Archive for the ‘Rangers’ Category

AL All-Star Atrocities

June 3, 2009

It’s hard to believe, but by my count, we’re exactly halfway done with the 2009 All-Star Game balloting process. Today is June 3; balloting began (ridiculously, outfreakingrageously early) on April 22. That was 41 days ago. The game itself is on July 14. That’s 41 days from now.

So I thought it would be a good time to look at the progress of the balloting and some of the oddities/surprises/huge mistakes therein. I’ll probably do the National League tomorrow unless something more interesting comes up, but MLB.com’s latest AL update came out today, and the NL has been getting all the attention anyway, what with the Manny thing and the Brewers thing and the Milledge thing, so we’ll stick with the American League for today. My geekily opaque stat of choice today will be WAR, as seen on FanGraphs, through the games of June 1.

1. Ranger Dominance.
The story of the AL ballot is usually Yankees and Red Sox fans using their numbers to bully everybody else out of the game, but it looks to me like the Rangers might be doing their best Brewers impression and stuffing the box this year (or have just had more home games this month than anybody else; I’m not going to bother to check). “Only” two Rangers would start if the voting ended today–the unquestionably deserving Ian Kinsler (2.5 WAR) and the less-deserving Josh Hamilton (0.9 WAR)–but a Ranger is in the top 5 at every position, including Chris Davis (fabulous first-base D but a .194 AV and .253 OBP; -0.2 WAR), rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus (1.2 WAR thanks mostly to great D) and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (0.5 WAR). And Nelson Cruz (who it should be said as a much stronger claim to a spot than Hamilton) is also among the top 10 outfielders. I expect they’ll slide back in several areas–Michael Young is in a distant second at 3B behind Longoria, for instance, and I’m sure the Right Coasters will make sure Lowell and A-Rod pass him up soon enough–but it’s kind of ludicrous right now.

2. Derek Jeter
I get that the All-Star game is supposed to be about who the fans want to see, and I’m generally for rewarding players for longer-term performance than just the first half of this season. But Jeter (2.0 WAR), who is enjoying a very nice bounceback year from a down-for-him 2008, currently has 2 1/2 times more votes than any other shortstop, including Jason Bartlett (.373/.418/.596, 2.7 WAR) and Marco Scutaro (.305/.408/.457, 2.5 WAR). Both those guys are having a fluky couple of months, and I’d rather see the first-ballot Hall of Famer than the scrubs that happened to get off to hot starts. But I also think that the voting should be closer than 2.5:1. Jeter is a very close second behind Longoria for the most votes in the AL, and it’s hard to argue that he’s earned that.

3. Ken Griffey Jr.
I know I just said I’m all for honoring players for their great careers and everything, but haven’t we already done all that with Junior? He’s just 30,000 votes behind teammate (and currently vastly superior player) Ichiro! for the third starting position among outfielders. At least when he was getting voted onto the team in Cincinnati, he was actually playing in the outfield when he was healthy enough to play. Now he’s a full-time DH, with just 23 innings in the field so far, and he’s hitting .208/.327/.362 (0.0 WAR). Look, Junior knows we love him, and there will be decades (God willing) for ceremonies and such after he retires. Let’s leave him out of this one, though, ‘kay?

4. Ichiro!
Where did all those Japanese voters go? Ichiro is, as I said, in the third and final OF slot, but is much, much closer to 4th through 7th places (Griffey, Carl Crawford, Torii Hunter and Nick Markakis) than he is to 2nd place (Hamilton). Yet, he’s having arguably the best year of his career, and he’s been elected to start the All-Star game in each of his first eight seasons; to be left out of this one would be unfortunate and pretty ironic. His walk rate is down, and so are his steals, but he’s hitting .352, and with more power (5 HR; he’s had 6 total in each of the last two years, and his career high is 15). He’s playing his usual stellar defense, and has a 1.8 WAR, better than both Hamilton and the current leader, Jason Bay (1.5).

5. Adam Jones.
UZR doesn’t like his fielding nearly as much as most human observers do (in fact, they say he’s cost the team nearly five runs, which seems like a blip after being worth 10 runs last year), or else his WAR would be much higher than his current 1.9. His .344/.400/.608 offensive line ought to put him in regardless, however. He’s a distant 10th in the outfield balloting. Another Oriole with a strong case is Nick Markakis, though WAR hates him because UZR says he’s lost them ten fielding runs already (after saving 12 last year…what’s up with the O’s outfield?).

All in all, this is shaping up to be a better voting year than most; I’m not convinced that we’re getting all the starters right, but (as long as Ichiro continues to hold Griffey at bay) there aren’t any that I’d actually call “atrocities,” either. Well, maybe Hamilton too, though at least he was still playing like an All-Star (more or less) in the second half of ’08, if you want to credit him for that.

For the record:

Pos My Vote Leader
C Mauer Mauer
1B Morneau Youkilis
2B Kinsler Kinsler
3B Longoria Longoria
SS Bartlett Jeter
OF1 Hunter Bay
OF2 A.Jones Hamilton
OF3 Ichiro Ichiro

I know, I said I’d rather see Jeter than Bartlett, but I know Jeter’s going to win anyway (and I know Bartlett is on the DL, but he’s just been that good), and I don’t think I could ever actually bring myself to vote for Jeter.

I didn’t even really mention Torii Hunter (2.2 WAR), but he’s been phenomenal for an Angels team that really badly needed a hitter.

The hardest to leave off my ballot were Youkilis and Teixeira (both of whom have been about as valuable as Morneau…so all things equal, of course, I go with the Twin), and Carl Crawford (who has arguably been just a little better than Ichiro, but I have to go with career value there).

Nelson Cruz is actually the best OF in the league according to WAR (2.4), but a lot of that comes from his 7.6 UZR (meaning he’d save 22.9 runs per 150 games at that rate), and that’s no more sustainable than Scutaro’s OBP. He’s good, but not that good.

So that’s my ballot. What’s yours?

Gameblog #1: Rangers at Blue Jays

April 24, 2009

I’m trying something new today that I hope will become something like a weekly feature: I’m going to watch every pitch of a more or less random ballgame and jot down my observations throughout. We’re starting with the red-hot Jays hosting the powerful but P- and D-challenged Rangers.

Warmups

Broadcast: Blue Jays; Jamie Campbell and Rance Mulliniks
Pitchers: Texas’ Kevin Millwood (1-1, 1.17 ERA, 3.10 FIP) vs. Toronto’s Scott Richmond (1-0, 3.48, 4.78)

Millwood has been the AL’s whipping boy for the last few years, but has started off strong in ’09. It’s hard for me to believe anything has really changed, and I have to think that this solid lineup and hitter-friendly stadium will be unkind to him. I’m sorry to say that I’d honestly never heard of Richmond before just this very moment.

First Inning

The formidable Kinsler-Young-Hamilton trio is dispatched quickly by Richmond. Mulliniks opines that Hamilton is struggling because he’s getting out in front and not letting the ball travel far enough into the zone. He lines out pretty sharply to right, but does seem a little quick, getting it off the end of the bat just a little.

On the other side, Aaron Hill is just crushing the ball right now. The sound the ball made off his bat was the kind of thing pitchers develop neuroses over. It was just a lineout, but it was an adventure (at least) for Murphy in left, and seemed almost to still be rising as he raced back and reached up to pull it in. Hard lineout by Rios, too; Millwood looks awfully hittable right now, 1-2-3 inning and all.

Second Inning

All the Rangers, except maybe Mike Young, swing really hard. They came in leading the AL in homers and just three away from leading the AL in strikeouts, and from watching them, it’s kind of surprising they’re not running away with both. The first swings of Blalock and Cruz tonight might have missed by a combined total of twelve feet, but they were impressive things to watch. Don’t even get me started on Chris Davis, who seems to just swing at the spot where he wishes the pitch was. Cruz got the first hit tonight with a sharp single to left, but otherwise nothing doing.

Very long homer by Vernon “$126 Million??!” Wells to lead off the bottom of the inning. Young shortarms a ball to first base after a routine grounder down the line, but Davis scoops the throw; does Young really have the arm for third? I have no idea, but that one didn’t look good at all. Lyle Overbay adds a solo shot, a screaming line drive to dead center field. I’m feeling good about my Millwood’s-wheels-falling-off prediction so far.

Third Inning

Another 1-2-3 with two strikeouts for Richmond (I keep wanting to call him “Scott Thornton” for some reason), who I guess looks pretty good. 92-93 MPH fastball, nice low-80s offspeed pitch, hitting most of his spots.

I know he’s never been a big fan of changing the batting order (or doing much of anything), but how is Cito still batting Travis Snider ninth? He’s probably the best hitter on this team right now. Dude’s slugging .686. Anyway, there’s another skipped-in throw by Young for an out, and then an even worse throw by shortstop Elvis Andrus that Davis can’t handle. Millwood rises above it all.

Fourth Inning

Hamilton gets a fastball biting down and in on him and crushes it to the opposite field for a solo shot. Definitely wasn’t out in front of that one. If you don’t root for Josh Hamilton, are you a bad person, or just misguided? Blalock follows that with a well-struck double down the right field line. Blalock runs like a fat kid with very full pockets. Richmond still isn’t making bad pitches, but these guys hit everything hard (when they hit it). He’s already set his career high with 6 strikeouts; thanks for swinging with your eyes closed, Chris Davis!

Millwood gets in a bit of trouble, but gets out of it, Davis making a nice play on another truly terrible throw by Andrus. 2-1 Jays now.

Fifth Inning

You know, I imagine a regular feature of these things will be a lot of ragging on lazy or just plain ridiculous comments by the broadcasters, but there’s really nothing here. Campbell and Mulliniks aren’t Scully and Allen by any means, but they stick to the facts and generally stay out of the way, or at least they’re doing that tonight. I’m a fan so far. Campbell is a native Canadian, and you can really tell.

Another absolute screamer by Hill in the bottom of the inning, this one a double over Murphy’s head with two out, and then an even harder-hit homer by Rios in the same direction. How Millwood even gets an out at that tiny stadium in Texas I might never know; he throws 90 MPH fastballs right over the plate that are supposed to sink but mostly don’t, and occasionally tries to get you to wave at a big curveball way out of the zone. Just five hits, but three of them have gone out. 4-1 home team.

Sixth Inning

First weird little thing by Mulliniks–“I don’t think there’s a team in the league that plays better defense than the Jays, and they’ve got great range!” People should realize by now that, crazy throws by the Rangers’ infielders aside, about 90% of defense is range, and surehandedness doesn’t matter if you can’t get to where the ball is hit. Davis finally guesses right, runs into one, and hits it a very long way, the fifth home run hit in this game. 4-2 Jays. They haven’t mentioned how many pitches Richmond has thrown, but it seems like he’s probably had it. We’ll see if Cito can get up the energy to pick up the phone. He doesn’t have a lot of bullpen to work with anyway, with BJ Ryan hitting the DL today.

In the bottom of the inning, Campbell points out that Davis’ homer was hit with a broken bat. That’s a strong man (though honestly I don’t know that the break was anywhere near where the bat made contact; it looked to just be part of the handle). Something needs to be done about those bats already. Nothing to report from the Jays’ sixth.

Seventh Inning

Brandon League in, so Cito did, in fact, pick up the phone (or tell someone else to). They’re interviewing a hockey player named Curtis Joseph now, and he (Joseph) is wearing a terrible sweater that clashes with the Jays cap he’s obviously never worn before (though he claims to be a fan). Mercifully quick 1-2-3 job by League. Listening to hockey talk gives me hives.

Millwood is still going. He’s like a starting pitcher and a mopup reliever all in one; as the Rangers, you should probably keep him in the rotation for lack of other options, but you can pretty much leave him out there as long as you want to (I mean, would you miss him, really?). Using nothing but guts and guile — and some ringing foul balls, and a very questionable third strike call, and a crazy twisting, stumbling, incompetent catch by Cruz on a warning track fly to right — he gets through 1-2-3 again.

Eighth Inning

Jesse Carlson is in, and making Hamilton look silly, but then Josh manages to flare a single into left. Batting lefties Hamilton and Blalock (who strikes out here) back to back seems like a bad idea — both are terrible, at least relatively, against lefties, so one good lefty reliever can shut them down. Davis (who Andruw Jones pinch hits for here) is also a lefty, and that’s just dumb. Andruw Jones looks more like a sumo wrestler than like one of the best center fielders ever to play the game, and he strikes out.

Jason Jennings replaces Millwood, speaking of ragdoll (former) starters. Gets Adam Lind to hit an easy grounder to Andrus, who uncorks a third nightmarish throw of the night. This one winds up in the stands. Wasn’t this kid (and his .390 wOBA coming in) supposed to be all glove and no stick? Guess nobody said anything about the arm…I can see why people think Hamilton is a good center fielder, and he makes a nice running catch here for the first out. It’s just that an actual good center fielder would’ve been there waiting for it. Anyway, Rolen makes the Rangers pay for the error with a hard-fought at-bat and a single to left. We head to the 9th at 5-2, and I guess we’ll see what they do about closer with Ryan out, though the three-run save isn’t one of the three thousand or so most exciting things baseball has to offer.

Ninth Inning

Scott Downs is your man tonight, and it’s as anticlimactic as you’d expect. Aaron Hill makes a really nice play on a ball up the middle for the first out, which suddenly makes me remember how much I’m not an Alexi Casilla fan. Downs strikes out Teagarden, and then fittingly, it’s Andrus, who has probably had the worst night of his young big-league career, who lines out to end it. Andrus has had the kind of night you write home about, but what you’d write is “please Mom or somebody for the love of God tell me something good about myself.” I mean…yikes.

—————————————————————————-

So that’s it! Pretty good game to start off with, with a lot of offense and the (superficially) best team in baseball right now running their record to 12-5, having won each of their first five series. Andrus has amazing athleticism, but should probably get himself a general idea of where first base is located. I never did see Young throw to first again after those first two, but I’ve seen enough that I’d be worried if I were a Rangers fan. Meanwhile, the Jays look unrealistically awesome right now, especially for a team with like half its players on the shelf.

If you just can’t get enough of this totally random game for some reason, check out the boxscore.

Let me know if you have an idea for a better name for this. “Gameblog” is fine, I suppose, but…meh. Back tomorrow with a whole lot less than this!