Ogando Enters Rangers Rotation

After months of back and forth banter, the Texas Rangers announced last week that they would be keeping both of their flame-throwing relievers (Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando) in the bullpen. That plan lasted less than a week. With starter Tommy Hunter out until at least May, the team announced that Ogando will begin the season as a starting pitcher.

Ogando is an interesting choice for a spot in the rotation given his lack of history with the role. The former outfielder has just over 100 appearances (majors and minors) as a pitcher, with just three of them coming as a starting pitcher. He has pitched in five games (one start) this spring, tossing 10.2 innings.

Despite being relatively new to the world of pitching, it’s easy to see the appeal of giving Ogando an expanded role. Working mainly off his high octane fastball and slider*, Ogando induced an above-average number of swings and misses (10.8% SwStr). With 39 strikeouts in 41.2 innings of work, he averaged nearly a punch out per inning pitched. In addition to the fastball and slider, the righty used a changeup (sparingly), and word on the street is he has dabbled with a splitter this spring.

*Among pitchers with at least 40 innings, the 14.4 MPH seperation between Ogando’s fastball and slider was the third largest gap in baseball.

While the stuff is enticing, there are some major obstacles in Ogando’s way, the most notable one being durability. In 2010, he tossed 30.2 innings at the minor league level before throwing 41.2 more in the majors. Those 70-plus innings represent a career-high for the slender righty. In the years before 2010, he pitched in the Dominican Summer League, throwing a combined 81 innings over the course of three seasons (not including 2008, which he missed because of legal issues).

Looking at the 2010 season, Ogando was used mostly in short relief. He threw more than two innings just twice innings and racked up 15 appearances with less than one inning pitched (34% of his major league total). In terms of pitches thrown, he topped 40 pitches just once and that was in his second major league game. In total, he averaged 15 pitches per appearance or one solid inning for a starter.

The next hurdle to overcome is a pronounced platoon split. The bulk of Ogando’s appearances came against right-handed batters and with good reason. Against hitters of the same hand, he earned a 2.07 FIP and a 2.90 xFIP. Moving across the batter’s box, things were a bit different. In a small sample size of 53 left-handed batters faced, Ogando’s FIP jumped to 5.23 with an even worse 5.91 xFIP. He walked more lefties (nine) than he struck out (six).

Going back to durability, it’s safe to say the Rangers should not expect to get 200 innings from the 27-year-old in 2011. Perhaps it’s not the intention of Texas to keep him in the starter’s role long-term. With Hunter expected back sometime in May and Brandon Webb working his way back from injury, maybe the team is just asking for Ogando to hold the fort until reinforcements arrive. If that is the case, it would be a rather simple transition moving from the rotation back to the bullpen. That theory would also explain the choice of Ogando as a starter over Feliz, avoiding the Joba Chamberlain route with their most talented major league arm.

Due to the lack of history in the role, it is tough to project Ogando’s numbers as a starter. One thing is for sure, his minuscule 1.30 ERA (fueled by a 92.9% strand rate) will see a few more crooked numbers attached to the front. And the increased exposure to left-handed batters could be a problem if he cannot find a pitch to help neutralize their effectiveness.

That said, the Rangers are becoming the go-to team for relievers looking for a starting role. After C.J. Wilson’s successful conversion, and the flirtation with Feliz, the Rangers should be well-versed in making this type of decision. Although it does not look like a fruitful experiment on paper, we will have to see how Ogando handles taking the ball every fifth day before judging the move.




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Tommy Rancel also writes for Bloomberg Sports and ESPNFlorida.com. Follow on twitter @TRancel


17 Responses to “Ogando Enters Rangers Rotation”

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  1. Mike L says:

    Texas is doubling down on the stupid. If keeping good pitchers in the bullpen is as important as the Rangers say it is, isn’t putting their second best reliever in the rotation contradictory?

    I keep picturing Nolan Ryan holding Jon Daniels in a headlock until he agreed to Feliz back into the bullpen.

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    • Terry says:

      Why do you think that the Rangers really believe they should keep good pitchers in the bullpen? Couldn’t they just be saying that so they don’t have to say, “We don’t think Neftali is quite ready to be the dominant starter he can be, so we’re going to keep him in the pen this year?” It seems like common sense to praise the job you’re putting him into rather than treat it like a demotion.

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    • AA says:

      I actually picture Ryan giving Daniels noogies for allowing Feliz to close

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  2. baty says:

    This rotation has its chances to be very solid come July, but for a World Series competitor, you’re putting a ton of stress on your bullpen early on to compensate for health/inexperience concerns with every SP slot you have. Depending on Webb’s return, Texas might have one of the strangest and least experienced rotations in baseball.

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  3. Paul says:

    Looking at his profile on Texas Leaguers, it looks to me like his success last year was tied very heavily to the plus fastball. Despite the separation between the FB and slider, the velo on the slider increased as the season went on and he got more strikeouts with it. He also threw it less. It is entirely possible that the little-used changeup has developed and that his stuff is good enough to make the transition. I just don’t think last years’ performance in relief offers any indication one way or the other. Will be fun to watch.

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  4. gabriel says:

    I’d be curious if Ogando has pitched much in winter ball. It could have a material impact on his innings numbers, and thus on how much Texas can reasonably expect from him this year.

    As an aside, Ogando might be an interesting person to observe to see how Texas, with Ryan’s revolution in pitcher conditioning, treats pitchers increasing their workload.

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  5. Tommy says:

    Looks like the Rangers are indeed going short-term as mentioned in third to last paragraph.

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  6. Crap Shoot says:

    ?_?

    Free Neftali Feliz!

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  7. Ed Nelson says:

    Well the Rangers need an experienced closer in the 9th. However, for the first 6-7 innings (more like 4-5 with some of these guys) any guy will be fine.

    Somehow the Rangers found a way to screw this all up. Despite all the talent, I look up an down the roster between the Rangers and As and it’s looking more and more like the As have the team that’s built to win this year.

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  8. Preston says:

    The Tiger’s moving Coke from the bull-pen to the rotation was silly, the Ranger’s moving Ogando is rediculous. Feliz was a starter in the minors, he has some experience to build upon. Ogando has none. If you think his future is as a starter, send him to AAA and let him try it out. The guy pitches 10 innings all spring and now you expect him to throw 5 or 6 every fifth day?

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  9. UTB says:

    I’m guessing that Ogando was picked over Feliz to avoid yo-yoing Feliz from the bullpen, to the rotation, and back to the bullpen again.

    IMO, Feliz should be in the rotation long-term, but if the Texas FO believes that Webb and Hunter will be ready to go in May, a rotation of Lewis, Wilson, Webb, Hunter, Holland doesn’t leave any room for Ogando or Feliz.

    IOW, when May rolls around (assuming Webb and Hunter are healthy), Ogando will return to the bullpen. If Texas truly believes that the club is better off having a rotation of Lewis, Wilson, Webb, Hunter, Holland, it makes sense to keep Feliz in the consistent role of closer.

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    • JC says:

      Coke was a very successful starter in the minors before coming up and being told he was a LOOGY. As recently as 2008, he started 21 games in the high minors for the Yankees and the results were decent:

      135.2 IP, 124 H, 44 BB, 137 K, 2.79 ERA

      Ogando has no track record to speak of, so I agree that moving him to the rotation is insane.

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      • JoeC says:

        Giving a guy a chance to convert from reliever to starter (especially on a temporary basis) is “insane” because he doesn’t have a track record of starting? Did CJ Wilson have a track record of starting? Must every pitcher have a track record in order to get a chance? Feliz didn’t have a track record as a closer either, yet look what he’s done.

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  10. Ed Nelson says:

    I think most of us think, and rightfully so, that Webb has come down with a tragic case of Mark Prior disease and will never pitch a game as a starting pitcher again. So this is more of a case of Wilson (good #2), Lewis (good #3) Holland (maybe a #1 someday but now a #4) and Hunter (bad) and Harrison (bad).

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    • JoeC says:

      Which is just fine for a team that can score as much as the Rangers can.

      Come playoff time, obviously a different story as the quality of pitching they’ll face goes up a notch, but they did win 2 of their 3 playoff series last year, so there is still hope that BIG OFFENSE can beat BIG PITCHING.

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