Will the Rangers try to keep up with the Angels?

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The Rangers can come close to matching their AL West rivals; all they’d need to do is commit $150 million-$200 million to free agent Prince Fielder and then another $80 million-$100 million in the form of a posting fee and a contract for Yu Darvish. What’s the big deal?

As things stand now, the Rangers are currently looking at about a $111 million payroll with a 25-man roster that looks like this:

C Mike Napoli
1B Mitch Moreland
2B Ian Kinsler
3B Adrian Beltre
SS Elvis Andrus
LF Josh Hamilton
CF Leonys Martin
RF Nelson Cruz
DH Michael Young

C Yorvit Torrealba
INF
OF David Murphy
OF Craig Gentry

SP Colby Lewis
SP Derek Holland
SP Neftali Feliz
SP Alexi Ogando
SP Matt Harrison

CL Joe Nathan
RP Mike Adams
RP Koji Uehara
RP Darren Oliver
RP Scott Feldman
RP Yoshinori Tateyama
RP Mark Lowe

I’m assuming that an Oliver deal gets done for about $4 million, leaving the utility infield spot as the only hole on the roster. The Rangers could opt to non-tender Lowe, making Mark Hamburger the favorite for the last spot in the pen, but that’d only save about $1 million. Trading Uehara, on the other hand, would free up $3.5 million.

The Rangers opened last year with a $92 million payroll, so it’s not at all likely that they’d jump all of the way to the $140 million-$150 million range, which is what it would take to include both Fielder and Darvish. Still, it’d sure be nice if they could squeeze in one of the two. Fielder would look awesome behind Josh Hamilton in the lineup, and Darvish’s arrival would push Ogando back to the pen, giving the Rangers a potentially dominant setup man or closer if Nathan falters. Carlos Beltran is another who would make sense for the team. Young could then play first base most of the time, with Beltran, Hamilton and Cruz all sharing time between the outfield corners and DH.

Texas did win the AL West by 10 games in 2011, so it’s not as though the Rangers necessarily need an impact player. Still, a lot of things did go right last season and GM Jon Daniels can’t count on Napoli, Kinsler and Harrison to perform so well again.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.