Keys to 2013: Texas Rangers

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Starting Pitching Key: Yu Darvish

The Rangers’ starting rotation isn’t as deep as it once was. They know what they can expect from Matt Harrison and Derek Holland. The back of the rotation is a giant question mark and they don’t even have Scott Feldman to step in as a swingman while they wait for Martin Perez and Colby Lewis to return from injury. Alexi Ogando has proven he can be effective as a starter, but the key for the Rangers rotation is Darvish.

Darvish was everything the Rangers could have wanted when they paid the big posting fee (almost $52 million) and signed him to a $50.5 million contract. If he evolves into a season-long Cy Young contender, the Rangers are a title contender. If he falters, their search for starting pitching will get serious.

Relief Pitching Key: Joakim Soria

Soria is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the Rangers have a hole in the eighth inning with the departure of Mike Adams and the shifting of Ogando to the rotation. They’re also waiting for the return (probably late in the season if they’re still contending) of Neftali Feliz.

A major question regarding the Rangers’ bullpen is whether the new delineation of duties with Nolan Ryan’s possible departure and GM Jon Daniels’s promotion leads to a more conventional pitch count/innings limit for the starters that was decidedly abandoned when Ryan was truly in charge. If the Rangers switch strategies, the bullpen will be pushed harder and be increasingly important.

Offensive Key: Lance Berkman

If Berkman is healthy, he’s going to hit. A knee injury limited him to 32 games for the Cardinals in 2012 and he considered retirement. Now, with the Rangers, he can be a designated hitter and not worry about playing the field. Less stress will be placed on his knees. He still hits and walks and with the Rangers friendly home ballpark, it’s reasonable to expect Berkman to hit 25+ homers and post a .380 OBP.

Defensive Key: Craig Gentry

The Rangers’ offense is not the machine it once was with Josh Hamilton gone. Gentry can run, but that’s secondary to catching the ball in center field. The Rangers are not as deep as they’ve been in the last several years and their margin for error is diminished. Fundamentals are imperative to overcoming these changes and not missing the offense from Hamilton too greatly.

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Nolan Ryan’s Present And Future

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People are forgetting who Nolan Ryan is and why he has the reputation he does.

As a player, he was an ornery, competitive, strong and silent Texan who let his fastball and his performance do the talking. Now that he’s in the Rangers’ front office, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s staking out his territory and trying to control his own destiny by waiting to see exactly where he stands in the new hierarchy. It’s still unknown what his job description is and how far his power extends with former GM Jon Daniels now promoted to President of Baseball Operations; Rick George is running the business side; and Thad Levine—as soon as Ryan’s fate is determined—probably taking over a significant part of Daniels’s former duties in the day-to-day minutiae of running the club. Ryan has a right to stop and say, “Hold awn just a dern second here, pardner,” with his hand on his sidearm and an icy glare at the town politicians who are trying to take away his sheriff’s badge.

It seems that Ryan is being contrary because he’s not sure as to the delineation of the new parameters and wants to be certain he’s still wanted with the Rangers for his experience and advice. Daniels has said nothing will change, but that’s not worth much until there’s a disagreement between the two and Ryan knows that Daniels doesn’t have the power to shrug off what Ryan wants and do as he prefers without approval from his “boss.” Ryan also has an ego as big as Texas and doesn’t want to be seen as a caddy for his 35-year-old underling.

The Rangers baseball people are, by and large, highly educated and stat-centric. That’s not Ryan. While Ryan’s preferred method of developing pitchers deviated from the stat guy template, were Daniels and Levine onboard with what he was doing? Or were they cringing at the medieval methods and went along to get along because Ryan had the owner’s ear and they quietly hoped that no one got hurt or too much damage wasn’t done to the young arms Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and others as they were pushed harder than the numbers dictate is optimal? If Ryan’s tactics are shunted to the side and more “science” is injected into the equation, it will be clear what was going on with the Rangers. This is independent of whether Ryan’s there or not.

I believe it’s a mistake to let Ryan leave. While he prefers layman terminology and old-school sensibilities, he’s also able to adapt. When he hooked up with Tom House as his pitching coach and advisor in the 1980s-90s, he took House’s penchant for long-winded technical terms and innovations such as throwing a football and made them accessible for everyone. With his resume, if Ryan was doing it it had to be okay. It’s the same dynamic with the stat guys in the organization. He’s not a grumpy old man with no interest nor capability to understand the new metrics. He plays the opposite side from a position of having the experience to know what works and what doesn’t and he won’t be intimidated by condescension and high-end vocabularies. On the other side of the coin, with people who have their own theories and beliefs on building a club, they don’t want to hear the growling, memory-lane laced, “In my day, grumble, grumble…” from someone who doesn’t have the faintest interest nor comprehension of what the stat people are trying to do.

Ryan will not accept being a figurehead and those who are suggesting the Astros hire him away from the Rangers (Johnette Howard and Richard Justice) mention that Ryan couldn’t be a figurehead if the Astros did hire him. But what would he do there? The Astros have taken dramatic steps and made pointed hirings of pure stat people who never picked up a baseball. GM Jeff Luhnow has made no secret as to his intentions with the team and he’s implementing his beliefs as to how to rebuild a dead and dilapidated franchise. Whether it works remains to be seen, but he’s plotted his course and is sticking to it. That blueprint doesn’t include an old-schooler who wants substantial say-so and is used to getting his way in the male-dominated world of baseball in which might makes right.

Teams have plenty of former stars on their payrolls. Willie Mays is listed as a member of the Giants’ front office as a special assistant. Soon to be age 82, how much special assistance do you think Mays is providing? How much interest do you think he has in doing it? Mays is there to hobnob with the people who were kids when he was in his say heyday, want to say, “Wow!! I met Willie Mays!!” and have the money to purchase season tickets, luxury suites and hold corporate events at AT&T Park.  The Yankees bring in their former stars to stand around in spring training, mingle with the fans and help them sell stuff with nostalgia and stories. Sometimes, as was the case with Andy Pettitte, they even come back to play and contribute. But they’re not there with legitimate power, if any at all.

For the Astros, hiring Ryan would be diametrically opposed to what they’ve done since Luhnow took command. While it may make some fans happy for a moment, if they’re inserting Ryan’s methods into their rebuilding process, the inevitable question as to why they were they so hell-bent on tearing the thing down to its brass fittings and putting together a team that will compete for the title of worst in history if they were going to bring in Ryan and his opposite viewpoint as a decision maker?

Ryan could have been governor of Texas if he’d chosen to. He has neither the time nor the desire to stand around talking to people he doesn’t know and being the former hero who’s there to make everyone smile at the memories he created with his power fastball, longevity, and intensity. He wants to work. That may be possible with the Rangers, but it’s completely off the table for the Astros. The Rangers should make sure Ryan feels wanted because they need him to stay with the organization for his presence and his knowledge.

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Armchair Analysis from Earth to Jupiter

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To highlight the madness surrounding the pigeonholing of players based on factors that have nothing to do with anything, below is a clip from this Joe Sheehan posting on Baseball Prospectus in 2004:

The Joe Mauer Express appears to be steaming down the tracks right now. The 21-year-old Twin has been named the game’s top prospect by both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, one of those rare confluences of agreement between the two that mark a player as a future star. ESPN.com had him on their main baseball page on Tuesday, and Peter Gammons wrote glowingly not only of Mauer’s skill, but of the high opinion in which the young catcher is held.

I think Mauer is currently a good baseball player. He’s shown offensive and defensive development in his three professional seasons, and while I still think the Twins should have taken Mark Prior in 2001–how different might their two playoff losses have gone with the big right-hander?–clearly it’s not like they ended up with a bum. Mauer is going to eventually be a productive left-handed hitter; comparable to Mike Sweeney, with maybe a bit more power and patience.

I just don’t agree that Mauer is a future star behind the plate, and it has everything to do with his height. Mauer is listed at 6’4″, and people that height or taller just don’t have long, successful careers at the catching position.

With the freedom of retrospection I can write pages and pages as to why Sheehan’s Mauer projection was ridiculous. Mike Sweeney? Mauer’s height? Mark Prior?

But I’m not referencing this to ridicule Sheehan. Instead, I want to highlight why the Mets’ new catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud shouldn’t be placed into a category due to discriminatory history or his height of 6’2”.

Joel Sherman makes a similarly broadbased statement regarding former Cy Young Award winners—like R.A. Dickey—who were traded for packages of prospects as if the past is a prologue to the future when developing baseball players who come in different shapes, sizes and ability levels. Matt LaPorta headlined the package the Brewers sent to the Indians for CC Sabathia. Justin Smoak was the main ingredient that led the Mariners to walk away from the Yankees’ offer for Cliff Lee and send the pitcher to the Rangers. The Zack Greinke return to the Royals from the Brewers has done little of note.

What this has to do with Dickey, d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard is a mystery.

Or maybe it’s not a mystery. Maybe this type of questioning is undertaken to blur the lines of critique and credit and provide the individual making the distinction some form of credibility for these judgments. This is not to undermine the factual nature of what Sheehan and Sherman wrote, but to show the flaws in the foundation upon which they’re built and the intentions of those who wrote them. Do they really believe this nonsense to be valid or are they appealing to a constituency by being contrary.

I’d hate to think they believe it, but considering their histories, I have a hunch they do. Unable as they are to provide analysis stemming from their own assessments, they have to find “things” like height and “comparable” deals that aren’t relevant or comparable at all. Theoretical science can make a case for anything if one chooses to search for individual occurrences or cherrypicked stereotypes to support it, but use your intelligence and decide on your own whether this makes sense or it’s outsiders digging through the trash for self-aggrandizing purposes.

In what other industry is such a negligible and disconnected set of principles taken as a portent of what’s to come? Sherman’s and Sheehan’s logic is akin to saying that because the Rangers made one of the worst trades in the history of baseball when they sent Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka that GM Jon Daniels is a bumbling idiot; or that because Daniels made up for that horrific gaffe by trading Mark Teixeira to the Braves for a package that included Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Elvis Andrus that he deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. Or that because James Shields was drafted in the 16th round by the Rays in 2000 means that the Rays’ 16th round pick last season, shortstop Brett McAfee, will turn into a breakout star as Shields did. Or that trading X first baseman for Y relief pitcher and Z young starter will turn into a Keith Hernandez for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey heist for the Mets and dreadful mistake for the Cardinals.

Or that Mauer shouldn’t have made it as an All-Star catcher and MVP because he’s “too” tall. The same height argument is being made about d’Arnaud now and it’s pointless.

This is why armchair experts are sitting in the armchair and clicking away at their laptops and smartphones making snide comments without consequences simultaneously to experienced baseball people running clubs and determining the value of players; whether they’re worth a certain amount of money; deciding to keep or trade them in the real world. You can’t cover up a lack of in-the-trenches work and knowledge accumulated over the decades with random numbers and baseless statistics. It’s called scouting and it can’t be done with the above attempts to connect the dots, especially when one dot is on Earth and the other on Jupiter.

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Pineda to the Bullpen Would be a Disaster

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What reasonable and successful organization would trade their top hitting prospect for a young pitcher of tremendous ability and then consider moving that young pitcher to the bullpen or even the minor leagues in the season after that young pitcher made the All-Star team?

The Yankees of course.

Because of his “lack” of velocity and their glut of starting pitching, Michael Pineda—the prize acquisition who cost them Jesus Montero from the Mariners—is in danger of losing his spot in the starting rotation. With the Yankees deciding which pitchers among the foursome of Phil Hughes, Pineda, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia will be shifted elsewhere to accommodate Andy Pettitte’s return and the two starters whose jobs are safe, CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, they’re again returning to the failed strategies that have derailed so many talented arms.

It’s insanity that could only happen with the Yankees.

Rapidly becoming the place where top pitching prospects go to see their careers die, the Yankees rigid rules, regulations and rampant paranoia have gone past a laughable state of ridiculousness and into the realm of George Steinbrenner-style lunacy.

Ask yourself a question: how many starting pitchers have the Yankees acquired or drafted who’ve been nurtured by and successful for the Yankees themselves?

Hughes?

He’s been mostly good and occasionally injured, but realistically had he been pitching for a team that has a history of homegrown pitchers becoming linchpins in their rotations like the Giants, Rangers, Angels or Rays, would he have come close to reaching his potential by now or would he still be on the bubble between rotation and bullpen; trading block and minors?

Nova?

The Yankees have constantly diminished Nova’s abilities and forever been on the precipice of getting rid of him. Much like the circumstances with Mariano Rivera in 1995 when Buck Showalter famously didn’t believe his eyes with the icy fearlessness that eventually made Rivera into baseball’s cold-blooded assassin, the Yankees have become so immersed in “stuff” and stats that they’re not seeing the determination in Nova that will make him a solid starter…somehwere. Yankees fans should hope it’s not in Scranton.

Who else?

Don’t mention Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and David Wells; and don’t give them a hard time about Carl Pavano.

Pettitte was accorded the room to function and evolve without absurd rules and restraints; but since he arrived in 1995, how many young pitchers have become major contributors to the Yankees?

When trading a young impact bat like Montero, you’d better be sure of what you’re getting back. Pineda is talented and has a power fastball, but the Yankees have done everything possible to make him feel as if the ground beneath his feet is in danger of opening up and swallowing him before the season has started. If they were worried about him; his changeup; his makeup for New York, then why did they trade for him in the first place?

What’s the purpose of whispering about his velocity?

Why put him in the frame of mind where he’s pitching for his job when he’s going to have to adjust to the attention that comes from being 23 and living in the big city while wearing pinstripes?

The Yankees are the team about whom other teams whisper: “Let’s just wait until they get impatient.” Those other teams are watching and sniffing around Hughes, Nova and probably dropping out feelers for Pineda—already—because it’s been consistently proven that the Yankees don’t know how to follow through on creating their own young starting pitchers.

They talk a good game and stoke media buzz and fan expectations, then wonder why the pitchers are unable to live up to that hype.

Ian Kennedy was dispatched and won 20 games for the Diamondbacks; Ted Lilly became an underrated and feisty mid-rotation starter; Jose Contreras helped the White Sox win a World Series; Javier Vazquez could pitch successfully in every uniform apart from a Yankees uniform and they decided they’d bring him back after a nighmarish ending to his first tenure; Chien-Ming Wang was never considered a top prospect either and they treated him as such while he was winning 19 games in two straight seasons.

The template with their young pitching is a disaster and they’ve shown no signs of altering it in the face of the repeated practical failures. Those failures go on and on unabated.

One would think that an intelligent organization would stop, look at what the Giants did with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner; the Dodgers with Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley; or the Rangers with Derek Holland and Matt Harrison and tweak—if not outright change—what they do.

But they don’t. They’re clinging to these edicts as if they were decreed from the pitching heavens by Cy Young himself and sermonized by Tom Verducci as the agenda-driven deliverer of the message in written form.

If they make the decision to send Pineda to the bullpen, it’s going to be a disaster; it will haunt him and the Yankees for the entire time he’s is a Yankee and grow exponentially worse if Montero hits.

And please, don’t mention Jose Campos—the 19-year-old wunderkind who no one knew before he was anointed as the “key” to the deal while he’s in A-ball. Judging from their work with the above-listed pitchers, what makes you think he’s going to be any good in a Yankees’ uniform if and when he arrives?

The new blueprint in destroying a young pitcher is underway in the Bronx. They’re not learning from the rickety foundation and decried architects; there’s no regulating agency to shut them down.

Making mistakes is one thing; continually repeating the same mistakes in a hard-headed fashion is absolute arrogance and stupidity.

This construct is going to collapse and they have no one to blame but themselves.

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Bard or Feliz?

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ESPN has a video piece wonder which converted reliever will be a better starting pitcher, Daniel Bard of the Red Sox or Neftali Feliz of the Rangers.

(I didn’t watch the clip. It’s here if you’d like to see it.)

There are multiple factors to determine which pitcher is the better option for fantasy players and is likely to be better for his respective team on the field.

Let’s take a look.

Minor league success/failure.

Bard was a terrible starter in the minors—stats.

Feliz was a good starter in the minors—stats.

Obviously that doesn’t mean that either pitcher is going to be good or bad as a starter in the big leagues, but the best determinative factor in how a player will do in the future is how he did in the past.

Feliz, as a starter in the Braves and Rangers organizations put up excellent stats across the board with a low ERA regularly under 3, massive strikeout/innings pitched numbers and good control.

Bard was not good as a starting pitcher.

He had no idea where the ball was going; he walked far more batters that innings pitched; he didn’t strike anyone out.

As relievers, both were good. Feliz was able to handle closing whereas Bard wasn’t. Once he moved to the bullpen in Double-A, Bard was lights out. He racked up the strikeouts, threw strikes and had excellent hits/innings pitched ratios.

The main difference is this: Bard was bad as a starter and good as a reliever but unable to close; Feliz was good as a starter and a closer in the big leagues for a team that won back-to-back pennants.

Stuff.

Bard and Feliz both have the aresnal to be good starting pitchers.

Bard has a high-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup. As a reliever, the changeup was rarely used but he’ll have to use it as a starter. It’s a touch-and-feel pitch that requires timing, concentration, the same fastball arm action and command.

Feliz has a high-90s four seam fastball, a sinker, a cutter, a changeup and a slider. It’s a starter’s repertoire.

Injury history.

Health wise, Bard hasn’t had any issues in his three years in the big leagues; Feliz on the other hand missed two weeks in late April-early May of the 2011 season with shoulder inflammation possibly caused by the haphazard non-decision of “will he start or relieve?” the Rangers pulled in spring training of 2011.

The Rangers are generally savvy and gutsy with their pitchers, but the wishy-washy “we’ll let him start in the spring, then decide” was absurd. Now, with Joe Nathan onboard, the decision was smartly made in the winter for Feliz to start, period.

Limits.

The Rangers and Red Sox aren’t going to push either pitcher too hard, but the Rangers are more flexible with their innings limits and pitch counts than the Red Sox are.

It’s been an ongoing debate as to which club’s development apparatus is better. The Red Sox build their pitchers up gradually; the Rangers push their young starters deeper into games with higher pitch counts.

It’s hard to argue with either given their success rates. The Red Sox developed both Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz using their techniques and gradual buildups; the Rangers have developed Matt Harrison and Derek Holland and they’ve converted Alexi Ogando and C.J. Wilson from the bullpen to the rotation successfully.

The Red Sox moved Derek Lowe from the bullpen to the rotation, but that was ten years ago and it was before the new, stat/study-heavy regime took command.

If you’re looking for greater depth, Feliz is more likely to pitch 180 innings than Bard is. Bard will be handled very carefully. Feliz will be free form.

Team needs.

The Rangers are deep enough in their rotation—even with the departure of Wilson—to keep an eye on Feliz and not feel the need to bend the rules in order to win.

The Red Sox aren’t in that position. Their rotation is notoriously short after Josh Beckett and Lester. Buchholz is returning from a fracture in his back and they’re having an audition for the fifth starter between foundlings, journeyman and eventually Daisuke Matsuzaka.

With the way both teams are constructed, that the Rangers are more cohesive and organized and the Red Sox still in the middle of what can only be described as chaos, it’s clear that the better choice and higher immediate upside is Feliz.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide is now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book is now available on Kindle, Smashwords and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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2012 Preview/Guide—Texas Rangers

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My book is now available on Kindle, Smashwords and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

Click on the above links to purchase a copy.

Here’s a full sample with more upcoming:

Texas Rangers

2011 Record: 96-66; 1st place, American League West.

Defeated Tampa Bay Rays in ALDS 3 games to 1.

Defeated Detroit Tigers in ALCS 4 games to 2.

Lost to St. Louis Cardinals in World Series 4 games to 3.

2011 Recap:

Despite losing Cliff Lee from the 2010 American League pennant winners, the Rangers again rolled to the division title in the AL West, knocked out the Rays in the ALDS and the Tigers in the ALCS.

They came within one strike of winning the World Series in the ninth inning of game 6 before the Cardinals tied the game against closer Neftali Feliz.

The Rangers scored 2 runs in the top of the tenth on a home run by Josh Hamilton and again were within one strike of winning the World Series and the Cardinals tied the game again.

In the bottom of the eleventh, David Freese homered to win the game for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals won game 7 and the World Series.

2012 ADDITIONS:

RHP Joe Nathan signed a 2-year, $14.75 million contract with club option for 2013. (Twins)

RHP Yu Darvish’s rights were purchased from Japan for $51.7 million and he signed a 6-year, $56 million contract.

1B Brandon Snyder was purchased from the Baltimore Orioles.

OF/1B Brad Hawpe signed a minor league contract. (Padres)

RHP Sean Green signed a minor league contract. (Brewers)

LHP Mitch Stetter signed a minor league contract. (Brewers)

OF Kyle Hudson signed a minor league contract. (Orioles)

OF/1B Conor Jackson signed a minor league contract. (Red Sox)

LHP Joe Beimel signed a minor league contract. (Pirates)

C Luis Martinez was acquired from the San Diego Padres.

RHP Greg Reynolds was acquired from the Colorado Rockies.

INF Luis Hernandez signed a minor league contract. (Mets)

LHP Neal Cotts signed a minor league contract.

2012 SUBTRACTIONS:

LHP C.J. Wilson was not re-signed. (Angels)

OF Endy Chavez was not re-signed. (Orioles)

LHP Darren Oliver was not re-signed. (Blue Jays)

C Matt Treanor was not re-signed. (Dodgers)

RHP Darren O’Day was claimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles.

C Taylor Teagarden was traded to the Baltimore Orioles.

RHP Brandon Webb was not re-signed.

RHP Tim Wood was not re-signed. (Pirates)

INF Andres Blanco was not re-signed. (Nationals)

1B/OF Chad Tracy was traded to the Colorado Rockies.

2012 PROJECTED STARTING ROTATION: Colby Lewis; Derek Holland; Neftali Feliz; Yu Darvish; Matt Harrison; Alexi Ogando.

2012 PROJECTED BULLPEN: Joe Nathan; Mike Adams; Koji Uehara; Scott Feldman; Mark Lowe; Michael Kirkman; Yoshinori Tateyama; Joe Beimel; Sean Green.

2012 PROJECTED LINEUP: C-Mike Napoli; 1B-Mitch Moreland; 2B-Ian Kinsler; 3B-Adrian Beltre; SS-Elvis Andrus; LF-David Murphy; CF-Josh Hamilton; RF-Nelson Cruz; DH-Michael Young.

2012 PROJECTED BENCH: C-Yorvit Torrealba; OF-Julio Borbon; OF-Craig Gentry; 1B-Brandon Snyder; C-Luis Martinez; OF/1B-Conor Jackson

2012 POSSIBLE CONTRIBUTORS: RHP-Greg Reynolds; RHP-Jacob Brigham; INF-Luis Hernandez; RHP-Cody Eppley; LHP-Miguel De Los Santos; RHP-Justin Miller; LHP-Martin Perez; RHP-Neil Ramirez; RHP-Matthew West; OF-Engel Beltre; OF/1B-Brad Hawpe; LHP-Mitch Stetter; OF-Kyle Hudson; OF/1B-Brad Nelson; LHP-Neal Cotts.

FANTASY PICKS: RHP-Joe Nathan; RHP-Yu Darvish; RHP-Neftali Feliz; RF-Nelson Cruz; RHP-Alexi Ogando.

MANAGEMENT:

The new ownership group led by team president Nolan Ryan along with GM Jon Daniels has authored a case study in how to rebuild a financially strapped and moribund franchise from nothing to the dominant team in the American League within a reasonable budget.

Ryan, having been one of the best and most durable pitchers in the history of baseball and definitely not babied as pitchers are today, has implemented a new strategy of letting the pitchers pitch rather than utilize a random number of pitches and innings to limit their development.

There’s still something to be said for proper mechanics and common sense in conjunction with the application of new science.

Because Ryan is a Hall of Famer and running the team, he’s in a unique position to try something different and be responsible for the aftermath¾good or bad.

Daniels overcame a rocky start as GM when he made perhaps one of the worst trades in the history of the game sending Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka.

He has since become intelligent and flexible in finding players through the draft; made brilliant trades of his own star players like Mark Teixeira and brought in multiple pieces like Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz that expedited the rebuilding process.

The Rangers put together a deep farm system that has allowed them to make in-season acquisitions of terrific set-up man Mike Adams and to be involved in pursuing Carlos Beltran.

This front office is willing to spend money and take risks regardless of what outsiders say as they showed when they won the bidding for Yu Darvish and signed Joe Nathan to move Feliz into the starting rotation.

The Rangers are one of the best run clubs in baseball because of the diversity in the front office and willingness to do things using the old and new schools of thought.

Oh, and they added Greg Maddux to the front office as a special assistant this past winter.

It’s funny how Ron Washington was laughed at and ridiculed until those who know absolutely nothing about the inner workings of a baseball clubhouse and the type of methods and messages that get through to players heard the recorded pep talk Washington gave to his club before game 7 of the World Series.

More than once self-proclaimed baseball “experts” who know how to calculate a player’s OPS while he’s running to first base after a single to left field said they found a new “respect” for Washington for that profane and hilarious tirade about what his team was going to do to Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter.

Of course they lost. Of course one could point to several strange decisions Washington made in the course of the series that might’ve cost the team the World Series. But that’s irrelevant. Even before he failed the drug test in 2010 and came up with the preposterous excuse that it was the first time he’d tried cocaine (that’s backward lottery-level unlucky), the players always loved Washington and played hard for him because they know he has their backs.

Sometimes it’s more important for the players to do whatever they can to win for their manager than it is to have a strategic genius they don’t want to play for.

The Rangers front office gives Washington the players to win, they let him have the statistics he needs to know and they let him do his job. The end result has been two consecutive AL pennants and you can’t argue with those results.

In January of 2012, Washington was rewarded with a 2-year contract extension through 2014.

STARTING PITCHING:

With the departure of C.J. Wilson to the Angels, the Rangers are dealing with an All-Star pitcher’s departure. They don’t have a specific “ace” of their staff…yet. But Neftali Feliz and Yu Darvish both have the potential.

For right now, the veteran Colby Lewis should be considered their number one and the anchor.

Lewis returned from Japan in 2010 and was their most consistent pitcher in that year’s playoffs.

Last season, he went 14-10 and his overall numbers look far worse than they did in 2010, but it’s misleading. He did allow a league-leading 35 homers, but his ERA was bloated to 4.40 by games in which he got punished for 9, 6, 7 and 6 earned runs. Apart from that, he was consistently good. In 200 innings, he allowed 187 hits with 56 walks and struck out 169. Lewis doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he knows how to pitch and work his way out of trouble.

He’s a free agent at the end of the 2012 season.

25-year-old lefty Derek Holland was brilliant in the ALDS and the World Series. During the regular season, he led the American League with 4 shutouts and went 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 198 innings. Holland has a mid-90s fastball, a changeup, a slider and a curve. Holland has All-Star and Cy Young Award-contending potential.

The Rangers flirted with the idea of shifting Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation last year by letting him start in spring training, he moved back into the bullpen and endured some shoulder trouble that might have been as a result of the abrupt changes back and forth.

The Rangers knew that the decision had to be made once and for all. The ambiguity of not having a big league closer to replace Feliz and to leave the job open to made it a possibility that Feliz would have to move back out of necessity. That was solved when they signed veteran Joe Nathan and officially moved Feliz into the rotation to stay.

The Rangers have experience with transitioning relievers to the starting rotation successfully after doing so with Wilson and Alexi Ogando.

Feliz also might have had shellshock from blowing game 6 of the World Series after two were out, so it’s best to take him from that pressure-packed role and let him start. He’s only about to turn 24 in May and with his arsenal of pitches¾a fastball that’s reached 100-mph, a cutter, a slider and a changeup¾he’ll be able to mix and match and change speeds more effectively than he could as a reliever.

He’s probably going to be limited in his innings, but he racks up the strikeouts and will make the shift well.

When I first heard the stories about Yu Darvish, all I could think about was the misplaced and retrospectively inaccurate hype about the likes of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Irabu. Because of that, I was dubious as to whether teams should spend the vast amount of cash up front simply to win his rights and then pay him what amounted to a free agent contract.

The total amount for Matsuzaka wound up at over $100 million and it promised to be that much or more for Darvish.

I would’ve refrained from pursuit.

Then I watched video clips of Darvish pitching and saw that he’s going to be a star.

He has a deceptive, power motion and a wide variety of pitches with a fastball, a cutter, a slider, a forkball and a wicked off-speed curve.

Darvish’s motion combines the quirkiness of Rick Sutcliffe’s wrist hook; the hip turn and leg drive of Tim Lincecum; and the inventiveness and array of stuff of David Cone.

His ethnicity is unique with an Iranian father and Japanese mother, he’s a big personality and extremely handsome.

Darvish is going to be a megastar.

Lefty Matt Harrison went 14-9 in 30 starts, pitching 185 innings and allowing 180 hits and only 13 homers. He walked 57 and struck out 126.

He’s effective against lefties and righties and for a pitcher to pitch his home games in the hitters’ heaven of Arlington to only allow 13 homers is amazing.

Harrison has a fastball that reaches the upper-90s, a changeup, a curve and a cutter and, like Holland, has All-Star potential.

Alexi Ogando was a dominating set-up man in 2010, moved into the rotation in 2011 and made the All-Star team. Ogando was so dominant in the first half (opposing hitters had an OPS of .591) that a good second half looks worse than it is. But a .743 OPS is still good. Ogando has a mid-90s fastball, a changeup and a slider and is murder on right-handed hitters.

The Rangers have six capable starters so they can be cautious with both Feliz and Darvish by occasionally using a six-man rotation to get both accustomed to their new role and surroundings. Doing this would let them refrain from using an innings/pitch limit based on specious numbers and let the workload stay under control more naturally.

BULLPEN:

Veteran closer Joe Nathan was signed 2-year, $14.75 million contract with an option for 2014 to replace Feliz.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010, Nathan returned as the Twins’ closer to start the season, was used cautiously and got off to a bad start in April and May. He went back on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his elbow. He was demoted to set-up man, reinstalled as the main man in July and regained the form that made him one of the best short relievers in baseball over the past decade.

His velocity was back in the 92-93 range after hovering around 90-mph in April and his strikeout numbers were at one-per-inning.

For some pitchers it takes more than the usual one calendar year for them to regain their form following Tommy John and that appears to have been the case with Nathan.

For the Rangers, his signing allows them to get an inexpensive former All-Star with extensive experience (albeit struggles in the post-season, especially against the Yankees) and a potential big time starter in Feliz.

Mike Adams was acquired from the Padres at the trading deadline and was the same dominant set-up man he’s been for years with the Padres.

Adams throws one slider after another with a quirky, stressful overhand motion. He’s more effective against righties (.439 OPS), but is solid against lefties as well (.538 OPS).

He’s had multiple arm problems in the past because of that stressful motion and the reluctance of Washington to use him in the World Series was either strategic ineptitude (possible), or something was bothering Adams which the Rangers did not disclose.

He’s a free agent at the end of the season and someone is going to pay him big money as a closer or set-up man if he has a good year with the Rangers and is healthy.

Koji Uehara has been the subject of trade rumors at the time of this writing and the Rangers are listening to offers.

Uehara racks up the strikeouts and throws strikes (85 k’s and 9 walks in 65 innings in 2011 with the Rangers and Orioles) and his numbers are almost identical against righties and lefties. He doesn’t throw particularly hard (around 89-90 mph), but he has a great split-finger fastball. His one issue¾and it’s a big one¾is the home run ball. He allowed only 38 hits in those 65 innings and an absurd 11 home runs. Then he allowed 3 in 1 ⅓ innings in the playoffs.

I think I could hit a homer against him.

Scott Feldman pitched brilliantly in the post-season until the World Series.

Having won 17 games in 2009 by imitating Roy Halladay’s motion, Feldman looked like he was going to be a rotation stalwart. Injuries, particularly to his knee, ruined his 2010 and a large chunk of 2011. There was debate as to whether he’d even be on the post-season roster in 2011, but he was and played a key part in the Rangers winning the pennant. He was knocked around in the World Series by the Cardinals.

Having been a starter, the righty Feldman has a starter’s arsenal with a sinking fastball, a cutter, a changeup, a slider and a curve.

Mark Lowe allowed the game-winning homer to David Freese in game 6 of the World Series.

Lowe has a high-90s fastball, a changeup and a slider. As a second-tier reliever for the Rangers, in 45 innings, he walked 19 and struck out 42. Lowe allowed 6 homers.

Michael Kirkman is a lefty with a 95 mph fastball, a changeup and a slider. He’s put up big strikeout numbers in the minors and held lefties to a .622 OPS and 0 homers in 49 plate appearances last season.

36-year-old Japanese righty Yoshinori Tateyama is a crafty junkballer with a sinking fastball, a change and a curve. In 44 innings, he struck out 43 batters and allowed 8 homers. Lefties beat him up with a .909 OPS, but he held righties to a .189/.230/.274 slash line.

Veteran lefty specialist Joe Beimel signed a minor league contract. The 35-year-old had a bad year for the Pirates in 2011.

He throws across his body and relies on a sinker and slider and, as relievers numbers tend to fluctuate, it’s reasonable to think the Beimel could have a comeback season with the Rangers.

Sean Green signed a minor league contract after spending 2011 with the Brewers organization. He was in Triple-A for the majority of the season, but there’s no point in judging Green on his past stats and what he’s done as he makes the transition from an over-the-top sinkerballer to a sidearmer. As a sidearmer, he can be an effective righty specialist for the Rangers.

LINEUP:

I found it laughable that Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was considered a “genius” not just for finding a taker for almost all of Vernon Wells’s contract, but also got a productive hitter in Mike Napoli…then none of those who were calling him a genius acknowledged that the Blue Jays didn’t think any more of Napoli than the Angels did by spinning him off to the Rangers for Frank Francisco.

Natually, after the year he had, both the Angels and the Blue Jays would’ve been far better off with the Napoli than Wells or Francisco.

Napoli has a massive year at the plate with a 30 homers in 432 plate appearances with a slash line of .320/.414/.631. That’s a ridiculous 1.046 OPS.

To put that in perspective, NL MVP Ryan Braun’s OPS was .994; Jose Bautista had a 1.056 OPS.

And before you start thinking that Napoli was a Josh Hamilton-style product of hitting in Rangers Ballpark, he hit better on the road than he did at home.

His numbers were also nearly identical hitting against lefties or righties.

Napoli’s BAbip was .344, so he’s not going to repeat those numbers, but he’s a far better hitter than anyone ever gave him credit for and as a pending free agent, he’s going to want to have another big season at age 30.

He’s also had a good year defensively and threw out 36% of basestealers.

Napoli isn’t fully recovered from a severe ankle sprain suffered in the World Series, but should be good to go at the start of the season.

The Rangers were courting Prince Fielder, but weren’t going to match the Tigers’ offer. If Victor Martinez’s injury hadn’t spurred the Tigers to spend big on Fielder, there was a chance that Fielder would’ve signed a shorter term contract with the Rangers to try and win a championship and be a free agent again in 3-5 years.

With Fielder off the board, the Rangers will again have Mitch Moreland and Napoli playing first base.

Moreland is a player for whom WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a valuable stat because the Rangers would be able to find a first baseman somewhere or play Michael Young at first regularly and get themselves a DH who’d be more productive than Moreland. Moreland was a -0.2 WAR player last season in spite of hitting 16 homers and 22 doubles. In comparison to other first basemen in baseball, that’s not very good. First base is generally a power position.

If Moreland doesn’t hit, the Rangers will probably play Young and Napoli at first base and look to upgrade their offense as the season moves along with a power bat.

Don’t be surprised to see them pursuing David Wright of the Mets.

Ian Kinsler had his usual extreme home/road splits as he mashed the ball at home with a .933 OPS and posted a .730 on the road. Unlike recent years, though, he had 16 homers at home and 16 on the road.

Kinsler is a very good defensive second baseman, hits plenty of extra base hits and steals 30 bases a year. His average dropped to .255, but his BAbip was .243, so that was bad luck and his average should rebound back to his career numbers of around .275-.285.

It took me awhile to come around as to how good a player Adrian Beltre is. Because Beltre had such a tough time putting up offensive numbers during his time with the Mariners, his numbers were mediocre and his defense wasn’t as appreciated as it is today.

Now Beltre is considered one of the best players in baseball and is building a reasonable Hall of Fame case with at least 4-5 productive years in his future.

Beltre won his third Gold Glove and his second Silver Slugger award. He had an .892 OPS with 32 homers and 33 doubles. He took advantage of the friendly confines in Arlington by hitting 23 of his homers and having an OPS of 1.078 at home.

Beltre hit 5 homers in the post-season, including 3 in one game against the Rays. He’s a leader on and off the field and was a prescient and brilliant signing for the Rangers.

Elvis Andrus is a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop and stole 37 bases in 2011. The 23-year-old is improving at the plate as he matures and hitting the ball with more authority. Last season, he raised his average .14 points to .279 and his OPS from .643 to .708. Eventually, he’s going to hit 8-12 homers to go along with his speed and defense.

David Murphy plays regularly against right-handed pitching. He struggles against lefties.

Against righties in 348 plate appearances, Murphy had a slash line of .296/.348/.461 and hit all of his 11 homers against righties.

Josh Hamilton missed a chunk of the season with a broken arm and it hindered his power and contributed to the decline in his numbers from his MVP season in 2010.

Hamilton still hit 25 homers and drove in 94 runs with an .882 OPS and hit the homer that gave the Rangers the lead in game 6 of the World Series and came within one strike of winning the championship.

He’s a great talent.

But none of that is relevant for his 2012 season.

In early February, Hamilton publicly fell off the wagon and had several drinks in a Texas bar/restaurant. This was the first public misstep for Hamilton since 2009 when he was also caught drinking and partying with fans in an Arizona bar.

Hamilton is a free agent at the end of the season and he and the Rangers have tabled talks for an extension. Prior to this, his representatives were implying that they wanted a Prince Fielder-level contract of $200 million. Even before he got caught drinking publicly¾and I don’t believe those are the only times he’s had a drink ¾I would’ve hesitated before signing him to a long-term deal and handing him a guarantee of $100+ million regardless of what he does on or off the field.

Now? Forget it.

He can’t be trusted.

Much was made of the departure of Hamilton’s “accountability partner” (basically his babysitter and sounding board) Johnny Narron, who left to take a job with the Brewers.

Hamilton was functioning without a designated “accountability partner” and had a couple of drinks.

Does that justify it? Is it a viable excuse that because he didn’t have someone to say, “NO JOSH!!!” that it’s okay that he drank?

Hamilton is a family man with three daughters with his wife (she has another daughter as well). He’s an adult. He needs to control himself and understand that he has hundreds of millions of dollars and people depending on him to stay sober and clean. The “accountability partner” or personal problems are not an excuse to go right back into the behaviors that almost destroyed the life of the former number 1 pick in the draft.

I would not sign Hamilton to a massive long-term contract unless he agreed to the unprecedented caveat that if he falls off the wagon and it affects his play, that the contract can be nullified by the team that signs him.

His representatives would never agree to that, but Hamilton might.

Even with that, I’d go as high as 3-years and $60 million, but that’s it.

He’s a great player. He has to stay straight.

Nelson Cruz missed 28 games last season with multiple leg injuries and his production at the plate dropped from a .950 OPS to .821. He still hit 29 homers during the regular season.

Cruz made up for it in the playoffs as he hit an absurd 6 home runs in the ALCS against the Tigers and was the ALCS MVP. He then hit 2 more in the World Series.

Cruz was held responsible in certain circles for not securing the catchable game-tying triple off the bat of Freese in the bottom of the ninth inning in game 6.

It was a catchable ball, but it was a tough catch. Blaming Cruz is a bit extreme for what would’ve been a really good play to end the game and the series.

Michael Young suddenly found himself appreciated for what he does rather than ripped for what he doesn’t.

Young requested to be traded when he was again asked to move to a new position when they signed Beltre.

Young batted .338 (.367 BAbip), with 213 hits to lead the league. He only had 11 homers, but drove in 106 runs, but had a .380 OBP and .474 slugging.

Young is and always has been a very good hitter who doesn’t walk enough to suit the tastes of the new age experts who are permeating baseball and baseball analysis. He’s not a great defensive player, but he can play anywhere on the infield and is a well-liked leader in the clubhouse.

BENCH:

Backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba had his usual passable season at the plate and was very good defensively, but that’s not the first thing people think of now when hearing his name.

While playing in the Venezuelan League this past winter, Torrealba was arguing a call at home plate and shoved/hit the umpire in his mask. He was immediately suspended from the league for 66 games and the video of the incident went viral.

Torrealba is not Milton Bradley and has never shown this kind of temper. He’s a respected and well-liked player and it was a mistake.

There were questions as to what the Rangers were going to do about it, if anything. There’s really nothing they can do about it since it was an incident in an entirely separate league and out of the jurisdiction of MLB. If they or the Rangers tried to punish Torrealba the MLBPA would fight it to the last and they’d win.

What will probably happen is that Torrealba will apologize (and I’m sure he’s legitimately sorry) and, at the behest of Nolan Ryan, will speak to children at schools about why what he did was wrong.

It was an unfortunate and isolated incident in an otherwise respectable career.

Julio Borbon played regularly in 2010, but missed time in 2011 with hamstring woes.

The lefty batter can play center field and has speed to steal 20 bases. He has no power.

Craig Gentry is a good defensive center fielder with speed. He might see substantial time in 2011 with Hamilton playing left field. Gentry stole 18 bases in 18 tries and he’s hit for some pop in the minors and takes his walks. He’s 28 and bats right-handed.

Former Orioles’ first round pick Brandon Snyder was purchased by the Rangers. The right-handed hitting first baseman has only had 37 big league at bats, but he hit 14 homers and had 21 doubles in Triple-A Norfolk last season.

Catcher Luis Martinez was acquired from the Padres in December. He’s 27 and bats righty. He has a career .725 OPS in the minors and has a 33% caught stealing rate.

Conor Jackson signed a minor league contract after spending 2011 with the A’s and Red Sox.

Jackson was a first round pick of the Diamondbacks in 2003 and was on his way to becoming an All-Star before injuries and illness derailed him.

In 2008, Jackson hit 12 homers, drove in 75, batted .300 and had a .376 OBP. He was also a good defensive left fielder.

Since then, he’s done nothing.

With the A’s in 2011, Jackson had a .658 OPS and 4 homers in 368 plate appearances. Perhaps joining the Rangers and hitting in the Ballpark will help him return to form. He’ll be 30 in May, so there’s time for him to rejuvenate his career.

PREDICTION:

The Rangers are one of the best run, smartest and most aggressive teams in baseball. They use new age stats and old school trust in common sense by letting their pitchers go deeper into games and throw more pitches than the generally accepted limits that have hindered the development of countless youngsters in other organizations.

On offense, they hit for power, have speed and get on base.

They have a deep starting rotation, a diverse bullpen and are ready and willing to make improvements during the season.

Defensively, they’re excellent.

The loss of C.J. Wilson was addressed by the signings of Nathan and Darvish and by moving Feliz into the rotation.

The argument could be made that the team that has won the last two American League pennants is now better than it was in 2010-2011.

In fact, they are.

In spite of the high-profile acquisitions by the Angels, the Rangers are still the best team in the American League and are going to win the AL West and advance to their third straight World Series.

PREDICTED RECORD: 93-69

All 30 teams are detailed identically to the above sample with relevant statistics, evenhanded analysis and brutal truths.

Click Amazon Kindle, here for Lulu and here for Smashwords with Kobo, BN Nook, Apple Store and other options available soon.

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2011 Feels More 1975 Than 1986 And The Rangers Will Win

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Post-game note: Naturally, hours after I wrote this the Cardinals beat the Rangers to win the World Series. Even with that, the following is an interesting bit on the 1975 and 1986 World Series along with proof that even the most brilliant of us can be wrong; or the most idiotic can be right. Where I fall in there is yet to be determined. Probably both.

Two of the most dramatic game sixes in World Series history happened in 1975 and 1986.

Last night, 2011 joined those two great series in memorable worthiness.

Carlton Fisk‘s “body english” dance down the first base line as he willed his long drive off of Reds righty Pat Darcy off the foul pole just above the Green Monster in Fenway Park has become one of the enduring images and stories in the history of baseball.

But there was an even more dramatic and important moment earlier in that game as pinch hitter Bernie Carbo homered with two outs and two on in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the score.

In 1986, the Mets dramatic comeback from two runs down with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the tenth inning against the Red Sox culminated with Mookie Wilson‘s ground ball dribbling through Bill Buckner‘s legs as Ray Knight scored the winning run.

In 1975, the Reds came back the next night and beat the Red Sox 4-3. After leading 3-0 into the sixth inning, Tony Perez hit a two-run homer off a super-slow curveball from Red Sox lefty Bill Lee to make it 3-2; Pete Rose singled to tie the score in the seventh; and the Reds took the lead in the ninth on Joe Morgan‘s bloop hit to center field.  Carl Yastrzemski flew out to Cesar Geronimo in center field as the Reds finally whacked the albatross of unmet expectations off their backs; Reds pitcher Will McEnaney repeatedly leaped into the air, spinning his arms in joy as the ball descended into Geronimo’s glove and celebrated in Fenway Park.

1986’s game 7 saw the Red Sox jump out to a 3-0, second inning lead as well on back-to-back homers by Dwight Evans and Rich Gedman. Sid Fernandez relieved Ron Darling for the Mets and electrified the crowd, striking out four in 2 1/3 innings without allowing a hit. The game was quieted down sufficiently with Fernandez’s performance to set the stage for a comeback; the Mets rallied in the bottom of the sixth to tie the score. Knight homered off of Calvin Schiraldi to lead off the bottom of the seventh; the Mets scored two more runs to extend the lead to 6-3; the Red Sox scored twice in the top of the eighth; Darryl Strawberry hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the inning to make it 8-5. Jesse Orosco struck out Marty Barrett to end the series, then flung his glove into space in a memory that will forever be entrenched in the minds of Mets fans.

There are similarities to both series for both teams playing their game 7 tonight.

The Cardinals win in game 6 was more reminiscent of the Red Sox win in 1975 than that of the Mets in 1986; last night’s game had so many twists, turns and comebacks that the only way it could end was on a walk-off homer.

But as dramatic as the Fisk homer was, people tend to forget that the Reds finally validated their place in history the next night.

After having lost in the World Series in 1970 and 1972; being bounced in the playoffs by the supposedly inferior Mets in 1973, the joke was that the Big Red Machine was equipped with a choke.

The Rangers are in a similar position as those Reds. They blew a game and championship they thought they’d already won a year after losing in the World Series; they thought they’d still be celebrating and now need to come back, play another game and win to prove that their back-to-back American League championships aren’t worthless; that the well-rounded team they’ve constructed isn’t going to go down as a disappointment that falls apart in the big moments.

Before those championships, the Reds stars—Rose, Morgan, Perez and Johnny Bench—hadn’t won anything in a team sense.

The Rangers stars—Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz—are looking for similar validation.

These Rangers rely on a decent starting rotation and ultra-deep bullpen always on call; so did those Sparky Anderson-managed Reds.

There was a sense of foreboding hovering around the 1986 Red Sox from such a devastating defeat and constant reminder of how something always seemed to go wrong to ruin whatever chance they had at finally breaking The Curse. They were destined to lose and they did.

As resilient as the 2011 Cardinals have been, they haven’t played particularly well this series—in fact, they’ve been horribly outplayed. The should’ve lost last night.

The Rangers are starting Matt Harrison tonight with C.J. Wilson on call in the bullpen set to play the Sid Fernandez-role if Harrison gets into trouble. There’s a decided on-paper disadvantage on the mound with Chris Carpenter pitching for the Cardinals.

But that won’t matter.

With that gut-wrenching loss behind them and their ability to overcome drama, on field and off, the Rangers are tougher than they’re given credit for; I don’t get the sense that the Cardinals are a team of destiny like the 1986 Mets.

And that’s why the Rangers are going to win tonight and make game 6 a dramatic and exciting footnote rather than a turning point to an unexpected championship.

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Shifting The Moneyball Goalposts Yet Again

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As much as Moneyball tried to paint the picture that “this is the way to build your team and if you ignore it you’re an idiot”—and succeeded to some degree—it was never the “way” to build a team. It was a strategy borne out of necessity and opportunity.

In fact, Billy Beane is not, nor was he ever, a “genius”. What he did took nerve, but that nerve stemmed from being locked in the vacancy of having limited funds and competing against teams that were raiding his cupboard on a year-to-year basis.

The truth is becoming more mainstream with articles such as this one in today’s New York Times discussing how smaller markets have grown smarter and therefore more competitive.

Are they getting smarter?

Possibly.

Are they more competitive?

Definitely.

Is there a connection to Moneyball?

Um. No. Not really.

Considering the teams remaining in the playoffs, you have one that connected on a deep strike to try and win this year while they still had a mid-lineup combination among the best in baseball with Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. The Brewers brought in a Cy Young Award winner in Zack Greinke; a solid mid-rotation starter in Shaun Marcum; and traded for an All-Star closer to function as their set-up man in Francisco Rodriguez. As a result of this, they’re in the NLCS under a moderate budget. But their farm system is gutted and once Fielder and K-Rod leave, they’re going to be hard-pressed to repeat this success. As long as Greinke, Marcum and Yovani Gallardo are healthy, they’ll still be competitive, but this good and able to cover up flaws like an atrocious defense that cost them dearly last night? To protect a vanilla manager who does bizarre things? It’s hard to see.

The Cardinals have the best manager of his generation in Tony LaRussa and made a series of “win now” maneuvers signing Lance Berkman and trading Colby Rasmus for ancillary, depth pieces to augment LaRussa’s frequent bullpen usage. They also benefited from a superior Braves team collapsing and allowing them the opportunity to make the playoffs.

The Tigers are a big money team that spent lavishly on a set-up man in Joaquin Benoit and made smart deals in getting Doug Fister and Delmon Young at mid-season for basically nothing. But without one of the three best pitchers and hitters in baseball—Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera—they’d be golfing now.

The Rangers were built by a young GM in the Moneyball mold of someone who’d never played but was well-versed in statistics. It took awhile for Jon Daniels to gain footing and he survived making one of the worst trades in baseball history in sending Adrian Gonzalez to the Padres for Adam Eaton; but since then he made some trades that were absolutely brilliant by raiding the Braves farm system for Neftali FelizElvis Andrus and Matt Harrison when they traded Mark Teixeira a year-and-a-half before he was up for free agency. That took nerve, but it was only possible because the Rangers weren’t contending and in desperate financial straits to the point where they could ignore fan entreaties to keep their star. Now that they’re in better condition financially, they’ve been able to use a loaded farm system to acquire a Cliff Lee in 2010 and the numerous bullpen components that have brought them to the verge of a second straight pennant.

It all goes in cycles.

Moneyball was trendy because it was a neat story of a triumph over adversity for a “can’t miss” superstar who transferred his inability to fulfill that promise on the field, but became a star off the field.

The problem was that what Beane did was more gutsy than smart. He’s an actor. And his new role is that of the boxed-in everyman; the excuses are that everyone else is using his template and doing so with more money than he has and his antiquated ballpark has made it impossible to draw fans and attract marquee free agents. But if he’s a genius, shouldn’t he figure something else out?

It’s laughable that Beane was politicking for and openly wanted the Cubs GM job and they didn’t even ask to interview him, instead focusing on and apparently getting Theo Epstein.

Like the X-Files, the truth is out there and those who aren’t invested in the concept of “Beane as genius” are seeing it and shunning him or at least questioning the portrayal.

The dismissive way in which Moneyball writer Michael Lewis discusses the Rays (“they have investment bankers running it and have been lucky in the draft”) is exactly the same argument that people used to contradict his salable and practically ridiculous narrative of Moneyball. I’m wondering whether he sees that or is blocking out this reality in a psychiatrist’s dream case of egomania.

Beane’s persona-switch from hard-charging, ruthless, corporate monster to happy-go-lucky, shrugging man of the people who’s trapped where he is in a system that’s swallowed him up doesn’t explain away a series of horrible trades and drafts. But that doesn’t fit into the story.

There is no one way to build a successful team—a team that’s going to win the World Series. The 2011 storyline is that the big money clubs, rife with superstars and recognizable names, all got bounced in the first round or missed the playoffs entirely due to humiliating collapses. Next year it might be the opposite; or it could be something different entirely; or the same thing.

But the mythmakers will look for an angle, even if they have to conjure one from nothing just like Moneyball. And just like the moving the goalposts of Moneyball, it’s a desperate act that’s still occurring as we speak.

The public and media are beginning to see it.

Finally.

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ALCS Preview: Detroit Tigers vs Texas Rangers

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Detroit Tigers (95-67; 1st place, AL Central; defeated New York Yankees in ALDS 3 games to 2) vs Texas Rangers (96-66; 1st place, AL West; defeated Tampa Bay Rays in ALDS 3 games to 1).

Keys for the Tigers: Win Justin Verlander‘s starts; score against the Rangers mediocre starters; don’t tempt fate; stick to the script.

Justin Verlander is rested and ready for game 1 of the ALCS after manager Jim Leyland steadfastly refused to even consider using him in game 5 against the Yankees. They won, so they have their pitching set up the way they want it.

Verlander is in the midst of one of those magical seasons and his chance of being the key to dispatching the Yankees was interrupted by the weather. He’ll have another chance against the heavy hitting Rangers. Historically, he hasn’t had much trouble in the hitter-friendly confines of The Ballpark in Arlington, but the Rangers have some hitters who can crush a fastball, notably Mike Napoli, Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton. Michael Young is 6 for 26 in his career vs Verlander with 3 doubles.

The Rangers starting pitching isn’t all that impressive. C.J. Wilson got knocked around in his game 1 start against the Rays, but none of the Tigers hitters have done much with him in their careers. The Tigers don’t want to enter the late innings with Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz coming at them—they didn’t do much with the Yankees bullpen and won’t do much with the Rangers bullpen either.

The Tigers aren’t particularly patient at the plate on the whole and when they get runners on base, they have to cash them in. They didn’t do that against the Yankees and won anyway; they don’t want to push their luck.

With a lead, the Tigers handed the ball to Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde and it worked; if they’re able to get from solid performances from their starters and enter the late innings with a lead, they’ll win the series.

Keys for the Rangers: Get their starters out of the game if they’re struggling; cash in on baserunners; get the game to their bullpen with a lead.

The Rangers penchant for pushing their starting pitchers deeply into games to get the number of innings they want extended inexplicably to game 1 of the ALDS against the Rays.

Why manager Ron Washington left Wilson in to absorb a beating and essentially put the game out of reach is mind-boggling. That can’t happen in the post-season.

Colby Lewis has proven himself to be a big game pitcher who thrives in the playoffs; I’m not sold on either Matt Harrison or Derek Holland.

Ryan Raburn is—get this—8 for 12 vs Harrison with 2 homers and 2 doubles. Brandon Inge is 3 for 7 with 2 homers; and Alex Avila is 4 for 4 with a homer.

Against Holland, Delmon Young is 6 for 12 with 2 homers; the other Tigers experience against him is limited and not noteworthy.

Has Ogando usurped Adams as the eighth inning man? Or was that just for the last series and because Adams was struggling? Does Adams get a reboot as the set-up man?

Miguel Cabrera is 4 for 4 in his career vs Adams.

Cabrera murders Ogando as well with 5 hits in 9 at bats and a walk.

Inge is 2 for 2 with a homer in his career vs Feliz.

One of the reasons the Tigers beat the Yankees is because the Yankees left so many runners on base; the Rangers can’t repeat that mistake.

I doubt we’re going to see Koji Uehara and his gopher ball with anything important on the line in this series, but it is Ron Washington managing the Rangers and he wears a path out to the mound late in games and he does…strange…things.

What will happen.

The Tigers starting pitching is clearly better than the Rangers and they have an advantage in that their manager isn’t going to do something deranged to blow a game up. The bullpens are evenly matched when it gets down to crunch time; if the middle-relievers Phil Coke, Darren Oliver, Daniel Schlereth, and Scott Feldman have to be counted on at any point, that means strategies are flying out the window and both sides are trying to survive.

The Tigers will get to the Rangers starters; Verlander may get touched up in one of his games, but the Tigers will mitigate it by scoring enough runs to win.

Adams has been having control problems, but the Tigers are over-aggressive; if they’re patient, they can get to the Rangers bullpen.

Cabrera was relatively quiet in the ALDS and that’s not going to continue.

Avila was also held down in the ALDS, but he hits Lewis and Harrison well and is going to go on a hot streak in this series.

Getting past the Yankees was the hard part; getting past the Rangers will be easier and that’s what the Tigers are going to do.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX.

ALCS MVP: ALEX AVILA.

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Tampa Bay Rays vs Texas Rangers

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Tampa Bay Rays (91-71; 2nd place, AL East; won Wild Card) vs Texas Rangers (96-66; 1st place, AL West)

Keys for the Rays: Don’t be satisfied with simply making the playoffs; expose the Rangers starting rotation; force Ron Washington into mistakes; play solid defense; B.J. Upton.

It goes one of two ways with teams that make a frantic late-season run into the playoffs out of nowhere: they either maintain their good play and streak on (the 2007 Rockies); or they get into the playoffs, are satisfied with that and get bounced early (the 2007 Phillies).

Neither the Rockies nor the Phillies had the playoff experience that the Rays do—they’ve been here before—so they won’t be relaxed and happy that they proved a point by overtaking the Red Sox; they’re here to win.

The Rangers starting rotation is overrated after C.J. Wilson.

Colby Lewis was excellent in the playoffs last season, but he allows a lot of homers and was very inconsistent in 2011. Lefties feast on him making him a target for Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce, Casey Kotchman and Ben Zobrist.

I don’t trust Derek Holland—the Rays beat him up twice this season.

I don’t trust Matt Harrison—both Johnny Damon and Evan Longoria hammer him.

With all the extra bullpen arms Rangers GM got for manager Ron Washington, it leads down the road of overmanaging and making unnecessary changes once the starters are out of the games. Koji Uehara‘s strikeout numbers are impressive, but so too are the towering homers he gives up (11 out of the bullpen for the Orioles and Rangers is a lot); and Mike Adams has never pitched in the post-season.

The Rays are in this position because of their superior defense and a strike-throwing pitching staff—they can’t make any mistakes if they’re going to hold down the Rangers potent offense.

B.J. Upton is on a mission. He wants to get paid after next season and don’t discount the extra motivation of a potential World Series matchup with his brother Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks. When he’s playing as hard as he can—aggressively and smart—he’s something to watch at the plate, in the field and on the basepaths. In fact, he’s unstoppable.

Keys for the Rangers: get depth from their starting rotation; take advantage of Kyle Farnsworth‘s gopher ball; score a lot; mitigate managerial mishaps from Washington; keep the Rays off the bases; stop Upton and Longoria.

If Wilson and Lewis pitch as well as they did in last year’s post-season, the Rangers are going to be hard to beat. They have a lot of power and a superior defense behind their pitchers which is the actual strength of the pitching staff—not the pitchers themselves. They pound the strike zone and let the fielders—especially a nearly impenetrable infield—help their cause.

Washington tends to make too many moves once he gets into the bullpen; the Rangers push their starters during the regular season and will push them deeper in the playoffs to avoid that eventuality.

Farnsworth had a fine year closing for the Rays, but he’s still a manager’s nightmare with his wildness and tendency to allow homers. The Rangers have a group of bats who can crush a fastball—Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz.

Yorvit Torrealba also has a flair for the dramatic and has gotten big post-season hits before.

Because the Rays steal plenty of bases, it’s best to keep them off-base entirely. With their defense and strike-throwing pitchers, this is a reasonable goal for the Rangers.

Upton and Longoria have carried the Rays over the past month. If they don’t produce, the Rays lose.

What will happen.

Because they finally broke their playoff hex a year ago, got past the first round; beat the Yankees; and made it to the World Series, the Rangers are a battle-proven and experienced group in their second straight season in the post-season.

But the Rays have experience of their own from the World Series run in 2008 to last season when they lost to…the Rangers.

The Rays were beaten last year in large part due to the unreliability of closer Rafael Soriano. Soriano’s gone and the Rays overall pitching is in better shape now than it was a year ago.

I don’t like the Rangers bullpen despite the acquisitions of Adams and Uehara and the presence of Neftali Feliz.

Their starting pitching after Wilson is still questionable and they’re going to have to score plentiful runs to outshoot the Rays.

The Rays pitching is in a bit of perceived disarray after their desperate climb over the Red Sox to take the Wild Card; they’re starting rookie Matt Moore—their top prospect—in game 1.

But it could be the triumph of the uncluttered mind and the self-confidence of youth that makes starting Moore a brilliant maneuver.

The Rays have used young pitchers in key spots before. David Price closed games for them in 2008 and if they think Moore can handle it, I wouldn’t bet against that analysis.

A year ago, the Rangers were the team playing with low expectations and bent on killing demons of past post-season failures; they had a full-blown ace at the top of their starting rotation in Cliff Lee; they played with reckless abandon and a go-for-it mentality of “no one expects us to be here”.

The Rays are in that exact same position this year.

Wilson thinks he’s an ace—ask him and he’ll tell you in depth—but that doesn’t mean he is one on a level with Lee; if doesn’t mean he’s going to gut it out as James Shields and Price will. And don’t discount the financial aspect in Wilson’s mind as he tries to increase his free agent paycheck after the season a la Lee and Carlos Beltran.

No one expected the Rays to be here before or during the season; in fact, the consensus I’ve seen doesn’t think they’re going to be around that long either in the post-season.

But the Rays are here to stay.

They’re going to the ALCS and the Rangers are going home.

PREDICTION: RAYS IN FOUR.

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