Defending Ron Washington from my cheap shots

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I made a cheap joke at Ron Washington’s expense in the Power Rankings this morning regarding Neftali Feliz being in the bullpen.

I don’t apologize for it because about 87% of my jokes are cheap, but I can at least admit it was a cheap joke. Most of the comments in my Power Rankings are of the drive-by variety.

Adam Morris at Lone Star Ball has heard a lot of this stuff, however, and wasn’t too pleased with mine.  And then he defended Washington’s handling of Feliz:

How many teams would have taken one of their best relievers, a guy who had been pitching out of the bullpen virtually his entire time in the majors, and put him in the rotation, like the Rangers did with C.J. last season? And then the following year, do the exact same thing with a guy who not only had never made a start in the majors, but who was a converted outfielder who had spent his entire pitching career working as a reliever?

The Rangers have also made it clear the plan is for Feliz to transition to the rotation in 2012.  And yet, people seem to act like Texas not putting the 22 year old Feliz into the rotation and asking for 200 innings from him now is a crime against the hallowed memory of Alexander Cartwright.

See, my thing is that if anyone was going to convert a reliever into a starter it would be the Rangers given their track record with Wilson. A guy who had had more years away from starting that Feliz had when he made the jump and who had been much farther removed from substantial workloads at the time than Feliz is now.  Specifcally, Wilson hadn’t started a game since 2005 when he was converted last year; Feliz started his entire minor league career, switching to the pen in late 2009. Before last year, Wilson hadn’t pitched even 100 innings since 2003, when he pitched 123, whereas Feliz pitched 127 as a starter in 2008.

The upshot: while Feliz is younger and has fewer miles on the odometer than Wilson, he is less removed from starting than Wilson was, and his overall experience as a starter is not significantly less than Wilson’s (and his performance in that capacity was much better).  Rather than giving the Rangers the benefit of the doubt as a result of their previous track record with a reliever-to-starter conversion, I think that they should be scrutinized even more closely for their inconsistency here because unlike so many other clubs they have made the key observation and taken the chance before.  And now they’re not, and no one has ever explained it in terms other than the manager’s desire for a shutdown closer.

Yes, Morris makes the point that maybe the Rangers don’t think Feliz is ready to start games in the big leagues. And that’s a valid point, but I don’t think anyone from the Rangers has made a strong case for it. Feliz did pretty damn well starting in spring training. Washington’s quote the day he moved Feliz back to the pen was “right now, for our organization, he’s better in the bullpen.”  That “for our organization” comment suggests to me a need (i.e. there’s no one else to close) more than an assessment of what role Feliz is best suited for.

None of which is to say that Morris is wrong. He knows the Rangers way better than I do, and no, I have not cataloged everything Washington or Nolan Ryan or Jon Daniels has said about the matter. And it’s not even to say that Washington is wrong because, after all, his job is to do what’s best for the team as a whole, not one player’s development (indeed, I take greater issue with Daniels and Ryan, who are tasked with thinking more long term than Washington is, for Feliz’s handling). And, the above stuff notwithstanding,  I don’t mean to rehash the whole “should Feliz be a starter” argument in its full glory, because that ship has sailed for 2011, it seems.

But I do take issue with Morris’ characterization of those of us who do think that the Rangers are wrong in all of this.  The criticism of the Rangers’ handling of Feliz is not about failing to conform to some sabermetric orthodoxy, nor is about simply laughing and pointing at Ron Washington.  Because even if my joke was a cheap one, there are legitimate arguments in favor of using Feliz as a starter, and they’re not adequately countered by simply deferring to the Rangers’ statements about their plans for 2012 or the credibility they have in the bank because C.J. Wilson turned out OK.

The Nationals sign Kevin Jepsen

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Chris Cotillo of SB Nation reports the Nationals have agreed to terms with free agent reliever Kevin Jepsen.

Think of this as the latest in what will likely be a series of no-risk bullpen additions. The Nats, basically, collecting as many almost free arms they can find in an effort to fix their bullpen woes without having to give up anything valuable at the trade deadline. Just like the K-Rod signing earlier this week or the Edwin Jackson signing two weeks ago.

Jepsen pitched for Tampa Bay and Minnesota last year, posting a 5.68 ERA with the Rays and a 6.16 ERA with the Twins, appearing in 58 games in all. He went unsigned this past offseason.

Eh, it might work. It probably won’t, but it might.

Rival Executives Expect Justin Verlander To Hit The Trading Block

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About a month ago, a report circulated that if the Detroit Tigers weren’t above .500 by the end of June, they were going to chuck the season, look to trade off veterans and rebuild. It’s now June 29 and the Tigers are 34-42 and sit six games out of first place.

As such, we should not be too terribly surprised to see a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo that multiple baseball executives expect Tigers ace Justin Verlander to hit the trade market sometime in the next two weeks. Passan notes that the Tigers haven’t formally offered him and that he’s just passing along speculation from rivals, but it’s pretty astute speculation.

The question is what the Tigers can get for Verlander. On the one hand, yes, Verlander is Verlander and has been one of the top starters in baseball for a decade. While he had struggled for a bit, last year featured a return to Cy Young form. He still has a blazing fastball and there is no reason to think he could not anchor the staff of a playoff caliber team.

On the other hand, as Passan notes, his 2017 has been . . . not so good. He looks amazing at times and very hittable at other times. Overall his walk rate is way up and his strikeout rate is down. There doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with him — various ailments contributed to his 2014-15 swoon — so it’s possible he’s just had a rough couple of months. Like I said, Verlander is Verlander, and it may not be a bad gamble to expect him to run off a string of dominant starts like he has so many times in the past.

The problem, though, is that anyone acquiring Verlander is not just gambling on a handful of starts down the stretch. They’re gambling on the $56 million he’s owed between 2018 and 2019 and the $22 million extra he’ll be guaranteed for 2020 if he finishes in the top five in Cy Young voting in 2019. Those would be his age 35, 36 and 37 seasons. There are certainly worse gambles in baseball, but it’s a gamble all the same.

If the Tigers don’t find any gamblers out there on the market, they’re going to have to make a gamble of their own: let Verlander go and get relatively little in return if another club picks up that $56 million commitment or eat it themselves and get prospects back in return to help kickstart a rebuild. Personally I’d go with the latter option, but I don’t work for the Illitch family.