There have been some great Designated Hitters in the history of baseball. David Ortiz is the first to come to mind in the here and now. Others have included Edgar Martinez, Don Baylor, Jim Thome and Frank Thomas. When the DH was first introduced, it appeared it would be the domain of aging sluggers whose best defensive years were behind them or young sluggers whose defense was shoddy at best.
As a fan, I used to want one of those sluggers in my team’s line-up, that team being the Texas Rangers. Even today, there’s a clamor among Rangers fans for Prince Fielder to transition to DH so we don’t have to put up with his lack of range as a first baseman. I no longer subscribe to that theory. The Rangers first foray into the World Series in 2010 put an end to my thinking that way.
In 2010, the Rangers had future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero as their Designated Hitter. It was a match made in heaven. Here was a quality power hitter whose knees could no longer take the regular pounding of playing in right field every day. Vlad’s one year with Texas was superb: a .300/.345/.496 slash line with 29 home runs and 115 RBI. Guerrero slumped in September but rebounded a little in the playoffs with a .267 average, 3 doubles and 4 RBI in 11 games. Then came the World Series.
The problem with having your everyday DH being one of your main RBI guys is something’s got to give in the World Series when you visit the National League park and can’t use a DH. Either you sit a major part of your offense on the bench or you put his less than stellar defense on the field. Ron Washington felt he had no choice. Guerrero got penciled in as the Rangers’ right fielder, where he’d played all of 16 games in the regular season.
The problems surfaced immediately. Vlad committed two errors in what turned into a 3-run 8th inning that helped propel the Giants to an 11-7 Game 1 victory. So poor was his performance, Washington decided it was better for his slugger to ride the pine in Game 2.
Lesson learned, right? To a certain extent. In 2011, Wash went with a carousel of Designated Hitters, led by Michael Young’s 69 games. Young also served as a sort of “Super Utility” infielder, getting starts at all four infield positions. He responded with a .338/.380/.474 year with 106 RBI despite just 11 homers. Again, Wash felt obligated to play Young in the field on the road in the 2011 World Series. Defensively, Young had a nickname among Rangers fans: PADMY, an acronym for “Past A Diving Michael Young”, heard often in the play-by-play. He wasn’t the butcher Guerrero was but there were better defensive options.
In the pivotal Game 6 in St. Louis (the One Strike Away Twice game that gave this blog its name), Young played first base and committed two errors, both eventually leading to runs. Without those errors, the Rangers may very well have been the World Series champs. We’ll never know.
That brings us to today and the Rangers are pretty certain Mitch Moreland is their primary DH. He will NOT, however, be the everyday DH for three reasons: 1) He’s a streaky hitter; 2) he doesn’t hit lefthanders well (a career .227/.289/.347) and 3) he is a walking injury case.
Fans have wanted to love Mitch Moreland for some time. He came along in 2010 when both Chris Davis and Justin Smoak bombed as the Rangers first baseman and contributed a decent 9 home runs and 25 RBI in 47 games. He further endeared himself with the fans by going 6 for 13 in the World Series, which included a Game 3 home run off Jonathon Sanchez that led to the lone Texas win in the Series.
Since 2011, Moreland has spent time on the disabled list in each of the last three seasons. He missed half of June and most of July in 2012, half of June in 2013 and more than half the season a year ago, playing his last game June 7th.
This has to be considered Moreland’s last shot with the Rangers. He has power potential, which is why they keep him around, but at some point he has to deliver. either by hitting southpaws better or by staying healthy. I’m not convinced he’s able to do either.
The question is who will serve as the Rangers DH against lefthanders? Washington gave Moreland every chance against lefties. Jeff Bannister is under no obligation. That’s why DH will likely be another revolving door, which isn’t a bad thing. Odds are Mitch plays mostly against righthanders and maybe he’ll play first base on occasion so Prince Fielder can DH (Moreland is OK defensively at 1st). Against lefties, the Rangers are hopeful newly acquired Kyle Blanks will be able to overcome injuries and tape into the power potential he showed with San Diego.
The problem here is Blanks has been just as injury prone as Moreland, thus making DH as much of a battle for playing time as left field is for Texas.
Moreland will play the most games at DH if he stays healthy. Beyond that, the spot in the order for Designated Hitter is probably Bannister’s best way of rotating quality at bats for the other three bench players. Unless Moreland is productive, it might also be the weakest position in the Rangers line-up.
In 2012 with the Texas Rangers, Uehara threw 36 innings, allowing only 20 hits, 3 walks, 43 strikeouts, only 7 earned runs and a 1.75 ERA.
In 2013 with the Boston Red Sox, Koji tossed 74.1 innings, allowing only 33 hits, 9 earned runs, 9 walks and 101 strikeouts with a 1.09 ERA and 21 saves.
In two post-season series in 2013, the amazing Koji has pitched nine innings, allowing one run on only 5 hits with no walks and 13 strikeouts, compiling a win, a loss and 5 saves. He was the Most Valuable Player in the ALCS series against the Detroit Tigers and is now headed to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
By all accounts, Koji Uehara has had a pretty amazing last three years of baseball. And that really irritates me.
Because between his 2011 season with the Baltimore Orioles and his 2012 season with the Texas Rangers came the 2011 trade that brought him to the Texas Rangers in the first place. Orioles fans sure remember that trade. They got Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter out of it. Texas got what they were sure was going to be their 7th inning set-up guy to steamroll their way to the 2011 World Series Championship. They were willing to pay a steep price for it.
Nobody knows what happened. We do know Koji really loved being in Baltimore and was maybe a little stunned with the trade. If it was missing Baltimore or a physical issue, nobody knows for sure. What we do know is the Koji Uehara described above was not the Koji Uehara the 2011 Rangers got. His numbers for Texas in 2011? 18 innings pitched, 13 hits, 1 walk and 23 strikeouts. So far so good. Unfortunately, 5 of the 13 hits were home runs, accounting for most of the eight earned runs charged to him. Uehara compiled a 4.00 ERA with Texas. It got worse. He appeared in three post-season games in 2011, once against Tampa Bay and twice against Detroit. In the ALDS vs. the Rays, Uehara allowed 3 runs on a walk and two hits, one a home run. He failed to get an out. His two games against Detroit resulted in two runs allowed, both on home runs. Uehara did manage to retire four Detroit batters. Koji was so bad for the Rangers that when it came time to set the World Series roster to face the Cardinals, his name was not found, replaced by Mark Lowe.
The name of this blog is “One Strike Away…Twice!” It describes how close the Texas Rangers came to winning the 2011 World Series in Game 6 against St. Louis. After Neftali Feliz blew the save in the 9th inning (with the help of a horribly played fly ball to Nelson Cruz), the Rangers took the lead on a Josh Hamilton home run in the 10th. The Cards tied it back up in the bottom of the 10th and won it on a home run leading off the bottom of the 11th. The Rangers pitchers who faced the Cardinals in the 10th and 11th were Darren Oliver, Scott Feldman and Mark Lowe.
If the Koji Uehara at the end of 2011 was the same Koji Uehara that started 2011 in Baltimore and the same Koji Uehara that major league baseball has seen in 2012 and 2013 with the Rangers and the Red Sox, I can’t help but think the Texas Rangers would have been the World Series Champions.
If the Red Sox go on to beat the Cardinals in the 2013 World Series, Koji Uehara may very well haunt the rest of my days as a Texas Rangers fan.
- Unflappable Koji nets ALCS MVP honors (mlb.mlb.com)
- HBT: Koji Uehara is your ALCS MVP (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)
- Koji Uehara Receives Champagne Shower During Red Sox’ Celebration After Advancing to World Series (Video) (nesn.com)
Anyone can vote for the All-Star team. It’s a pretty easy process. Most fans stuff the ballot boxes at their home ballparks and online with votes only for players on their favorite team. Others, like me, vote for who we feel are the most deserving, despite our fanhood. Before going further, here are my picks for this year’s AL All-Star team:
2B: Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians (sorry, Ian)
SS: J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles (sorry, Elvis)
C: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
LF: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
CF: Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
RF: Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers (FINALLY!)
See? That was pretty easy. And most of the picks would get little argument, except from die-hard fans of other teams.
What I love to do here every year is pick a different kind of All-Star team. This is a team picked strictly on the basis of how they’ve done this year against the Texas Rangers. No Rangers allowed on this team. This year, no Baltimore Orioles player stands a chance either, as the Rangers have yet to play the Birds in 2013. The fun part of this exercise is at times seeing the most unexpected names that just happened to have had inordinate success against the Rangers. Against everyone else, they settle back down to the mediocrity we’ve come to expect from them.
Herewith is the AL All-Star team, based only on their 2013 results against the Rangers:
1B: Adam Lind, Toronto Blue Jays
Lind’s been injured this season and many have labelled him as one of those players who’s never going to consistently play up to his potential. You could have fooled Texas with that assessment. Lind has blistered the Rangers to the tune of a.433 BA with 3 HR and 10 RBI , 1.188 OPS.
2B: Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels
Kipnis has done well in limited AB’s vs. Texas, but Kendrick, who has been a pest against Texas for a few years now, in more AB’s has 2 HR, 6 RBI and a 1.052 OPS.
SS: Marwin Gonzalez, Houston Astros
This position was pretty equal top to bottom. The now minor-leaguer Gonzalez gets extra points for the 9th inning single that broke up Yu Darvish‘s perfect game bid. Over a .400 hitter vs. Texas in 10 AB’s.
3B: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
No doubt about this one matching up with reality. Cabrera has torched Texas pitching for a .563 BA with 3 HR, 6 RBI and an astronomical 1.861 OPS.
C: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox
Former Ranger Salty is hitting .294 against his former team with a home run. The likely true AL All-Star, Joe Mauer, is 0-15 this year against Texas.
LF: Seth Smith, Oakland A’s
Smith has been a thorn in the Rangers’ side in 2013, blistering Texas pitching for a .368 BA with four doubles, a home run and 5 RBI.
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
Nope, not Mike Trout, who has mostly played CF against the Rangers. He’s hitting a meager .130 against Texas in 2013. Ellsbury, on the other hand, is at .421 with a couple of doubles and a stolen base.
RF: Ichiro Suzuki, New York Yankees
Believe it or not, Josh Hamilton had this one locked down with a .360 mark against Texas (albeit with 0 HR and 0 RBI) until the Rangers visited New York this week. Ichiro looked like the All-Star of old, going .462 with two home runs and 3 RBI in 3 games against Texas.
DH: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
Travis Hafner had the better batting average at .375, but Ortiz gets the nod at just .250 because it came with power: 2 doubles, a triple and 2 home runs, along with 8 RBI. Ortiz made every hit count against Texas: 5 of his 6 hits were for extra bases.
There you have it. Only two of nine positions are players that are likely to represent the AL this year in the All-Star game. Of the other seven, probably only two of them will even make the All-Star team as a substitute. That’s two at best. Thanks to ESPN for providing the splits to compile these stats.
- A.L. All Star Game VotingThe latest voting numbers (thesportsscript.com)
- Vote For Your Texas Rangers In MLB All-Star Voting (dfw.cbslocal.com)
Another game, another night without Mike Olt in the line-up for the Texas Rangers. When this occurred yesterday, I noticed a tweet which set out to prove, in 140 characters or less, that Rangers manager Ron Washington is biased against rookies and refuses to play them in favor of his veterans. The tweet stated that, in Wash’s tenure as manager of the Rangers, the only “first year” players to even get 200 at bats in a season have been Elvis Andrus, Brandon Boggs, Chris Davis, Mitch Moreland and Justin Smoak.
Is it true? Does Wash favor his veterans at the expense of the rookies? I did a little digging. The answer? Compared to other managers in recent history, Wash actually has used those first year players even more than others!
The person who put forth the tweet merely said first year players. That’s different than players who are still technically rookies. First year simply means the first year they appeared in a Rangers uniform, even if it was a September call-up.
That being the parameter, I looked up the history of the following major league managers: Charlie Manuel, Terry Francona and Mike Scioscia. In the case of Scioscia, I’ve gone through his entire managerial career. For Francona and Manuel, I’ve focused on five-year spans in which their teams were contenders to go to the World Series.
Francona won a World Series his first year with the Red Sox in 2004. That year, first-year Kevin Youklis got over 200 AB’s. In the ensuing four seasons, the only players to exceed the magic 200 AB plateau were Dustin Pedroia in 2007 and Jed Lowrie in 2008. Three players in five years.
For Manuel the results are even more striking. Starting in 2007, the year before the Phillies won the World Series, through 2011, there has not been one season in which a first year player received more than 200 at bats.
Finally, looking at Scioscia’s managerial career from 2000 to 2011 with the Los Angeles Angels, we find that first year players under Scioscia have only fared well in one season. In 2006, three first year players got more than 200 at bats: Kendrys Morales, Mike Napoli and Howie Kendrick. In not one of the other 11 seasons Scioscia has managed the Angels has a first year player accrued more than 200 at bats in a season.
Like the Rangers, all three of these other teams have been in what could be considered World Series “windows”, years in which they had a chance to go far in the playoffs or were just a year away from being there. In just six years of managing, Ron Washington has managed to give more playing time to first-year players than any other.
So does Wash favor his veterans? No more than any other manager in his situation. And maybe even a little less.
Mitch Moreland has been struggling lately for the Texas Rangers. His batting average looks not too bad, currently sitting in the .260-.270 range. Yet Moreland has had his struggles and has been striking out with increasing frequency.
Maybe the sample size is too small, but maybe, just maybe, having Chris Davis breathing behind his back helped spur Moreland on and now, with Davis gone to the Baltimore Orioles, Mitch doesn’t have the same sense of urgency with each at bat that he once did.
Going to Baseball-Reference.com, I took a basic look at Moreland’s stats in 2011 when Davis was also on the roster and those when Davis wasn’t, be it being at AAA Round Rock or, more recently, after leaving the Rangers organization.
Here’s Moreland with Davis on the roster:
147 AB 19 Runs 41 hits 9 Doubles 6 Home Runs 18 RBI .278 AVG
With Davis not on the roster:
286 AB 40 Runs 74 Hits 10 Doubles 1 Triple 10 Home Runs 30 RBI .258 AVG
Without Chris Davis to worry about, Moreland’s batting average is 20 points lower, his home run rate is once every 28.6 at bats compared to once every 24.5 at bats with Davis there. Meanwhile, Moreland has been striking out over 20% of his at bats when Davis hasn’t been there. With Davis on the roster, he was striking out only 18.3% of the time.
I’m no mathematician so I don’t know what is considered a good sample size or what amount of deviation is acceptable before a trend can be determined. It does appear, however, that maybe having someone like a Chris Davis wanting to take a job away from him makes Mitch Moreland a better player.
While all eyes were on the Rangers in their pursuit of the Padres‘ Heath Bell, the asking price from San Diego might have been too high. Instead of Bell, the Boys From Arlington instead went to the AL East today and picked up Koji Uehara in exchange for two major leaguers, Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter.
Uehara is a soft thrower, but has a 7.75 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio and opponents are hitting a miniscule .152 against him this year. Since Hunter is involved in the trade, a roster move won’t be necessary to make room for Uehara. Indeed, the trade actually opens up another roster spot on the offense.
While I understand they were both expendable in terms of the overall make-up of this Rangers team, I will miss both Hunter and Davis, especially Chris Davis. Tommy Hunter has a place in my heart because he was the starting pitcher in the first World Series game I ever got to attend, picking up the loss in Game 4 against the Giants. He was a major factor for the Rangers in 2010, winning 13 games in 17 decisions. Still, Hunter started 2010 on the DL before coming back in June. This year, he was all set to be the 4th starter in the rotation when he pulled a groin muscle in his last spring training start. Then, he pulled the same muscle again while on a rehab assignment in Round Rock. By the time he finally came back, Alexi Ogando was firmly entrenched in the 4 hole and Hunter was relegated to the bullpen. Hunter’s overall fitness regimen has been questioned, not surprising because he is a heavyset young man.
Davis is one of those guys you can’t help but root for, even when he drives you nuts with the pitches he chooses to swing at (the closest equivalent for a Rangers fan would be Pete Incaviglia). I’ve always liked Chris, but he’s in the situation he’s in because he couldn’t take advantage of his opportunities. Davis torched his way through the minors and forced his way onto the big league roster in 2008 with his prodigious power. He teased us with his potential. When he came to Texas at the midway point of the season, Davis hit .285 in 80 games with 23 doubles, 17 home runs and 55 RBI. Yes, he struck out a lot (88 K’s vs. 84 hits on the year), but one could live with the K’s if power like that continued.
Davis entered 2009 as THE choice to man first base for the Rangers and hopes were high entering the season. Sadly, Davis played himself right back into the minors. It’s not that he did horribly- in 113 games, he hit .238 with 21 HR and 59 RBI. The thing is, that’s how the season ended. When Davis was sent down to the minors on July 5th, he was down to .202 with 52 hits and 114 strikeouts with just 17 walks. When he came back in late August, Davis hit over .300 the rest of the way to recover to that .238 final. Again, a teaser to make Rangers fans hopeful for 2010.
Last year, hopes were high for a Rangers AL West championship, with Davis anchoring first base on a potent offensive team. Defensively, Davis was getting very favorable reviews as one of the better first basemen in the league. Offensively, things kept getting worse. This time it would take less than a month for Rangers brass to make a move. Hitting a lowly .188 on April 22nd with no homers and just 1 RBI, Davis was sent back to the minors to make way for highly regarded prospect Justin Smoak.
Smoak didn’t make anyone forget Davis’ defense, but offensively he was an improvement, albeit not by much. Davis’ career with Texas may have been over at that point, except Smoak became the linchpin in the deal that brought Cliff Lee to the Rangers July 10th. Davis came back up to the cheers of the Arlington faithful (seriously, you should have heard the applause he received in his first at bat when he came back). With another chance to prove himself, Davis spent the month of July doing almost exactly what he did in April- a .189 average, 0 homers and 2 RBI. Again, he was sent down, this time in favor of rookie Mitch Moreland.
Since that date, Davis has been unable to do anything to change the Rangers’ mind on him. To his credit, he has done everything the Rangers have asked him to do. He’s kept his head up and worked hard to earn another chance. The problem this time has been that Moreland has done nothing to merit having the first base job taken away from him. Davis has burned up AAA Round Rock this year and had three different stints with the parent club, one lasting all of one game. The most recent was a week ago, when he was recalled to play third base with Adrian Beltre going on the DL.
Still, Davis’ days with the Rangers had appeared to be numbered, the only question being when he would become part of a trade. That trade happened today.
I truly hope Davis makes the most of his opportunity with the Orioles. He works hard, plays a mean first base and has the power potential to make a mark on the league. Maybe playing for a club that still has a way to go before being in playoff contention will help, as he’ll probably be given more of a chance to prove himself.
As for me, I hope Uehara makes me forget about Hunter and Davis quickly.
The ESPN’s of the world will tell you all the superlatives about Monday’s thrashing of the Minnesota Twins. There are quite a few “highest this” and highest thats” to be read, as well as a number of “only the 8th time since 1920” and “only the 20th time since…”.
Instead, I will point two interesting positive stats before bringing up the REAL subject of the column. First, despite having more of the “No Name” pitching staff, the Rangers are the only team in baseball right now with four ten game winners (CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando). With last night’s win by Derek Holland, Texas also boasts the only staff in the bigs with five 9-game winners. That shows A) Texas starting pitchers are pitching deep into ball games and B) despite the woes of the bullpen, they generally win games they have the lead in for the starters.
Now for the REAL subject. Monday was one ugly win. Lost amid the three hit and four hit games of most of the starting offensive line-up, there was a lot of ugly to be seen by the winners. There were four errors committed in the game by the winners. Two of the errors went to 3rd baseman Chris Davis, who also suffered the brutal legacy of being the only Rangers starter not to get a hit at 0-6 with two strikeouts. With Adrian Beltre on the DL, this is Davis’ last chance to impress the fans and Rangers brass and he just did not have it last night.
Embarrassing, too, was the performance of the Rangers bullpen, particularly Arthur Rhodes. Rhodes is already skating on thin ice and giving up a three run home run and throwing over 30 pitches in an inning of work did not help his cause. In addition, Scott Feldman and Neftali Feliz also gave up runs in relief. I think if the game had gone 14 innings, the Twins just might have come back!
Still, it was a big win and Texas picked up a game on the Angels as well. I just wish it had looked better than the final score indicated.