The Rangers Vs. Pitchers with High or Low ERAs

During a season, I often get an impression about the Rangers that may or may not be true.  For example, a few weeks ago, I felt like Ranger pitchers were walking the #9 hitter at a high rate.  So, I asked Jared Sandler on Twitter, who is very good with Ranger stats, if this was the case.  He said that this had occurred to him, but when he ran the numbers they were walking the #9 hitter at about the same rate as the rest of the league.  Many times, my impressions are worse than reality.

Last night the Rangers faced Oakland’s Sean Manaea for the second time this season.  When the Rangers faced him the first time, he came into the game with an ERA of 11.37.  The Rangers managed 1 earned run in 6 2/3 innings.  Last night, Manaea came into the game with a 6.02 ERA, and the Rangers could only manage 2 earned runs, in what became a 14-5 loss.  Over the last few seasons, I’ve gotten the feeling that the Rangers tend to perform poorly against pitchers who come into the game with a high ERA.  I don’t know why this would be the case. One of my theories is that the Rangers hitters have a hard time hitting pitchers who throw with a lower velocity.  For example, the knuckle-baller R.A. Dickey has a 0.63 ERA against the Rangers this season.  In 14  and a 1/3 innings pitched, the Rangers have managed only 1 run against Dickey and are hitting a horrible .180.  Overall he has a 4.16 ERA.  The best ERA he has against any other team is a 2.57 against the Dodgers (over one start).

So, my gut feeling here could be correct, or it could be based on what I remember from the Rangers facing Manaea and Dickey.  I decided to take a look.

I went through the Rangers’ schedule and compiled a list of every starting pitcher they have faced this season.  I added to the list each pitcher’s ERA going into the game, whether the Rangers won or lost, the score, and how many earned runs the Rangers scored on that starting pitcher.  I then sorted the data based on ERA and divided it between pitchers who went into the game with an ERA below 4.00 and those who went into the game with an ERA above 4.00.

Against pitchers with an ERA below 4.00, the Rangers averaged 3 ER.  Against pitchers with an ERA above 4.00, the Rangers averaged 3.13 ER.  Not much difference there.

I then looked at total runs per game.  Against a team who started a pitcher with an ERA below 4.00, the Rangers averaged 4.74 runs per game.  Against a team who started a pitcher with an ERA above 4.00, the Rangers averaged 4.8 runs per game.  Again, not much of a difference, but in both cases the Rangers did slightly better against pitchers with a higher ERA.  Statistically, this makes sense, but it does not support my impression that the Rangers struggle against bad pitchers.  On the contrary, they seem to perform about the same, regardless the ERA of the starting pitcher.

Finally, I looked at wins and losses.  This is where the data gets a little interesting, particularly since the Rangers seem to score about the same whether or not a starter has a high or low ERA.  The Rangers’ record when their opponent starts a pitcher with an ERA below 4.00 is 14-13, for a win percentage of .518.  So, essentially 50/50.  That makes sense and shouldn’t be a surprise.  When the opponent starts a decent pitcher, the Rangers win about as often as they lose.  When the opponent starts a pitcher who has an ERA above 4.00 the Rangers’ record is 22-8, for a win percentage of .733.  This is a huge difference, especially since the Rangers do not seem to score any more runs against teams who start a pitcher with an ERA above 4.00.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Rangers win at a much better rate when the opposing pitcher has a high ERA.  But, it is surprising that they score about the same amount of runs against pitchers, regardless of ERA, but clearly tend to win more when the opponent starts a pitcher with a higher ERA. So, what gives?

I looked at how many runs the opponent scored in games where they started a pitcher with below a 4.00 ERA and above a 4.00 ERA.  When a Ranger opponent started a pitcher with an ERA below a 4.00, they scored an average of 4.85 runs per game.  When a Ranger opponent started a pitcher with an ERA above a 4.00, they scored an average of 3.7 runs per game.  A sizeable difference, especially compared to the Rangers average runs per game of 4.8, in the same scenario.  That’s almost an entire run per game more, and at least in part, explains why the Rangers win more games against pitchers with higher ERAs even though they aren’t necessarily scoring more runs.  Their opponents’ struggling pitchers are getting less run support.  That can’t be encouraging.

In the end, another one of my assumptions seems to be incorrect.  The Rangers aren’t doing any worse against pitchers with high ERAs.  In fact, they tend to do about the same, regardless of whether the starter comes in with an ERA above 4.00 or below.  They do win a whole lot more games against struggling starters, but that has much more to do with the run support those starters are getting than the Rangers’ ability to score runs against them.

*I excluded pitchers who had their first start against the Rangers, since each would naturally come into the game with an ERA of 0.00.

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The PUNCH

I guess I will add my voice to the chorus of opinions out there today on the fight during the Ranger/Blue Jays game yesterday.  There is certainly a lot of hand-wringing going on, and lots of “ink” being spilled by sportswriters across the country.  I will try to keep my remarks to the point.

Odor will get suspended and that’s certainly warranted.  As much as I enjoyed seeing Jose Bautista get punched, you shouldn’t be allowed to do that, to anyone, and not get punished.

That being said, I jumped out of my seat and cheered like the Rangers had won the World Series the first time I saw that punch.  That was one of the most satisfying things I’ve seen in sports. Jose Bautista deserved every bit of that punch and probably more.  And not JUST because of the bat flip.  He’s been a jerk for a long time, and many many players in the league cannot stand him.  Daniel McCutchen, in a since deleted tweet, summed up the feelings of a lot of players: CiiSixAUkAEd-uZ

Bautista’s a guy that talks a lot of trash when he plays well, but can’t take it himself.  He’s a whiner who has spent much of the series with the Rangers slamming helmets down, throwing bats, and complaining about the umpires.  If I had to pick one guy in the league who needs to get punched in the face, it would be harder to find a more deserving candidate.

That’s what makes it so hilarious to hear Bautista and Blue Jays manager John Gibbons claim that the Rangers don’t play the game the “right way.” As Craig Calcaterra said at NBC Sports,

Bautista dropping the “play the game the right way” bomb after the game last night is one of the more hilarious things I’ve heard in a long time. A guy is gonna say what he needs to say to get through a postgame interview, but for him to not acknowledge that just about every anti-Bautista sentiment since last October’s bat flip wasn’t grounded in some variation of “that’s not playing the game the right way” is high comedy and a painful lack of self-awareness. Jose Bautista is now gonna police purpose pitches? OK. Maybe Carlos Gomez can hand out fines for excessive on-field exuberance and Bryce Harper be the head master of baseball’s new Institute for the Personality Restraint.

Gibbons went on to complain that the Rangers should not have waited to throw at Bautista until his last at-bat of the season in Arlington.  He called it “gutless.”  This is ridiculous of course.  1310 The Ticket radio host Bob Sturm sums up the absurdity here:

I was told that after the game, Rangers radio host Eric Nadel was tough on Odor.  I like that.  That fits what I know about Nadel.  I’ve listened to him for years.  He’s my favorite Ranger announcer.  And I wouldn’t expect him to approach this situation any differently.  I also liked Tom Grieve’s take on television.  Grieve played the game, and without saying it, his attitude seemed to be, “Well sometimes you just gotta punch a guy in the face.”  I have both those feelings about The Punch.  It’s hard for me to condone what Odor did.  You shouldn’t punch a guy in the face.  But, eh….sometimes you’ve just gotta punch a guy in the face.

All that being said, had Odor been on the receiving end of a Bautista punch I would spend this space saying all the things Blue Jays fans are saying today.  Sports are incredibly tribal and when our favorite team wins a “battle” it feels awesome.  But when our team loses one, it sucks. Rougned Odor won the battle yesterday and the Rangers won the game.  I would have hated to have lost the game after The Punch.  But they didn’t.  Sam Dyson, who should be the closer anyway, came in and shut it down.  The Rangers won the fight, won the game, and won the series.  That concluded a very satisfying weekend of baseball.

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Rangers Sweep the Tigers

I felt like I should write a blog post.  The Rangers swept the Tigers this weekend.  Twice they came back from deficits to eventually win big.  Yesterday I was at a steak cooking contest and was catching updates on my phone.  The first time I checked they were losing 2-3.  I checked again a bit later and it was 2-5.  Then after a while, I checked again.  7-5 Rangers.  They won 10-5.

Today, I saw them go down 0-2 early.  Martin Perez had two outs in the bottom of the 3rd only to walk J.D. Martinez to put two on.  That brought up Miquel Cabrera.  If you were wondering if it’s good to walk a guy with two outs so that you have to pitch to Cabrera, the answer is no.  No, it’s not good.

It did not pay off.  Cabrera hit a RBI double to right.

http://m.mlb.com/video/v672623483/?game_pk=447338

Perez then walked the bases loaded, and then walked in another run.  Fortunately that was all the damage he allowed.  Perez went 6 innings, gave up only two hits and allowed 2 runs in a no-decision. Overall, another solid outing from a Ranger starter (I’m looking at you Derek Holland).

Then the Rangers did something they’ve done more than any other team in the league this year…they had a huge inning.  This is the 8th time the Rangers have had a single inning where they scored 5 or more runs.  I believe Eric Nadel told me that there isn’t another team in the league that has done it more than 3 times.

Odor led off the top of the 8th with a single.  Mazara followed with one of his own.  I can’t imagine that there is a better top of the lineup in baseball right now.  I need to do an entire post on Mazara and Odor (who leads the team in homeruns). After Prince Fielder grounded out, but managed to move the runners,  Adrian Beltre drove in Odor with a single:

http://m.mlb.com/video/v673027783/?game_pk=447338

Then Ian Desmond tied it with a sacrifice fly to right:

http://m.mlb.com/video/v673058283/?game_pk=447338

Tiger pitcher (and former Ranger) Mark Lowe then intentionally walked Mitch Moreland to put runners on 1st and 2nd with two outs.  He then felt the need to bean Elvis Andrus to load the bases.

That brought up Bobby Wilson, who was acquired from the TIGERS earlier this week:

http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/6479266/v673072483

That was the Rangers first grand slam since 2014.

Not to be outdone, Delino DeShields (who really needed this) followed the grand slam with a solo shot of his own:

http://m.mlb.com/video/v673075783/?game_pk=447338

A nice 7 run inning and we know what that means:

screen-shot-2015-04-10-at-4-19-19-pm

The Rangers added another in the 9th, as did the Tigers, and finished with an 8-3 win.

That puts them at 18-14, a half game behind Seattle.

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Texas Rangers 2015 in Review

Last year, just before Spring Training, I wrote this:

The Rangers’ Chances for 2015

Now, here we are at the beginning of 2016 and I thought it might be good to go back and review that post given the outcome of last season.  The Rangers won the division, but got bounced in the first round of the playoffs, in a way that I don’t care to talk about ever again.  So, let’s just dwell on the fact that the Rangers won the West and are the reigning division champions.

I listed 12 things I thought needed to happen for the 2015 Rangers to make the post-season.  Let’s start with #1.

  1. Yu Darvish needs to continue being Yu Darvish, and cannot get hurt.

Well…this is not looking good. I wrote that post at the beginning of February.  By March Darvish was looking at having Tommy John surgery and, of course, he did and missed the entire season.  That forced the Rangers to look to other guys to top the rotation, and actually ended up pushing the team into a hodge-podge rotation for much of the first part of the season. We ended up seeing names like Phil Klein, Anthony Ranaudo, Ross Detwiler, and Chi Chi Gonzalez starting games.  One stat that should give you some real perspective about the 2015 Ranger rotation is that Wandy Rodriguez started 15 games.  Obviously, the Rangers eventually added a true ace in the form of Cole Hamels, but that wasn’t until late in the season.  So for a good part of the year, the “ace” of the staff ended up having to be Colby Lewis, who all things considered, had a remarkable season.  The old man pitched over 200 innings, went 17-9, and even had a chance at a perfect game against Oakland on September 11.  Looking back, Lewis pitched his best all-around season at the age of 35 when the team needed it the most.

2. Derek Holland has to pick up where he left off last season and pitch like a #2 starter.

Well crap.  That didn’t happen either.  Holland went down early with an injury too, and didn’t return until late in the season.  I mean, seriously, the Ranger rotation was just devastated before the season was even a few days old.

3. Yovani Gallardo needs to eat up innings.  He doesn’t have to pitch as well as Holland and Darvish, but he needs to throw 200+ innings, consistently taking games into the 7th inning and then leaving it to the set up guy and closer.

I will give Gallardo some credit here.  He did not pitch 200 innings but he finished second in total innings with 184.  He went 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA.  Both respectable.  He, along with Lewis, were the only mainstays in the starting rotation.  The 3, 4, and 5 spots in the rotation….well rotated.  And rotated quite a bit.  They started 12 different guys in 2015.  Both Gallardo and Lewis each started 33 games.  No one else had more than 21.  Any guess as to who that was? I bet you can’t.   I’ll give you a minute.  Who finished third last year in games started and total innings pitched?  He didn’t even make the playoff roster.  Still thinking…..?  Nick Martinez.

4. Prince Fielder needs to be healthy and to play like a healthy Prince Fielder.  If his poor performance last season was due to his injury, then he should be able to be the Prince Fielder we thought he could be.  If not, then we spent a lot of money…well…for not much.

Fielder started off awful.  Then got really hot, and then cooled down.  Overall he had a pretty good year.  He tied for the team lead in homeruns with Mitch Moreland, and led the team in batting average, RBIs, and OPS.  I would still like to see more power.  He finished with 23 HRs, but I think he can do better, especially with the jet stream at the ballpark.

5. Shin-Soo Choo needs to be healthy and to play like a healthy Shin-Soo Choo.

Choo started off awful too.  But he ended up contributing quite a bit, particularly down the stretch. He finished just behind Moreland in batting average and homeruns, and a large chunk of that happened after the all-star break.  He hit .221 before the break and .343 after.  Fielder had opposite splits hitting .339 before the break and only .264 after.

The main thing to point out is that both these guys, Fielder and Choo, stayed healthy and played the whole season.  That was a big key to the team’s success.

6. Mitch Moreland needs to figure out how to be a good DH and sometimes position player.  He has not met expectations.

I think we can say that Mitch took a big step in this direction.  He hit .278, tied for the team lead in HRs and added 85 RBIs.  He also played some really good 1B.  Overall, Mitch put together his best full season for the Rangers, finishing with a 2.2 WAR, and career highs in average, RBIs, OPS, and slugging.

7. Neftali Feliz needs to figure out how to be a good closer.  Sometimes he looks brilliant, other times he looks awful.  He needs to be consistently good.

At first, all I really wanted to write here was “Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.”  But that would short change the job that Shawn Tolleson did.  So, Feliz ended up getting released, because frankly, he was just bad.  The Rangers thought they might just do closing by committee, but that ended very quickly when Shawn Tolleson showed that he could effectively handle the job.  Tolleson finished with a 2.99 ERA and 35 saves. He had not saved a single game before last season.  Those 35 saves were good for 5th in the AL, and that’s without getting his first save until May 20th when he started a streak of saving 6 straight games. He finished the season with only 2 blown saves.  Pretty remarkable for a guy who got thrust into the closing job almost two months into the season.

8. Elvis Andrus needs to be a solid hitting, good defensive short stop.  He was not that last year.

Elvis was a mixed bag.  He put up a career low in batting average.  But finished with more HRs, RBIs, fewer strike-outs, a higher OPS and a better WAR than he did in 2014.  But, unfortunately, Elvis’s 2015 season will probably only be remembered for what happened in the ALDS which I will not talk about.

9. Jurickson Profar needs to quit being the second baseman of the future and be the second baseman.  He needs to meet his potential and become the game changer the team seems to think he is.

Again, I was tempted to just write “Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.”  But that would do a disservice to the job that Rougned Odor did. Rougie was a huge bright spot for the 2015 Rangers.  A very pleasant surprise.  These numbers aren’t going to knock you off your feet, but in context they were impressive.  Odor hit .261 with 16 HRs and 61 RBIs. He started the season off as the every day second baseman, but got sent back to the minors in early May hitting only .144.  He came back in mid-June and took off.  He hit .391 for the month of June, .319 for July, and .310 for August.  Ultimately he solidified himself as the club’s second baseman of the future, and frankly, that job was supposed to be Profar’s.  And the numbers themselves weren’t the whole story.  Rougie was a spark plug.  He played hard, was excellent defensively, was quick on the bases, and was very fun to watch.  His heads up play in the final game of the ALDS, that resulted in what should have been the go-ahead/winning run, exemplified all of this.  I’m looking forward to seeing what Odor can put together this year.

10. The bullpen needs to be good.

There were a number of good things that happened in 2015.  But, maybe the biggest was the emergence of one of the best bullpens in the league.  It didn’t start off that way, and the Rangers had to make some key moves for it to happen, but those resulted in something spectacular.  If you look at the full season numbers, the Rangers had one of the worst bullpens in all of baseball.  A 4.12 ERA was towards the bottom of the league.  But after the team traded for Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman things improved, and improved quickly.  Between the start of August and the beginning of the playoffs, the bullpen had a 2.99 ERA, good for third best in the majors.  And they were ridiculously good in the ALDS.  In Game 1, Diekman and Dyson pitched scoreless 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. Game 2 went 14 innings and the bullpen pitched 7 scoreless, allowing the Rangers to finally win after scoring 2 in the top of the 14th.  In Game 3, the Rangers lost, but the bullpen only gave up one run in 4 innings.  The Rangers also lost Game 4, but that was Derek Holland’s fault.  He gave up 6 runs in the first 2 innings.  Colby Lewis had to come in for relief and pitched 3 innings.  The actual bullpen only gave up 1 run over 4.  Game 5 ended the Rangers’ season, but the bullpen only allowed 1 run in an inning and a third.  So, over the course of 5 games, they allowed 3 runs over 19 and a third innings.  Over the off-season they added veteran reliever Tom Wilhelmsenn to the mix, which adds depth to what has the potential to be the most reliable part of the team heading into 2016.

11. Adrian Beltre can’t get hurt.

He didn’t, but he did have a down year.  But a down year for Beltre is a good year for others.  He hit .287 which was still good for second on the team. Heck he’s 36 years old and has spent 18 years in the majors.  We might be seeing the final years of his career, but it’s been fantastic.

12. They need an every day catcher that hits better than .239.

Catcher is still a big question mark for the team.  If you want to call him that, I guess Robinson Chirinos was the “every day” catcher, but he missed all of August and almost all of September. He played in the most games as catcher (78), but the team had 5 guys who caught games last year, and four of them spent significant time behind the plate. Chris Giminez was probably the bright spot, hitting .255 in 36 games, but overall the group only hit .225, so they certainly didn’t improve on the .235 mark Ranger catchers posted in 2014.  There needs to be a marked improvement here offensively.

So…it was an interesting season.  Several of the things I thought needed to happen in order for them to win the division didn’t happen. And some of those ended up being quite the opposite. But, several other things DID happen that no one could have possibly foreseen in February of 2015.  The signing of Cole Hamels, the trades for Diekman and Dyson, the emergence of Rougned Odor, and Shawn Tolleson taking over as a dominate closer.  I think this team has a lot of potential going into 2016, but also some pretty important question marks.  But a lot of teams are in that same position.  However, given my accuracy in predicting last year’s “keys to success,” I think I may hold off on posting the “Things that need to happen for the Rangers to compete in the AL West in 2016.”

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The Rangers Chances for 2015

These are the things that need to happen for the Rangers to compete for the AL West Division Title and a spot in the playoffs this season:

1.  Yu Darvish needs to continue being Yu Darvish, and cannot get hurt.

2. Derek Holland has to pick up where he left off last season and pitch like a #2 starter.

3.  Yovani Gallardo needs to eat up innings.  He doesn’t have to pitch as well as Holland and Darvish, but he needs to throw 200+ innings, consistently taking games into the 7th inning and then leaving it to the set up guy and closer.

4.  Prince Fielder needs to be healthy and to play like a healthy Prince Fielder.  If his poor performance last season was due to his injury, then he should be able to be the Prince Fielder we thought he could be.  If not, then we spent a lot of money…well…for not much.

5.  Shin-Soo Choo needs to be healthy and to play like a healthy Shin-Soo Choo.

6.  Mitch Moreland needs to figure out how to be a good DH and sometimes position player.  He has not met expectations.

7.  Neftali Feliz needs to figure out how to be a good closer.  Sometimes he looks brilliant, other times he looks awful.  He needs to be consistently good.

8.  Elvis Andrus needs to be a solid hitting, good defensive short stop.  He was not that last year.

9.  Jurickson Profar needs to quit being the second baseman of the future and be the second baseman.  He needs to meet his potential and become the game changer the team seems to think he is.

10. The bullpen needs to be good.

11.  Adrian Beltre can’t get hurt.

12.  They need an every day catcher that hits better than .239.

All the teams in the division have questions like this.  But the reality is the Mariners should be better this year, the Astros will be better this year, the Angels are the exact same team they were last year, and Oakland should still be pretty good.  This division is tough and getting tougher.  The Astros should be competing for the title in only a few seasons.  They are no longer the door mat they have been.  I’m not saying that this season is the last big chance for the Rangers to get back to the World Series, but they need to be successful, if only to keep Yu Darvish.  He is not going to stay on a team that he doesn’t think will be competing in the playoffs on a routine basis.

On a different note, I will be heading to Spring Training for a few days again this year.  The wife is going along for the first time and we are looking forward to watching some games and enjoying the beautiful weather.  I will try to update with some pictures and stories from the trip.

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Aggies: The Sky is Not Falling

The Aggie football team isn’t very good this year.  I was worried about that going into the season, and it has been confirmed over the last two weeks.  I’m going to start off this post talking about that, and then I’m going to do something that might surprise those who know me.  I’m going to tell you why I don’t think it’s the end of the world.  There are some things that concern me.  And I want to point those out.  But I think there are some things to look forward to, and I want to make sure those are discussed as well.

The Aggies got way ahead of themselves, and for this I blame Kevin Sumlin.  No, this isn’t going to be a post about how I think we need to fire Sumlin after two losses.  He’s a great coach, and there’s no need to go into how the Aggies are better with him than without him. I think any reasonable A&M fan knows this.  However, I think Sumlin, for the lack of a better cliche, let the hype get to him.  And more importantly, he let it get to his players.  I started worrying, even before the season started, with the new football facilities, the new football stadium, the discussion of Sumlin visiting recruits in what became known as the “Swaggercopter,” and so on.  It’s so easy to get caught up in all that and to lose perspective, and I think that’s what happened here.  Yes, I know a recruit nicknamed the helicopter the “Swaggercopter” and it’s a great recruiting tool.  But it just fits with all these other things that show how the team and the coaches got a little “full of themselves” (again for a lack of a better cliche) and it ultimately hurt the team this season.

They beat South Carolina.  And they didn’t just beat them, they whipped their butt.  Now we know that SC was a pretty poor team.  But at that time we didn’t.  I was concerned about it.  I even said as much on Facebook and was told by several Aggies that I was wrong.  In the aftermath, ESPN started hyping Kenny Hill as a Heisman candidate. We saw story after story about how A&M hadnt lost a step after losing Johnny Manziel.  And then the nickname.  For the love of God, the nickname.  Kenny “Trill.” It makes me sad inside every time I hear it.

Let me step back a bit and explain my perspective on this.  I love Texas A&M.  Love it.  For example, my daughter is 4 and hates the Longhorns.  In fact, she went camping this past weekend in the Wichita Mountains with my parents. They saw longhorns at the wildlife refuge there and it made her mad.  When they went to a gift shop, she bought a stuffed buffalo because the only other thing they had was a longhorn and she refused to get one.

During the late 2000s, when I attended A&M, the Aggies were not very good.  They were mediocre at best, and we kind of got used to it.  We never liked it, but it was just expected.  Then came Johnny.  I said this after Johnny left, and it’s worth repeating again.  Johnny was lighting in a bottle.  A once in a lifetime football player.  And maybe a catalyst.  We will see how much he changed Aggie football.  But, the odds of A&M (or any team) having two QBs back-to-back like Johnny Manziel are 0%, and we should have realized that, and set our expectations accordingly.  We may not see another Johnny Manziel in our lifetime, and it’s unfortunate that many of us thought Kenny Hill would just step in and be that QB after beating a very overrated South Carolina team.  But, what bothers me the most is that, for once my Aggies were experiencing great success, and then we had to go and mess ourselves over it.

I found myself muttering over and over again during this past off-season and into this season, “Why can’t we sit back, take things a little slower, and keep things in perspective, rather than shooting off like a canon and taking everything to extremes.”  We’ve now got a Swaggercopter, and apparently we need to nickname all of our starting QBs, and then trademark those nicknames, and so on and so on.  The night we got blown out for the second time in a row against a SEC divisional opponent from Mississippi, we premiered a movie at Rudder Auditorium that’s working title is “F-YOU Big 12, We Were SEC Ready.”  That’s going to look pretty silly if the two Manziel seasons end up being anomalies and the Aggies actually do end up meeting everyone else’s expectations and become SEC West bottom dwellers for years to come.  The fact is, two seasons do not make a trend, and yet the Aggies took it to suggest that we had now become perennial National Championship contenders.  Why couldn’t we have faced success with some humility and perspective?  Instead we’ve been acting like a first round draft-pick blowing his signing bonus on cars, helicopters, houses, and making it rain.  We’ve needed a little more Peyton Manning and a lot less Vince Young.  And now we are starting to look like Ryan Leaf.

So, now you’re like, “Hey, didn’t you say you were going to tell us some things to look forward to?”  Why yes.  Yes of course.

Kenny Hill is NOT the next Johnny Manziel.  We should never have thought he could be.  And right now, Kenny Hill isn’t a very smart QB and he’s not as skilled as we thought he was after the South Carolina win.  This was clearly evident during the Mississippi State game when we were able to compare him to Dak Prescott straight up.  Hill can’t throw the deep ball well, he has poor vision at times, and he seems to have trouble throwing accurately over the middle.  There’s also specific issues like not having much touch on the ball throwing fade routs and being able to hit receivers in the back shoulder on sideline passes.  Prescott can do all these things, and he does them well.  But Prescott is a Junior and has had two full seasons to develop as a starting QB.  Kenny Hill is a sophomore, in his first full season, stepping into the shoes of the greatest Texas A&M football player of all time.  When I say that we need some perspective, I’m talking about this too.

This is going to be a learning season for Hill, and I hope it sticks.  He’s made some huge mistakes.  Last night’s game is probably 21-21 if he doesn’t throw an awful interception and protects the ball better on a run.  The most important thing I hope he learns is humility, and ultimately that may come down to coaching.  I think Sumlin needs to come down to earth a bit too, and I think these last two weeks have done that for him.  So, what I’m saying here is that I think, I believe, I hope that things will only get better.  More experience, more time, more perspective, more humility, will only make Kenny Hill a better QB.  He WON’T be Johnny Football, but he doesn’t have to be to make A&M successful.  Dak Prescott isn’t Johnny Football.  But he’s REALLY good, and Mississippi State is the best team in college football right now.

The defense is awful, and it can only get better.  Sumlin is great at recruiting, and the Aggies have had top recruiting classes over the last two years, and it looks like they are building another one this season.  I hope that their failures this year don’t hinder some of that.  The bright side is that recruiting in Texas has been made easier by the fact that the University of Texas football team is awful, and much to the chagrin of t.u. fans, I don’t think it’s going to get better.  The move to the SEC gives the Aggies a bigger stage, more publicity, and a larger NFL impact than Texas is going to have going forward.  And even though teams like Baylor and TCU are seeing success, they just don’t have the facilities, fan base, or financial support to compete like this long term.  The Aggies have had more fans at a Midnight Yell practice this season than Baylor can fit into their brand new stadium.

So, my belief right now is that next season will be better. And the one after that, Kenny Hill’s senior season, may be great.  I expect the defense to get better and Hill to improve considerably over the next two seasons.  I think this season is going to do some nice character building, and not just for the team, but for the fans too.  I actually do believe the Aggies are/were SEC Ready.  It should not be surprising that the team is having a down year after losing Manziel.  That happens.  But with strong recruiting, which we’ve had, and the right perspective, which I hope we are finally getting, you can come back from that and build a stronger program.  I think/hope that’s the direction we are moving.

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Cruz, Choo, Fielder, Kinsler and the Lost Season of 1997

Hey look!  I’m writing a blog post.

Nelson Cruz is second in the league in HRs (13) and fourth in RBIs (38).  The Rangers are led in HRs by Sin Soo Choo and Adrian Beltre, each with 4 and in RBIs by Alex Rios with 24.  With the addition of Fielder and the loss of Cruz, I never worried about the Ranger lineup losing its power.  I was wrong, apparently.  Would Cruz have these power numbers had he stayed in Texas?  Who knows.  The same question goes for Ian Kinsler in Detroit.

Kinsler is hitting .316 with 4 HRs.  If you evaluate that trade as Kinsler for Fielder, clearly Detroit got the better end of the deal so far.  But, I look at it as trading Kinsler to make room for Choo to leadoff, and in that sense, I still think the Rangers are better off with Choo over Kinsler, in the long run. For example, Choo has a .424 on base percentage, while Kinsler has a .344 on base percentage.  Would Kinsler be hitting .316 in Texas?  I doubt it.  I think the trade to Detroit lit a fire under his butt and gave him something to prove…some motivation.  He played the last two seasons in Texas like he didn’t care at all.  I don’t see how another season in Texas would have changed that.

I think both Kinsler and Cruz are playing with chips on their shoulders this year because of how the Rangers dealt with them, and so it’s not surprising that they are off to good starts.  I just wish they could have found a way to get motivated in Texas.  For all those people that say Ron Washington is a great “players” manager, he sure didn’t get the most out of Ian the last two years, and it’s looking like he could have done a better job with Nelson Cruz, as well.

All that being said, the Ranger season is in the crapper, and I’m guessing Kinsler and Cruz couldn’t be happier.  Both Baltimore and Detroit are leading their divisions, Detroit by 6 games!  The Rangers, on the other hand, are 8 games back and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better.  Gone are the good ‘ol days when the local sports media were asking Ranger fans to just wait a bit until Colby Lewis and Derek Holland came back.  Then they’d have a solid rotation and a great offensive lineup to go after the A’s in the second half of the season.  Not so much.  Lewis has been mediocre in his return with a 5.40 ERA.  Darvish has been the only consistent starter, and while losing Martin Perez was devastating to an already depleted rotation, he had lost his last three starts seeing his ERA balloon from 1.42 to 4.38.  The Robbie Ross experiment has been awful (1-4,  4.78 ERA) and don’t get me started on Alexi Ogando.  I would be fine if he never pitched for the Rangers again.  When you start thinking that Mitch Moreland might be a good option out of the bullpen because he can throw mid 90s, from the left side, with good breaking stuff, you know it’s time to re-think the possibilities for the season.

I heard some chatter on the radio this week about the Rangers’ previous playoff run in the late 90s.  In 1996, ’98, and ’99 they won the division (only to lose to the Yankees in the first round all three seasons), but in 1997 they were bad.  They finished 77-85, the only losing season in a six year period starting in 1995.  They would finish third in the division with an outfield that had Damon Buford and Warren Newson as starters.  Who was the starting shortstop?  Anyone remember?  While Juan Gonzalez had 42 HRs and 131 RBIs (man wouldn’t that be nice), the starting rotation consisted of Bobby Witt (4.82 ERA), Darren Oliver (4.20 ERA), John Burkett (4.56 ERA), Ken Hill (5.19 ERA), and Rodger Pavlik (4.37 ERA).  Darren Oliver was the only starter to log a winning record at 13-12.  This was clearly a down year.  However, the next two seasons they vastly improved and made the playoffs both years.

In 1998 Juan Gonzalez had 45 HRs and 157 RBIs (GOOD LORD), and the team as a whole had three players with 100+ RBIs (Gonzalez, Rusty Greer, and Will Clark).  Ivan Rodriguez had 91.  That season was all about offense.  They still didn’t have a starting pitcher with an ERA under 4.00, but Rick Helling went 20-7 and Aaron Sele went 19-11.  John Wetteland saved 42 games.

1999 was much of the same.  No starting pitcher with an ERA under 4.00, but man look at that lineup.  Here are some slash lines from that season:

Ivan Rodriquez  .333/35/113

Lee Stevens .282/24/81

Todd Zeile (Todd Freakin Zeile)  .293/24/98

Rusty Greer  .300/20/101

Juan Gonzalez  .326/39/128

Rafael Palmeiro  .324/47/148

Man, how this season makes me long for the steroid era, LOL!!

All that being said, maybe this is just a down year, plagued by tons of injuries and an offense that can’t find it’s rhythm.  And, next season we will pick back up and look back as if this is just another 1997.  We can hope, right?

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