Five questions: Texas Rangers

After 38 seasons, things finally paid off for this once beleaguered franchise. Now that the Rangers have a World Series appearance under their big brass belt buckle, questions still remain as we approach the 2011 season.

Should the Michael Young “situation” still concern us?

Like any good epic divorce, the whole Michael Young affair was born out of broken promises and slowly fading adoration. Less than a month ago, tempers were flaring and it seemed as though nothing could be salvaged. Rumors had Young packing his bags for either Colorado or some competitive team in California. So far nothing has been done and all has been quiet. The marriage counselors have been called and nothing has been reported this spring, but does that mean we are out of the woods?

Young has always been excellent at keeping up professional appearances, and his role as legitimate team leader obviously has value. For this situation to play out to Young’s benefit it is vital that a manager like Ron Washington is on board. Washington is notorious for deferring to veterans and as long as he and Young have a harmonious relationship, all should be bearable as the early season plays out.

However, does Young still possess the effectiveness to demand an everyday presence on this team? In terms of range, Young would be a liability at shortstop. His bat certainly doesn’t play at the corners or even DH, for that matter. As a second baseman, his offense would still have value but not at the expense of Ian Kinsler.

Young will be 34 years old and is coming off a season in which he hit .284/.330/.444 with a .335 wOBA in 718 plate appearances. Compared to the average player, Young was slightly better in terms of batting average and slugging percentage but how much more can these skills decline before it becomes apparent that the Rangers would be better served using another option?

Over his career, Young has been fairly consistent against most splits. He hits lefties and righties equally, so no platoon advantage seems to be emerging. The best that Young can hope for, barring any injury to his teammates, is to split a majority of his time as a first baseman and DH while spelling the occasional day off for Adrian Beltre and Kinsler.

Will that get him the 500 plate appearances needed to keep him happy? Probably not, but what other choice does he have?

Does Neftali Feliz have any chance to start this season?

The current plan is to leave him in the bullpen for now, but it’s obvious the front office likes the idea of Neftali Feliz as a starter. Armed with a four-seam fastball that has occasionally touched 100 mph along with a solid slider and curve and a developing change, it’s obvious that Feliz has a capable starter’s tool bag.

Last season, Feliz reported to spring training with the team’s intent to stretch him out as a starter. Fortunately (or unfortunately) troubles with his command made him much more valuable as a high-leverage reliever.

This season, the Rangers are hoping that after a year of development Feliz can trust his secondary pitches while also learning to dial back some of his velocity. Let’s face it, velocity is where Feliz finds his success. In 2010, Feliz threw his four-seam fastball 82.8 percent of the time and was able to rate above average in terms of swinging strike percentage (SwStr%) at 11.9 percent (the major league average was 8.5) and getting opposing batters to swing outside the zone at 33.3 percent (29.3 was the average). Also, his overall contact rate came in 75.6 percent and well below the average of 80.7.

Earlier this spring, Feliz came out in favor of closing. You can’t blame him since it garnered him a lot of success last season… however, feelings have changed since Feliz has acquired a new toy: the cut fastball.

Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux believes it is essential for Feliz to find consistency with his cutter since it should help him avoid high pitch counts. According to the plan, this new pitch will allow Feliz to dial back on his fastball and fool hitters into making weak contact. So far, Feliz has looked good statistically since his four-seamer is so overpowering but command of his secondary pitches has been spotty. It’s a noble experiment but if Feliz shows he can’t cut it as a legitimate starter (pun intended), he can always fall to his familiar role as shutdown closer. No harm done.

Can C.J. Wilson get through another 200 innings?

Seems reasonable, right? Wilson is penciled in as the No. 1 starter and was able to hold up last season after watching his innings increase from 73.2 to a very healthy and robust 204. However, there is a lot of risk in how he may react the year after.

To illustrate this, let’s look at other recent starters who made a similar jump:

Adam Wainwright: From 2006 to 2007 he made the transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation as his innings went from 75 to 202. In 2008, Wainwright lost two and a half months to the DL for a finger injury and was able to log only 132 innings.

Derek Lowe: From 2001 to 2002 Lowe’s innings went from 91.2 to 219.2. In 2003 he was able to return for another 203.1 innings; however, not all of them were pretty as he battled control issues and watched his strikeout rate dip to below average levels.

Ryan Dempster: From 2007 to 2008 Dempster made the jump going from 66 innings pitched to an even 200. In 2009, Dempster returned to give the Cubs another even 200 and showed no lingering effects, although he did suffer a freak injury by breaking his toe of the dugout railing during a July victory celebration.

Brett Myers: From 2007 to 2008 his innings went from 68.2 to 190. It should be noted that Myers was 27 years old during his innings increase but did log in four prior years as a starter before his lone season out of the pen. In 2009, Myers was able to record only 70.2 innings as a starter as he lost a lot of time due to a nagging hip injury.

Justin Duchscherer: From 2007 to 2008, Duchscherer made a huge jump, going from 16.1 innings to 141.2 the following season. In 2009, Duchscherer was lost for most of the season: He was able to log only 11 minor league innings. Like Wilson and Dempster, Duchscherer was 30 years old when he made the jump but was felled by shoulder and back injuries along with a serious bout of clinical depression. It must be further noted that Duchscherer did have a long list of prior injuries including back trouble since 2002 as well as a bicep injury in 2008.

The only pitcher to come out of this unscathed was Dempster; his toe injury was unrelated to pitching.

C.J. Wilson does have a few injuries on his resume. He missed all of 2004 due to Tommy John surgery and has battled hamstring issues in ’06 along with bicep tendinitis during spring training in 2008.

I must say, it doesn’t look too promising for Wilson based on his prior injuries.

Will 2011 finally be the year Derek Holland and Julio Borbon break out?

After being hailed as two of the more exciting prospects last season, both Holland and Borbon found it tough to live up to their heavy expectations. To be fair, Holland was sidelined by a few nagging injuries in 2010 but he still has age and a plus fastball and slider on his side. The key for him will be finding consistency with his change-up. If that pitch hits, he should be a keeper.

On the other hand, Borbon seemed to have had the early lock on the starting center field job. Speed isn’t an issue, but there are new concerns about Borbon’s defense since he committed five errors in the early going this spring. The previous questions surrounding Borbon’s game have centered on his offense. Early in his professional career, Borbon hinted at the ability to be an above-average lead-off hitter with excellent gap power but was mostly seen as a slap hitter in 2010. Last June, Borbon showed some promise as he displayed a bit more patience and drove the ball with more authority with an impressive line of .356/.400/.517 with a .385 wOBA in 94 plate appearances.

Holland struggled in some appearances this spring, but won a spot in the rotation. The problem with Holland continues to be his consistency, which could point to faulty mechanics. Borbon was a nice surprise by showing signs of early power, but GM Jon Daniels has been critical of Borbon’s defensive abilities and has fans wondering when Josh Hamilton will return to center.

Even with impressive springs, Holland and Borbon seem to have lost some of their prospect shine. I hold more faith in Holland as a break-out candidate. Borbon’s difficulty with left-handed pitching could hold him back as an everyday option.

Can the Rangers return to the World Series in 2011 and win it this time?

The Rangers were one of the bigger surprises last season as they unseeded the Angels as AL West champions and went on to appear in the World Series for the first time in franchise history. This shouldn’t come as too much of a shock since the Rangers have earned the reputation as being one of the better talent evaluators and have done very well in terms of development. New ownership has also done well in terms of getting the most of out of the market in terms of revenue and finding ways to properly re-incorporate money back into their team.

This team is built to win both now and in the future. Currently the A’s are projected to be the team most likely to give the Rangers fits in 2011. The Angels could also surprise but the Rangers should easily return as AL West champs.

Last postseason, the Rangers looked like favorites to win it all after sinking the Yankees in decisive fashion. But the postseason can be fickle and the baseball gods decided it was time for the Rangersbats to go to sleep (Giants fans, calm down, we all know your pitching is awesome. It’s just that watching Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero and Nelson Cruz go a combined seven for 54 had to involve outside deities.)

Currently, http://www.vegasinsider.com/ has the Rangers listed at 20-1 to win the Series. If no major injury visits this team, I think that would be a pretty good price to wager upon.

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Comments

  1. Vince Caramela said...

    True but I’ve talked to a lot of Ranger fans and the question of whether CJ can go another 200 seems to be a major question (sample size of those asked? More than 5).

    The effects of innings increase of established pitchers (those 25 and older) is something that will be ripe for study considering how vogue it’s become (McClellan, Heilman, Coke are just a few off the top of my head making the transition).

    For the sake of article size I decided to look at the most recent examples – I could have missed some but I think it’s compelling enough to use as a general frame for Wilson’s possible 2011 season.

  2. t ball said...

    I don’t think 5 is an acceptable sample size when considering the effects of increase in innings pitched.

  3. Ira said...

    John Smoltz.  at age 37 he threw 81.2 innings and saved 44 games.  the next year he started 33 games, threw 229.2 innings and went 14-7 with an ERA of 3.06, then threw 232 innings and 205.2 innings the next 2 years before he had back, arm and then finally shoulder troubles which eventually ended his career (at age 42)

  4. Vince Caramela said...

    Smoltz is an interesting case, I know he battled through arm trouble throughout various points of his career.  It looks like age and questionable mechanics eventually won out but an argument can be made that he had a much better year in ‘06 (two seasons removed from the pen).

    That was bad of me to neglect adding him among the other examples.

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