Surprise report, v.4.
Give me the choice between sitting down for a game between the Orioles and Blue Jays, even a regular season matchup — even in person — and getting 10 or 15 minutes to watch our shortstop and third baseman take ground balls, and it’s no contest. Elvis Andrus looks like no shortstop who has ever worn a Rangers uniform, and Michael Young looks like he’s played third base for 10 years.
John Dewan’s Fielding Bible has been getting a lot of local play lately. I know Dewan’s reputation, and it’s a very good one. He’s an icon in the sabermetrics field, a Bill James disciple, a pioneer in the statistical study of defensive productivity. Hand me a Dewan study on where Andruw Jones’s “plus/minus” was in 2007 and 2008, compared to earlier in his career, and I’m interested. Having been spoiled behind the plate with Jim Sundberg and Ivan Rodriguez, sure, I’d be curious to know on which side of “big league average” Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden fit (and project to fit). Give me a sense of where Chris Davis figures in among starting first basemen in terms of scooping balls in the dirt and saving teammates’ errors. (For a player with limited experience at the position, he seems to be pretty good in that department.)
But I don’t need to know what the numbers say about Ian Kinsler’s range and the area or two where his overall game in the field can get better. I see it. I don’t need formulas to pinpoint what Josh Hamilton’s flaws are in center field. I see those. As thrilled as I am that all of our outfielders (unlike a few years ago) can run and catch and throw, I’ve seen enough of Brandon Boggs to recognize that he may be better than any of them, at least on a corner.
And unless there’s a metric that factors in a broken glove finger and a broken throwing finger, I don’t have any use for a report that suggests that Michael Young’s sure-handedness dropped off last year, or that his arm was less dependable than it used to be.
This is not a suggestion that Dewan or any sabermetrician or fan who eats up the crunchy numbers is wrong, or is even looking at the wrong things. It’s not a declaration that they’re missing a point that I’m uniquely privy to. But when it comes to defense, and particularly when it comes to judging defenders I see play 150 times a year, I trust my eyes. When the ball leaves the bat, headed in the general direction of Davis or Kinsler or Boggs or Young, or toward a place that one of them has a chance to intercept it, there’s a gut feel I have on whether the range and the grab and the throw will be made. I’m not going to take time to look down at my Dewan report while the ball is in play.
I don’t reject the graphs and charts, or those of you who depend on them. But I’ve seen thousands of Michael Young plays at shortstop, I recognize the flaws in his game (the ones that had nothing to do with fractured fingers) that were more pronounced in 2008 than they were before, and I think third base is going to hide those flaws while the strengths in his game will play up. Dewan may say I’m wrong, and maybe I am. And really, because of the intricacy and inexactnesses of the analysis (the primary reason that measuring baseball defense is so elusive), it may not really be possible, even in hindsight, to declare who’s right and who’s not quite right.
I haven’t seen my team’s new shortstop or third baseman play 150 times there, but give me those 10 or 15 minutes watching them get their work in, plus the bank of observation I’ve had watching one play in the minor leagues and the other at a different position, and I have a real good feel for what we’re going to be treated to on the left side going forward.
The ball that Young hit 420 feet in the first inning of Sunday afternoon’s game, just left of dead center, was destroyed. It not only went deeper than almost any ball I saw him hit last year — it went higher, too.
Speaking of shortstop defense, you peek out at Leury Garcia and Andres James taking grounders on the Low A back field, a diamond fringed by chain link fencing and three four-row sets of metal bleachers, and you might think you’re watching a junior varsity practice.
Until the ball is hit.
Garcia, who turns 18 tomorrow, and the 21-year-old James each stand 5’10″, 160, but they are men defensively. Garcia’s arm in particular, which has given rise to a “Furcalito” whisper or two, is something to behold.
First baseman Clark Murphy looks like he had a very good off-season, after a very impressive debut campaign in the Arizona League. He appears to be in better shape. Watch out for that guy.
Catcher Elio Sarmiento, selected from San Francisco in the minor league phase of December’s Rule 5 Draft, has just six home runs and an anemic .315 slug in 628 pro at-bats, but he puts on a pretty good batting practice display.
Hank Blalock was lifted from Sunday’s game with tightness in his left quad muscle, but is expected to be back in action today and in fact should make his spring debut at third base sometime this week.
Also on Sunday, the same day the club sent eight players over to the minor league side of the complex in the spring’s first measure of roster-trimming, non-roster lefthander Derek Holland was still around, touching 96 as he pitched the final two innings that afternoon, retiring the first five Padres he faced.
Fellow non-roster invitees without real chances of making the Opening Day squad, righthander Neftali Feliz and first baseman Justin Smoak, haven’t been reassigned yet, either.
Righthander Tommy Hunter wasn’t able to pitch his fourth intrasquad inning Sunday because of a right groin strain suffered while pitching, not while bear-hugging several infielders during morning stretch.
MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” episode on the Rangers has apparently been moved up a half hour. It airs tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. I’ve seen about six or eight of these hour-long team previews. They’re spectacular.
The Mets named Julio Franco manager of their Gulf Coast League affiliate and Jonathan Hurst pitching coach for Short-Season A Kingsport.
The Shreveport-Bossier Captains of the independent American Association released lefthander Trey Poland.
The supplemental first-round pick that Texas gets for the loss of Milton Bradley to the Cubs now sits at number 44 overall.
You must read Jason Parks’s spring training prospect interviews. Jason’s camp observations that follow the interviews are golden gold.
Yesterday Max was in several different settings, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon and one in the evening where he could have said something but didn’t want to. He was in a setting in the early afternoon where he wanted to say something but couldn’t — a small press box booth during my three-segment appearance on the Ben & Skin Show.
I don’t know what the sabermetrics are on a four-year-old sitting for 30 or 40 minutes of Texas Rangers talk and, surrounded by live microphones, not making a sound. I might not have believed Max could pull it off, but I was there to see it. Adding that to the scouting report.
You can read more from Jamey Newberg at http://www.NewbergReport.com.