Archive for Rangers

Yu Darvish’s Stellar Return Puts Texas in Position for October

Here’s the good news: the Texas Rangers have the best record in the American League and a seven-game division lead. Here’s the less-good news: our playoff projections give them roughly one-in-10 odds of relinquishing their division lead before the end of the season due, in part, to the worst rest-of-season winning percentage projection of any current first-place team. One of the primary reasons projection systems are down on the Rangers relative to other first-place teams is that they’ve struggled with run prevention this season and a key cause of that struggle has been their difficulty filling out a five-man rotation with healthy, reliable starting pitching. However, the top of their rotation features a stealth Cy Young candidate in a weak field, Cole Hamels, and an ace who is increasingly looking like another Tommy John success story: Yu Darvish.

Since rejoining the rotation for good after the All-Star break, Darvish has been among the best pitchers in the American League on the strength of a 2.70 ERA, 3.32 RA9 and a major-league-leading 28.0-point strikeout- and walk-rate differential (K-BB%). But one of the most encouraging things to see with Darvish is that he’s been able to go deep into games. It wasn’t until his most recent two starts that he crossed the 95-pitch threshold this year, and yet he’s currently riding an active six-game streak of going six innings or more in his starts. Things have been going extraordinarily well of late for Darvish and it’s worth taking a look at what has and hasn’t changed for Darvish and whether or not he’s truly “back.”

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Insuring Prince Fielder

On Tuesday, we learned that Prince Fielder‘s career has come to an end following his second major neck surgery in just the last three years. Jeff Sullivan provided a fitting eulogy for Fielder’s career a couple days ago. While the news is certainly devastating for Fielder on a personal level, this post concerns another matter — namely, the potential financial implications of Fielder’s injury, both for the Texas Rangers and Fielder himself. At the heart of the matter: the nine-year, $214 million contract Fielder signed in 2012, a deal that guarantees him another $24 million annually from 2017 through 2020.

For starters, it’s important to note that Fielder is not officially retiring from baseball, but rather has been declared medically disabled and therefore is no longer considered to be physically able to play the game. This is an important distinction legally, because had Fielder voluntarily decided to retire, then he would have forfeited the roughly $104 million remaining on his contract. Instead, by being declared medically unable to play, Fielder remains entitled to the full amount he’s owed under his contract.

Because Texas reportedly has an insurance policy covering his contract in the event of injury, the Rangers will not be on the hook for the entirety of the team’s remaining financial obligation to Fielder. Instead, the club will apparently only be responsible for paying Fielder $9 million per year from 2017 to 2020, with the rest of his salary covered by the team’s insurer (who will reportedly contribute another $9 million per year) and the Detroit Tigers (who are on the hook for the final $6 million per season, based on the terms of the trade that brought Fielder to Texas in exchange for Ian Kinsler in 2013).

That having been said, although the precise terms of the Rangers’ insurance policy are not publicly available, it appears likely that this $9 million in cost savings will not come without some strings attached for the club. Moreover, it’s also possible that the team’s insurance company could still yet find a way to avoid paying some or all of its share of Fielder’s contract.

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Prince Fielder’s Baseball Career Is Over

After last season, Prince Fielder was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year. Neck problems and surgery ruined Fielder’s 2014, but he came back to run a 124 wRC+ over 158 games played. Fielder was plenty deserving of the award, and it looked like the 31-year-old had his career back on track. But this season, Fielder developed symptoms similar to the ones he had before. He was diagnosed with about the same problem, requiring a second surgery, and now Fielder’s playing days are done. Though he’s not actually retiring, he’s also not receiving clearance to return, which means functionally the same thing. The difference is important to the Rangers, but it doesn’t matter to the fans.

Situations such as these are always difficult to discuss from the outside. We know Fielder as a baseball player, and we know baseball players by their numbers. Fielder, right now, doesn’t care about his numbers; he cares about his own ability to move. He cares about what reduced flexibility could mean for his quality of life. It’s important to understand that being declared medically disabled means there’s something wrong with an actual person. As of today, Prince Fielder is one of us, and he’s hurting. Three months ago, he turned 32.

So, there’s no way for us to know what Fielder is truly going through. There’s no real way for us to connect beyond the shallowest of terms. I think the best we can do is to wish Fielder well, and to say that in his chosen line of work, he was outstanding for several years, a hitter sufficiently complete to overcome some obvious drawbacks.

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Three Ways to a Super Sinker

Try to imagine the ideal sinker. What do you see? Probably a pitch that sits in the high 90s, right? And features tremendous sink and fade. And induces ground ball after ground ball. And, because it’s being thrown with max effort, probably one coming out of a reliever’s hand, right?

If you’re imagining a pitch that meets all four of those criteria, you probably see Blake Treinen throwing it. Or Sam Dyson. Or Zach Britton. If not, you should be.

If you limit the pool of commonly used sinkers to those which average 94 or more mph and then sort for sink, those three names soar to the top. And each gets to that movement in a different way.

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Trade Deadline 2016 Omnibus Post

As it has been the past few years, the 2016 non-waiver trade deadline brought about a flurry of activity that was hard to keep up with even if it was the only thing you were doing. Since most of us have other things that we have to or would like to occupy our time with, we figured we would save you some hassle and create an omnibus post with all of our trade deadline content so that you have it all in one place. For clarity’s sake, I’m going to limit this to articles about trades that actually took place.

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Rangers Put Finishing Touches On Title-Contending Roster

It doesn’t really matter how you think the Rangers got here. Whether you think it’s been team skill or team luck, whether you believe more in the third-best record or 14th-best run differential, today is the first day of August, and only the Cubs have a bigger division lead around the rest of baseball. The way things are set up, the Rangers are almost certainly going to the playoffs. They need to hang tight, sure, but they’ve been free to build for a playoff series. They sit in an enviable position.

The front office has been busy. A few days ago, they brought in Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez. Monday, they paid for Carlos Beltran. And most significantly, they’ve now also paid for Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress. This post is about that last move, and obviously, the key is Lucroy, who’s looked like an excellent fit for the Rangers for months. Lucroy will provide something the Rangers didn’t have, and they’ll get to keep him for another year in 2017. Yet don’t sleep on the Jeffress addition. He’s far from being a throw-in, and he’s going to help this team in October.

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Carlos Beltran and Texas: A Match Made in Heaven

Some trade-deadline decisions are painstakingly difficult. The line between buyer and seller can be microscopically thin and the undeniable appeal of winning win can easily tempt teams to hold onto talented players when logic dictates that selling is the right call. For the Yankees, the decision was harder than it should have been this season. For the Rangers, it was as clear as day.

The Yankees are a .500 team sitting just five-and-a-half games out of a wild-card position, and yet the decision to sell couldn’t have been more obvious to those of us on the outside without emotional or financial stakes on the line. Selling is not part of the Yankees’ M.O. They expect to win and, more often than not, they deliver on that expectation. But with a roster laden with aging veterans and little-to-no evidence of an emergent winning core, the obvious choice was for the Yankees to improve their future outlook by trading players who had minimal chances of being key contributors to the next winning Yankees team. To general manager Brian Cashman’s credit, they made the right call and returned impressive prospect value for relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Today, they cashed in another obvious trade candidate and sent Carlos Beltran to the Texas Rangers.

For the Rangers, six games up in the division despite a roster with blatant holes and an unimpressive run differential of +3, the decision to buy was an easy one. They’re a team that’s benefited from luck, but one that also possesses enough core talent that it’s more than conceivable a few roster upgrades could put this team in position to win in October. As has been discussed ad nauseam this season, the American League is lacking for obvious powerhouse postseason favorites, unlike the Senior Circuit which is starkly stratified by roster talent. Add to the mix the fact that the Rangers have a farm system dripping with top-tier talent and now was as good a time as any for the Rangers to push their chips all in.

A Beltran/Rangers pairing was such a strong and evident match on paper that Dave Cameron correctly predicted the trade last week (in addition to the Jeremy Jeffress acquisition!). When looking to upgrade a roster, the first place to check is a team’s weaknesses and the Rangers this season have far and away received the worst production out of the designated-hitter position in the American League thanks primarily to Prince Fielder’s ineffectiveness. With Fielder out for the season and a hitter of Beltran’s quality available on the trade market, this match was kismet.

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Brief Scouting Thoughts on the Enigmatic Dillon Tate

Dillon Tate‘s career at UC Santa Barbara began in the bullpen and he transitioned to a starting role in 2015 as a junior. He threw 103 innings in 2015, a significant increase for a raw pitcher who’d only thrown 43 the year before. Regardless, he was holding his velocity deep into games and was among those considered by the Diamondbacks for the top-overall pick in last year’s draft. Tate’s stuff waxed and waned during his junior season but was back by draft time. He was up to 98 for me at NCAA Regionals and flashing a plus breaking ball. The Rangers drafted him fourth overall shortly thereafter.

That Tate has previously dealt with and bounced back from a downward turn in his stuff is especially significant considering he’s going to have to do it again. Reports on Tate suggest the quality of his arsenal is down across the board — and, indeed, he’s struggled to miss bats for the past two months. During spring training, Tate was 94-96 with a plus slider and flashing an above-average changeup. The fastball velo has been down in the 90-93 range lately and Tate is currently sporting a 5.12 ERA at Low-A Hickory.

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Finding a Fair Price for Chris Sale

This deadline has, thus far, been pretty boring. When Andrew Cashner and Eduardo Nunez are headlining notable trades, you know it’s a slow market. There is one guy who could change all that though, and could have a significant impact on how the postseason shakes out. That guy, of course, is Chris Sale.

The White Sox ace is a legitimate difference maker; even with just a couple months left in the season, he still projects to add another +2 WAR to whatever team he’s on, not counting what he’ll do in the postseason. He’s a high-end player in the prime of his career, and since he’s signed for three more years after this one, he’s also one of the most valuable assets in the sport.

When we did the Trade Value series a few weeks ago, I ranked Sale as the 15th most valuable trade chip in the game. Here is the table that we used to summarize his value.

Team Control WAR Total +17.1
Guaranteed Dollars $12.0 M
Team Control Through 2019
Previous Rank #6
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2017 28 +6.1 $12.0 M
2018 29 +5.7 $12.5 M
2019 30 +5.3 $13.5 M
Team Option

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Scouting New Braves Prospect Travis Demeritte

The Atlanta Braves have turned one player they claimed off of waivers and another they signed to a minor-league deal into a prospect who appeared in this month’s Futures Game. Even if one is skeptical of that prospect, as I am, acquiring a tooled-up middle infielder for two pieces you acquired at next to no cost represents a success for the rebuilding Braves. The newly acquired Travis Demeritte has an interesting set of tools undermined by one potentially fatal flaw that, if remedied, could make him a valuable everyday player.

Demeritte, who turns 22 in September, is hitting .272/.352/.583 with 25 home runs at High-A High Desert. He was suspended for 80 games in 2015 for use of a banned substance, the masking agent Furosemide. He also had a 25-homer season at Hickory in 2014. Both Hickory and High Desert, along with most of the rest of the Cal League, are power paradises. A study done by Baseball America’s Matt Eddy in 2015 found those two affiliates to be the most homer-friendly parks in there respective leagues. Though Demeritte has plus raw power projection, I think it’s fair to be skeptical of his in-game power performance’s sustainability.

The raw pop comes primarily from Demeritte’s plus bat speed and a big back-side collapse that creates uppercut in his swing. His footwork is aggressive and noisy and at times he strides down the third-base side, leaving him vulnerable on the outer half, though he’s still able to take the ball the other way exclusively with his hands. He has 11 opposite-field home runs so far this season, according to MLBfarm.com.

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Projecting New Braves Prospect Travis Demeritte

A cursory glance at Travis Demeritte‘s stat line might lead one to think the he’s an offensive beast. He’s hit a powerful .272/.352/.583 at High-A this year, on the strength of an impressive 25 homers. In addition to his offensive exploits, he’s also swiped 13 bases and played solid defense at second base.

But there’s one bad attribute that largely outweighs all the good stuff: his 33% strikeout rate. Demeritte suffers from chronic contact problems, which have led to problematic strikeout rates ever since the Rangers took him in the first round back in 2013. Though he has the eighth-best wRC+ in High-A this year, he also has the fourth-worst strikeout rate. The latter suggests he’ll have a tough time replicating the former against more advanced pitching.

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Rangers Land Potential Relief Ace

An afternoon trade went down between the Rangers and the Braves. One very much legitimate way of thinking about it: Lucas Harrell isn’t very good, but the back of the Rangers’ rotation lately has been terrible, and this just goes to show how the market for any half-decent starting pitcher right now is inflated. While Travis Demeritte isn’t a top-10 prospect or anything, he is a former first-rounder having a breakthrough season in High-A. Not a lot of available 21-year-olds with that sort of power. Good get for the Braves, considering they just added Harrell for practically nothing a couple months ago.

Another very much legitimate way of thinking about it: The Rangers didn’t want to pay the high price for an established relief arm, so they found an alternative route, landing in Dario Alvarez a potential front-line lefty bullpen weapon. Harrell gets attention as the starter with experience, and Demeritte gets attention as the prospect stepping forward, but Alvarez might be a hell of a pitcher, considering you might not have ever heard of him.

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Do the Rangers Need Another Bullpen Makeover?

One year ago today, the Texas Rangers were 43-48, in third place in the American League West Division. The first-half bullpen looked terrible. Neftali Feliz started the year as the club’s closer and pitched himself right onto the disabled list and right out of town. Tanner Scheppers imploded. Anthony Bass threw more first-half relief innings than anyone, is maybe all you need to know. As a unit, the Rangers relief corps had a 4.38 ERA, a 4.48 FIP, and were in serious need of a shot in the arm if the club wanted to make a second-half run.

So, general manager Jon Daniels and the Texas front office identified a weakness and acquired right-hander Sam Dyson from Miami and left-hander Jake Diekman from Philadelphia, alongside Cole Hamels. Dyson and Diekman, paired with then-closer Shawn Tolleson and the emerging Keone Kela, formed a quartet that led a remarkable turnaround for the Texas bullpen. In the second half, Rangers relievers went from a 4.38 ERA to a 3.79. From a 4.48 FIP to a 3.98. From a bottom-five unit to a top-five unit. The team went 45-26 the rest of the way to launch themselves into the playoffs, and while the bullpen improvement wasn’t the entire reason why, it was certainly a large component.

Fast-forward to the present. The Rangers are in better standing than they were a year ago! Much better. They’re 55-40, and, according to our playoff odds, they’re looking at a better-than 50% chance to win their division with roughly a 70% chance to make the playoffs, one way or another. But lately, things haven’t been going well, and regarding the root of the struggles, the Rangers are experiencing déjà vu.

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The Most Balanced Hitter of the First Half

You’ll hear some hitters say that you can’t cover both the inside and the outside parts of the plate at the same time. We heard Marcus Semien talk about the difficulty both of being able to pull for power and also take the outside pitches to the opposite field just last week. And, to some extent, the high and low fastballs require different swings that suit different players. Brandon Moss told us about his problems with high fastballs, and Brian Dozier admitted that his swing was better against the high cheese.

It stands to reason — at least for the benefit of our exploration today — that a balanced hitter would be one who could handle pitches in all four quadrants. They would produce good results against high fastballs, low fastballs, inside fastballs, and outside fastballs. Conveniently, that sounds like something we can measure.

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Matt Bush on Velocity, Spin, and Missing Bats

Six weeks ago, August Fagerstrom wrote about how Matt Bush’s fastball approximates Aroldis Chapman’s in terms of velocity and spin rate. Not much has changed. The Texas Rangers reclamation project — Bush was in prison and hadn’t pitched for four years — is still throwing heat. This past weekend the 30-year-old right-hander sat 98-99 in a scoreless inning at Fenway Park.

Much has been made of the former first-overall pick’s fall from grace and the Rangers’ willingness to give him another chance. (The attention is warranted: Bush’s substance-abuse and legal issues are serious matters.) Far less attention has been paid to the arsenal and mindset he brings to the mound. With that in mind, I sat down with Bush to talk pitching on the Fourth of July.

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Bush on why he’s having success: “I think it’s my arm action. My fastball has a lot of life to it. I’m also doing a good job of locating; I’m hitting my spots down in the zone. A lot of times it looks like the ball is going to be down and out of the zone, but it has extra life to it, which keeps it there in the zone. Other than that, I have an understanding that it’s not easy to hit a pitch that’s thrown as hard as I throw. I’m going out there with confidence.

“My spin rate is 2,500-something. Someone had mentioned it to me, so I looked into it and was pretty surprised to find out that it’s one of the highest in the game. That’s an indicator of why my fastball is tough to square up. I’m not afraid to go right after hitters, because with that spin, the ball has life. It’s not straight. You also don’t have very much time to pull the trigger. Read the rest of this entry »


Rangers Hitters Couldn’t Be More Clutch

Thursday afternoon, I wrote about the Mets’ offense, and about how it’s been remarkably unclutch. It’s not the only thing that’s been going wrong for them, but it’s been a big deal, and it’s one of the reasons why the Mets feel like they’ve lost a lot of their momentum. Consider this a companion piece, as everything came out of the same research. If things were to keep up, then by one measure, the Mets would have the least-clutch offense since at least 1974. Similarly, if things were to keep up, then by the same measure, the Rangers would have the most-clutch offense since at least 1974.

The Rangers own the best record in the American League. As the majors go, they’re hanging around with the Cubs, and the Rangers have also staked out a massive lead in the AL West. It would be a shocker if they didn’t win the division, and whenever you have a team playing this well, there’s a lot that goes into it. What’s interesting is it’s not like the Rangers have been particularly lucky with health — players have seemingly dropped left and right. But replacements have stepped in, and the Rangers are blowing away their estimated BaseRuns record. The biggest contributor has been offensive timing.

I know this verges on coming off like a bad word; no one wants to think of their team as being sort of fluke-y. That’s really not the point I want to drive home, anyway. The Rangers deserve credit for what they’ve done. What they’ve done has been almost unbelievable.

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Cole Hamels Got Better in the Big Leagues

When Cole Hamels arrived in the major leagues, he had a 90 mph fastball, decent command, and what would prove to be baseball’s best changeup. That’s a few bucks short of an ace, and so, in two of his first four seasons, he produced an ERA over four and maybe was looking for something.

Now, instead of having one elite pitch, the Rangers’ ace is the only starting pitcher in baseball to possess four pitches in the top ten by whiff rates (minimum 200 thrown). That’s a long way from a pitch and a half. The fixes were simple, though, and he ran me through them before a recent game with the Athletics.

The Fastball
Here’s a graph that doesn’t follow normal aging curves: Hamels’ fastball velocity. Note that he was 26 years old in 2010.

HamelsVelo

Instead of going down steadily, the curve has gone up. We could wonder why, but we don’t have to — Hamels can tell us himself. Turns out, Hamels had back problems when he came up — a herniated disc — and he finally was able to do something about it once he got a major-league contract. “I hired a chiropractor, and for the past few years, I have one that travels with me and works on me the day before the game and right after the game,” Hamels told me.

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The Smoothest Part of Ian Desmond’s Outfield Transition

Ian Desmond has, unequivocally, been a complete success for the Texas Rangers this year. He’s hitting, with a 128 wRC+, but he’s hit like that before. He’s running the bases well, but he’s run the bases well before. The third thing Desmond’s doing, though, is something he’d never done before. When he takes his position defensively, he goes to the grass instead of the dirt.

And by all indications, he’s doing a fine job of adjusting. Position switches are always interesting in theory. Sometimes, they’re less interesting in practice. One always wants to believe that an elite athlete, particularly one coming from shortstop like in Desmond’s case, has what it takes to make the transition, but we never know until we see it.

Of course, it’s too early to put too much stock into the defensive metrics, but for what it’s worth, Defensive Runs Saved considers Desmond a solid plus, Ultimate Zone Rating considers Desmond a solid plus, and Fielding Runs Above Average considers Desmond a plus. It’s nice to see uniformity among the metrics. Beyond the metrics, we’ve got quotes that suggest all parties are content. Desmond himself admitted playing shortstop was a challenge that never came easy to him, but that center field is already starting to feel more like home. Manager Jeff Banister said the transition “has been as smooth as we could expect.” And then there’s the fact that the Rangers so quickly felt comfortable letting Desmond play center field at all, that says something to the organization’s internal valuation of his ability as an outfielder.

At this point, there’s no reason to believe Desmond can’t at least stick in the outfield, and there’s even evidence to suggest he could be a plus center fielder, though perhaps that’s jumping the gun a bit. Regardless, Desmond’s got a new home, and of all the great things he’s done this season, playing the outfield is the only one we’ve never seen before, which immediately heightens the interest. Further heightening that interest is this one area of playing the outfield where Desmond’s truly shone, where he’s separated himself from the pack, that perhaps helps explain part of the reason why his transition has gone so smooth.

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Brandon Crawford, Jason Kipnis and the Flip Side of the Coin

Like any baseball stat, Wins Above Replacement provides the answer to a question. The question, in this case? Something like this: accounting for all the main ways (hitting, running, defense, etc.) in which a player can produce value for his team, how many wins has this particular player been worth?

There are, of course, criticisms of WAR. Some valid, others less so. One prominent criticism is how defensive value is handled in WAR. Some don’t understand how it’s calculated. Others understand but also question how well it represents a player’s defensive contributions. These criticisms shouldn’t be dismissed. As with all baseball statistics, though, it’s necessary to consider WAR in the context in which it’s presented — that is, to remember the question a metric is intended to answer and the method by which it attempts to answer that question.

On Monday, I completed one such reminder in a discussion of players whose WAR totals this year are probably low based on what we know about their defense. Today, I’ll make another attempt — this time, by examining players whose WAR totals are probably inflated by defensive numbers unlikely to be sustained over the course of a season.

In the comments of Monday’s post, one reader, Ernie Camacho, noted:

[T]here is a weird tension in this article between quantifying and estimating what has already happened, on the one hand, and evaluating player talent, on the other. I’m not sure we should be blending the two.

This is a good point. That tension most definitely exists, and it’s possible that some of that tension is what causes people to discount defensive metrics — and WAR as a whole. I agree that, in terms of calculating WAR, we should not be blending what has already happened with what we think will probably happen. Over time, in an ideal world, WAR captures both. In smaller samples, however, this is more difficult to do. In fact, there’s actually something that does capture the blending when we have smaller samples: projections. If we want to capture a player’s talent level at any given moment, projections do that very well.

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What’s Amazing About These First-Place Rangers

Every so often baseball repeats the same lesson about the irrelevance of momentum. Momentum is our own construct; we believe in it because we believe it can help us see into the future. We are and have always been terrible at seeing into the future. Last Wednesday, the Rangers lost to the Indians in extra innings. They had Thursday off. The Mariners didn’t have Thursday off — rather, they spent it orchestrating one of the very greatest comebacks in big-league history. The two teams were tied for first place, and now they are not, because the Rangers promptly swept the Mariners away, assuming sole possession of first place in the American League West, and in the American League.

Here’s one way to tell the tale:

al-west-division-odds

For the first time, we now have the Rangers as the AL West favorites. And this is according to math that many people believe undersells the roster. The Astros’ lousy start opened the door, and though they’ve righted themselves, and though the Mariners sprinted out, now the Rangers are in charge. It’s a good position to be in, even if the draft is still in front of us.

Yet there’s something I can’t stop thinking about. See, it’s not just that the Rangers are back in first place. They finished in first place literally just last season. Where they are isn’t a complete and utter shock. What I find more astonishing is how they’ve gotten here. First place was the plan, but not like this.

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