Tagged: James Shields

JD Gets Outmanuevered

Mike Napoli? Signs with Red Sox.

Koji Uehara? Signs with Red Sox.

Zack Greinke? Signs with Dodgers.

Justin Upton? Stays with Arizona.

James Shields? Traded to Kansas City.

Josh Hamilton? Signs with the Angels.

Just a couple short weeks ago, the word from Nashville was that the Rangers were dominating the Winter Meetings. Two weeks later, virtually every player speculated about going to the Rangers has gone elsewhere.

And such is the cycle of baseball. Jon Daniels has been the Boy Wonder of General Managers for the past five years. Today he is an also-ran, victim of his own success.

English: Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels at a gat...

Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels at a gathering in 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This isn’t to say that JD isn’t a good GM. He’s one of the best and has put together one of the best farm systems in the majors. Baseball, though, is a big poker game with the GM’s when it comes to trades and free agents and it’s quite likely his brethren have learned JD’s “tells”.

In the case of Hamilton, there was too much honesty for his own good. It was well-publicized that Hamilton was willing to let the Rangers top the best offer he got. The longer the process went, the more it became apparent how far the Rangers were willing to go and that was four years, so Jerry DiPoto offered Josh five.

Arizona used Daniels to get what they wanted, which was a lot. By dangling Justin Upton out there, they found so many offers involving the Rangers and other players that could help them that they cut side deals to get all those players and now have no need to trade Upton.

Greinke? Well, the Dodgers are spending like drunken sailors. That was a long-shot anyway.

As for Shields, he was Daniels’ back-up plan should Greinke not work out, but the Rays got tired of waiting so they worked out the deal with Kansas City and probably got a better return than they would have from Texas.

Now speculation is already rife that the Angels will turn  around and trade one of their now spare outfielders to the Mets in return for RA Dickey, another Rangers target.

At this point, there’s very little Texas can do to respond to these moves. There’s not much in the free agent market anymore that will strengthen the team. There’s a very good chance the 2013 Rangers will contain a lot of mentions of Profar, Olt, Martin and Perez, youngsters who will be given a good shot at playing time. This is also still a very good team. They may not win the West in 2013, but putting the youngsters in now could pay  huge dividends in 2014.

Still, Rangers fans have every right to think the front office should have been more aggressive than they were this off-season. Much as Jon Daniels deserves a lot of credit for building the Rangers into World Series contenders, he has been outmaneuvered at every turn this off-season.

Losing Hamilton doesn’t make me distrust the Rangers’ front office. It does make me think Jon Daniels needs to adapt his style of playing poker.


Off Day: Food For Thought

Trevor Cahill. Gio Gonzalez. John Danks. Ervin Santana. Jered Weaver. James Shields. Felix Hernandez.

These are among the pitchers I can point to when I state my firm belief that the World Series will end in Game 6 with the Texas Rangers hoisting their first World Championship trophy.

They are among the select few pitchers the Texas Rangers have had to face twice in a span of two weeks over the course of the season.

Sixteen times in 2011 Texas faced the same pitcher twice within a two week span of time. Three times they faced the same pitcher 5 days apart, three times six days apart, twice seven days apart, the other eight times between 10 and 12 days apart.

The opposing starting pitchers’ composite line the first time they faced the Rangers:
Wins: 5 Losses: 6 Earned Run Average: 3.88

The opposing starting pitchers’ composie line the second time they faced the Rangers:
Wins: 4 Losses: 8 Earned Run Average: 5.24

This line would look even worse, except Gio Gonzalez lucked out and had his second line washed out due to rain on May 11th. In that game, Gonzalez was tagged for a grand slam by Mitch Moreland. Texas was romping, but the weather wiped out the win and all the stats for the game.

What struck me looking at these stats were the walks and strikeouts. The composite line the first time around showed 41 walks and 73 strikeouts in just under 100 innings. The second time around, with only seven less innings pitched, the Rangers only walked 24 times, but they also only struck out 49 times. Meanwhile, their hits went up from 101 in 99 2/3 innings to 108 hits in 92 2/3 innings.

Conclusion: The Rangers are a much more patient team the second time around for a pitcher. Jaime Garcia is going to be very hard pressed to duplicate his Game 2 pitching line in Game 6.

I’m not going to say take a win to the bank. I believe it will happen but I don’t guarantee it. I will say Garcia doesn’t throw goose-eggs again. My team is too good to let that happen twice.

The Walter Johnson Award

Every year, the Baseball Bloggers Association honors MLB’s best pitchers in the NL and AL with the Walter Johnson Award.

As an AL team blogger, it’s my privilege to place my votes for the AL version of the Johnson Award.

This year it’s not even close. In fact, with a required five pitchers on the ballot, it’s actually kind of tough to fill out the 4th and 5th this year. Quite frankly, they’d be so far below #1 you might scoff at some of them.

At best this was a two pitcher race. In the #1 slot is Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers. Verlander was head and shoulders above the pack in the AL, achieving the pitching Triple Crown: leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA. Verlander won six more games than CC Sabathia, the AL pitcher who finished second in wins. His 250 strikeouts was 20 better than #2 James Shields and his 2.40 ERA just nosed out Jered Weaver’s 2.41. Add in an opponents batting average of just .192 against a pitcher who threw 251 innings and a WHIP of 0.92 and you’ve got the makings of an award winner, probably by unanimous consent. Verlander is the easy choice for #1.

The closest to achieving what Verlander did, in my mind, was my #2 pick Jered Weaver. He barely lost out to Verlander for the ERA crown, compiled an 18-8 record and a 1.01 WHIP. Had Mike Scioscia not deemed it necessary to pitch Weaver on three days rest on a couple of occasions down the stretch in an attempt to catch the Rangers in the AL West, Weaver may have won the ERA title in 2011. The three days rest thing didn’t work for him too well.

The third through fifth positions could easily be restacked and reconfigured, because I think they’re all just about equal.

Number 3 on the list is the Comeback Pitcher of the Year: James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays. Shields had a miserable 2010. Even though he had a respectable 13 wins, his ERA was a sky-high 5.18, leading the AL in the negative categories of hits allowed and Earned Runs allowed. To say he turned it around in 2011 hardly does Shields justice. He had three more wins and three fewer losses, finishing at 16-12. He threw 46 more innings than he did in 2010 while giving up 51 LESS hits and a whopping 39 LESS earned runs. He struck out 225 batters, threw 4 shutouts and led the AL with 11 complete games.

In the 4 spot, I put a pitcher that had a much better year in the end than I expected him to have: CC Sabathia of the Yankees. While Sabathia is a workhorse year in and year out, I’ve never really thought of him as a low-ERA kind of guy. And yet, there he was at the end of 2011, with an ERA right at an even 3.00, second in the league in wins with 19 and second in strikeouts with 230. A pretty good year. It will be very interesting to see if Sabathia decides to opt out of the last year of his Yankees contract in the off-season.

Rounding out the list, I’m going to mention a Texas Ranger: CJ Wilson. There are all kinds of other players I could mention at this point: Jose Valverde, Ricky Romero, Dan Haren, etc. As mentioned earlier, though, does it really matter? Nobody I put here would have any chance of finishing first in the voting. I don’t think anyone that ANYBODY puts in this position has a chance of finishing first. Or second. Or probably even third. So I’ll go with my team and name CJ. His post-season hasn’t been very memorable, but he put together a fine campaign with 16 wins, a sub-3.00 ERA and over 200 strikeouts. So there, I said it and I’m not taking it back!

So there you go, my official ballot. To recap:

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

2. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

3. James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays

4. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

5. CJ Wilson, Texas Rangers

Getting Even: Rangers 8, Rays 6

It’s hard to believe how much the Rangers mirrored me in Saturday’s win.

Considering how awesome James Shields has been against the Rangers in 2011, when they took a 3-0 lead in the top of the 4th, putting the ALDS so far at an excruciating Rays 15, Rangers 0 aggregate, I remember thinking to myself, “When is this team going to get mad and start DOING something???”

It was like the switch went off in the team’s head at the same time it went into mine. In the bottom of the 4th, the Texas offense finally exploded. Well, it really wasn’t quite an explosion. The Rays and Shields helped out a lot. The R’s plated 5 runs in the inning thanks to two hit batters and two wild pitches, along with a nice 2-run Mike Napoli single to take a 5-3 lead, one they would never relinquish.

The missus gave me a hard time when I told her Nelson Cruz was about to strike out in his first at bat and sure enough, he did. She said I wasn’t putting out the positive energy so it’s no wonder he wasn’t doing well. So when Cruz came up the second time, I said, “Come on Nelson, do something good for a change.” He did good twice. First he extended the at bat to ten pitches, so if he had ended up striking out again, it wouldn’t have bothered me. He ended up with a single, so he made good twice. Maybe the spousal unit has something there.

In fact, after the Rays had cut the deficit to a mere run at 7-6 heading into the bottom of the 8th, another epiphany hit me. I was positively picturing Mitch Moreland, who has been in a nasty extended slump, depositing a ball over the fence. Sure enough, he did, extending the lead to 8-6, which also became the final score of the game.

In between those two events, I envisioned another Cruz strikeout and he obliged. So now I know this team and I are on the same wavelength. When Monday’s game comes around, I promise to remain a fount of positivity.

Derek Holland didn’t pitch great but he didn’t pitch badly, either, in picking up the win. Koji Uehara, who has been downright awful at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington since his acquisition from the Orioles, pretty much ensured he will probably not be trusted with the ball again at home through the remainder of the post-season, after giving up a three-run jack to Evan Longoria that turned a 7-3 lead into a nailbitingly close 7-6 affair.

The good news? The Rangers finally won at home for the first time in five ALDS appearances. Good to get another monkey off the back of this team’s history.

Colby Lewis, who has pitched well against the Rays in his career, will square off Monday against David Price, who hasn’t pitched well against the Rangers. We all know in the post-season that past performance does not necessarily predict future behavior.

I just hope that it does this time.

#12: Rays 9, Rangers 0

Everything that is both frustrating and wonderful about the game of baseball was on display in Game 1 of the ALDS. Wonderful because you never know who’s going to come out and be a star in the playoffs, frustrating because for this Rangers fan, every single one of them were Rays in Game 1.

.176 hitting Kelly Shoppach? Two HR’s and 5 RBI’s. Of course.

Matt Joyce, .151 hitter vs. left-handed starters? A seeing eye RBI single off CJ Wilson in the 2nd. Natch.

And of course, there was Matt Moore.

A rookie making only his second start. It was stated in my last post that I was afraid this might be a stroke of genius by Rays manager Joe Maddon, and I really hate being so right. I didn’t have the stats in front of me, but that post mentioned the Rangers lack of success against unknown pitchers. It was even worse than I thought.

In 2011, the Rangers lost 11 times in the regular season to a rookie pitcher. That’s a whopping 16% of all their losses this year. Moore became #12, tossing 7 innings of two-hit ball against one of the best offenses in baseball.

The only two hits? Josh Hamilton, a .300 hitter who only hit .220 with one home run in day games this season. Figures.

CJ Wilson, who had never lost to the Rays had nothing, giving up eight runs in only five innings of work. What an unsurprising surprise.

So the offensively challenged team scored nine times. The slugging run machine got zip. Hey, more power to the Rays. They deserved it today and the Rangers deserved nothing. Tomorrow’s another day and Derek Holland gets the call to best James Shields, who has given the Rangers fits in 2011 (2-0, 17 innings, 1 run, 3 walks, 13 K’s).

Please, baseball gods. Let it still be Opposites Weekend at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Getting Ready For Game 1

Most mornings, my drive into work is spent listening to Jim Memelo and Rob Dibble on MLB Radio on XM. I enjoy their banter, how Memelo often backs down from a position as soon as Dibs makes a point and how Dibble himself really doesn’t remember things he said in previous shows when listeners call him out on it (and I do believe he doesn’t remember. The guy’s just trying to make good radio.)

Today was a good morning to listen to them. Memelo made a point I totally forgot about and it’s too late to take back now when he said Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays should be the AL Manager of the Year (and thank you, Rob, for putting in a plug for Ron Washington for the award). As soon as he said it, I realized how true it is that Maddon should be at least in the conversation, but I’ve already cast my BBA ballot for the Connie Mack Award and I can’t take it back. So, my apologies to Joe Maddon. I’ll make it up to you by saying nice things about you today.

Maddon announced yesterday he will start rookie Matt Moore in this afternoon’s opening ALDS game against the Rangers. Dibs and Memelo rightly pointed out it’s a bit of a travesty when MLB has rules concerning playoff rosters that can easily be broken. In this case, it’s the rule that players must be on the major league roster by August 31st to be eligible for post-season play. Under that rule, Moore doesn’t qualify. But he’s on the roster because an exception can be made due to an injury. The exception is in there with the thought of a key player going down at the last minute and how that would impact the team. Of course, clubs like the Rays have decided to take advantage of this by instead putting a non-key player on the DL to make it happen for Moore.

Guess what? I don’t blame them one bit for doing it. Unless the exception rule is spelled out differently, take advantage of it. That’s what the Rays have done.

This could blow up on the Rays. After all, it isn’t every day a rookie making only his second big league start finds said start to be Game 1 of the ALDS. That’s a lot of pressure. Maddon, though, has a reputation for thinking outside the box. Memelo and Dibble think it’s a horrible idea for Moore to be starting. Rangers fan that I am, I have to say I’m worried Maddon will come out of this looking like a genius. I pray he doesn’t, but I think I see his line of reasoning.

Just a couple days ago, I read an article in which a former pitcher, I think it might have been Curt Schilling, say one of the reasons the Braves didn’t have the post-season success everyone thought they would with that great pitching staff in the 90’s, was because power pitchers have better success in the post-season. Needless to say, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux weren’t classic power pitchers.

Moore is a power pitcher. At every step in the minors, he’s struck out more than a batter per inning. Even with just 9.1 innings of work in the big leagues, Moore already has 15 K’s working for him. Combine that with the Rangers having a reputation for not doing well the first time they’ve seen a pitcher in his career and you have a recipe for an upset to start the playoffs. By the way, I don’t have the hard and cold facts to be able to say definitively the Rangers struggle against such pitchers, but anecdotally, I do know I’ve seen several games in which unknown pitchers have given the Rangers fits.

If Joe pulls off the upset today, he then sends out James Shields in Game 2 and Shields has definitely done well against Texas this year, beating them twice in a one week span in August/September.

When these two teams met in the ALDS a year ago, the visiting team won every game for the first time in MLB post-season history. I sure as heck hope that doesn’t come true again in 2011.

As of this writing, we’re eight hours away from the first pitch. PLAY BALL!

A New Record

True in two ways: The Rangers set a new team record for most wins in a season with their 96th in the 2011 finale. Also true is effective today, that record is 0-0 and all that counts now is getting to 11 wins before anyone else.

I’ve been wrong this season. A lot. Early in the year, I thought Houston would surprise a lot of people this year. Well, they surprised me with how truly awful they were. Most recently, I told my son, 18-Year-Ranger-Fan, that it was doubtful the R’s would set a single season win record, as it would require winning out on the road against the Angels. Wrong again (happily). Lastly, for over a week, my mindset has been on a first round match-up with the Yankees and, if not the Yankees, then the Red Sox. Guess again, genius. Instead we get a rematch with the Tampa Bay Rays, with the only difference being this time, the Rangers have home field advantage. Of course, last year the road team won every game of the series so that might not be a good thing.

What the Rangers have done in September offensively has been nothing short of incredible. Get ready for this eye-popper: In the month of September, the Rangers AS A TEAM has hit .320, with 49 home runs in 25 games for an OPS of .916. I believe it was reported in the game telecast that it has been the single best offensive month by a major league team since 1946.

And it hasn’t been just power. Only the Orioles and the Rays had more stolen bases in September than Texas as well. On the other side of the coin, Texas also led the AL in pitching in September with a 3.22 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and 219 strikeouts in 221 innings. Only the Tigers had a better September record than the Rangers and that was only because they played one more game (20-6 vs. 19-6 for Texas).

Plain and simple, this team is on a roll. The Rangers ended the regular season with three players hitting 30 HR’s or more: Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and, with 4 HR’s in the last two games, Mike Napoli, who had a career year in 2011. Nelson Cruz came within two feet last night of being the 4th 30-HR batter in the Rangers line-up. Beltre and Michael Young both eclipsed the century mark in RBI’s, with Josh Hamilton in the 90’s and Cruz at 89. In the pitching department, all 5 Rangers starters ended the year with at least 13 wins. I haven’t checked, but I’d wager the Rangers had more starts from their starting five than any team in baseball. They were remarkably sturdy in 2011.

All that goes out the window starting tomorrow when the ALDS begins at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington at 4:07 PM CDT. Texas was 5-4 vs. the Rays in 2011, with three of the wins by shutout. CJ Wilson, who was 2-0 against Tampa this season, gets the ball in Game 1. The Rays haven’t determined who will face him, but it won’t be David Price, who pitched the finale last night against the Yankees. I’m willing to bet it’ll be James Shields, who has half of his team’s wins against the Rangers this year.

Ideally, the Rays and Red Sox would have had a one game playoff today, thus giving Texas an advantage with a better-rested bullpen. That was not to be. Still, I like the Rangers’ chances in this first round.

Day off today. Showtime tomorrow. Bring it on.