In which I still don’t get Jim Tracy

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Earlier today I complimented Kirk Gibson on how he’s worked the No. 2 spot in the order in these first two games, using Chris Young against the righty Tim Lincecum on Friday and Aaron Hill versus the lefty Madison Bumgarner today.

Rockies manager Jim Tracy, on the other hand, isn’t really looking for his No. 2 hitters to hit three homers in two games. Or really hit at all. The Rockies’ plan going into the spring was to open the season with Dexter Fowler leading off and Marco Scutaro hitting second. However, Fowler was so terribly lost at the plate this spring (.149 average, 17/3 K/BBin 67 AB) that the decision was made to switch the two. Because, I guess, the leadoff spot is so very much more important than the two hole?

This isn’t just a Rockies thing either. NL No. 2 hitters hit .256/.313/.369 last year. No. 8 hitters — already typically the worst hitter in most lineups and at the added disadvantage of hitting in front of the pitcher — were barely worse at .246/.315/.359. Every other spot in the lineup, except the pitcher’s, was better. Only the Phillies, with Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino manning the spot, got a .750 OPS from their No. 2 hitters last year. The Braves got a .747 OPS from their No. 8 hitters and a .644 OPS from their No. 2 hitters. The Nationals and Diamondbacks (hopefully Gibson is figuring this out) also got much better results from the eighth spot than the two hole.

And all of this has never made sense to me. The No. 2 hitter is probably more important in the act of scoring runs than the leadoff man is, since he gets to hit with more guys on base. He may be more important than the No. 3 hitter, too, since he doesn’t come up with two outs and none on nearly as often as a No. 3 hitter does. Lineup simulations will often suggest batting a team’s best hitter second, and while that may be controversial, it’s still just common sense that you’d want one of your better hitters up there so close to the top of the lineup.

Which Fowler might be. But the Rockies have him hitting second because and only because he’s struggling right now. If they thought he was going to hit like he did last year, he’d be leading off instead. Batting him second while he’s racking up outs like this will cost the team runs and maybe a win or two down the line. It’d make a lot more sense to hit him seventh or eighth instead and maybe get Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki up with some men on base.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.