies? section from STAT’S annual Major League Handbooks (which to my extreme dismay will no longer be published) indicate that Showalter didn’t appear to overmanage his Arizona squads during 2000-2001. They tended to steal more often than the average NL team (especially with none out). He ordered a few more bunts than the typical manager but far fewer hit-and-runs. He eschewed the intentional walk and the pitchout. He did tend to order more mid-inning pitching changes one-batter relief appearances than most managers.

I watched the Howard/Brando version of Bounty again just last Sunday. Showalter was a cupcake compared to Captain Bligh.

Posted by Lucas at 01:09 AM

October 01, 2006

Flat

The Rangers have lost at least six of their final ten games every season this decade, and they’ve lost six of their final seven series:

YEAR    LAST 10  LAST SERIES
2000      1-9        0-3
2001      3-7        1-3
2002      3-7        0-3
2003      4-6        1-2
2004      4-6        2-1
2005      4-6        0-3
2006      3-7        1-2
TOTAL    22-48       5-17

Posted by Lucas at 07:44 PM

August 25, 2006

Fighting History

Over the next 33 games, the Texas Rangers must gain seven games on Oakland and 1.5 on Los Angeles to create a tie for the division title. The odds of doing so are exceedingly slim. Yes, the peripherals suggest Texas is better than its 66-63 record, and Oakland is winning despite a kittycat-tame offense. Maybe Texas “deserves” better, but advancing that argument involves the consumption of some awfully sour grapes.

To have any hope of winning the West the Rangers must play much, much better than they have thus far, plus Oakland and Anaheim must backslide. Does their history provide any guidance as to the likeliness of these events ? Have the Rangers ever finished the season on a tear that belied their previous 120+ games?

To answer this question, I used Baseball-Reference.com to find the Rangers winning percentage during the last 33 games of every season (except strike-shortened 1981 and 1994). I then compared them to the winning percentages during the rest of the season (the first 111 to 129 games depending on season).

During their last 33 games, the Rangers have rarely over- or under-performed relative to their existing record. Only six times in 32 years has their final-33 winning percentage strayed from their existing percentage by more than .100. Usually, they maintain the status quo.

Top Three Improvements Over Final 33 Games

Year   First Games   Final 33 Games   Win % Difference
1978   65-64 .504      22-11 .633          +.163
1979   62-67 .481      21-12 .636          +.155
1977   72-57 .558      22-11 .667          +.109

Bottom Three Improvements Over Final 33 Games

Year   First Games   Final 33 Games   Win % Difference
1972    48-73 .397      6-27 .182          -.215
2003    60-69 .465     11-22 .333          -.132
1988    59-69 .461     11-22 .333          -.128

The 1978 season is a fine analog for the present situation. After August 28, 1978, the top three teams in the AL West ranked as follows:

KAN  70-59  ----
CAL  70-62  -1.5
TEX  65-64  -5.0

Ah yes, a Ranger team hovering around .500 with two teams to catch in just over a month. Texas would win 22 of its final 33 games to finish 87-75. Unfortunately, Kansas City also finished the season 22-11, and Texas didn’t gain a single game on the division winner. In fact, Texas was never closer than five games from first. The Rangers floundered to 72-73 before winning fifteen of their last seventeen.

The 1979 Rangers gained four games on the division leader during the final 33 games, but they were nine games out at the time, and the strong finish only served to push them just over .500. The 1977 edition was the best in Ranger history until 1999. Its 22-11 finish resulted in four games lost in the standings to the Royals, which ended a white-hot 27-8.

The gloomy conclusions to this exercise: 1) After 129 games, we have a pretty firm idea of the quality of a team. Logically and empirically, Texas is most likely to continue playing at or near its current pace. 2) Winning isn’t enough. Texas needs an Athletic catastrophe that will haunt its fans for years to come.

The faint silver lining is that, based on history, the Rangers’ chances of collapsing are small. They have never ended a season below .500 when they had a winning record with 33 games to play, and they have never lost more than 18 of their last 33 in such a situation.

As to their playoff hopes this season, frankly, I think the Rangers are meat on a stick, batter-dipped, deep-fried, chewed up, swallowed, and slowly digesting inside the stomach of a twelve-year-old at Tropicana Field. But that doesn’t mean I won’t watch, and hope.

Posted by Lucas at 03:01 PM

August 20, 2006

Unknown Pleasures -- The Hitters, #3-#5

Fourth 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.

5. Geno Petralli, catcher, 1987

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
Season OPS+
Season (9th) 232 .302 .388 .480
28
7
31
129
Career (13 yrs) 2131 .267 .344 .360
184
24
192
95

Toronto selected nineteen-year-old Geno Petralli in the third round of the 1978 draft. Beginning in 1982, he briefly appeared as a Blue Jay over three seasons but couldn’t supplant Ernie Whitt or even establish himself as a backup. Toronto sold his contract in 1984 to Cleveland , which dumped him altogether the next April. On May 17, 1985 , Petralli gulped hard, said a little prayer, and signed with the 9-24 Texas Rangers. He soon took over backup catcher duties, a role he would fill for almost all of his career.

Though Petralli now had a regular job, he continued to struggle at the plate. Through 1986, Petralli had a career line of .271/.312/.358, good for an OPS+ of 80. Noted for his patience in the minors, he had walked only once per eighteen plate appearances in the Majors. He entered 1987 as Don Slaught’s caddy for the third consecutive season.

Out of nowhere, Petralli hit. He received only 42 plate appearances in the season’s first six weeks walked nine times and dispensed a startling line of .364/.500/.545. By season’s end, Petralli easily set personal records in runs, RBI, doubles, homers, average, OBP and slugging. He pinch-hit 36 times and also spotted at first, second, third and outfield. Petralli slugged .480 despite never having surpassed .420 at any level in nine years of professional ball, and in subsequent years he never exceeded .408.

Though popular among Ranger fans at the time, he is remembered elsewhere mostly for his misadventures with the glove. As knuckleballer Charlie Hough’s personal catcher, Petralli set Major League records for passed balls allowed in a season with 35 and in a game with 6. He also tied the record of four allowed in one inning.

4. Tom Grieve, outfielder, 1973

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
Season OPS+
Season (3rd) 136 .309 .348 .528
22
7
21
149
Career (9 yrs) 2093 .249 .316 .442
209
65
254
100

Washington selected Grieve out of high school with the sixth pick of the 1966 draft, four choices after Reggie Jackson (and five after Steve Chilcott). By 1969, he reached AAA, and in 1970 he grew into a power spike of thirteen homers in only 182 at-bats, though perhaps the AAA affiliate’s move from Buffalo to Denver helped. On that basis, Washington recalled him midway into the 1970 season. Grieve grounded to short against New York’s Fritz Peterson in his big-league debut. The next day, batting second in front of Frank Howard, he singled off Cleveland’s Sam McDowell for his first hit. Later that series, he belted his first homer and finished the day at .316/.350/.526.

Grieve batted only .175/.286/.309 the rest of the way and couldn’t force himself into Washington’s plans for 1971. He spent the entire season in Denver (playing only 93 games, so perhaps he was injured) while similarly aged outfielder Elliott Maddox and younger Jeff Burroughs spent much of the season in Washington. Grieve again reached the Majors for Texas in 1972 and again he struggled, batting .204/.271/.296. In 1973, 25 years old and in his seventh professional season, Grieve was relegated to defensive replacement and pinch running duties. Through the season’s first two months he earned only sixteen plate appearances, getting two singles and eight strikeouts.

Fortunately for Grieve, Texas sold outfielder Rico Carty to the Cubs, and only Burroughs was hitting well among the other outfielders. Given three consecutive starts in center in mid-July, he went 5-for-11 with two walks. Soon, Grieve earned semi-regular play and batted an astonishing .336/.390/.589 over the season’s final ten weeks. He hit seven homers in 107 at-bats during that span, by itself good for sixth-best on the team. For the 4,000 or so fans who attended a typical late-season game, Grieve offered a reason to cheer.

Grieve spent only one full season as an everyday player, hitting twenty homers and driving in 81 in 1976, and in 1977 he was part of an infamous four-team, twelve-player trade. By 1979 his on-field career had ended as a Cardinal. He rejoined the Rangers in 1981 in the front office, and within four years he became the general manager, a role he would hold for ten years. He then became an announcer for televised games and fulfills that role today. Thus, Grieve has worked for the Rangers and preceding Senators for 38 of the last 41 years.

3. Mike Simms, outfielder / first base / pinch hitter, 1998

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
Season OPS+
Season (8th) 215 .296 .381 .613
36
16
46
150
Career (9 yrs) 744 .247 .323 .464
92
36
121
108

Mike Simms began his career as a Houston Astro, a 6th-round pick in 1985. After two lackluster years in Rookie ball, Simms exploded for 39 homers at low-A Asheville. He would hit only a combined 36 during the subsequent two years in high-A and AA, but he did established himself as a decent prospect with above-average power and excellent patience. In 1990 he received a September call-up and struck out against Craig Lefferts in his MLB debut. Though he didn’t reach the plate again for a full week, he managed to single in the winning run in extra innings.

Simms couldn’t crack the lineup in 1991 and spent the first half of the season back in AAA. Given a month’s worth of starts in Houston later that year, he showed little beyond an ability to draw plenty of walks (.203/.301/.317). In 1992 he again resided in AAA for most of the season, and in 1993 he never left the minors. After transient assignments in San Diego , Pittsburgh and Cleveland , he returned to the Astros and spent the next three years frequent-flying between Houston and AAA Tucson. Only in 1995 (.256/.341/.512 in 138 plate appearances) did the results match his potential. Simms signed with Texas after 1996 when the Astros waived goodbye. In 1997, he subbed at several positions and, as usual, didn’t offer much at the plate beyond adequate power.

Entering 1998, age 31, Mike Simms had a career line of .227/.298/.405. While he made the Opening Day roster, Texas couldn’t have expected much. Simms quickly set the tone for his season by homering in his first game, a 20-4 rout of the White Sox. On May 19 th, Simms hit a three-run bomb off an allegedly invincible Randy Johnson to power a 10-4 rout. Though he endured a zero-for-29 stretch in late August, he delivered when needed most. Against division rivals, Simms batted a Bondsian .340/.419/.811 -- five singles, seven doubles, six homers, and six walks. Texas entered the final twelve games of the season one game behind Anaheim . Simms played in eight games and hit .333/.497/.722 with five runs scored and seven batted in. The Rangers finished 8-4, three games ahead of the Angels.

Along with fellow Unknown Pleasures Roberto Kelly (#14) Bill Haselman (#12) and Luis Alicea (#11), Simms helped to keep the Rangers in contention until reinforcements arrived to push them over the top. At the July 31st trading Deadline, Texas had a record of 57-51 and had outscored its opposition by only fourteen runs. On that day, GM Doug Melvin boldly released everyday shortstop Kevin Elster and traded for Todd Zeile, Royce Clayton and Todd Stottlemyre. Texas went 31-23 during the final two months to win the West and the right to play the 114-game-winning Yankees.

Sad to say, Simms could not parlay his terrific season into long-term success. 1998 was the first and only year in which Simms spent the entire season on a Major League roster. The following spring, a torn Achilles tendon forced him to the Disabled List for four months and he would spent more time on rehab assignment in Oklahoma than on the active roster. With Rafael Palmeiro serving as DH because of injury and Roberto Kelly serving very well as fourth outfielder, Texas had no room for Simms. He received only two late-season pinch-hit appearances in 1999, the last of his career, and did not make the postseason roster. In 2000, a degenerative hip forced him out of baseball at age 33.

Posted by Lucas at 10:27 PM

June 06, 2006

Texas Rangers 1st Round Draft Picks Still Playing Baseball

PLAYER (Overall pick, school, position)

2005
JOHN MAYBERRY
(19, College, OF) –Batting .230/.320/.443 for low-A Clinton. 22 years old.

2004
TOM DIAMOND
(10, College, SP) – Starting for AA Frisco in the Texas system, 11 starts, 3.88 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 6.1 BB/9, 11.3 SO/9.

ERIC HURLEY (30, High School, SP) – Starting for high-A Bakersfield in the Texas system, 11 starts, 2.62 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 2.2 BB/9, 9.1 SO/9.

2003
JOHN DANKS
(9, High School, SP) – Starting for AA Frisco in the Texas system, 10 starts, 4.73 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9, 11.7 SO/9.

2002
DREW MEYER
(10, College, SS) – Made MLB debut for Texas in 2006, played sparingly. Batting .276/.308/.398 as utility man in AAA Oklahoma in the Texas system.

2001
MARK TEIXEIRA
(5, College, 3B) – Debuted with Texas in 2003. Career MLB line of .284/.365/.533, 113 homers, 370 runs batted in. 26 years old.

2000
TYRELL GODWIN
(35, College, OF) – Did not sign with Texas. Drafted in third round by Toronto, made MLB debut with Washington in 2005 as a Rule 5 draft selection. Only had three plate appearances. Currently in AAA New Orleans batting .237/.268/.392.

1999
COLBY LEWIS
(38, Junior College, SP) – Pitched for Texas 2002-2004. Claimed on waivers by Detroit in 2005, now pitching for AAA Toledo.

1998
CARLOS PENA
(10, College, 1B) – Debuted with Texas in 2001, traded to Oakland the following offseason, then to Detroit. Dumped by Detroit, signed with the Yankees. Batting .253/.387/.427 for AAA Columbus.

1997
JASON ROMANO
(39, High School, 3B) – Debuted with Texas in 2002, traded to Colorado that season. Has also played for the Dodgers, Reds and Devil Rays in a utility role. Signed with Milwaukee in the offseason but has not appeared in a game in 2006.

1996
R.A. DICKEY
(18, College, SP) – Pitched for Texas in 2001 and 2003-2006. Outrighted to AAA in 2006, has a 7.02 ERA in 42 innings while trying to refine his knuckleball.

COREY LEE (32, College, SP) – Pitched one inning for Texas in 1999. Bounced through Chicago (AL), Anaheim and LA (NL) systems during 2002-2005. Now pitches for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

1992
RICK HELLING
(22, College, SP) – Debuted with Texas in 1994, pitched with Rangers from 1994-2001. Traded to Florida during 1996, traded back during 1997. Has also pitched for Arizona, Baltimore, Minnesota (in the minors) and Milwaukee. Has retired at least once. Currently pitches for Milwaukee, has been on Disabled List most of the season.

1991
BENJI GIL
(19, High School, SS) – Debuted with Texas in 1993, played with Rangers 1993-1997. Also played for Anaheim in the Majors (2000-2003) and in the minors for Chicago (AL and NL), Florida, Cleveland, Detroit and New York (NL). Batting .383/.438/.605 for the Sultans de Monterrey in the Mexican League.

Posted by Lucas at 11:55 AM

June 02, 2006

The Real Season Begins

Life is good. Despite Wednesday's blowout loss, Texas leads the division by 3.5 games and is the only AL West club playing winning baseball. Baseball Prospectus offers a wonderful, daily Monte Carlo simulation of the rest of the season, projecting records and each team’s probability of winning a division or wildcard. Depending on methodology used, BP predicts Texas has between a 67% and 73% chance of winning the division.

I wish I could believe it.

Now, I’m not a pessimist by nature (really) or some flake who derives happiness from failure. I do believe Texas has a respectable chance to win the West, but I wouldn’t concede a probability over 50%. Two reasons:

  • Oakland has a history of starting poorly and roaring to the finish.
  • Texas has a history of the opposite. Do they ever.

The Rangers’ annual summer swoon is no myth, no mordant function of selective memory. I wrote about several memorable post-All Star break collapses two years ago. That article only presented anecdotes, but deeper analysis confirms Texas’s history of collapse.

Longtime Ranger fans assuredly know that the franchise has a losing record over its 34-plus years in Arlington. What they may not know is that the team has a winning record through May 31st. The following chart shows the Rangers’ cumulative over/under as of every particular date of the season. For example, the Rangers have an all-time record of 114-100 on games played from the start of the season through April 15th, thus an over of 14 games. Through May 31st, Texas has an all-time record of 806-804 (+2). Afterwards, they’re skiing a blue slope:

Period
Record
Win %
3/30 - 5/31
806 - 804
.501
6/01 - 10/07
1790 - 1970
.476

The first two years in Arlington, when the team posted 100-loss seasons, tend to skew the data. Removing 1972 and 1973 gives Texas a winning record as late as July 14th. It also reveals a seven-week period of decay that has ruined many a season:

Period
Record
Win %
3/30 - 7/09
1336 - 1312
.505
7/10 - 8 / 31
793 - 911
.465
9/01 - 10/07
356 - 346
.507

The Rangers allegedly unburdened fans of those painful memories during the late 1990s, but 2004 (leading the division at the All Star Break, finished third) and 2005 (30-20 through May, 49-63 to finish) reopened old wounds. In 2006, Texas has the talent to win the division and a collection of young players who don’t know or care about history. Here’s hoping they aren’t doomed to repeat it.

Posted by Lucas at 06:32 PM

June 01, 2006

Mark Teixeira Interview

Baseball America's Alan Schwarz has a very interesting interview with Mark Teixeira about the personal aspects of the draft and dealing with scouts. Check it out.

Posted by Lucas at 08:01 PM

May 16, 2006

I Feel Sick

Prior to tonight, the Rangers had a record of 108-1 when scoring thirteen or more runs.

Guess who beat them?

The Rangers do have a perfect record of winning division titles during seasons when they lose despite scoring thirteen runs. So, good news!

Posted by Lucas at 10:17 PM

May 07, 2006

A Brief, Bitter, Regular Season History of Texas Versus New York

Texas has fared poorly in the postseason. Very, very, very poorly. However, I have no desire to unearth those fetid memories right now. Instead, why not dredge up some new ones by examining the regular-season history of the Rangers and Yankees?

1972-1986

During June 6-8, 1972, Texas played New York for the first time since leaving Washington and won two of three. That represents the high-water mark of the rivalry from Texas’s perspective. Texas played .370 ball against New York and was outscored by 152 runs in 173 games. Remarkably, the Rangers never won a season series over the Yankees during their first fifteen seasons in Arlington.

Wait, there’s more. Texas won fewer than one-third of its games against the New York during the 1970s (30-62). From August 19, 1972 through July 17, 1976, the Rangers lost 19 of 25 at home. They never won four consecutive games against the Yankees but had thirteen losing streaks of at least four games. Good times.

Era
Games
Season Series
H/R
Wins
Losses
Pct
Won
Lost
Tied
'72-'86
All
64
109
.370
0
14
1
Home
37
48
.435
Road
27
61
.307

1987-1993

Texas’s one span of success coincided with the decline and fall of the Yankee dynasty. From 1989-1992, the Yankees had four consecutive losing seasons for the first (and only other) time since 1912-1915. New York gave the nation Stump Merrill, Alvaro Espinoza, Hensley Meulens, Pat Kelly, and Andy Hawkins, and the nation smirked.

In sharp contrast to the prior era, Texas never lost a season series to the Yankees during this period. The Rangers won 32 of 42 at home including an amazing fifteen consecutively from July 1989 to September 1991.

Era
Games
Season Series
H/R
Wins
Losses
Pct
Won
Lost
Tied
'87-'93
All
51
32
.614
6
0
1
Home
32
10
.762
Road
19
22
.463

1994-Present

Despite producing the best teams in franchise history during the latter half of the 90s, Texas has largely abandoned any pretense of a rivalry since 1993. Texas won 14 and lost 21 to New York during its three division-winning seasons. Resuming its “location is nothing? premise, Texas has lost 21 of its last 31 at home during the 2000s. The Rangers currently sport an eight-game losing streak against New York, the longest in their history. In a week, they get a chance to halt that streak in the Bronx.

Era
Games
Season Series
H/R
Wins
Losses
Pct
Won
Lost
Tied
'94-'06
All
45
75
.375
2
9
1
Home
26
35
.426
Road
19
40
.322

Overall

Era
Games
Season Series
H/R
Wins
Losses
Pct
Won
Lost
Tied
All Time
All
160
216
.426
8
23
3
Home
95
93
.505
Road
65
123
.346

Posted by Lucas at 11:59 PM

April 23, 2006

Mahay Up, Rheinecker Down, Dickey Out

Texas added reliever RON MAHAY to the 40-man and active rosters, sent pitcher JOHN RHEINECKER to AAA Oklahoma, and designated pitcher R.A. DICKEY for assignment.

The Rangers outrighted Mahay last August, four months into a two-year contract. Now, Texas will allow Mahay to earn some of his guaranteed $1.1 million in Arlington instead of Oklahoma City. The tougher roster decision will occur when injured reliever Brian Shouse returns. Texas won’t keep four lefties in the bullpen, and among Mahay, Shouse, Fabio Castro and C.J. Wilson, only Wilson can be relegated to the minors without repercussions.

The mild surprise is the waiver of Dickey, when Texas could have placed Frank Francisco on the 60-day DL to open another roster spot. No team will claim him. The question is whether Dickey will elect to proffer his knucklebally goodness in the Ranger organization or sign elsewhere. His previous designation gives him the right to refuse his assignment. I think he’ll stay.

Posted by Lucas at 08:09 PM

April 19, 2006

Off-Day Blues?

Ranger radio broadcaster Victor Rojas said the following in his entertaining blog “The Spoils:?

Back to back series now the Rangers have lead off with a win...I don't exactly know what the numbers are, but as I recall over the last couple of years the Rangers never seemed to fare well in the first day back from an off-day...that's not the case so far.

Fortunately for Texas and unfortunately for Mr. Rojas, he’s wrong. During his tenure (2004-present) the Rangers have a record of 22-13 after a single day off:

11-5 in 2004
9-8 in 2005
2-0 in 2006

Texas did lose six of its last ten after a day off in 2005, so perhaps the recent past has colored his recollection.

UPDATE: Changed from 23-13 to 22-13 upon further review.

Posted by Lucas at 12:59 PM

April 14, 2006

"P A N I C !" Revisited

How often and do what extent does Texas recover from a bad start?

I’ve arbitrarily defined a bad start as being at least four games under .500 at any point during April. The team could sweep its next three-game series and still be under water.

The Rangers have found themselves in this position in thirteen of their 34 seasons. On how many occasions did Texas finish with a winning record?

Two. Just… two.

In 1978 the Rangers dropped to 2-9 after losing the front end of a double header against Detroit. They won the second game for a split, but another loss dumped them back to seven games under .500. Texas immediately won seven straight to climb to 10-10, then hovered within seven games of .500 for the next four months. At 69-71 on Septemebr 10th, Texas roared to a 19-4 finish and ended twelve games above .500 and five behind Kansas City in the West.

The 1991 edition started with four consecutive losses. Texas quickly erased that deficit by winning five of six, and soon afterward they began their memorable, franchise-record fourteen-game winning streak. Almost as memorably, they lost eleven of their next twelve (including a 4-3, 18-inning loss to Kansas City that I still remember). Texas never surpassed eleven games over .500 but also never relinquished their winning record.

In the other eleven seasons, Texas finished an average of 22 games below .500. Those seasons include three of the four Dark Age years of 1982-1985 and three of the four almost-as-dark years of 2000-2003. Interestingly, in seven of those eleven seasons the Rangers recovered to .500 or better at some point during the season. The 2000 squad (which initiated what I call the Post-Winning Era) stumbled to 8-15 but won 21 of 32 to climb to 30-26. Unfortunately, they played .387 ball (41-65) thereafter.

A History of Bad Starts and Season Finishes (sorted by final Win%):

YEAR
Most Games Under .500 in April
Most Games Over .500 for Season
Most Games Recovered
Season Wins
Season Losses
Season Pct%
1978
-7 12 19 87 75 .537
1991
-4 11 15 85 77 .525
1975
-4 6 10 79 83 .488
1987
-9 0 9 75 87 .463
1994
-6 2 8 52 62 .456
2002
-9 -1 8 72 90 .444
2000
-7 4 11 71 91 .438
2003
-4 -1 3 71 91 .438
1988
-5 3 8 70 91 .435
1984
-6 0 6 69 92 .429
1982
-5 1 6 64 98 .395
1985
-7 -2 5 62 99 .385
1973
-6 -3 3 57 105 .352

Posted by Lucas at 01:34 PM

April 10, 2006

P A N I C !

At what point does likelihood become inevitability? After how many games does a losing record guarantee a losing season?

You probably have read about the importance of avoiding a bad start. Teams that visit the postseason rarely begin the season by losing nine of twelve. Yes, both Oakland and Houston made the playoffs after dropping to fifteen games below .500, but most teams that start bad finish bad.

Does this maxim apply to the Rangers (2-5 after Sunday), and if so, at what point in the season? I compared the Rangers’ eventual finish to their record after every odd number of games played early in the year (an odd number insures a winning or losing record – no 5-5 or 7-7 standings to garble the analysis). I excluded strike-shortened 1981 and 1994 but accepted the 144-game ’95 season.

Does the first game forecast the season? Not in Texas. Prior to 2006, Texas had triumphed in seventeen openers and finished above .500 in eight seasons, just 47% of the time. Conversely, the Rangers have six winning seasons in the fifteen in which they’ve lost their first game (40%). The difference signifies nothing.

After three games, the crystal ball isn’t much less foggier except when the team really starts well or terribly. In the six years in which Texas has begun the season 3-0, they have four winning seasons and have averaged seven games above .500. On the other hand, they have only winning season (1991, 85-77) in five years when opening with three defeats; each losing team finished with no fewer than 90 losses.

The Rangers stood at 2-5 going into Monday’s contest against Los Angeles, but a review of previous seven-game starts doesn’t reveal much. Texas has had a record of 4-3 or better on fifteen occasions but finished above water only eight times (53%). They finished below .500 65% of the time (11 of 17) when they started 3-4 or worse. In six prior years, Texas began with a 2-5 record. In 1978 they managed to win 87 games. In strike-shortened 1995 they finished 74-70. On the other four occasions, they never lost fewer than 91 games.

In fact, the Rangers have no early tipping point at which time panic is “appropriate;? their starts doesn’t correlate strongly to their finishes until the 25-game mark. By then, the team has broadcasted its strength and weaknesses, if not its eventual record. Texas has been 13-12 or better after 25 games in nineteen season and finished with a winning record in thirteen (68%). Rather unimpressive, actually. Viewed differently, Texas has never finished worse than ten games below .500 after starting 13-12 or better. Thus, a respectable start at least foretells a not-terrible season. Satisfaction is where you find it, Ranger fans.

On the other hand, in the thirteen seasons in which Texas has a losing record after 25 games, they’ve ended with a winning record exactly once. In 1991, Texas began 11-14 and promptly won their next fourteen games. They proceeded to lose eleven of their next twelve but held on for an 85-77 finish. Their second best effort after a losing 25-game start was last year’s 79-83 mark. The other eleven times, Texas never finished better than 75-87.

Unfortunately for Texas, regardless of the number of games played, an early losing record indicates future losing much more than an early winning record predicts success. After 41 games (basically ¼ of the season), Texas has 21 winning records and only eleven losing records. Yet Texas has only fourteen winning seasons. The Rangers frequently start strong then falter during the summer. Their collapses aren’t myth or a product of selective memory. A table for emphasis:

Texas Rangers History
Above .500
Below .500
Record after 41 games 21 11
Record at end of season 14 18

On April 30th, Texas completes a three-game stand at Cleveland and will have played 25 games, weather permitting. Restrain expressions of hopelessness until then.

Posted by Lucas at 11:25 PM

March 18, 2006

Unknown Pleasures -- The Hitters, #6-#10

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

10. Willie Montanez, first baseman, 1979

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (9th) 154 .319 .357 .528
645
139
802
137
Career (13 yrs) 6407 .275 .327 .402
19
8
24
101

Willie Montanez, baseball nomad. Montanez was part of the Curt Flood trade of 1970 and the four-team, eleven-player whirlwind in 1977. On six other occasions he switched teams during the season. Montanez belted thirty homers as a rookie in 1971 but never hit more than twenty afterward. Like Bill Stein (see #6 below), he plied his trade for numerous basement dwellers including the ’71-’73 Phillies, the ’76-’77 Braves, and the ’78 Mets.

On August 12, 1979, Texas acquired Montanez for minor-league pitcher Ed Lynch and backup 1B Mike Jorgenson. The Mets were 48-66, and perhaps all those years of losing had worn him down; he was batting a tired .234/.277/.317 as the everyday first baseman. After the trade, Montanez found himself at the fringe of a division race and playing meaningful baseball in mid-August. The Rangers had a record of 60-56, 5.5 games out of first.

Well… the Rangers immediately lost thirteen of fifteen to fall to 62-69. Montanez, however, batted .319/.357/.528, splitting time between first and DH, and played a large role in the Rangers winning 21 of their last 31 to finish above .500. Montanez didn’t get another chance with Texas, which sent him to the lowly Padres for Gaylord Perry.

9. Alan Bannister, second baseman, 1984

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (9th) 135 .295 .407 .384
20
2
9
119
Career (13 yrs) 3373 .270 .334 .355
430
19
288
90

Philadelphia chose Bannister with the #1 overall pick of the 1973 draft. As a shortstop with Arizona State, Bannister drove in an NCAA-record ninety runs in 1972. Philly had Dave Cash at second and Larry Bowa at short, so he spent most of his limited time there as an outfielder. The White Sox gave him the shortstop job in 1977 and he committed forty errors with a Fielding Rate of 80, meaning he surrendered twenty more runs per 100 games than an average shortstop. (By comparison, Alfonso Soriano had a rate of 84 in 2005.) Since his contact and on-base skills were only average and he didn’t hit for enough power in the Majors to play first or an outfield corner, he spent most of his career as a utility player, albeit an active one.

Texas acquired Bannister in May of 1984 for Mike Richardt. Unlike many of the players on this list who temporarily succeeded by swinging at everything, Bannister prospered by keeping the bat on his shoulder. He drew a walk every 6.4 plate appearance en route to a .407 OBP and stung lefties at a rate of .333/.432/.475. For the only time in his twelve-year career, he finished with an OPS+ above 100. Alas, he also played some of the worst second base ever, but this article is about hitting. Bannister spent one more season in Texas before retiring.

8. Bill Sudakis, utility guy, 1973

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (9th) 263 .255 .320 .494
32
15
43
131
Career (13 yrs) 1751 .234 .311 .393
177
59
214
101

Sudakis entered the Majors as a Dodger started at third regularly in 1969. LA converted him to catcher in 1970, and he split time behind the plate and at third while batting a dandy .264/.352/.461. In 1971 he caught almost exclusively, but a broken finger wrecked his season, and the Mets claimed him off waivers near the end of Spring Training in 1972. The Mets gave him only 56 plate appearances. Just 26 years old, his career rapidly approached nothingness.

The Rangers procured Sudakis in late March of 1973 for Bill McNulty. The Mets would squirrel their way into the World Series that year and the Rangers were terrible, but at least in Texas Sudakis had a role. He bounded among first, third, catcher, DH, and the outfield and smacked a career-best fifteen homers in limited action. Sudakis had a Rob Deer-like skill set; at the All Star break he had a line of .179/.248/.389. During the second half he batted a heroic .307/.370/.564 when the team routinely drew fewer than 3,000 fans. Texas sold his contract to the Yankees after the season.

7. Bob Brower, outfielder, 1987

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (9th) 349 .261 .338 .452
63
14
46
108
Career (13 yrs) 667 .242 .322 .376
104
17
60
90

I honestly don’t remember much about Bob Brower, but I don’t recall him being much of a prospect. He signed with Texas as an undrafted 22-year-old from Duke University. He never batted above .287 or slugged over .439 past A-ball. Except for a tablespoon of coffee at the end of the ’86 season, he spent the entirety of his Year 25 and Year 26 seasons in AAA. He did show enough potential that Texas granted him fourth-outfielder status for the ’87 season as a replacement for the older and more expensive Gary Ward.

Brower took advantage. He started 81 games and hit well overall including a line of .302/.392/.444 with runners in scoring position. He appeared to have established himself as a worthy fourth outfielder who could play regularly in center if needed.

It didn’t last. Brower started 1988 on the disabled list and lost everything but his plate discipline. He batted .224/.316/.274 in 115 fewer plate appearances, and Texas traded him to the Yankees for shortstop Bob Meacham, who never took the field for Texas. Brower didn’t hit any better in pinstripes, and New York optioned him to Columbus at the end of May. At age 29, Brower was done as a Major Leaguer.

6. Bill Stein, utility guy, 1981

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (10th) 126 .330 .360 .435
21
2
22
134
Career (14 yrs) 3067 .267 .313 .370
268
44
311
91

Bill Stein had a pretty grey career, though I doubt he’s complaining. He played for only one winning team in fourteen years, and from 1976-1985 his team finished last or next-to-last every season but one. He spent 1976 with a terrible White Sox squad and subbed at third base on that infamous August 8th afternoon when the team donned short pants. He then slogged through four years with the expansion Mariners. Finally, he spent five years with the Rangers including their worst four-year stretch in franchise history (’82-’85). His teams had a winning percentage of .432, equivalent to a record of 70-92 every year. Bleak.

Stein had a career line of .262/.311/.370 when he joined Texas in 1981. He didn’t draw many walks or hit for much power. Hitting singles was his primary talent. Defensively, he could play first, second and third (and elsewhere in an emergency), but Texas already had Pat Putnam, Bump Wills and Buddy Bell established at those positions. Stein wouldn’t play very often for Texas.

Logically, he responded by setting the American League record for consecutive pinch hits:

Apr 14: Singled for Mario Mendoza in the 7th.
May 9 (1): Doubled for Mendoza in the 9th, later scored.
May 9 (2): Singled for Mark Wagner in the 9th, later scored.
May 17: Singled for Mendoza in the 9th.
May 20: Singled for Wagner in the 9th.
May 23: Singled for Pat Putnam in the 9th, drove in Leon Roberts, later scored tying run.
May 25: Singled for Roberts in the 9th, drove in Buddy Bell for winning run.

Stein had a line of .540/.550/.641 after his record-setting performance: 21-for-39 with four doubles and a walk. He didn’t hit well after setting the record (.220/.270/.329) and couldn’t parlay his success into regular playing time. Still, the Rangers finished 57-48 for the only winning season in Stein’s career, and despite the strike, I’d bet he enjoyed himself.

Posted by Lucas at 06:33 PM

February 21, 2006

Unknown Pleasures -- The Hitters, #15-#11

Second in a series on Rangers who provided unexpected help with their bats for a season. First article here.

15. Gary Matthews Jr., OF, 2004

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (6th) 317 .275 .350 .461
37
11
36
101
Career (7 yrs) 2446 .249 .327 .397
325
59
236
90

From March 2000 to April 2004, Gary Matthews Jr. was waived, released, or just plain purchased seven times. The Texas Rangers became his seventh organization when he signed a minor-league contract a week into the 2004 season. Late that May Texas brought him to Arlington when outfielders Kevin Mench and Brian Jordan simultaneously hit the DL. The Ranger starting outfield on May 25th consisted of Matthews, Chad Allen and Eric Young, hardly an awe-inspiring collection. Nonetheless, Texas would contend for the division for the first time in five years, and the unheralded Matthews would play a major role. He started 76 games between late May and early September, hitting a solid .275/.350/.461 and providing worthy defense in right and center. A calf injury ended his season prematurely.

Oddly, Matthews is the only player on the list from this decade.

14. Roberto Kelly, OF, 1998

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (12th) 270 .323 .349 .560
48
16
46
128
Career (14 yrs) 5226 .290 .337 .430
687
124
585
106

Kelly is the first of four hitters from 1998 who propelled a good-but-not-great team to a division title.

Kelly started in center field for the Yankees from 1989 through 1992, a dreary era* when Pat Kelly and Alvaro Espinoza were supposed to return the pinstripes to glory. He declined in 1992, though he still would be the only Yankee representative on the All-Star team, and New York traded him to Cincinnati for Paul O’Neill. In 1993, Kelly resumed hitting until separating his shoulder. In May 1994, the Reds traded him to Atlanta, who in April 1995 traded him to Montreal, who the next month traded him to the Dodgers, who in October 1995 cut him loose. He spent the next two years among Minnesota and Seattle as a fourth outfielder.

After 1997, Kelly signed with Texas, who had fallen back under .500 after winning their first division title the previous season. He still had prowess with the bat, and Texas paid him $1.6 million with the expectation that he’d rank among the best backup outfielders in the league. What he provided might have surprised even him. Never the most patient player, Kelly dispensed altogether with trying to draw walks but had career highs in average (.323) and slugging (.560). In just 270 plate appearances he hit sixteen homers, second only to the twenty he belted as a regular in 1991. Kelly had another respectable season with Texas before fizzling out back in New York.

* for Yankee fans, not me.

13. Chris James, OF, 1994

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (9th) 159 .256 .358 .534
28
7
19
128
Career (10 yrs) 3294 .261 .307 .413
343
90
386
99

Prior to joining Texas, James gained more fame from the people around him than his own actions. As a prospect in Philadelphia, he spotted for an injured Mike Schmidt in 1988 and 1989. The Phils later traded him to San Diego for John Kruk (and Randy Ready). San Diego then traded him, Sandy Alomar and Carlos Baerga to Cleveland for Joe Carter. James hit well in 1990 for Cleveland, got his first million-dollar contract, and promptly collapsed to .238/.273/.318. He never played regularly again. Late in 1993, Texas acquired him from Houston for pitcher Dave Gandolph, a 26th-round draft pick from 1991.

James played infrequently but made the most of his time. His on-base percentage of .361 and slugging percentage of .534 were career bests, and over half of his hits were for extra bases. James didn’t play in Kenny Rogers’ no-hitter – the Ranger outfield consisted of Juan Gonzalez, Rusty Greer, and… Butch Davis? – but he did have an excellent view from the dugout. In 1995, James shuffled through even more limited roles in Kansas City and Boston. His MLB career ended just before his 33rd birthday.

12. Bill Haselman, C, 1998

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (8th) 110 .314 .327 .543
11
6
17
118
Career (13 yrs) 1747 .259 .311 .409
185
47
210
83

Haselman had three tours of duty in Texas. Texas drafted him in 1987 with one of their three first-round picks (the others: Brian Bohanon and Mark Petkovsek). Seattle claimed him off waivers, but he saw little Major League action until joining Boston after 1994. Haselman earned his most playing time in 1996 and 1997 while backing up Mike Stanley and Scott Hatteberg. After the 1997 season, Texas reacquired him along with pitcher Aaron Sele for Damon Buford and Jim Leyritz.

Haselman paled in comparison to Sele, of course, but he ably backed up Ivan Rodriguez and batted an unprecedented .314 and slugged .543, his career-best by eighty points. He previous bests were a .274 average and .439 slugging percentage. He joined Detroit after the season, then Texas once again procured his services as part of the notorious Juan Gonzalez trade. Indeed, Texas paid him $1.1 million in 2000, sweet money for someone backing up the never-tired Pudge. Haselman would spend three more years with Texas before moving on to Boston.

11. Luis Alicea, IF, 1998

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (9th) 308 .274 .372 .425
51
6
33
104
Career (13 yrs) 4613 .260 .346 .369
551
47
422
88

St. Louis made Alicea the 23rd pick of the 1986 draft. The Cardinals installed him as the everyday second baseman by 1988. Prematurely, as it turned out; he batted just .212/.276/.283 and spent most of the next three years in the minors stuck behind Jose Oquendo. He never would play a full season in St. Louis and until 2000 had qualified for the batting title only once, in 1995 with Boston. As a hitter, Alicea had a patient eye, adequate on-base skills, and little power. He joined Texas in 1998 to back up Mark McLemore’s perpetually hurting legs at second and youngster Fernando Tatis at third.

Alicea hit well, supplying a .372 OBP and tying a previous best of six homers. Still, his offensive performance doesn’t stand out dramatically from his previous efforts. Why list him here? For a while I wasn’t sure myself, but the answer lies in a comparison to his teammates. That June, McLemore missed two weeks with a pulled hamstring that hampered him the rest of the season. Alicea manned second every day in his absence and about every fifth game upon his return. In addition, super-prospect Tatis struggled in his first year as a regular, and Alicea started fifteen games at third and appeared in ten others while Tatis occupied the roster. Alicea outhit both of them:

At Third Base, 3/31 through 7/31:
Tatis: 95 games, .270/.303/.361
Alicea: 25 games, .281/.365/.469

At Second Base, 6/07 through 9/27:
McLemore: 68 games, .202/.322/.261
Alicea: 32 games, .296/.406/.435

In 2000, Alicea would replace McLemore and set career highs in games and plate appearances. Though Texas unveiled a “Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30” theme in 2001 with the additions of Randy Velarde, Andres Galarraga, Ken Caminiti, Mark Petkovsek and Jeff Brantley, they didn’t retain the 35-year-old Alicea. He spent two years in Kansas City and retired.

Posted by Lucas at 07:36 PM

February 18, 2006

Unknown Pleasures -- The Hitters, #16-#20

Here begins a series on Rangers who provided unexpected help with their bats for a season. They include former starters revitalized as part-time players, long-time subs enjoying a career peak, quasi-prospects suddenly catching fire, and grizzled vets with a little gas left in their tanks. Several justified their continued employment in the Majors on otherwise forgettable Ranger squads, while a few offered vital help to division winners.

I ranked the players with a needlessly convoluted system involving playing time and exotic stats like EQA and VORP. It doesn’t matter. Basically, the rankings weigh a player’s plate appearances along with the extent to which he outperformed his career averages. The list has no strict criteria other than a maximum of 400 plate appearances. No player was a regular when the season began, and many were expected to offer only token assistance.

20. Darrell Porter, C/DH, Age 34, 1986

Era
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (16th) 178 .265 .360 .535
21
12
29
138
Career (17 yrs) 6570 .247 .354 .409
765
188
826
113

In 1985, Porter caught in the World Series for the 101-win St. Louis Cardinals. Though he still had a plus bat and glove, he was almost 34 (old for a catcher) and had the fifth-highest salary on the team. The Cardinals released him after the Series, and in 1986 he signed with the miserable 99-loss Texas Rangers to back up Don Slaught at one-fifth his former salary. Bummer.

Porter responded by hitting .265, his best figure in seven years, and popped twelve homers as part of a career-best .535 slugging percentage. Porter helped a youthful lineup win an astounding 87 games, eight more than the pennant-defending Cardinals. He had another respectable season with Texas before retiring after 1987.

19. Jim Sundberg, C, Age 37, 1988

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (15th) 99 .286 .323 .462
13
4
13
116
Career (16 yrs) 6898 .248 .327 .348
621
95
624
89

Texas drafted Jim Sundberg with the second pick in the 1973 draft, and through some often embarrassing times for the franchise he provided the respectable face. He was an outstanding defender with a more potent bat than you might remember (not to suggest he was Johnny Bench). Texas stunningly traded Sundberg to Milwaukee for Ned Yost after his dismal 1983, a bad baseball move and public-relations disaster. Sundberg caught for the World Champion Kansas City Royals in 1985 (opposite Darrell Porter), but by June 1988 he was 37 and unemployed after the Cubs released him.

Texas signed him the following week. Sundberg had only 99 plate appearances as a Ranger that season but four were homers, and he slugged a career-best .462 while reaching base at an acceptable rate. During a season with a 32-49 second half, Oddibe McDowell’s mysterious regression, and Larry Parrish’s utter collapse at age 34, Sundberg provided a nostalgic little ray of sunshine. Like Porter, he played another season with Texas as a part-timer before retiring.

18. Jack Daugherty, 1B/OF, Age 28, 1989

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (2nd) 121 .302 .364 .406
15
1
10
116
Career (6 yrs) 859 .256 .322 .362
80
10
87
91

Unlike Porter and Sundberg, Jack Daugherty lacked an impressive resume when he joined the Rangers. Daugherty signed with Oakland as an undrafted free agent in 1982, was released, spent 1984 in the Pioneer League, and was the player-to-be-named-later in a late-1988 trade with Texas for Tom O’Malley. The 28-year-old had all of twelve MLB plate appearances.

Despite his mundane past, Daugherty spent 1989 mostly spelling a younger and more heralded but rather light-slugging first baseman named Rafael Palmeiro. He batted .302/.364/.406, and in 1990 he hit just as well in more frequent duty. Unfortunately, he didn’t hit a lick after that, and Texas discarded him in 1992. Daugherty wandered through Houston, Cincinnati and Colorado before hanging up his spikes.

17. Bud Harrelson, SS/2B, Age 36, 1980

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (16th) 219 .272 .356 .322
26
1
9
96
Career (16yrs) 5516 .236 .327 .288
539
7
267
76

Harrelson played short for Mets from 1965 to 1977 including their championship season in 1969. Known mostly as a slick fielder and for a run-in with Pete Rose during the 1973 NLCS, Harrelson couldn’t hit for average or power (lifetime .288 slugging percentage… really) but did have a talent for drawing walks, and on occasion he served as the Mets’ leadoff hitter.

After a couple of seasons with Philadelphia, he joined Texas and a truly depressing contingent of light-hitting shortstops including Pepe Frias, Nelson Norman and present-day ESPN announcer Dave Roberts. Harrelson slugged only .322 but hit for a solid .272 average and drew enough walks to push his on-base percentage to a terrific .374. None of the other shortstops had an OBP above .280. Harrelson retired after the season.

16. Damon Buford, OF, 1996

Span
Plate Apps.
Average
On-Base
Slugging
Runs
Homers
RBI
OPS+
Season (4th) 162 .283 .348 .469
30
6
20
105
Career (9 yrs) 2072 .242 .311 .385
280
54
218
79

One of the few players on this list whose unexpected success created some trouble. Buford arrived in Texas in January 1996 in exchange for Terrell Lowery. He’d reached MLB as a Oriole and spent two months of 1995 as a Met, where he hit a career-best (to date) .235/.346/.360. In 1996 with Texas, Buford subbed for Darryl Hamilton in center and the regularly hobbled Juan Gonzalez in right. He batted .283, drew some walks, and slugged an unforeseen .469.

In terms of rate statistics, he outplayed Hamilton at the plate and in the field. Since Hamilton earned a princely $1.3 million while Buford drew close to the league minimum, Texas latched onto the younger Buford in 1997’s defense of the franchise’s first division championship. He continued to provide excellent defense but batted an execrable .224/.287/.339, and in July Texas acquired Tom Goodwin to replace him. After the season, the Rangers traded Buford and Jim Leyritz to Boston for Aaron Sele and Bill Haselman, a crucial exchange providing the impetus to recapture the division crown in 1998.

Posted by Lucas at 03:21 PM

January 27, 2006

An Introduction To Mediocrity

So this isn’t the happiest chart ever produced. It does provide an introduction to some aspects of the franchise’s history that I intend to explore, and I needed to push the previous entry down the page.

All-time record in Texas: 2,596-2,775, .483 winning percentage, 179 games below .500

Most games above .500: 2 (5-3 and 7-5 records in 1972)

Most games below .500: 193 (April 6, 2004)

Best 500-game stretch: 275-225 (October 1, 1976 through April 21, 1980)

Worst 500-game stretch: 206-293, .413 (May 22, 1972 through June 8, 1975)

Last positive 500-game stretch: ended September 30, 2001

Texas has a Pythagorean winning percentage of .4845 versus a real mark of .4833, so they’ve been cheated out of six wins over the course of 34 years.

Posted by Lucas at 01:29 AM

January 18, 2006

The Year That Wasn’t: “Winning? the West In ‘94

The Texas Rangers exuded optimism heading into 1994. In the previous year, they finished second behind the White Sox with a record of 86-76. They played meaningful ball late into the season, trailing Chicago by only 2.5 games on September 13. (Yours truly attended an August 28th 13-3 mauling of Baltimore featuring three homers by Juan Gonzalez.)

The Rangers featured a powerful offense including Ivan Rodriguez, Will Clark (who replaced the acrimoniously departed Rafael Palmeiro), Dean Palmer, Juan Gonzalez, and Jose Canseco, none of whom was over 30. Though Nolan Ryan had finally retired, the rotation included Kevin Brown, Kenny Rogers, and Roger Pavlik, and Tom Henke had saved forty games with a 2.91 ERA the previous year.

After 22 years of playing in what was, quite literally, a glorified minor-league park, Texas moved into The Ballpark In Arlington, courtesy mostly of the city’s taxpayers. Along with some competitive baseball, The Ballpark would do much to dispel the notion of Texas as a baseball backwater.

Finally, Major League Baseball decided to emulate the NFL by splitting each league into three divisions and adding a “wild card,” a bonus playoff spot to the best team that did not win a division. MLB placed Texas in the new and smaller West with California, Oakland and Seattle. Texas had bested them in 1993, so 1994 represented as good a chance as ever for the Rangers to make their first postseason appearance:

1993 Truncated AL West Standings
Texas 86-76
Seattle 82-80
California 71-91
Oakland 68-94

THE SEASON

Texas began 1994 with five road games. They won two and never allowed fewer than five runs. In Game 2 against the Yankees, Texas allowed eighteen. None among relievers Steve Dreyer, Darren Oliver, Matt Whiteside and Jay Howell pitched effectively, and closer Tom Henke mopped up the ninth.

The Ballpark opened for business on a rainy April 11th afternoon. Texas lost to Milwaukee 4-3 as Jaime Navarro defeated Kenny Rogers. Will Clark homered but the team managed only nine baserunners and never led. Texas finished the inaugural homestand 2-4, then consecutive losses in Toronto dropped them to 4-9, last in the division and worst in the American League. They had allowed 6.8 runs per game.

Standings After April 20
Team W L GB
Oakland 7-7 ---
California 7-8 0.5
Seattle 5-8 1.5
Texas 4-9 2.5

Texas meandered below .500 for two months. After a ten-inning loss against Boston on May 28, they held a record of 20-26, scoring 5.4 runs per game and allowing a dire 6.3. Though better than only three other teams in the league, Texas miraculously hovered only one game out of first behind the 23-27 Angels. Seattle sat one-half game below Texas while Oakland had lost 28 of 34 to fall to 13-35.

Standings After May 28
Team W L GB Since 4/20
California 23-27 --- 16-19
Texas 20-26 1.0 16-17
Seattle 20-27 1.5 15-19
Oakland 13-35 9.0 6-28

The standings on that date set the tone for the season. No Western team would ever spend a day more than two games above .500. Texas, California and Oakland each briefly visited that exalted position. Each of Texas’s division rivals would fall to at least twenty games below .500 at some point during the season.

Texas heated up. They won the last two of a four-game series versus Boston, then took two of three in Milwaukee and swept Boston by scores of 13-2, 10-4 and 10-7. Two wins in three against New York and two more against Kansas City propelled the Rangers to a mark of 30-28 as of June 10th. Texas held a lead of six or more games over its hapless division mates.

Standings After June 10
Team W L GB Since 5/28
Texas 30-28 --- 10-2
Seattle 24-34 6.0 4-7
California 25-36 6.5 2-9
Oakland 18-41 12.5 5-6

Had the Rangers really asserted themselves during this 10-2 run and played the quality ball of which they seemed capable before the season? Well, not so much. Texas continued to allow runs with abandon, an even six per game. The turnaround manifested itself in the form of 7.3 runs scored per game and four one-run wins.

The Rangers proceeded to commence its annual midseason swoon a month early. The Rangers completed their homestand by losing eight of nine including four straight to the wretched Athletics, 21-43 entering the series. After losing two of three on the road to both California and Chicago, Texas held a record of 33-40. Perversely, they retained the division lead. Outside the West, only Toronto’s record of 31-41 trailed Texas:

Standings After June 26
Team W L GB Since 6/10
Texas 33-40 --- 3-12
California 33-43 1.5 8-7
Seattle 31-43 2.5 7-9
Oakland 29-45 4.5 11-4

Texas righted the ship somewhat by taking series from Minnesota, Detroit and Cleveland, then endured six consecutive sets of win-one lose-one. After July 20, they stood at 46-48, safely in first:

Standings After July 20
Team W L GB Since 6/26
Texas 46-48 --- 13-8
California 42-54 5.0 9-11
Oakland 41-53 5.0 12-8
Seattle 38-54 7.0 7-11

The Rangers could not distance themselves from their weak competition. They lost four straight in Toronto to fall to 46-52, and their lead slid back to two games over a rejuvenated Oakland squad that had won nineteen of thirty after sweeping Texas back in June. The Rangers captured two of three against Minnesota and then split a four-game series against California to finish July with their two-game lead intact. A series victory against ’93 champ Chicago “vaulted” the Rangers to 52-56 and lengthened the lead to 4.5 games over an Oakland team afflicted with a six-game losing streak.

Standings After August 4
Team W L GB Since 7/20
Texas 52-56 --- 6-8
Oakland 47-60 4.5 6-7
Seattle 43-62 7.5 5-8
California 44-65 8.5 2-11

In a unfortunate display of politeness, the Rangers returned Oakland’s favor by losing their next six games. Texas lost three in Oakland followed by three home losses against Seattle. After August 10, Texas had a woeful record of 52-62 and a thin one-half-game lead over Oakland. Texas had Thursday the 11th off, while Oakland hosted Seattle. Seattle won 8-1, and Texas retained the division lead despite a worse record than the last-place teams in the East and Central. Under the two-division system, Texas would have finished in fourth place, 15.5 games behind Chicago.

Then, baseball stopped.

Final Standings
Team W L GB Since 8/04
Texas 52-62 --- 0-6
Oakland 51-63 1.0 4-2
Seattle 49-63 2.0 6-1
California 47-68 5.5 3-3

MLB played 1994 without an expired collective bargaining agreement and negotiations went nowhere. Players Association head Donald Fehr rejected the owners’ salary cap proposal in June. In July, the owners declined to make a scheduled pension/benefit payment to the Association, and another attempt to remove baseball’s antitrust exemption in the U.S. Congress failed to move out of committee. The players struck on August 12th. Further attempts at reconciliation failed, and on September 14 Interim Commissioner For Life Bud Selig cancelled the remainder of the season including the World Series.

Though baseball fans certainly wanted an immediate resolution to the strike, Texas fans faced an unusual conflict. The Rangers led the division and had a reasonable chance to win, but they were a bad team with a Pythagorean record of 50-64. As the standings stood on August 11th, they would have faced a 70-43 Yankee team (managed by Buck Showalter) in the divisional round. Ranger fans desperately wanted October baseball for the first time in franchise history, but did they want it that badly? Imagine last fall having writers and radio personalities discussing San Diego’s threat to join the infamous ’94 Rangers as a division winner with a losing record.

Texas finished first in 1994, but I doubt that many fans acknowledge it. I certainly don’t. Winning a real title in 1996 erased the tainted memories of ’94.

THE TEAM

How did a team with such promise end up ten games below .500?

On the pitching side, that 18-6 Yankee loss in Game 2 boded ill. The glaring weakness of the ’93 squad was a thin pitching staff, especially a paper-thin bullpen, and Texas hadn’t done much to bolster it. 1993 late-season acquisition Chris Carpenter (in return for Rob Nen) offered little help down the stretch and would pitch no better in 1994. Texas had signed Jay Howell, who had pitched very well as a 37-year-old Brave, but as a 38-year-old Ranger he broke down. 40-year-old free-agent Rick Honeycutt had the worst year of his career.

The rotation would fare no better. Rogers pitched well, but the mercurial Brown’s ERA leapt to 4.82 after previous years of 3.79 and 4.16. The rest consisted of struggling prospects (Hector Fajardo, Roger Pavlik, Rick Helling, Brian Bohanon, Steve Dreyer) and end-of-the-road vets Bruce Hurst and Tim Leary. The youngsters combined to start forty games with an ERA of 6.82 and a WHIP of 1.57. The two oldsters started eleven games and had an ERA of 7.48, and neither pitched in the Majors again.

The Rangers allowed an MLB-worst 6.11 runs per game in a park that actually favored pitchers in its inaugural year; the Rangers and their opponents averaged 10.9 runs per game in The Ballpark and 12.2 on the road. The ’94 staff was probably the third or fourth worst in Ranger history depending on the metrics. They had an ERA+ of 86 and an RA+ of 84, and they allowed eight or more runs in 31 games. Thirteen of the 22 pitchers on the staff had a negative Value Over Replacement Player per Baseball Prospectus.

Conversely, the offense mostly did its part although it declined from 1993. The ’94 team finished with an OBP+ and SLG+ of 103. By my standards, they had the 11th-best OPS+ in the 34-year Ranger history and were ninth-best in scoring runs. The previous year’s club ranked eighth and second, respectively. Will Clark didn’t entirely replace Palmeiro’s power but had a .431 on-base percentage. (Clark, by the way, was criminally underrepresented in the Hall Of Fame voting.) In addition to his stellar defense, Pudge Rodriguez provided his first potent offensive year. 25-year-old rookie Thurman Clyde Greer III batted .314/.410/.487 in eighty games. Jose Canseco, fresh off arm surgery, batted .282/.386/.552 and paced the team with 31 homers (and never set foot in the outfield). Texas received some bench OBP from Oddibe McDowell, Chris James and Esteban Beltre. James even slugged .534.

On the downside, Dean Palmer took a giant step backward after establishing himself as an offensive force in 1993. Palmer hit nineteen homers in an abbreviated schedule but managed only a .302 OBP and a 98 OPS+. Juan Gonzalez one-upped Palmer by losing 27 homers and .160 of slugging. Contrary to its perception as a tiny park, the Ballpark has deeper dimensions than its predecessor everywhere but right field, and Gonzalez didn’t appreciate his new surroundings. David Hulse spent much of the season leading off and batted a paltry .255/.305/.316. Manuel Lee was Manuel Lee.

Fortunately, 1994 would represent the low point of the 1990s for Texas and their fans. Their record of ten games below .500 in 1994 would be their worst of the decade (except for a few days in 1997), and over the next five years they had four winning seasons and three division titles. Real ones.

Posted by Lucas at 09:07 AM

October 14, 2005

Reviewing the Juan Gonzalez Trade

In 1999, after the Rangers had lost in the opening round of the playoffs for the third time in four years, owner Tom Hicks, GM Doug Melvin and the rest of Ranger braintrust decided the team had reached its peak with the current roster. They wanted a roster younger, cheaper, and deeper in left-handed starting pitchers.

Texas started only four games with a lefty in 1999. Conceptually, additional left-handed pitching would make the team more competitive against the dreaded Yankees, who had beaten the Rangers in all three of their postseason appearances. Both The Ballpark and Yankee Stadium take more kindly to lefty hurlers. On the other hand, though New York did struggle against lefties during the regular season, their roster had extraordinary balance. Their top nine batters in the ’99 ALDS included four righties, four lefties and a switch hitter.

On October 25, the Sporting News summarized the situation as follows:

Trading Gonzalez is no longer unthinkable. The Rangers want to reduce their payroll from $75 million, which Mil be hard if they keep Gonzalez, whose contract calls for $7.5 million this year but probably twice that in a new contract.

Minor leaguer Mike Lamb might be ready at third, so free agent Todd Zeile probably won't be re-signed. Talented but injury-plagued Ruben Mateo should take over in center for Tom Goodwin. However, if Mark McLemore leaves as a free agent, the team will need a leadoff hitter and second baseman. A deal for Milwaukee's Fernando Vina would make sense.

Knowing the Tigers are desperate for a slugger, the Rangers, who need lefthanded pitching, could dangle Gonzalez for young lefthander Justin Thompson and second baseman Damion Easley. The Mets, with Gonzalez's old manager Bobby Valentine, and the Dodgers, assuming they deal Raul Mondesi, also could use Gonzalez.

If they can't re-sign 18-game winner Aaron Sele, the Rangers should try to lure two of the following free-agent lefthanders: Chuck Finley, Kenny Rogers and Darren Oliver. Finley, a proven Yankees and Indians killer, tops the list.

Much of this story came true. Sele, Goodwin and McLemore walked. Texas reached a verbal agreement with Todd Zeile, who then spurned them by taking a higher gross salary to play for the Mets. Lamb and Mateo replaced Zeile and Goodwin. Finley signed with Cleveland but Texas landed both Rogers and Oliver. They, along with lefties Matt Perisho and Doug Davis, would combine to start 81 games for Texas in 2000.

To cap the roster upheaval, on November 2 Texas traded two-time MVP outfielder Juan Gonzalez, reliever Danny Patterson and catcher Gregg Zaun to the Detroit Tigers for pitchers Justin Thompson, Francisco Cordero and Alan Webb, catcher Bill Haselman, infielder Frank Catalanotto, and outfielder Gabe Kapler. Haselman was the only throw-in. None of the others was over 26 years old, and all but Webb had appeared in the Majors.

As for Detroit’s motivations, the Tigers boasted ample young talent that translated into a disappointing 69 wins in 1999. With a move to Comerica Park looming, they wanted to contend and create some press in doing so. Detroit also finished 12th in the AL in runs scored and needed an offensive upgrade. Interestingly, they were a respectable fourth in homers with 212. What killed them was a league-worst on-base percentage of .318, thanks to walk-averse creatures like Deivi Cruz and Juan Encarnacion. Interestingly, Gonzalez didn’t draw many walks himself and relied heavily on power for his offensive production, exactly the kind of player Detroit had in surplus. Certainly, a healthy and happy Gonzalez would have provided a significant boost, but the Tigers probably could have received a similar boost from an OBP machine and given up less for him.

What became of these players? Here’s a summary including Win Shares while with Detroit or Texas from 2000-2005:

To Detroit - JUAN GONZALEZ
Win Share per season, 2000-2005 (9, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone – total of 9)
From 1996-1999, Gonzalez averaged 43 homers and 140 RBI with an OPS+ of 143. In one miserable season with Detroit, Gonzalez had 22 homers, 67 RBI, and an OPS+ of 113. He missed 47 games. Gonzalez hated the pitcher-friendly dimensions of brand-new Comerica Park and let them mess with his head. Not for the first time: in 1994 he sulked over the 385-foot power alley and imposing outfield wall of the new Ballpark in Arlington, and his rate of homers per at-bat fell by half. Gonzalez memorably declined a seven-year, $148 contract from the Tigers, a deal that would still have two years remaining had he signed it. Instead, he filed for free agency at the end of the season. Gonzalez resumed destroying the ball during a one-year stint with Cleveland, had one good but injured-plagued season and another just-plain-bad season with Texas, and has since accomplished next to nothing in seasons with Kansas City and Cleveland. Gonzalez has earned $38.6 million since passing on Detroit’s offer, certainly a princely sum but barely over one-third of what he would have made in Motown from 2001-2005. He’s 36, injury plagued and (to be as polite as possible) does not appear to evince much passion for the game.

To Detroit - DANNY PATTERSON
(5, 7, 0, 2, 1, gone – total of 15)
Patterson spent five years with the Tigers, pitching well in relief in 2000-2001 and not so well for three more years. Injuries wrecked his 2002 and 2003 campaigns, and after one more, marginally effective season, Patterson took free agency.

To Detroit - GREGG ZAUN
(gone, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone – total of 0)
Zaun never played for Detroit. The Tigers shipped him to Kansas City during Spring Training “for future considerations,” according to Retrosheet. Since those considerations were never made explicit, they must not have amounted to much. In 2005, Zaun enjoyed a career season for Toronto at age 34.

To Texas - FRANCISCO CORDERO
(3, 0, 8, 12, 15, 9 – total of 47)
Cordero took a few years to mature. He faltered in 2000, pitching worse than even his uninspiring 5.35 ERA would suggest, then spent almost all of 2001 in AAA. Since 2002, Cordero has pitched 268 innings with an ERA of 2.64. After playing second fiddle to Hideki Irabu(!) in 2002 and Ugueth Urbina in 2003, Cordero entered the 2004 a season as The Closer and proceeded to save a franchise-record 49 games with an ERA of 2.13. Six years after The Trade, Cordero is the only player remaining with either organization.

To Texas - FRANK CATALANOTTO
(8, 17, 7, gone, gone, gone – total of 32)
Little Cat played everywhere but catcher, short and center field in his three years in Texas. In 2001 he had what remains his career year, batting .330/.391/.490 (131 OPS) and playing mostly in left field. For a while, Texas debated whether he or Michael Young would be the long-term answer at second base. Catalanotto earned $2.5 million during an injury-hampered 2002, and Texas decided to non-tender him rather than risk an arbitration-induced raise. Now with Toronto, Cat continues to bat pretty well, provide passable defense, and miss a few too many games with injuries.

To Texas - BILL HASELMAN
(7, 5, 1, gone, gone, gone – total of 13)
Haselmann had played for Texas in 1998 and rejoined the Rangers for three more seasons. Every year, he broke Spring Training with the easiest job in the world: backing up Ivan Rodriguez, who had missed a miniscule total of 65 games in the last four years. Instead, he spent each late summer and fall as the #1 catcher because Rodriguez suffered season-ending injuries in his last three seasons as a Rangers. Haselman had two strong seasons (.275/.329/.461 and 285/.331/.400) before declining sharply in 2002. Texas let him go at that point, and except for a few at-bats in Boston he was done.

To Texas - GABE KAPLER
(10, 13, 3, gone, gone, gone – total of 26)
Kapler hit eighteen homers as a rookie with Detroit in 1999 and two more in his Ranger debut. The 24-year-old was definitely a work in progress compared to Catalanotto but with much more upside. Amazingly, he never surpassed those eighteen homers. Kapler did bat .302/.360/.473 in his first year with Texas but endured some crippling slumps and occasionally shaky outfield defense. He performed equivilantly in 2001 with a few more walks and fewer base hits. In 2002, with a shiny new arbitration-eligible contract of $1.85 million, he collapsed, batting a bleak .260/.285/.332 and trying out a new batting stance every couple of days. Texas glumly sent him to Colorado in exchange for fellow underachiever Todd Hollandsworth and pitcher Dennys Reyes, both of whom disappeared from Arlington after the end of the season.

To Texas - JUSTIN THOMPSON
(0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, -- total of 0)
Thompson underwent surgery for a torn labrum in August of 1999 but was expected to be one of three lefties in the Ranger rotation in 2000. Instead, additional arm trouble and surgeries derailed his career, and Thompson would not pitch again until 2002… for the rookie-league Gulf Coast Rangers. Thompson did finally return to the Majors in 2005 for a couple of late-season relief appearances. He threw a total of 140.1 innings in six years with the Rangers, 138.2 of them in the minors.

To Texas - ALAN WEBB
(0, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone – total of 0)
Texas appears to have ditched Webb after one season split among high-A and AA. Webb topped out in AAA with the Padres organization and spent 2005 in high-A Clearwater with the Phillies organization. He has nine years of minor-league experience and just turned 26.

Most Valuable Player By Season (in Win Shares):
2000 – Gabe Kapler, Texas (10)
2001 – Frank Catalanotto, Texas (17)
2002 – Francisco Cordero, Texas (8)
2003 – Francisco Cordero, Texas (12)
2004 – Francisco Cordero, Texas (15)
2005 – Francisco Cordero, Texas (9)

Aggregate Win Shares of Traded Players by Season:
2000 – Texas 21, Detroit 14
2001 – Texas 30, Detroit 7
2002 – Texas 18, Detroit 0
2003 – Texas 12, Detroit 2
2004 – Texas 15, Detroit 1
2005 – Texas 9, Detroit 0
TOTAL – Texas 105, Detroit 24

Texas might not have received all they’d hoped for, but they clearly demolish the Tigers in comparative value. Only Justin Thompson proved to be a total loss. Texas has a pitcher signed through 2007 with a career ERA of 3.26 and 111 saves. Frank Catalanotto had the best season (in terms of win shares) of any traded player in 2001. For a while, Gabe Kapler looked like he could provide more than what Kevin Mench does now. Even Bill Haselman helped out for a couple of years.

For all the talent Detroit surrendered to Texas, they received one bitterly disappointing effort from Juan Gonzalez and two solid years of middle relief from Danny Patterson. Two seasons after The Trade, Detroit lost 106 games. Three seasons after, they needed a two-game, season-ending win streak to avoid become only the second team in MLB history with 120 losses. They received not a single win share from their acquisitions from Texas that year. Even for a team that last won a division in 1987 (when the Olsen twins were one-year old and just starting to putrefy America with “Full House”), the last few years have been especially painful.

Ultimately, the trade didn’t accomplish much for Texas either. Though the Rangers got the better of Detroit, they have only one winning season in the last six years. They also have changed managers and general managers twice during that span and don’t have a single player from their last division-winning squad.

Both franchises have wandered awkwardly through modes of cheap, youth-oriented rebuilding and high-dollar free agent splurging. In the end, the players involved in the Gonzalez trade couldn’t compensate for each team’s greater deficiencies, both in talent and leadership.

Posted by Lucas at 03:59 AM

September 20, 2005

December 8, 1977

Just your everyday four-team, eleven-player trade. Both Brad Corbett and Ted Turner were involved.

TEAM SENT RECEIVED
TEXAS Bert Blyleven (SP)
Tommy Boggs (SP)
Adrian Devine (RP)
Tom Grieve (OF)
Ken Henderson (OF)
Eddie Miller (OF)
Jon Matlack (SP)
Nelson Norman (SS)
Al Oliver (OF)
ATLANTA Willie Montanez (1B) Tommy Boggs (SP)
Adrian Devine (RP)
Eddie Miller (OF)
PITTSBURGH Nelson Norman (SS)
Al Oliver (OF)
Bert Blyleven (SP)
John Milner (1B)
NY METS Jon Matlack (SP)
John MIlner (1B)
Tom Grieve (OF)
Ken Henderson (OF)
Willie Montanez (1B)

Posted by Lucas at 11:12 PM

September 02, 2005

The 1999 Rangers: Where Are They Now?

In 1999, the Rangers set a franchise record with 95 wins and won their third division title in four years. Eighteen position players and twenty pitchers took the field for Texas that season. Half of them still play baseball, but not necessarily in the Majors. A look at where everyone ended up:

Retired or no action after 1999:

Jon Shave (IF) – Failed to make the club in 2000, no record of him playing anywhere after 1999.
Mike Simms (OF) – Injured most of season, no record of play after 1999.

Retired or no action after 2000:

Mark Clark (SP) – Expensive and profound free-agent flop, cut with extreme prejudice in 2000. Ripped management, claimed several teams had interest in him. Only 32 but never pitched again, anywhere.
Scarborough Green (OF) – Spent 2000 with Texas, then disappeared.
Eric Gunderson (RP) – Pitched for Toronto and in minors for San Francisco in 2000.
Roberto Kelly (OF) – Played one more year for the Yankees.
Mike Munoz (RP) – Pitched briefly with Texas in 2000, signed again after season but did not pitch.
John Wetteland (RP) – Pitched one more year for Texas then retired at age 34 with back troubles.

Retired after 2001:

Nobody!

Retired or no action after 2002:

Luis Alicea (IF) – Replaced Mark McLemore in 2000 at 2B, then spent two years in Kansas City.
Mike Morgan (SP) – Pitched for Arizona 2000-2002, got a ring in 2001.

Retired or no action after 2003:

John Burkett (SP) – Pitched for Atlanta 2000-2001 and Boston 2002-2003. Last action was in 2003 ALCS against the Yankees.
Jonathan Johnson (P) – Texas finally gave up on him during 2001. Briefly appeared for Arizona in 2002 and Houston in 2003.
Lee Stevens (1B) – Spent 2000-2001 with Montreal, 2002 with Montreal and Cleveland, and a portion of 2003 with Milwaukee’s AAA club.

Retired or no action after 2004:

Kelly Dransfeldt (SS) – Had cups of coffee with Texas in 2000-2001, spent all of 2002 in AAA. Played for Boston and Cincinnati’s AAA squads in 2003, hit .333 (with no extra-base hits or walks) in fifteen games with the White Sox in 2004.
Tom Goodwin (OF) – Let go after 1999. Played for Colorado, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the Cubs.
Rusty Greer (OF) – Under contract to Texas during 2000-2004, played a total of 218 games because of countless injuries. A terrific player when healthy.
Mark McLemore (2B) – Seattle super-utility man during 2000-2003, then finished with Oakland in 2004. Part of Seattle’s 116-win effort in 2001. Unfortunately, continued his trend of very poor postseason hitting.
Scott Sheldon (IF) – Spent two more years as a utility man for Texas, then played two years in Japan. Spent 2004 in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee minor leagues.
Todd Zeile (3B) – Switched to the Mets after memorably reneging on an oral agreement with Texas. Also played for the Yankees, Rockies and Expos. Played in the World Series for the Mets in 2000.

Active, in Majors:

Royce Clayton (SS) – Arizona’s regular shortstop. Played one more year for Texas, then hopped to the White Sox, Milwaukee, Colorado and Arizona.
Doug Davis (SP) – Successful starting pitcher with Milwaukee. Average pitcher with Texas in 2001 as a 25-year-old, then banished to AAA in 2002 after a mediocre start of the season, then waived after making his first start in 2003. Struggled with Toronto but found his groove with the Brewers and former Ranger GM Doug Melvin. Still a source of controversy in pitching-poor Texas.
Jeff Fassero (RP) – Reliever with San Francisco. Ineffective late-season acquisition for Texas in 1999, has pitched for six different teams in the following six years.
Juan Gonzalez (OF) – “Active? in the loosest sense of the term. Traded to Detroit after 1999, spent one sulky season in hitter-unfriendly Comerica Park and turned down a seven-year, $140 million contract. Rebounded in Cleveland, then spent two lackluster and injury-filled seasons back in Texas plus another in Kansas City. Signed with Cleveland in 2005, missed first half of season with hamstring pull, reinjured it in first and only at-bat of the season. Future in doubt. Presently courting wife number four(?) in Puerto Rico.
Rick Helling (P) – Reliever with Milwaukee. Famously non-tendered by Texas after 2001, pitched with Arizona, Florida and Baltimore in 2002-2003. Signed by Minnesota in 2004 but suffered a broken leg, later pitched briefly with Texas AAA club. Retired after 2004, then returned.
Danny Kolb (RP) – Reliever with Atlanta. Intermittently effective with Texas, cut before 2003 then had two strong seasons in Milwaukee. Traded to Atlanta for Jose Capellan.
Esteban Loaiza (SP) – Starter with Washington. Traded by Texas for Michael Young during 2000, had a breakout season in 2003 with the White Sox followed by a poor 2004 that included an 8.50 ERA with the Yankees during a pennant drive. Pitching well again.
Rafael Palmeiro (1B) – Currently on Baltimore’s bench and a national pariah after angrily denying steroid use to Congress, then testing positive for them. Had four more excellent seasons for Texas, then, as in 1993, acrimoniously left Texas and signed with Baltimore. Power declined precipitously during 2004-2005.
Ivan Rodriguez (C) – Detroit’s regular catcher. Became a free agent after 2002. Played for the World Series-winning Marlins in 2003.
Gregg Zaun (C) – Toronto’s regular catcher. Spent three years in Kansas City after 1999, then two in Houston. Became a regular for the first time at the age of 33.

Active elsewhere:

Tim Crabtree (RP) – With Texas in AA. Named closer for 2001 season, lost job within a couple of weeks, allowed more than two baserunners per inning during season. Retired in 2003 after two unsuccessful efforts in the minors. Unretired in 2005.
Ryan Glynn (SP) – With Oakland’s AAA club, has pitched with the A’s this year. Cut loose by Texas after 2001, has since played for Milwaukee, Florida, Atlanta, Toronto and Oakland.
Corey Lee (SP) – Apparently in Japan. Traded to Chicago for Herbert Perry after 2001. Spent 2002-2005 in minor leagues with White Sox, Yankees and Angels. Pitched well for AAA Salt Lake but ask for his release to hop overseas. Still has just one Major League appearance.
Ruben Mateo (OF) – In Korea. Traded to Cincinnati (with Edwin Encarnacion) for Rob Bell during 2001, accomplished little with them, Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Flew to Korea in 2005. Still only 27.
Danny Patterson (RP) – Traded to Detroit with Juan Gonzalez after 1999, pitched well when healthy. Released after 2004, currently pitching for the Padres’ rookie-level squad.
Matt Perisho (RP) – With Boston in AAA. Traded to Detroit after 2000, released in 2002, signed and released by Arizona, Tampa Bay and Colorado during 2002-2003, pitched for Florida during 2004-2005. Released by Florida during this summer.
Aaron Sele (SP) – Probably done. Pitched with Seattle during 2000-2001 and Anaheim the last three years until being cut. Texas signed him to a minor-league deal but he pitched poorly and requested his release.
Mike Venafro (RP) – With Los Angeles in AAA. Part of the Carlos Pena trade in 2002, played one season in Oakland, one in Tampa Bay and one in LA. Has spent entire 2005 season in minors.
Jeff Zimmerman (RP) – Still with Texas but hasn’t pitched since 2001 except for a couple of minor-league appearances. Signed a three-year extension with Texas after 2001 and has fought an arm injury ever since.

Posted by Lucas at 09:58 AM

July 13, 2005

Brad Fullmer Sighting

Whatever became of Brad Fullmer? Texas signed Fullmer in 2004 to mash righthanded pitching, and I touted him as a worthy pick in fantasy leagues. Fullmer flopped as a Ranger (though not nearly as badly as Richard Hidalgo) and seemingly fell off the planet. I couldn't find him on a roster anywhere and assumed his knee injury had ruined his 2005.

Mystery solved. On July 8, The AAA Charlotte Knights signed Fullmer and immediately placed him on the Disabled List. He has no chance to contribute to the parent-club White Sox, but he might parlay a good six weeks into a Spring Training invite for '06.

Posted by Lucas at 01:17 AM