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Series Preview: Sox at Rangers and Q and A with BBTIA’s Joey Matschulat


The Rangers are my pick to win the AL West. So naturally, they’ve  been playing rather poorly. Despite the team’s early scuffling, at its core this is a pretty talented team, beginning with their everyday lineup.  We get the benefit of missing Ian Kinsler, who’s expected to be back by the end of the week from an ankle injury.

Here’s how they stack up; this is their end of season ZiPS projections that I input for the simulation:

Name wOBA DEF/150 RC/Game
Andrus 0.335 6 0.586
Young 0.345 -2 0.610
Hamilton 0.366 8 0.676
Vlad 0.379 -2 0.711
Cruz 0.384 5 0.711
Smoak 0.327 0 0.497
Arias 0.299 0 0.387
Teagarden 0.294 6 0.359
Borbon 0.311 3 0.400

That’s 4.94 runs per game for the Rangers. The Sox project at 4.85.

It seems like as long as I can remember, the Rangers’ pitching has been pretty terrible. This pitching staff is not horrible. The C.J. Wilson experiment is exceeding anyone’s wildest expectations, thanks in part to him learning to throw a cut fastball. Scott Feldman is coming off a good season, although he’s more of a decent #4. Colby Lewis is trying to be the pitching version of Cecil Fielder, without the pleasant plumpness, and so far is succeeding.

Then there’s Rich Harden. If you think Jake Peavy has been frustrating, get a load of Harden. He’s lost 2 MPH off of his fastball, and while he’s still striking out over a batter per inning, he’s walked 20% of the batters he’s faced. Because the universe has a sense of irony, Peavy and Harden will square off in Game 2 of the series.

Here’s the pitching match-ups:

Starter Starter ERA IP/GS Bullpen ERA
Buehrle 4.33 6.3 3.7
Peavy 4.28 6 3.7
Floyd 4.26 6 3.7
Starter Starter ERA IP/GS Bullpen ERA
Wilson 4.56 6 4
Harden 3.87 5.3 4
Feldman 4.50 6 4

So the Sox hold the edge on the mound, while the Rangers have the advantage in hitting. Fans of both teams will have Rolaids on hand for game two, but if it comes down to bullpens, then advantage: Sox.

It’s simulation time!

Results: Angry Ozzie! Odds are they win just one out of three. There’s about a 33% chance they win two. Low odds of a back-to-back sweep.

UPDATE: With Texas’ recent moves (putting Cruz on the DL, starting sending down their duo of disappointing catchers), I get:

0 wins 0.1505
1 wins 0.3997
2 wins 0.3512
3 wins 0.0986

Avenge Robin Ventura!


If you’re not a reader of Baseball Time in Arlington, well, you’re missing out of some of the best team-centric blogging around. Blog founder Joey Matschulat knows his Rangers, and was nice enough to answer my questions four for this upcoming series.

The team finally pulled the plug on Chris Davis. What would you say are your hopes for Justin Smoak this season?

I think tempered optimism is warranted with Smoak; it’s easy to throw around the sensational Mark Teixeira comps and so set the expectations bar very high, but he’s probably not going to replicate Teixeira’s offensive output (Smoak’s raw power, while very good, is not as elite as Teixeira’s). Recall that Teixeira — one of the most highly touted corner infield prospects to come through the game in years– hit only .259/.331/.480 in his 589 PA rookie season, and understand that Smoak likely won’t trump that in 2010. That said, .275/.345/.435-level performance with slightly above-average defense seems quite possible, with his plus-plus plate discipline helping keep him afloat even when he goes through the typical rookie travails.

What in the world is going wrong with Rich Harden?

Ah, the million-dollar question. Everyone seems to have their own theory about what’s wrong with Harden and, for that matter, what should be done about him — my personal theory is that there’s some underlying injury that he’s (unsuccessfully) attempting to compensate for in his mechanics, which were observed as being ‘off’ even at the outset of spring training. As things stand, his release points are a mess, his velocity is well below his career norms and his control is abysmal. Harden insists that he’s healthy, but I cannot fathom Texas giving him more than 1-2 other starts to try and show some sign of getting back on the right track before DLing him. The track record is phenomenal (albeit injury-marred), but if you can’t detect some flicker of improvement in these next two starts against Chicago and Oakland and it remains clear that he’s not right, then what is extending his leash really going to do?

So far the C.J. Wilson experiment seems to be going better than I think most would’ve imagined. What would you credit to his early success thus far, and can he sustain it?

Being a heavily strikeout-and-grounder-inclined pitcher — which is a function of his very impressive talent — before the reliever-to-starter transition certainly improved his chances of success, but I’m not sure any of us were expecting him to be the Rangers’ best starter nearly a month into the season. One oft-cited reason about why Wilson battled such inconsistency in the bullpen was that he had a tendency to try to work 3-4 different pitch types into a single relief outing when all he really needed to was throw two pitches with command; in that sense, the starting rotation better suits him, since he can now combine his cerebral pitching nature and deep repertoire and create a legitimate competitive advantage. He won’t continue posting a 2.77 FIP, obviously, but what we’re seeing isn’t a complete fluke. The lingering question is whether he can pitch as a starter for the entire season without wearing down; I’m not sure he’s a strong bet for much beyond 110-120 innings, but the Rangers believe he’s capable of more, and right now there’s little reason to question their judgment on the subject of Wilson.

Neftali Feliz is now the team’s closer. Do you like that he’s in that role now, or would you prefer to see him start?

This question really drills down to the heart of the issue of balancing player development against the necessity of winning now. In the Rangers’ case, winning now has taken precedence — they’re playing in a very winnable division with a talented roster, and as such need to amass as many high-quality innings on the major league side as possible. Employing Feliz as a high-leverage reliever probably doesn’t do great and wondrous things for his secondary pitches (which remain definite weak points) this season, but it significantly improves the bullpen and hardly precludes him being groomed as a starter during the 2010-2011 off-season. If Texas never gives him a legitimate opportunity to start, that’s possibly grounds for a major beef with GM Jon Daniels and Co., but as things stand I don’t see a problem with him being used as a reliever. At some point, you just have to win.

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