Springtime Storylines: Will the Texas Rangers' rotation hold up?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Texas Rangers


The
big question: Will the rotation hold up?

When Nolan Ryan rode into town in 2008 and took over as Rangers’ President he vowed to make a historic weakness in Texas — pitching — into a strength. He wanted his starters to be better-conditioned physically and mentally with the aim of having them throw deeper into games.  Last season it paid off, with team ERA dropping and his starters’ innings pitched improved to seventeenth from dead last the year before. We’ll have a better idea if the improvement was a matter of personnel or philosophy after this season, because the cast, she has changed.

Kevin Millwood is gone, traded to Baltimore. In his place is a pitcher who, if healthy, can be better, but who is never ever healthy: Rich Harden. Harden has been a bit erratic this spring, but no one is too worried about it. Harden will actually be the number two starter, with Scott Feldman getting the Opening Day nod. Those two will be followed by C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Matt
Harrison. Tommy Hunter would have been there but for a strained oblique that will have him starting the year on the DL.

Feldman was something of a revelation last year. Is it sustainable? Some very smart people suggest the answer is yes because his improvement in 2009 was the result of some conscious changes in approach from the guy in the form of changing his arm angle and relying much more heavily on a cut fastball that proved to be most effective.

Colby Lewis is back from a couple of great years in Japan. If he’s more like NPB Lewis, the Rangers will have a good one on their hands. If he pitches like he did during his first major league tour of duty it will be pretty ugly. Wilson is pulling a Kyle Farnsworth and converting into a starter after years in the pen (I like Wilson’s chances better for reasons we’ll just broadly refer to as his superior mental approach). Harrison has been hit hard in two partial seasons as a starter.

I like Feldman’s chances to put up another good season, but beyond him you have an injury case, a converted reliever a kid and unknown quasi-import.  It’s possible that all of them will take nicely to Nolan Ryan’s mental approach.  But I’m a bit worried about them being able to do so physically, and I think that there’s a decent chance we’ll see the Rangers’ pitching slide back down to where we’re used to seeing them: at the bottom of the league in multiple categories.

So what else is going on?

  • Is Neftali Feliz Joba-south?  Feliz was a candidate for the rotation but will be in the pen instead. I wonder if he’s the latest in a line of promising starting pitchers who break into the majors as relievers in the interest of preserving their arms but who end up finding themselves stuck in the bullpen forever, wasting so much of their promise.
  • Vlad Guerrero in Texas made so much sense that I’m amazed it actually happened.  The big talking point over the winter was just how awesome he hits in the Ballpark at Arlington. Not as big as a related talking point was the fact that he’ll no longer be able to hit against Rangers’ pitching there.  I have no idea how he’ll do. I’d place just as much odds on him going on a tear as I would on him having one of those forgettable superstar-in-winter seasons like Harmon Killebrew with the Royals or something.
  • I’d be remiss in not mentioning the ownership situation. The deal isn’t closed yet, of course, and won’t be by Opening Day.  Last year Major League Baseball had to come in and help Hicks with payroll. The longer that sort of stuff lingers into this season the worse it will be.  If a serious roadblock presents itself that stretches the timeline out further, it could impact the ability of the team to make moves to stay in the pennant race if need be. Right now that seems unlikely — they’ll probably get it done — but it’s an issue looming out there.

So how
are they gonna do?

This is one of those previews that made me more and more pessimistic the more I thought about it.  I had it in my mind that the Rangers would be a solid second place choice behind Anaheim, but I’m not terribly comfortable with that at the moment.  The rotation scares me and the injuries scare me even more. We’ll do the Mariners next, but both of these teams have problems. It may all come down to Cliff Lee’s abdomen vs. Ian Kinsler’s high ankle sprain.  It’ll be close either way.

Prediction: Second
place, AL West, but this is not your Lock of the Week or anything.  It’s a shaky second place pick, no question about it.

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Bryce Harper to Little League players: “No participation trophies, first place only”

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Nationals’ star outfielder Bryce Harper had some words of advice for a local Little League team on Saturday, telling a crowd of young players and their parents that winning matters far more than any participation trophies they might receive for their efforts on the field.

“As much as they might tell you, ‘Oh, it’s okay, you guys lost…’ No, Johnny, no,” Harper explained. “No participation trophies, okay? First place only. Come on.”

The panic over participation trophy culture has swelled over the last few years as studies continue to suggest that children are happier when they’re praised for their accomplishments, rather than rewarded for simply trying their best. The general idea is that kids aren’t motivated to succeed when they know they’ll receive a ribbon or medal celebrating their efforts at the end of the day — regardless of whether they win or lose. (Granted, it stands to reason that every kid can feel the difference between winning a championship trophy and receiving a participation ribbon.) Some have taken the idea to an extreme, claiming that when a child receives too many accolades for mediocre or poor performances, it can warp the way they view the world by generating a sense of undeserved entitlement.

Harper kept his tone light during the Q&A session, however, drawing cheers and applause from the majority of parents and a few of the kids. The 2015 NL MVP has routinely taken his own advice over the years, earning Rookie of the Year honors, four All-Star nominations and a Silver Slugger award since he broke into the major leagues in 2012. Next on his list? A World Series championship.

Indians to move Danny Salazar to the bullpen

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MLB.com’s William Kosileski reports that Indians starter Danny Salazar is being moved to the bullpen and will be available as soon as Wednesday or Thursday. The Indians will go on a five-game road strip starting on June 2, and manager Terry Francona said that Salazar could get a start during that trip.

Salazar, 27, has struggled to a 5.50 ERA over his first 10 starts this season. While none of those starts were absolute disasters, he failed to finish the sixth inning in seven of those 10 starts. It’s a far cry from his performance over the last two seasons, when he finished with a 3.45 ERA and 3.87 ERA.

Salazar’s walk rate is up to a career-high 11.9 percent, per FanGraphs, and he’s allowing many more line drives at the expense of ground balls. Compared to 2016, his line drive rate is up 8.9 percent and his ground ball rate is down 10.4 percent. All of that could explain Salazar’s struggles to some extent.