Tagged: Justin Smoak

Looking Ahead To 2015: Designated Hitter

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.

Vladimir Guerrero

Vladimir Guerrero

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.


Michael Young

Michael Young

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.

Mitch Moreland

Mitch Moreland

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.


Does Wash Favor The Veterans?

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.

Wash’s figure of five came very close to being a list of seven, as Julio Borbon and Travis Metcalf both fell less than 15 AB’s away from the magic number of 200.

So does Wash favor his veterans? No more than any other manager in his situation. And maybe even a little less.

Feliz Martes (Happy Tuesday)

With two outs in the 4th inning last night, Justin Smoak got Seattle’s first hit against Neftali Feliz. Not just their first hit of the game. Their first hit. EVER.

 Yep, until that 4th inning single, the Mariners were oh-fer Neftali Feliz’ entire career, going back to 2009. By the time it ended, the Mariners had put together an 0-58 streak with six walks.

 Think about that. Oh-for-58 is the equivalent of two complete game no-hitters with another inning and a third into a third one before managing to get a hit off Feliz.

 Most of us were pretty sure it would happen in this game. After all, the previous 0-48 had come against a Neftali Feliz who only closed games, an inning at a time. This time they would be facing Feliz as a starter, in his first game as a starter, and as a starter who never really developed his secondary pitches as a reliever.


Neftali Feliz, 5th Starter

They managed to walk twice against Feliz in the first, but a Justin Smoak DP grounder put an end to the inning. Three up three down in the second. Three up three down in the third. Two up two down in the fourth. Incredibly the streak lasted 3 2/3 innings before Smoak’s single finally put the Mariners out of their misery.

 Meanwhile, the Rangers took the lead in the second on an Adrian Beltre double, a fielder’s choice that caught Beltre in a rundown between second and third but allowed Michael Young to reach second before the tag was applied, a wild pitch and a ground single by David Murphy that just got by the shortstop, plating Young with the first run of the game. The only run of the game.

 Feliz and the Rangers made the run hold up. Nefti’s first start consisted of seven innings of 4-hit ball. His most effective pitch? One of his heretofore unestablished secondary pitches, the change-up.

 Mike Adams followed with one of his patented 1-2-3 eighth innings. Joe Nathan, who took the Rangers only loss so far in Game 2, came back to retire Seattle in order in the 9th to pick up Save #2.

 When long reliever Scott Feldman pitched the 9th inning of Yu Darvish’s start on Monday, I was worried. I knew Feliz was making his first ever major league start on Tuesday. If he had a rocky start, Feldman wouldn’t be available to pitch multiple innings. Turns out Feldman wasn’t needed at all Tuesday.

 If last night’s effort is a portent of things to come, this could be a very good pitching staff indeed.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow: Davis, Hunter Sent To O’s For Uehara

While all eyes were on the Rangers in their pursuit of the PadresHeath 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.

Goodbye and Good Luck, Chris Davis

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.

Now, In The Horn Section…

Building a good team is like putting together a good rock band. You usually have one person fronting the band (like Bon Jovi), one or two others everyone knows and who occasionally get their own songs to sing (like George Harrison and Ringo Starr) and then the ones you whose names you seldom remember (or even know) but play an integral part in the band’s success (like the horn section of Chicago).

The Rangers offensive line-up is a good example of the rock band approach. Josh Hamilton’s your lead singer. Other members of the band who get their times to shine on guitars and vocals are Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre.

There are the back-up vocalists: Mike Napoli, Elvis Andrus, Julio Borbon, Yorvit Torrealba. These are the guys you hear on almost every song but they seldom overpower the lead singers.

Then there’s the horn section. A group like Chicago wouldn’t be Chicago without the horn section, yet they are as anonymous as anyone. For the Rangers, Mitch Moreland is in the horn section (along with David Murphy).

Moreland, like Ian Kinsler, was a lowly 17th round draft pick for the Rangers. If things had gone the way they’d planned all along, Moreland wouldn’t even be wearing a Texas uniform in 2011. He might not even be in the organization at all. Instead, Chris Davis was supposed to be manning first base for the next ten years in Arlington.

Davis, however, failed to take advantage of his many opportunities. His high strikeout rate and low average led to a demotion midway through the 2009 campaign. When he got off to an equally slow start in 2010, he was jettisoned to AAA early in favor of Justin Smoak. When Smoak went to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal, Davis had yet another shot and couldn’t convert it, so the Rangers brought up Mitch Moreland for a shot. Moreland hasn’t relinquished his position since.

At the end of the season, when everyone talks about how the best players in the Rangers rock band performed, it will be easy to forget the horn section. The odds are, however, that Mitch Moreland will have a higher batting average than some of them, he’ll have more home runs than some of them, he may even wind up with more RBI’s than some of them.  

Currently, Moreland is third on the team in batting average, fourth in home runs, fourth in runs scored, fourth in doubles and third in walks. Not bad for the anonymous horn section.

Sharing Space

Chris Davis is unhappy.

Much of the unhappiness is his own doing, yet his feelings are understandable.

Davis burst on the scene in 2008 following a meteoric rise through the Rangers system. When they could hold him back no longer, Davis came to the majors and tantalized the fan base with a .285 average, 17 HR’s and 55 RBI over 80 games. Rangers fans were positive Davis would make us forget about Mark Teixeira in short order.

Sadly, it seemed to be a tease. Davis at the outset of 2009 and was sent down on July 5th with a .202 average. After almost two months of scorching the ball in AAA, Davis came back and recovered enough to compile a .239 average with 21 HR’s and 59 RBI.

Last season, the Rangers were in no mood to fiddle around with slumping players. Frank Francisco was replaced as closer two weeks into the season after a few blown saves. By the end of April, Davis was at an abysmal .188 and he was sent down to AAA again, replaced by Justin Smoak.

When Smoak was traded to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal, Davis came back up July 9th, but by the 28th, he was still only hitting .188. Again Davis was sent down, this time replaced by Mitch Moreland.

Now in 2011, Moreland has pretty much secured the first base starters job. Davis, meanwhile, has had an awesome spring. After yesterday’s 3-3 showing, Davis is now hitting .405 with 3 HR’s and 11 RBI. Unfortunately for him, Moreland is hitting .359 with 2 HR’s and 7 RBI of his own.

There is no real place on the Rangers roster for Davis right now. By all accounts, he is one of the hardest workers in the Rangers organization. His defense at first base is excellent and he’s no slouch at third either. But, there’s no place for him unless there’s an injury.

Ron Washington has been paying attention. That’s probably why last night’s exhibition game against the Rockies featured Mike Napoli at catcher, Davis at first base and Moreland in right field. From a Rangers standpoint, this is a good problem to have. From Davis’ standpoint, not so much. Under such a scenario, you might envision Wash compromising on his “defense first” catchers approach and send Matt Treanor packing. Maybe, but I don’t think he’d pull that trigger.

I’d hate to see Davis leave, especially if the Rangers got little in return for him. On the other hand, I’d hate to see him force a roster move and once again not have him come through.

Davis has one option year left, Moreland has two. I actually wonder if the Rangers might consider sending Moreland back to AAA to give Davis one last chance. No matter how it goes, one of those two players will probably be sent down to AAA to start the season and neother one will deserve it.

Another Sharing Space Note: I got inspired to start this blog in two ways: one was the movie “Julie and Julia”. The other was Jamey Newberg, who was one of the original Texas Rangers bloggers. Today, Jamey and I share a space in a way. We both contributed our Rangers thoughts, independently of each other, for the blog of a fellow member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. You can check it out here:  http://www.cardinal70.com/playing-pepper/playing-pepper-2011-texas-rang.php


New Year, New Rangers

My, what a Christmas break I took. Working in a business where the holidays are the busiest time of the year, it’s a good thing baseball season isn’t in full swing. I don’t think I could survive Christmas and baseball at the same time!

Much has passed since my last missive. The Rangers lost out on Cliff Lee in a surprising last minute move that proves one thing- when you’re talking about the dollars a Cliff Lee is going to earn over the next five years, the deciding factor is obviously going to be- the city where Lee’s wife finds it easiest to get around in. In essence, that’s why Lee was willing to take less money and less years in the contract. For those of us who are married, can you honestly say how your spouse would feel wouldn’t enter into your decision? No matter how you slice it, Lee was going to be richer than Croesus, so why not make sure the wife is happy too? Win-win.

Meanwhile the Rangers moved on in ways I wasn’t even fathoming at the start of the off-season. After missing out on not only Lee but Zack Greinke as well, all Texas did in the pitching department is sign reliever Arthur Rhodes to a two-year deal (at age 41!) and inked Brandon Webb to a one-year, incentive-laden contract.

Rhodes surprised me. He had an awesome year for the Reds in 2010, but I don’t see him in anything but the same role that Darren Oliver currently has with the Rangers- a 7th/8th inning lefthanded set-up guy. I guess if they split the duty, the thought is neither will wear down in the second half as much as they both did in 2010.

Webb is a less expensive gamble than Rich Harden was a year ago (though one at the time I probably wouldn’t have labelled Harden as much of a gamble as he turned out to be). I won’t bore you with the consesnsus- huge upside if he’s healthy. Only time will tell.

The aforementioned Harden has signed on with the A’s, a team he has had success with in the past. Now he will try to succeed as a bullpen pitcher for Oakland. The A’s also signed Brandon McCarthy who never realized his potential with the Rangers due to injury. With the A’s starting staff, I don’t see much of a role for McCarthy in Oakland either.

Max Ramirez, a catcher who saw part-time play with the Rangers over parts of the past three seasons, was dropped from the 40-man roster and has been claimed by the Red Sox, who almost got him a year ago except Mike Lowell couldn’t pass a physical in Texas. Pitcher Clay Rapada was also dropped from the 40-man and may or may not clear waivers.

Which leads us to the most immediate moves- the signing of Adrian Beltre and the agreement of Michael Young to move to DH/Utility Guy, thus also meaning the end of Vlad Guerrero’s one-year career with Texas. Popular opinion is- defensive upgrade, good move short-term, but a worry about the length of the contract (6 years).

Defensively, this appears to be a HUGE upgrade. Offensively, I would call it a slight downgrade. You’re basically swapping out Beltre for Guerrero, plus Young’s a year older. Odds are that part of the order will regress. HOWEVER, if Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz can stay healthy and Mitch Moreland continues to improve, the overall offensive attack should be fine, even when figuring Josh Hamilton can’t possibly improve on his 2010.

Texas will head into 2011 as the prohibitive favorites to repeat as AL West champs. The Angels weren’t able to upgrade, losing out on both Carl Crawford and Beltre, although they will still be a better offensive team if Kendry Morales returns strong. The A’s added a little offense to their already potent pitching staff, but not enough to scare anyone (although their starting pitching is scary). About all the Mariners added offensively was Jack Cust (although I think Justin Smoak is going to be a thorn in our side for the next few years).

Entering 2011, it appears the Rangers only have one or two open roster spots. Catchers will be newly acquired Yorvit Torrealba and returning Matt Treanor. Infield is Moreland, Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Beltre, with Young and Andres Blanco to back up. Outfield is Hamilton, Cruz, David Murphy and Julio Borbon. That’s twelve players already. While Young will work out some at first base, the only real need in the field appears to be a right-handed Moreland type who can back up at first and in the outfield.

The relief staff is pretty set as well, with Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Frank Francisco, Oliver, Rhodes, and Darren O’Day. Starters are a little more fluid. Definites are Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson, with the remaining three coming from a group of Derek Holland, Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman, Matt Harrison and Webb. That leaves the two odd men out of the rotation battling with Michael Kirkman, Mark Lowe and rookie Tanner Scheppers for the long relief slot.

The starting rotation is the scariest thought. Losing out on Lee leaves the Rangers with no clear ace, although Wilson and Lewis are no slouches. The Rangers could really use Webb to eat up a lot of innings and Derek Holland to finally start realizing his promise. Otherwise, GM Jon Daniels will be doing more mid-season shopping.

I can’t help but feel there could still be a trade happening for a starting pitcher before the Rangers head to Surprise, Arizona for spring training. While you never know what might happen on the injury front, I think the Rangers have too many proven commodities with not enough spaces for them. For example, notice how the name Chris Davis hasn’t even been mentioned for a slot? Or Taylor Teagarden? Both started 2010 with the Rangers and are on the 40-man roster, but aren’t even considered as possibilities to break camp with Texas in April.

Starting to gear up for another season of Rangers baseball. Already have four regular season games on my travel schedule (double last year’s regular season number), as well as a trip to the Rangers’ FanFest later this month (hope to have plenty of pictures and maybe an interview or two to share). I’m still mulling a new name for the blog. Be looking for it by the open of the regular season.