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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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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A-Rod, Ibanez, and Changing the Culture at Closer

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Watching for the reaction from Alex Rodriguez fits neatly into a narrative of the player’s struggles. Would he accept the unprecedented maneuver to pinch-hit for him with Raul Ibanez, or would he pull a Scottie Pippen and throw a public tantrum? Would A-Rod have negative things to say in spite of the move working? Would it be all about him?

This aspect is a non-story. A-Rod hasn’t acted like a diva since his opt-out in 2007 and subsequent return to the Yankees. He’s eager to help his younger teammates and contemporaries and is smart and self-aware enough to know that he’s not getting the job done. While he would have liked to have gotten a shot to do what Ibanez did? Yes, but logic and current reality dictates that had it been A-Rod at the plate against Orioles’ closer Jim Johnson, he would have failed. He’s still smart and savvy as a player (evidenced by his run-saving deke of J.J. Hardy in game 2), and while the traps he once set for pitchers by looking intentionally awful at a pitch just so the pitcher would throw it again when the situation called for it and A-Rod could crush it, he knew Joe Girardi did the reasonable—and gutsy—thing before Ibanez’s heroics.

On that same theme of game-knowledge, I find offensive the implication that managers as smart and experienced as Buck Showalter and Jim Leyland are unaware of the faults that lie within the concept of the one-inning closer who’s inserted into the game simply because it’s a save chance regardless of the hitters scheduled to bat or possibilities on the bench.

They know.

Johnson has been brilliant this whole season, but prior to 2012 he had zero experience pitching for a contender and zero experience in the playoffs. He’s blown two of the three games this series. Did Showalter have a better option than him? No. And it’s irrelevant to this argument that Johnson’s numbers are very good against both righties and lefties. It’s the era that’s the problem.

In order to change the culture of the “closer,” there has to be a team that does what Tony LaRussa did when he implemented the one-inning save with Dennis Eckersley. What LaRussa did was innovative and based on what he had; what others have done in years since is simply copying LaRussa so they don’t have to think on their own and risk being criticized. “I had my closer in the game,” is an excuse, not a reason. It’s a shield against reasonable questioning as to why a manager does what he does.  

LaRussa’s idea was bastardized and has evolved into the unrecognizable and mindless zombie it is today when that wasn’t LaRussa’s intent at all. LaRussa defined the roles for his relievers because he had the relievers to fill those roles effectively; Eckersley was more durable and effective in his mid-30s when he didn’t have to pitch more than one inning. It was cold-blooded analysis rather than an effort to reinvent the game.

The most ludicrous thing about the one-inning closer pitching against all comers is that prior to the ninth inning, the managers engage in a duel from the sixth inning to the eighth, mixing and matching their pitchers to specifically face certain hitters based on numbers, stuff, history, and other factors; then when the ninth comes around, for the Tigers, it’s Jose Valverde; for the Orioles, it’s Johnson, and no one dare interfere with the closer’s realm whether it’s the smart baseball move or not.

To think that Leyland is comfortable with Valverde on the mound and that some guy with a website or column on ESPN has the knowledge and nerve to make a change in the hierarchy, possibly upsetting the entire applecart, is the height of arrogance and cluelessness of how a baseball team is handled off the field. Johnson is effective against both righties and lefties, but if it was the seventh inning, would a righty have been pitching to Ibanez? Or would Showalter have brought in a lefty to face him?

The idea of an “ace” reliever is similar to the “ace” starting the first game of a playoff series. You want to have your best out there on the mound when it’s most important and, in the case of the Orioles, Johnson is the best they have. But in other cases, such as Valverde, is he the “best” choice or the choice to keep the peace among the pitchers by having it known, “You’ll pitch here; you’ll pitch there; you’ll pitch against X; you’ll pitch against Y.” During the regular season, if the team is good enough, it makes the manager’s life easier because the closer designate is likely going to convert his save opportunities, but in the playoffs, as we’re seeing now, it’s not a guarantee.

Mariano Rivera is considered the “greatest” closer in history because he’s gotten the big outs in the post-season, not because he’s accumulated the highest save total. Amid the saves he’s racked up in the playoffs—the vast number of them due to the opportunities accorded by pitching for a team in the playoffs just about every year—have been three high-profile gacks that cost his team a shot at the World Series title. In 1997, he allowed a game-losing homer to Sandy Alomar Jr.; in 2001, he blew game 7 of the World Series; and in game 4, it was a Dave Roberts stolen base that undid him and the Yankees. If Rivera hadn’t accrued the capital from the games he’s closed out, these would be defining moments in his career just as blown saves are for Trevor Hoffman, Neftali Feliz, and others.

What I would like to see is a team that is willing to try something different, has a manager willing to stand up to the scrutiny from the media and the complaints of the pitchers, and a front office that backs him to say, “Enough of this,” with the designated closer. Not in the way the Red Sox did, to disastrous results, in the 2003 season, but by having a group of pitchers—sidearming righties and lefties; specialists with numbers or a pitch that is effective for matchups—and use these pitchers in a similar way in the ninth inning as they do in the earlier innings.

A team that could experiment with this is the Rockies. Already trying a different tack with their starting pitchers and relievers rotating with a set number of pitches and the management unconcerned about stats; with an atmosphere not conducive to starting pitchers being successful; and a closer, Rafael Betancourt, that is in the role just because he’s there and not because he’s got a long history of doing the job, they could alter their relief configuration in the same way they’re trying to do it with starters. If it works, other clubs will copy it.

The save stat is ravaged as meaningless. In and of itself, it is meaningless. But until the mentality is changed from the top of an organization all the way through the entire system, there will still be calls for the “closer” even when a sidearming lefty who can’t get anyone out but lefties would be preferable to the guy who’s “supposed” to be out there because it’s “his” inning.

It’s not “his” anything. It’s the team’s thing. That’s what A-Rod proved by being a professional and an adult, and that’s what managers should strive to prove in the future with their bullpens.

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The Truth About The Yankees’ Home Runs

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The simple stupidity of the Yankees being criticized for relying on the home run ball speaks for itself. Are they supposed to stop trying to hit home runs to prove they can win without it? What’s the difference how they score their runs? Are they sacrificing other aspects of their game chasing homers?

The answer to the above questions is no.

They have players who hit a lot of home runs. If they lose games in which they haven’t homered, it’s a safe bet that they ran into a pretty good pitcher.

The out-of-context stat argument is more complicated. Picking and choosing a convenient stat to bolster an argument is not the true intent of using statistics to begin with. They’re designed to promote a factual understanding and not to fool readers into seeing things the way the writer wants.

Is it a bad thing that the Yankees score via the home run? No.

Is it indicative that they’ll continue that trend once the playoffs start and do they need to be prepared to find other ways to score runs when they’re in games against better teams with better pitchers? They’ll hit their homers, but it won’t be like it is now.

The truly important factor to examine isn’t whether or not they’re hitting home runs, but who they’re hitting the home runs against.

During the regular season there aren’t the top-tier pitchers they’re going to face in the playoffs. The better the pitcher is, the better his stuff is; the better his command is; the better his control is. He’s not going to make the same mistakes as the mediocre and worse pitchers they’re fattening up their power numbers against.

I looked at all the pitchers the Yankees have homered against this season.

The list follows:

Russell Martin: Clay Buchholz, Justin Verlander, Jose Mijares, Homer Bailey, James Shields, J.P. Howell, Jonathon Niese, Jon Rauch

Mark Teixeira: Anthony Swarzak, Felix Doubront, Matt Albers, Bruce Chen, Luis Ayala, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Graham Godfrey, Hisanori Takahashi, Alex Cobb, Dillon Gee, Mike Minor

Robinson Cano: Jason Marquis, Luke Hochevar (2), David Price, Bronson Arroyo, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Ervin Santana, Alex Cobb, Johan Santana (2), Tom Gorzelanny, Anthony Varvaro, Tommy Hanson, Miguel Batista (2)

Alex Rodriguez: Ervin Santana, Clay Buchholz, Derek Holland, Justin Verlander (2) Tommy Hottovy, Will Smith (2), Octavio Dotel, Jonny Venters, Tommy Hanson, Jon Niese

Derek Jeter: Wei-Yin Chen, Hisanori Takahashi, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps, Bruce Chen, Justin Verlander, Tommy Hanson

Raul Ibanez: James Shields (2), Jason Isringhausen, Neftali Feliz, Burke Badenhop, Felix Hernandez, Hector Noesi, Bronson Arroyo, Jonny Cueto, Randall Delgado, Chris Young

Curtis Garnderson: Jake Arrieta, Ervin Santana (2), Carl Pavano, Anthony Swarzak (2), Jeff Gray, Phil Coke, Max Scherzer, Brian Matusz, James Shields, David Price, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Will Smith, Bobby Cassevah, Casey Crosby, Bobby Parnell, Tim Hudson, Tom Gorzelanny, Edwin Jackson

Nick Swisher: Joel Peralta, Kevin Gregg, Clay Buchholz, Vicente Padilla, Drew Smyly, Jose Valverde, Luke Hochevar, Tyson Ross, Johan Santana, Cory Gearrin, R.A. Dickey

Eric Chavez: Clay Buchholz (2), Jason Hammel, Tommy Hanson, Jon Rauch

Andruw Jones: Darren O’Day, Matt Maloney, Collin Balester, Steve Delabar, Tommy Milone, Johan Santana, Jon Niese

There are some names above that the Yankees might be facing in the post-season. Shields, Price, Verlander, Hanson and a few others. But they’re not going to be able to use Hochevar, Pavano or most of the other mediocrities to beat on.

I don’t see the names Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Yu Darvish in there.

If the Yankees don’t hit homers, then what?

Understanding the value of their homers is not the brainless bully strategy of, “Me swing hard; me hit home runs; team win.”

What was the score when the home runs were hit? What where the weather conditions? Did the pitcher make a mistake or did the hitter hit a good pitch? Was the game a blowout and the pitcher just trying to get the ball over the plate to get the game over with in either club’s favor?

These questions, among many other things, have to be accounted for.

Those who are complaining about the club needing to “manufacture” runs don’t know any more about baseball than those who are blindly defending the use of the home run without the full story.

Of course it’s a good thing that the Yankees hit a lot of home runs, but those home runs can’t be relied upon as the determinative factor of whether they’re going to win in the post-season because they’ll be facing better pitching and teams that will be able to use the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium themselves mitigating any advantage the Yankees might have. Teams that are more versatile, play good defense, steal bases and run with smart aggression and have strong pitching will be able to deal with the Yankees’ power.

Teams like the Mets are unable to do that.

The Yankees’ home runs are only an issue if they stop hitting them. Then they’ll have to find alternative ways to score when the balls aren’t flying over the fences. This is why it’s not a problem that they don’t have Brett Gardner now. In fact, it seems like the fans and media has forgotten about him. But they’re going to need him in the playoffs because he gives them something they barely have with this current configuration: he can run and wreak havoc on the bases and is an excellent defensive left fielder.

As much as Joe Morgan was savaged for his silly statements blaming the Oakland A’s inability to manufacture runs in their playoff losses during the Moneyball years, he wasn’t fundamentally inaccurate. It wasn’t about squeezing and hitting and running capriciously as Morgan wanted them to do and altering the strategy that got them to the playoffs; but it was about being able to win when not hitting home runs; when not facing a pitching staff that is going to walk you; when a team actually has relievers who can pitch and not a bunch of names they accumulated and found on the scrapheap.

The A’s couldn’t win when they didn’t get solid starting pitching or hit home runs.

Can the Yankees?

That’s going to be the key to their season. Then the true value of their homer-happy offense will come to light.

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The Two Roys, Weaver And…Igarashi?

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Rangers sign Roy Oswalt.

At least now we don’t have to endure the daily updates of Oswalt’s movements—taking out the garbage; playing golf; huntin’-n-fishin’.

Neftali Feliz is hurt and they have the hole in the rotation. The Rangers are no longer judged on whether they have a good regular season, but what they do in the playoffs and Oswalt is an experienced playoff performer. The Rangers have the defense, offense and bullpen to keep the pressure off of Oswalt to be anything more than competent.

Oswalt will make $4.25 million and Ron Darling just said on the Mets’ broadcast that he’ll get a $1 million bonus when he makes his tenth start.

It’s a good move for the Rangers and for us that we no longer have to hear about Oswalt as a lazy story when there’s nothing else to write about.

Roy Halladay is gone for 6-8 weeks.

Halladay was feeling pain in the back of his shoulder and has been diagnosed with a strained latissimus dorsi. The lat muscle is located below the shoulder and extends from mid-back and to underarm.

That’s not the shoulder.

Was Halladay saying it was the back of his shoulder when it was really his upper back? The back of the shoulder and lat are not all that close to one another.

Overall the Phillies and Halladay are better off with a lat injury as opposed to a shoulder injury, but that doesn’t alter the time they’ll be without one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball. The talk that the Phillies were possible sellers at the trading deadline was ridiculous when it was first floated a couple of weeks ago, but now it’s not so crazy to think they’ll be so far out of contention by late July that they start listening seriously to offers for Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino.

Jered Weaver’s Twitter diagnosis.

Weaver left his start against the Yankees in the first inning with a strained lower back, but according to Twitter it was everything from a knee to an ankle to his elbow to his shoulder. This is the danger of social media and it’s not limited to fans. Sometimes those who are actually in the media and whose job it is to be accurate go over the edge in trying to get the story out there before anyone else and run with a rumor before it’s been verified.

Weaver’s been placed on the 15-day disabled list. Back injuries are tricky and it could be something long term or it could be a strain. The advantage that highly-paid athletes have over you and me is that they have access to cutting edge treatments and medications to get them back on the field.

Hopefully Weaver won’t be scouring Twitter for remedies.

Yankees claim Ryota Igarashi.

Yeah. I don’t know why either.

There’s signing people for organizational depth and there’s signing people because they have a functioning arm and a pulse. Igarashi is the latter.

I thought it was impossible, but Brian Cashman’s pitching assessments are getting worse and worse.

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Bard’s Start Complicates Matters

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Daniel Bard made his first major league start against the Blue Jays last night and the line was ugly: 5 innings; 8 hits; 5 earned runs; 1 walk; and 6 strikeouts. He threw 96 pitches and 65 strikes and didn’t allow a homer.

But the bottom line of the boxscore is misleading. In fact, most of the runs were scored on placement rather than power. Bard’s biggest problem was the inability to throw his changeup for strikes.

Neftali Feliz made his first major league start as well and his line was far more impressive: 7 innings; 4 hits; 0 runs; 2 walks; and 4 strikeouts. He threw 108 pitches and 68 strikes.

Bard took the loss. Feliz got the win. In truth, they didn’t pitch all that differently. Feliz had better control of his changeup and worse control with his fastball and slider.

None of that is going to matter to those who’ve already made their minds up on how Bard needs to be utilized. Because he gave up 5 runs and the Red Sox bullpen is still in flux, the calls will continue to shift Bard into the closer’s role. After all, the argument will go, he lost and didn’t pitch “well”.

The results weren’t good, but Bard was good enough to win if he’d had some better luck.

There will be no such calls for Feliz to be moved back to the bullpen.

Why?

Because the Rangers signed a veteran closer, Joe Nathan, to take over for Feliz, there’s no debate as to Feliz’s role. He’s a starter, period.

The Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey, who got hurt; and Mark Melancon, who they don’t trust; and they’re trying Alfredo Aceves as the closer now in a desperation maneuver that’s probably not going to work.

With the Rangers depth in the starting rotation and inexpensive signing of Nathan, they don’t have to concern themselves with perception. The Red Sox don’t have that luxury in either area, so they’re going to endure constant demands to put Bard where he “belongs”.

There’s a dichotomy of purpose in Boston. On one hand, the players, coaching staff and manager want Bard to do well in whatever role he’s in; on the other, they might want to see him do badly enough as a starter that the front office has no choice but to sign off on the move that the on-field staff wants to make and switch him to the bullpen to insert veteran Aaron Cook into the starting rotation.

And don’t think Cook isn’t watching and waiting for his opportunity; if that means he’s silently hoping that Bard pitches poorly as a starter, so be it.

Cook pitched well in his first start for Pawtucket.

Bard’s work last night complicates matters and every game the Red Sox play—and every start Cook makes in Triple A—will be relevant to how the team moves forward.

All will try to twist the results in the direction they prefer and their agendas will lead them; but if Bard keeps pitching as he did last night, there’s not going to be an obvious answer. A decision will have to be made and they’re going to have to stick to it.

It’s not going to be simple one way or the other.

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2012 MLB Preview Podcast Appearance

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I was a guest with Mike Silva last night on his New York Baseball Digest Podcast. You can listen below, download from I-Tunes or listen on Mike’s site.

We talked about everything for 2012 including the Red Sox, Bobby Valentine, the Yankees, Alex Rodriguez, the Mets, the Nationals, the Tigers, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Yu Darvish, Neftali Feliz, the Braves, the Mets, the Phillies, Bryce Harper, the Marlins, Jose Reyes, the Reds, the Rockies, Troy Tulowitzki and many other things.

Listen to internet radio with NY Baseball Digest on Blog Talk Radio

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My book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide is now available and useful all season long for everything from general information to stats to predictions to fantasy.

Check it out on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.


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2012 American League West Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Texas Rangers 93 69
2. Los Angeles Angels* 90 72 3
3. Seattle Mariners 70 92 23
4. Oakland Athletics 64 98 29

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers lose starting pitching (Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson), but find innovative ways of replenishing it.

They lost Lee after 2010 and inserted Alexi Ogando into the rotation and he made the All-Star team.

They lost Wilson after 2011 and finally shifted Neftali Feliz into the rotation permanently and signed Joe Nathan to take his place as closer. Then they won the bidding for Yu Darvish.

They can hit, they can field, they can run, they can pitch, they’re willing to make bold trades in-season, and they’re not constrained by contemporary orthodoxies that are circular in nature and taken as fact because “everyone is doing it”.

If everyone is doing it, it’s probably as good a reason as any to do something else.

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels were never the team to spend lavishly on the biggest of the big name free agents, but after losing out on Carl Crawford last year and taking on the toxic contract of Vernon Wells, GM Tony Reagins was fired and replaced by Jerry DiPoto. DiPoto was handed what amounted to a blank check to make the team better, they signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and traded for Chris Iannetta.

The bullpen is still a question mark, but they trot out four ace-quality starters and have more bats than they know what to do with.

The balance of power has shifted West and the days of the Yankees and Red Sox being anointed playoff spots as a rite of spring are over.

Seattle Mariners

Jack Zduriencik supporters are leaping from his ship like it’s the Hindenburg.

Not every negative thing that’s happened with the Mariners is his fault—I find it hard to believe he wanted to bring Ken Griffey Jr. back for a second season in 2010 and if he has a brain in his head, he’d love to be rid of Ichiro Suzuki—but he got the credit, he gets the blame.

Chone Figgins has been a disaster. They’re trying again to give him a starting job at third base and are batting him leadoff.

That won’t last.

The trade Zduriencik made in getting Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi is going to be terrific.

The Mariners are still offensively challenged, are relying on a patched together bullpen with upside, have good starting pitching and defense.

The division is a nightmare and support of this regime is crumbling. They’d better overachieve or Zduriencik is going to be in serious trouble by the waning days of the season.

Oakland Athletics

Is the intense study of sabermetrics undertaken by Brandon McCarthy going to repair his constant injuries? He’s the darling of the stat guys because he implemented numbers to improve his results—and it worked—but it’s all a bit over-the-top thinking he’s turned a corner, never to return to what he was.

Their number two starter is Bartolo Colon; their bullpen is gutted; the offense is woeful; the defense is questionable.

But ignore the facts. Billy Beane is a genius because a book and a movie said so.

It’s Hollywood and creative non-fiction!! You can believe it if you want…if you’re an indoctrinated, agenda-driven moron.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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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.

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