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.
Why not yet another missive on the travails of Michael Young? He’s everyone’s favorite punching bag this season. According to most sabermetrics, Young’s weak bat is exceeded only by the Royals’ Jeff Francoeur among everyday American League players. Even I have thoughtfully decided now wouldn’t be a bad time to give Mr. Ranger a few more days off than he’s been getting.
Well, we all know it’s not going to happen, no matter how much we may wish it. Ron Washington is sticking with Michael Young and it’s doubtful he gets any rest until the Rangers clinch their third consecutive American League West crown.
Inside every fan’s dark cloud comes a silver lining. IF (and it is a BIG if) the Texas Rangers succeed in making the Fall Classic for the third consecutive year, this could turn out to be a bright spot. Most folks look at the designated hitter in the American League as a huge advantage in the World Series. Not me. I don’t have the stats to back it up, but I think the National League has two built-in advantages going into the World Series every year. The first is their pitchers are used to hitting regularly. No such luck for AL pitchers, whose experience batting has always ended mid-season with the end of interleague play.
The other advantage is surprisingly at DH. The National League representative may not have anyone used to playing DH in a game, but they do have a lot of players used to coming off the bench at a moment’s notice to pinch-hit. American League baseball doesn’t employ pinch-hitters as often, so in the American League, the Designated Hitter position often goes to one player the majority of the time.
Here’s the conundrum: When a team employs a more or less full-time DH, it makes for a HUGE disadvantage in a National League park in a World Series, because the DH is usually a player who provides big offensive numbers. The only way to take advantage of those numbers is to play the DH in the field at the NL stadiums. You keep the offense but most of the time you pray they don’t hurt you defensively.
Look at the Rangers’ first two trips to the Series. In 2010, Texas used Vladimir Guerrero as their primary Designated Hitter. These are pretty simple figures, but when you add Guerrero’s runs scored plus his RBI and subtract his HR’s (which count as both a Run and an RBI), big bad Vlad was involved in 25.1% of the runs the Rangers scored. If you just take his RBI for the season, Vlad knocked in 14.6% of the Rangers runs in 201o. Guerrero’s offensive contributions pretty much demanded he play the field against the Giants in San Francisco. As we all know, Guerrero botched plays in each of the first two games in right field, helping contribute to the Giants taking a 2-0 Series lead en route to a World Championship.
Fast forward to 2011, Michael Young’s first season as the Rangers’ primary Designated Hitter. Young had an excellent 2011, batting over .300 and knocking in over 100 runs. In the Runs Scored + RBI-HR category, Young was involved with 22.6% of the Rangers scoring output. In RBI alone, he was responsible for knocking in 12.3% of the Rangers runs. As a defender, Young was the Rangers’ super utility infielder, but other than second base, he didn’t excel defensively anywhere and, in fact, had negative defensive stats. Still, Young’s offensive contributions demanded he be in the field when Texas played in St. Louis. There, Young was the Rangers’ first baseman. Texas nearly won the Series anyway, but Young had two errors, both in the critical Game 6.
Now we’re in 2012 and Young is having easily the worst year of his career. Instead of 22.6%, so far he’s factored into only 16.6% of the Rangers runs. And instead of 12.3%, he’s only knocked in 8% of the Texas runs on the season. The Rangers continue to win, though. They have the best record in the American League while playing Michael Young every day, mainly at DH. But if the Rangers make it to the Series again, think about this. Now Michael Young’s offense isn’t nearly as vital to the Rangers winning a game as it was just a year ago. Which means it isn’t as vital for Wash to put Young in defensively when the Rangers are playing in the National League Park. Texas, if Wash can resist the temptation, can go with their strongest defensive line-up at the NL park without sacrificing a lot of offense. That’s something that wasn’t true the first two times.
Just a few tidbits to pass along:
BELTRE WINS TWICE!
Adrian Beltre has garnered two post-season honors. Beltre received his third career Gold Glove for his work at third base for the Rangers in 2011. Beltre made only 11 errors at the hot corner this year and resembles a human vacuum cleaner over there. Beltre also was given the Silver Slugger Award, signifying the best offensive performance by an AL third sacker.
While congrats to Adrian are certainly in order, it’s kind of strange to think this is probably the only post-season honor coming the Rangers way this year. In 2010, Texas had the AL MVP (Josh Hamilton), the AL Rookie of the Year (Neftali Feliz) and the Designated Hitter of the Year (Vlad Guerrero). Because Texas had such a powerful team not dominated by any one player save for Mike Napoli, who didn’t play often enough to qualify for an honor, they’ll just have to be content with Beltre’s two awards. Unless Ron Washington pulls off an upset and wins Manager of the Year.
MADDUX ON THE OUTS?
Nobody wants to get rid of Mike Maddux as the Texas Pitching Coach, but there’s a possibility it could happen. Most people are looking to advance in their career, and Maddux would love to manage someday. The Rangers have given permission to the Red Sox and the Cubs to talk to Maddux about their open managerial positions. Maddux currently has laryngitis, but says he will talk to the clubs once he gets his voice back. I don’t see Maddux as the frontrunner for the Cubs job. I’ve had it in the back of my brain ever since rumors of Theo Epstein’s moving to Chicago became public that he plans on bringing Terry Francona with him to the Windy City. I could be wrong, but it makes a lot of sense. I do think Maddux has a good shot at the Red Sox job. It would make sense for a team like Boston, who is already in a contending position, to try to spirit away someone from their closest competitors. The Rangers success means more teams will be going after their personnel. Mike, I don’t want to see you leave, but if you get a managerial offer, I understand you’d be a fool not to take it.
The Rangers made their first off-season roster moves Wednesday. Darren O’Day was placed on waivers and claimed by the Baltimore Orioles, who are beginning to look like Texas rangers Lite with O’Day joining Chris Davis, Tommy Hunter and Clay Rapada. I think Koji Uehara ends up going back to Baltimore too. Texas also decided to cut ties with Andres Blanco, Esteban german and Eric Hurley, who made quite a comeback in AAA Round Rock this year after missing almost three years of baseball. Also released was Omar Beltre, a minor league pitcher who was caught up in the phony marriage scandal that also had Alexi Ogando in its clutches a number of years ago. Beltre missed all of 2011 due to medical reasons and could still sign a minor league deal with the Rangers.
STILL TO COME
After taking a few days to get myself over the heartbreaking loss to the Cardinals, I surprised myself by having quite a few post ideas floating around in my brain. Coming soon, a defense of Ron Washington in Games 6 & 7 of the World Series and thoughts about the Free Agents of 2011: Who might the Rangers target, who might they lose. The Washington post (Ooo, very punny: Washington Post!) will be up in the next couple of hours. Be on the lookout. Oh, and there’s a new poll over on the right hand side of the page. Make sure you vote!
It would be easy to explain away the Rangers’ back to back losses by identical 12-4 scores to the Yankees as a team that’s in a pitching slump. Indeed, you could go back to the Minnesota series before this one and see further evidence of this. The Twins scored 14 runs in the last two games of that set before sending Texas off to Gotham. Colby Lewis, Alexi Ogando and Derek Hollandall had bad starts. The bullpen hasn’t been much better. 38 runs given up in a 4-game span is not a good thing.
It would also be easy to place some blame on the offense as well. Nelson Cruz has been stuck below .250 for most of the season and is currently mired in an 0-18 slide with ten strikeouts (according to Dallas media reports, Cruz has now discovered a problem in his mechanics to explain the current slump. We’ll see.) Ian Kinsler, as previously mentioned in this space, has easily the worst road batting average in the majors, although he lifted it somewhat last night with a two for three, two walk performance. Add those consistent problems to Josh Hamilton having a mini-slump and you have a recipe for offensive troubles as well.
It would be easy to look at these things as the most likely culprits as the Rangers enter Thursday’s getaway day game with the Yankees with a slim one game AL West lead over the Mariners. To a certain extent, I agree with the assessment. There is, however, something else missing that I hadn’t been able to put my finger on until watching last night’s debacle.Texas is missing Joy.
Many may scoff at such a notion. Baseball is a numbers-driven game. Whether it’s looking at the basics of BA, ERA and OBP or expanding your horizons to FIP, WAR and BABIP, most of us who love the game also find using the numbers is the best way to explain a team’s fortunes. We tend to take the human element out of it.
Indeed, it is a way of life in society to approach any job as something you don’t take personally. It’s business, after all. It has to be done and, in fact, it usually gets done better when you don’t let your feelings get in your way. We know this all the while telling ourselves and others if you find something you love doing, you’ll never “work” a day in your life.
I’m not a scientist or researcher by nature, but I’m willing to bet if you look at recordings of last year’s Rangers games and compare them to this year’s, you’ll see a certain spontaneous joy missing, whether the Rangers won or lost the games. In 2010, we had the “Claw and Antlers”, a way the team had fun and honored each other for good hustle and speed plays. That has been the most noticeable absence in 2011. It could be because the fad has run its course.
Much is written about the word “chemistry” as it applies to sports teams and whether it really exists. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, but I certainly think a job is more enjoyable if everyone you work with attacks it with a positive mindset. Say what you will about his decreasing production as the season wore on last year, but few would argue Vlad Guerrero’s ever-present enthusiasm wasn’t infectious.
The departure of Clint Hurdle as hitting coach to become manager of the Pirates could be an explanation as well. Hurdle’s success with Pittsburgh thus far speaks volumes for how well he motivates players. Still, to a man Rangers players have talked about how much they love playing for their skipper, Ron Washington.
[The question is, does the apparent lack of joy being exhibited by the Rangers of late have to do with their playing underneath their capabilities? Or are they playing under their capabilities because they’re taking themselves too seriously as defending AL Champions?It is a chicken and egg conundrum, to be sure.
Look at this team top to bottom and you’d be hard-pressed to find any reason for them to be a mere three games over .500 at this point of the season, even taking the DL stints of Cruz and Hamilton into account.
I think the answer is as clear as the classic “Casey At The Bat”. There is no joy inArlington. I honestly believe if it stays that way, there will be no World Series, and maybe even no playoffs, in 2011.
I have this friend. I’ll call him Jay Otto. Like me, Jay Otto is a big-time Rangers fan. Unlike me, Jay Otto believes he has all the answers when it comes to the Rangers fortunes and misfortunes. He has no problem letting anyone and everyone know what he thinks is best for the Rangers.
Problem is, Jay Otto is seldom right. Sometimes his observations are so off the wall, it’s hard to believe anyone can take him seriously. But they do. Prowl on any team’s message board and you’re sure to find you own version of Jay Otto.
From time to time this season, I’ll let you know what the moves for the Rangers would be in the world of Jay Otto. This seems like a good time to touch base with my friend, since Friday’s rain-out leaves little else to write about.
You’d think being 6-0 would have Jay a pretty content guy, but you’d be wrong. His little observations have made it all the way to the national stage. Anyway, here’s my last conversation with Jay.
40-Year Fan: Jay, you’ve got to be a pretty happy camper with the Rangers 6-0.
Jay Otto: Are you kidding me? I can’t believe how stupid the Rangers are!
40: What could the Rangers possibly do to improve on a 6-0 record?
Jay Otto: Move Nelson Cruz from 6th to 4th in the line-up, that’s what!
40: Why’s that?
JO: Beltre ain’t hitting, that’s why! It’s right in front of you. Cruz has four home runs, but they’re all solo jobs. That’s cuz he’s hitting 6th!
40: Yes, but Beltre has a grand slam. I was there. I saw it myself.
JO: Move Cruz in there. It’s so obvious to anyone. At least move him to 5th. No way he should be batting behind Michael Young.
40: Yes, but Ron Washington said Cruz still hadn’t found his stroke at the end of Spring Training, so he put Young in the 5 hole until Cruz got straightened out. Now he’s hitting, but Texas is winning, too, so why change what’s working?
JO: Move Cruz to 5th or 4th and the Rangers win 15-5 instead of 12-5. They beat Seattle 9-4 instead of 6-4. It’s as plain as the nose on your face!
40: What difference does it make as long as the Rangers are winning?
Jay Otto: Be winning by more if they move Cruz…
40: OK, Jay. Let’s move on. Aren’t you glad Michael Young didn’t get traded? He’s started out pretty good as well.
Jay Otto: Trade Michael Young to the Mets from Frankie Rodriguez, straight up.
40: And why would the Rangers want to do that?
JO: Make the trade so we’ve got a closer.
40: We already have a closer. Pretty good one by the name of Feliz…
JO: Make Feliz a starter. Make Frankie Rodriguez the closer. Case closed.
40: Why would the Rangers want a pitcher with the type of baggage Rodriguez has?
JO: Make Feliz the starter. And it gives David Murphy and Mike Napoli more at bats.
40: But the Rangers offense is as versatile as it can be right now. Get rid of Young, then what happens if Murphy or Napoli get injured? Right now, almost anyone on the offense could get injured and there’d be little noticeable drop in the offensive line-up.
JO: Why do I talk to you again? You make no sense whatsoever, you know. Everyone knows what I’m saying is best.
40: Except for Jon Daniels, Nolan Ryan, Ron Washington…
JO: Fire ’em all. They don’t know how to build a winning ball club.
40: And yet, we were in the World Series last year.
JO: Would’ve won it if they’d listened to me…
40: By the way, weren’t you the one who told me in the off-season the Rangers ought to go out and replace Vlad with Manny Ramirez? Aren’t you glad that didn’t happen now? Jay? Jay, are you still there?
Wonder why we got cut off?
It took 18 games last year for Julio Borbon to draw his first walk. He drew one in Game #1 in 2011.
Ian Kinsler hit one out of the park for the first time in 2010 in the Rangers’ 40th game. He did it in the first game in 2011, as the first batter of the season for Texas. The last Ranger to lead off the team’s season with a home run was Oddibe McDowell in 1987.
On the other hand… Josh Hamilton grounded into a double play in his first game of 2011. He didn’t hit into a twin killing for the first time last year until July 3rd.
Welcome to Opening Day at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington! The American League pennant was raised about 15 minutes before game time and Texas proceeded to show the same resiliance they showed in 2010 in beating the Red Sox 9-5.
Twice the good guys came back from two-run deficits. Mike Napoli made the same great first impression on Rangers fans as Vlad Guerrero did a year ago, hitting a 3-run shot that temporarily put Texas up 5-4.
Nelson Cruz hit his second Opening Day bomb in as many years. 18-Year-Ranger-Fan suggested Cruz’ home runs should be called “Cruz Missiles.” I agree 100%!
Pretty much everyone did what fans expect them to do day in and day out. Michael Young was the only Ranger not to reach base in the game, but from the descriptions I heard, he scorched the ball almost every time up. They just went right at people.
David Murphy’s two-run double in the 8th proved the game-winner, making Darren Oliver a winner in a game in which he gave up a big fly to Big Popi to tie the game. CJ Wilson wasn’t great but he would have had a better line if not for Julio Borbon’s boneheaded error in the first inning, which led to two unearned runs.
The worst part about all of this is how hit and miss it was for me to catch the game! It started while I was at work and darned if people didn’t keep interrupting me because they wanted me to do my job. REALLY PEOPLE??? CAN’T YOU SEE IT’S OPENING DAY???
After work, it was running some errands before heading north on my way to see Saturday’s game in person, so I missed Ortiz’ game tying homer.
Finally, to add insult to injury, pretty much every game on XM features the home team’s radio announcers. For some reason, though, I had to listen to the end of the game with the Red Sox broadcast team. They did say some nice things about the Rangers, but I really wanted Eric Nadel!
But hey, it’s an Opening Day win and it’s a feeling you just have to savor, even when you couldn’t catch every minute. Opening Day wins give one visions of pennants. Opening Day losses often give visions of nightmares to come. I don’t even want to know what Indians fans are feeling after their opener!
I can’t wait to see Saturday’s game in person and see the team get their AL Championship rings
The season is here. We won the opener. All’s right with the world.
In the afterglow of seeing the team I wanted to win the Super Bowl succeed in doing so, combined with the luck of winning the office numbers pool in said game, comes the first official word that Michael Young has told the Rangers he is unhappy with his role on the 2011 club and feels moving on will be in his best interests.
Just a day ago, I expounded on all the speculation concerning a Young deal, how there were no hard facts and, particularly, no word from the man himself on such a deal.
Now, the Fort Worth Star Telegram is reporting Young has made his feelings known to the Rangers brass and a trade is being pursued.
Looking at other fan sites as I do, there seems to be a pretty even split amongst Rangers fans about Michael Young. They even seem to resemble opinions of the George W. Bush administration- those on Young’s side love him and feel he can do no wrong and the others hate him (many amongst the SABR community seem to make a case for Young being one of the most over-rated players in history).
I’m on the side of being for Young, but perhaps on the more moderate side. I admire Young and feel he has a lot left in the tank, but I also would welcome a trade IF it goes to improving this club for 2011. And in this case, I don’t think it will.
Young demanding a trade puts the Rangers in a position of weakness. They would have to settle for less than what they should get for a player of Young’s caliber AND will have to eat a good portion of his $16 million dollar a year salary over the next three years to boot. Not a win-win situation, is it?
I can understand Young’s position- he still sees himself as an asset on the field, being a fulltime DH now could affect how much he could get in his next contract three years from now, maybe even feeling disrespected by the Rangers front office- but that doesn’t make me any more anxious or willing to trade him.
Some say leadership on a team is over-rated. I disagree. Since businesses always use sports analogies, I’ll use a business analogy. I could have a great boss- someone who keeps me motivated and helps me enjoy working for the company- but sometimes you need that person in your own ranks who does the stuff the boss wants you to do that you really don’t want to do. They do it, they do it without complaint and help you see how that helped the company. That is Michael Young.
If Young indeed is traded, I don’t see the people on the 2011 roster who will be that guy for the Rangers. Josh Hamilton is the bona-fide star of the team, but he doesn’t embrace that leadership role. I think he doesn’t have to change much to be the true leader on this team, but I can’t help but think Josh has a mental block that he wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be followed because of his past. Elvis Andrus is said to have leadership qualities, but he’s still too young for the job (no pun intended). The next closest I see to that type of leader is Matt Treanor, a career back-up.
What worries me is the leadership void that losing Young (and Vlad Guerrero before him) and the effect that will have on the team as it tries to defend its first AL Championship. Replacing Young and Guerrero is more than replacing the numbers they put up in 2010. Even if we replace the numbers, this year’s Rangers might not have what it takes. And that would be a shame.
NOTE ON A PREVIOUS POST: A couple weeks ago, I expounded on the case of non-Ranger and minor league free agent Matt Miller and how I hoped he would find a taker considering his minor league numbers. Turns out he was no longer a free agent at all. Despite my constant searches online (sometimes it’s not as easy to find stuff as you think), it was only two days ago I discovered Miller had signed a free agent contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in November. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with a 40-Man roster slot, but the Phillies aren’t deep in the outfield slots so he could get a chance with a strong Spring Training.