April 2009

Consider this the hint of the century.

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Enough about “clutch” and “feel.”  You want more
numbers?  You got it.

 

The number 100:

 

       
Days that President Obama has been in
office

 

       
Episodes of “Lost,” as of
tonight

 

       
Product of the Rangers’ 10-10 record

 

       
Versions of yesterday’s Josh Rupe news flash
that (eventually) landed in your mailbox  (apologies . . . )

 

       
Percentage of Major League pitchers who have
fewer innings pitched this season than Kevin Millwood

 

       
Percentage of opponents failing to score an
earned run since Frank Francisco became this club’s closer in
August

 

       
Number of career wins for Vicente Padilla if
he can manage to match last year’s 14 (tonight would be a good time to get
moving back in that direction)

 

       
Career RBI for Nelson Cruz after he drives a
run in off A’s starter Josh Outman tonight

 

       
Number of pennies to grab a dog at the game (it’s Dollar Hot Dog Night)

 

       
[Dollar
credit you’ll still get for subscribing to DirecTV if you do the referral deal -
let me know if you need details
]

 

       
Percentage more Kannapolis groundouts than
flyouts that sleeper pitching prospect Carlos Pimentel coaxed in his outstanding
start for Hickory this morning

 

       
Sum of the numbers in Michael Young’s
birthdate (10-19-76) minus the round he was drafted in by the Blue Jays (5)
(dude, I’m good)

 

       
Number of one-minute, 51-second increments
until Young’s live
chat this afternoon on texasrangers.com
(more specifically, it
begins at 3:30 pm today – click here to
participate)

 

 

I’m nothing if not a numbers
guy.

 

Jamey

 

 

Jamison D. Newberg

Vincent Lopez Serafino Jenevein,
P.C.

2001 Bryan Street,
Suite 2000

Dallas, TX  75201

(214) 979-7416
direct

(214) 979-7402 fax

jnewberg@vilolaw.com

www.vilolaw.com

 

Matt Harrison strikes.

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Want some
numbers?  Here’s some that a standard box
score won’t reveal:

 

Jeremy
Guthrie started the game off by retiring Ian Kinsler and David Murphy on
flyouts to center. 

 

But it took
him 21 pitches to do so.  That proved to
be huge.

 

Guthrie
would blank Texas in that first inning, but Kinsler, Murphy, Michael Young,
Andruw Jones, and Hank Blalock made him throw to the plate 37 times.  The tradeoff for that zero in the line score
in the first was an end to the Baltimore ace’s night after 101 pitches over
five innings and an opportunity to get to the soft underbelly of the Orioles
bullpen.  Matt Albers came into the game with
a 5.19 ERA and opponents’ average of .371, and to suggest that’s a pitcher you’d
rather face than Guthrie is something my four-year-old can understand.

 

Flip side: Matt
Harrison, not looking particularly sharp in the first two innings (50 pitches
and a 4-0 Baltimore
lead), found his command and a better rhythm in the third (“I slowed down my
delivery, but not the tempo.  I wasn’t
trying to change my stuff, just my demeanor”), and retired Baltimore in order on 13 pitches.  It was his first 1-2-3 inning of the
season. 

 

In the
fourth, he repeated, on just nine pitches. 

 

The fifth,
the same again, on 10 pitches. 

 

In the
sixth, having watched his club turn a one-run deficit into a two-run lead
against Albers, Harrison once again went three up, three down – on nine
pitches.

 

While it
took Guthrie 37 pitches to get through a scoreless first, Harrison
faced the minimum in the third through the sixth, needing just 41 pitches.  It was the difference in the game.

 

Actually,
if you dial back to the second inning, after the walk-double-lineout-single-single
sequence that the six-through-one hitters slapped on Harrison,
in hindsight we might assess that a transformation took hold.  Baltimore’s most threatening hitters, Adam
Jones and Nick Markakis (both of whom had singled the previous inning) were coming
up with a 4-0 lead, one out, and the fleet Brian Roberts on first.  The odds of the three-run inning getting even
worse were pretty good.

 

But Harrison retired both Jones (on a 9-6 fielder’s choice) and
Markakis to stop the bleeding.  Three
pitches to each.  Five strikes (including
strike one to both) and one ball.

 

Then came the
perfect third through sixth.  Breaking Harrison’s work down even further, he started those 12
hitters off with strikes eight times (including all six Orioles in the third
and fourth, making it eight straight hitters to whom he threw strike one).  T.R. Sullivan noted over the weekend that the
league was hitting .440 against Harrison when
he started 1-0 in the count. 

 

Strike one does
so much good.  The sabermetrics will bear
that out.  And the camp that buys into
momentum, into feel, into clutch, will tell you that getting ahead on the first
pitch can turn a mediocre pitcher into an effective one. 

 

Even in the
midst of one game, as with Harrison last
night.  Strike one and a positive change
in tempo and demeanor: a baseball chicken and egg.

 

Sullivan
also pointed out that opponents were hitting .381 against Harrison
in two-out situations before last night, when they put together a harmless 1
for 8.

 

Give Harrison a DVD of innings three through six, not as a
keepsake, but as a manual.

 

By the way,
Texas pitchers
faced 36 hitters last night.  One of them
walked.  More of that, please.

 

I did a
little game-by-game research: Rangers pitchers have an ERA of 4.75 in “shutdown
innings.”  Would the sabermetrics crowd
suggest that that’s a decent-looking split, considering the overall team ERA is
5.99?  And would the other camp see that
4.75 mark as a disappointment, a momentum-killer?  I sure would like to see that number come way
down.

 

On April 7,
2007, I wrote: “On the spectrum of basesliders, you and I and everyone else who
has ever played the game at any level sits between Dean Palmer and Michael
Young.”

 

Taylor
Teagarden is a lot closer to Young than Palmer. 
Money slide at the plate on Murphy’s pivotal sixth-inning single last night.

 

Love watching
Teagarden call a game, too.  Love every
aspect of his defensive game, and on nights when he adds a couple hits, even if
it doesn’t include a huge game-tying single, you can’t ask for more.  This is not to overlook the strides that
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has made this season, but Teagarden is a rookie who makes
his pitching staff better.

 

Pretty sure
today is when we should learn the fate of Josh Rupe: traded, claimed by another
club off the waiver wire, or outrighted to the farm after clearing waivers.

 

Despite a
couple mentions by the national media to the contrary, the Rangers are
apparently not interested in righthander Pedro Martinez. 

 

Righthander
Luis Vizcaino, whom the Cubs designated for assignment on Thursday?  Reportedly some interest there, but only if
he clears waivers and would accept an Oklahoma
City contract.

 

Hickory righthander Wilfredo Boscan’s trip
to the seven-day disabled list was prompted by some sensitivity in the ribcage/oblique
area of his right side.  Much better news
than if it were an arm issue.  Boscan was
the number 12 player on Friday’s
Baseball
America
Hot Sheet.  Frisco lefthander Kasey Kiker, the Texas
League Pitcher of the Week, was number 10.

 

It’s early,
of course, but righthander Neftali Feliz has run into the worst command issues
of his career.  In 14.2 Oklahoma City innings, he’s issued 14 walks and
averaged 22.4 pitches per inning. 

 

Tap the
brakes on any thought that he’s going to be up here soon.  Derek Holland was ready, Feliz is not.  And that’s OK.  Feliz is the youngest player in the 16-team
Pacific Coast League.  He’s not
overmatched (.283 opponents’ average, 14 strikeouts, positive G/F, no home runs
allowed), but he’s got more work to do than just refining his breaking ball, fielding
the position, and holding runners better. 
AAA lineups may not all be more talented than AA lineups, but they’re
smarter, and that’s good for Feliz’s development.

 

The Rangers
released first baseman-outfielder Scott Thorman from Oklahoma City.  He hit .188/.297/.406 in 32 at-bats.

 

Philadelphia signed infielder David Newhan as a player-coach for AAA Lehigh
Valley.

 

The White
Sox released first baseman Ben Broussard, who hit .130/.222/.130 (3 for 23) in
seven games for AAA Charlotte.

 

Righthander
Kendy Batista has a 9.00 ERA in two starts and two relief appearances for High
A Inland Empire in the Dodgers system.

 

Milwaukee signed catcher Patrick Arlis.

 

The
Winnipeg Goldeyes of the independent Northern League signed lefthander Daniel
Haigwood.

 

Speaking of
former Texas and Boston farmhands, more bloggy
golden gold today from RedHawks reliever Beau Vaughan
.  Don’t miss anything Vaughan writes.  Ever. 
Instant mood boost.

 

I’m usually
not one to look ahead too far, but Kevin Millwood’s start tonight against Brett
Anderson has me a little less intrigued than Sunday night’s matchup, on
national television, between Millwood and John Danks.

 

And I’ve
gotta say, I’m looking forward to seeing Matt Harrison-Jose Contreras on
Saturday night, eager to see if we get the Harrison that ran out of the dugout
in the middle of third inning last night with an idea on how to attack hitters
differently from how he did in the first two frames, an idea that he executed like
a pitcher you sure would like to be able to depend on a bit going forward.

 

 

You can read more from Jamey
Newberg
at www.NewbergReport.com.

 

Feel.

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I got lots of feedback from Friday’s brief report on
what Michael Young contributed over the last week, generously helping me see the
light on the existence vel non of
“clutch.”  There were some very nice essays, impressive doses of condescension
and fist-banging and pity, and a smackdown or two grounded in formula and my
apparent failure to appreciate the significance of sample
size.

 

I’ve been writing this report for nearly 11 years now,
and it’s all documented: there are plenty of objective numbers and percentages
on which I’ve hung various points, and there always will be.  But those will
always be balanced by two things: one, my frequent leaving of the journalistic
objectivism card (which some of you are quick to point out I’m not worthy of
anyway) at the door, since I write as a fan, occasionally driven by emotion, and
two, my belief in “feel.”

 

I always believed, in Little League and Legion, and in
middle school and in high school, and in college and draft tryouts, and even in
Sunday softball, that feel, confidence, groove, zone, all play a part. 

 

Obviously, I didn’t know that David Murphy would hit
that home run off Brad Bergesen to lead off the fifth today.  I wasn’t even
convinced he would get a base hit in that spot.  But I felt good about his
chances of having a good at-bat, despite his 0-for-2009 to that point, knowing
from my stupid little subjective
experience playing this game at the stupid little level that I did that there’s
nothing better than coming up to bat right
after
making a huge defensive play, whether it’s laying out to snare
a ball you have no business catching, or gunning down a runner at the plate.  If
you weren’t locked in before, making a play like that will go a long way, and
you’re lucky enough for it to be the third out, and on top of that to be leading
off the next inning, all the better.

 

Even though I’m pretty sure there’s no formula for
that.  Or any evidence whatsoever to support my stupid little
premise.

 

Hang on.  Let me go grab this from about a month ago so
I don’t have to spend any time rewording it.

 

This is not a suggestion that . . .
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 have a problem with people whose worship for
this game is heavily numerical.  I use statistics freely and often, though
admittedly (and deliberately) not often enough to satisfy that camp.  I’m a
baseball fan, driven by emotion.  Clearly, I will say things that aren’t
researched on occasion, I will ignore objectivity enthusiastically, and I will
celebrate things like a player stepping up so frequently in the ninth inning
over a five-day span that teams and reporters are scrambling to call Elias for
some perspective.

 

When Murphy stepped in to start the fifth today, my
faith – numbers be damned – was that he brought with his bat and his helmet and
his batting gloves an extra little edge that he didn’t have five minutes
earlier.  I won’t sit here and try to persuade any of you that I’m right about
this.  But I won’t concede that I’m wrong, either.

 

I doubt Jacoby Ellsbury knew the percentages when he
broke for the plate as Andy Pettitte went into the windup, after the veteran
lefty had surrendered two unintentional walks, a double, and an intentional walk
in the inning, putting his club behind 2-1 in the fifth frame of a game that
could end up completing a Red Sox sweep.  Doubt Ellsbury cared about the numbers
as much as he knew Pettitte was probably mentally on the ropes, and to an
extent, maybe Terry Francona was right there with
him.

 

When Jimmy Johnson would open the second half with an
onside kick, that wasn’t sabermetrics.  It was
feel.

 

Please don’t hesitate to fire back again, sharing with
me how ashamed you are at my blindness to numerical reason, my misplaced respect
for the concept of “clutch” and the importance of feel.  It won’t change my
mind.  And I won’t try to change yours, because believe it or not, I do believe
in numbers and rely on them a lot.  Just not all the
time.

 


You can read more from Jamey
Newberg
at www.NewbergReport.com.

 

Winning baseball.

Ian, and that veteran eight-pitch at-bat that kept the game
alive. 

 

Marlon, legging out a two-out, run-scoring infield hit in
the eighth that nobody will remember, and spectacularly chasing down a Nick
Markakis foul ball down the left line that we all will.

 

Salty, banging out three hits and making two great plays
with his footwork and throwing arm from behind the plate.

 

Elvis, whose play with two outs in the bottom of the eighth
(putting the modifier “infield” in front of the word “single”) to keep the score
at 4-3 has never been made by another Rangers shortstop.

 

Frankie, six pitches, five strikes.  Go to your room.

 

And then there was Slick, who made a Gold Glove play at
third in the seventh (which, with Chris Davis’s excellent help, cost Adam Jones
a hit), jumped on Jim Johnson’s first pitch in the eighth for a one-out single to
right center (he’d seen Johnson once before in his life – 11 days ago, when he
battled the big righty for six pitches before singling to right) before coming
around to score on Byrd’s hustle single, and who did in the ninth what we’re growing
accustomed in 2009 to seeing him do in the ninth. 

 

He’s a winner.

 

Get this: the last three years, Young has averaged 394.5
feet in true distance on his dozen home runs per season, and 103.4 miles per
hour off the bat.  He bottomed out last
year at 384.9 and 102.1, playing much of the year with a broken finger on each
hand.

 

This year?

 

I don’t have data on last night’s game-winner, his third
ninth-inning bomb in five games (each in a game decided by one run), but entering
the game Young had averaged 429.8 feet of true distance on his four 2009 home
runs, and 108.6 miles per hour coming off the bat. 

 

No Ranger averages more distance (Cruz 422.2, Davis 409.7,
Kinsler 405, Hamilton 394). 

 

Only Cruz generates more fence-clearing velocity (109.3). 

 

Not one of Young’s
12 homers in 2007 and 2008 had as much true distance as he’s averaging this year, and not one of his 2008
shots had as much velocity as his typical 2009 blast.

 

Two and a half weeks into the season, and already eight
bullpen adjustments have been made.  In
the space of nine days: Warner Madrigal optioned, Willie Eyre activated.  Josh Rupe designated for assignment, Derek
Holland purchased.  Scott Feldman shifted
to the rotation, Darren O’Day claimed off waivers.  Eyre placed on the disabled list, Luis
Mendoza recalled.

 

There will be more changes, too.  For one, Kris Benson should return from the
disabled list in a couple weeks, which presumably means Feldman will return to
the pen.  Dustin Nippert should factor in
once his rib cage strain heals.  

 

At some point (but probably not before he’s tested on
consecutive days), Thomas Diamond figures to get a shot.  Beau Vaughan
(11 scoreless AAA innings, three singles, four unintentional walks, 12 strikeouts)
has been unconscious. 

 

The sale of Kason Gabbard back to Boston may have been prompted in part because
A.J. Murray, throwing from a newly lowered slot, is looking very good in Frisco
(one run on four hits and two walks in 7.1 innings, six strikeouts, 3.00 G/F).  Guillermo Moscoso’s spot on the 40-man roster
gives him an edge on some others if he overcomes his rough start this week and
returns to his solid bullpen form. 

 

Madrigal will be back eventually.  Pedro Strop is fascinating. 

 

Neftali Feliz?  Not soon,
but maybe this summer.

 

(Tap the brakes on Frisco’s Jumbo Diaz, off of whom the Texas
League is hitting .348, scoring five runs in five innings.)

 

C.J. Wilson, after retiring Luke Scott last night on a
grounder to second to start the bottom of the eighth in what was a one-run game,
walked the .116-hitting Gregg Zaun, ceded the double play possibility by
putting a pitch in the dirt on a 1-2 pitch to .111- hitting Luis Montanez
(allowing Zaun to move to second), got .189- hitting Cesar Izturis to ground
into the hole (where Andrus made the remarkable play to keep it from getting into
left field), and finally retired Brian Roberts on a routine fly to left.

 

No scoreboard damage was done – in fact, Wilson vultured the win – but the mercurial lefthander
just isn’t right.  He’s throwing 55
percent of his pitches for strikes.  His landing
point seems a little out of sync.

 

He has an option remaining. 
Surely the organization wouldn’t risk the impact an assignment to AAA
might have on the lefthander’s psyche. 
Right?

 

Right?

 

Since my suggestion on August 27 that we offer Kansas City a package of Saltalamacchia (whom Royals
general manager Dayton Moore goes back with to their mutual Atlanta days), Eric Hurley or Matt Harrison
(ditto on the Moore/Braves thing), John Mayberry Jr. (Royals connection) or Nelson
Cruz, Joaquin Arias, and one of Zach Phillips/Carlos Pimentel/Miguel De Los
Santos/Geuris Grullon/Julio Santana/Matt Nevarez, all for Zack Greinke and
Ramon Ramirez – prompting dozens of derisive emails (my favorite of which was: “Why?? 
Why do you want him so bad?  Why
can’t we go get someone who has proven to be a blue chip major league pitcher?”
)
– Greinke is 8-1, 1.16, with 68 strikeouts and 13 walks in 62 innings, and an
opposing batting average of .201.

 

His scoreless streak, dating back to September 18, was
snapped last night at 38 innings – but by an unearned run.  He’s at 43 innings and counting since he last
permitted an earned run.

 

In that exact same span of time, Francisco has a spotless
ERA as well.  Nineteen innings, seven
hits (.108 opponents’ average), five walks, 25 strikeouts, two wins, and eight
saves in eight opportunities.  He’s money
in the ninth.

 

Like the third baseman.

 

 

You can read more from Jamey
Newberg
at www.NewbergReport.com.

TINSTAC.

I have friends who know a heck of
a lot about baseball that believe “clutch” doesn’t exist.

Maybe they’re right.  Michael
Young is hitting .636/.667/1.545 in the eighth and ninth innings this year,
going 7 for 11 with a double and three home runs, often facing the best arms
that the opponent has to offer.

I guess that line isn’t
that much different from the overall .308/.375/.615 Young is
throwing out there this season.  Top 15 in the league in slugging.  Top 15 in
the league in OPS.  And nobody’s been better with the game on the
line.

But there’s no such thing as
clutch.

And Seether will never do a cover
of a Wham! song.

The emergence.

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There was a sports moment in 1989, when I was 20 and Troy
Aikman was 22, that I’ll never forget. 
It was a mid-November game between the 1-8 Dallas Cowboys against the 4-5
Phoenix Cardinals.  A game that Dallas
led much of the way before losing it late when Tom Tupa hit some Cardinals receiver
on a 70- or 80-yard pass to pull out a narrow win.

 

What I remember most about that game was how Aikman, who
hadn’t played in a month and half due to injury, stood tall in the pocket that
day, as we’d soon learn that he always would, taking a beating but still throwing
for an NFL rookie record 379 yards.  It
was another loss in what would be a one-win season for the Cowboys – and an
0-11 rookie campaign for Aikman – but it was a top 10 energizing game for me, because
I’d seen the future developing right in front of my eyes, and knew there was
something special coming together.  Aikman
fired strike after strike, and for the first time in years, I could hardly wait
for the next game and the next season, and for the quarterback’s career and
franchise’s better fortunes to start to unfold.

 

I saw another 22-year-old tonight spark some of that same
excitement.  Derek Holland fired strike
after strike as well – 29 out of 42, a solid 69 percent that was better even
than the 21 of 40 that Aikman completed en route to his 379-yard day – and they
were largely spectacular strikes.  Low
and outside fastballs at 92-96, filthy sliders tying veteran hitters up, an
impressive tempo and a noticeable poise that disguised what had to be a swarm
of big league debut jitters.  A scoreless
2.1 innings without a walk, three singles, two strikeouts, and lots of helpless
hitters.  He’s not going to be in middle
relief for long.

 

I’m not putting championship rings on Derek Holland’s
fingers yet, or commissioning a Hall of Fame bust, but what we saw tonight, in
a game that he not only kept in check but nearly earned a win in due to our .988-OPS-ing
third baseman’s ninth-inning work, was pretty strong evidence that when this
team does win, Holland is going to be an integral part of things. 

 

Just like the quarterback made clear in an otherwise unremarkable
1989 loss .

 

You can read more from Jamey
Newberg
at www.NewbergReport.com.

 

Timing the Derek Holland purchase.

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Responding to multiple requests, some clarification on the
procedural impact of the timing of the Derek Holland purchase:

 

While there are 183 days on the regular season calendar, you
only need 172 days in the big leagues to earn a full year of service.  But you need all 172.  While you can qualify for arbitration if you’re
not quite at three years of service, as a “Super Two,” you need six full years
of service to become a free agent.  There
are no “Super Fives.”

 

So, needing 172 days in the big leagues in 2009 to finish
the season with a full year of service, a player must spend no more than 11 calendar
days in the minor leagues.  The 11th
day of the season was Wednesday, April 15. 
Accordingly, a player who arrived in the big leagues on or before Thursday
the 16th would get a full service year, as long as he stayed in the
majors the rest of the season.  Arriving any
later than Thursday, under no circumstances could a player then amass a full
year of service in 2009. 

 

Holland
arrived on Saturday.

 

And that means he can’t be a free agent until after the 2015
season, even if he never spends another day on the farm.  Finishing the 2014 season with 5.171 service
years doesn’t get you there.  In Holland’s case, if he’s now
a big leaguer for good, having been purchased on Saturday he’ll sit at 5.169
when the 2014 season ends.  So Texas will have him
through 2015 before he’d be eligible for free agency.  If the Rangers had purchased him just two days
earlier, on the Thursday cutoff, he’d be on track for free agency after 2014.

 

Stated another way, starting Holland’s career now is no different, from a
free agency timetable standpoint, from starting it this September.

 

It does, however, impact arbitration eligibility.  Finishing the 2011 season at 2.169 (which Holland will do if he’s in
the majors to stay) would certainly make him a Super Two, meaning he’ll have
four arbitration years rather than the standard three.  But that just impacts payroll, not control.  Quite a different issue.

 

Elvis Andrus’s big league career began less than two weeks
before Holland’s, but if neither spends another
day in the minor leagues, Andrus’s free agency winter (2014) will come a year
before Holland’s
(2015).  But both will be
arbitration-eligible after the 2011 season.

 

Marcus Lemon (.545/.571/.727) is not only the Texas League’s
youngest player but also the circuit’s reigning Player of the Week.  (Interesting comment by Kevin Goldstein of
Baseball Prospectus: “Lemon has ended up buried in a loaded Rangers system . .
. solid across the board and knows how to play fundamentally sound baseball . .
. while he’s not a superstar in the making, I’d certainly take a shot at him in
any trade talks with the Rangers.”)

 

Luis Mendoza (2-0, 0.00, four hits in 10.1 innings [.108
opponents’ average], 13 strikeouts, six walks) is the Pacific Coast League
Pitcher of the Week.

 

There’s been some talk lately about Roy Oswalt serving as a
prime example of a pitcher who broke into the big leagues in a bullpen role
before settling in as a starting pitcher, but it’s not true, as some have written,
that Nolan Ryan was in the Astros organization when that plan was executed in
2001.  (Ryan was still fulfilling his
personal services contract with the Rangers then.) 

 

What I haven’t yet seen mentioned is that Mike Maddux was
Oswalt’s pitching coach in the latter half of the 2000 season, the year before
his arrival in Houston
as a reliever.  Ryan (who joined the
Astros’ front office in 2004) is familiar with how the plan ended up working,
but Maddux was integrally involved with putting the finishing touches on Oswalt’s
development and was surely a participant in the decision to ease him into the
big leagues as a relief pitcher.

 

I’m in awe of Oklahoma
reliever Beau Vaughan’s first 8.1 innings as a Rangers farmhand (three hits [.100
average and .100 slug], three walks, 10 strikeouts) and nearly as much so of
his golden gold blog for MLB.  Here’s installment
two: http://rangersprospect.mlblogs.com/archives/2009/04/the-lost-a.html. 

 

Anyone out there custom-make baseball caps?  I’m thinking of designing and selling Newberg
Report lids.

 

 

You can read more from Jamey
Newberg
at www.NewbergReport.com.

 

Observation dump.

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A handful of observations.

 

Frankie Francisco since August 22, three days before the
trade of Eddie Guardado to Minnesota
paved the way for him to take over as closer: 16.2 innings pitched, no earned
runs (one unearned), five hits (.088 opponents’ average), four walks, 27
strikeouts.

 

I absolutely love watching Elvis Andrus play baseball.

 

Josh Hamilton: .229/.283/.354, a strikeout every four
at-bats.

 

Edinson Volquez: 6.46 ERA, 13 walks in 15.1 innings, 57
percent strikes.

 

Texas
sits at 5-7.  The record was 5-7 after a
dozen games last year as well, and that was with Hamilton hitting .271/.327/.563 at the time, sporting
an .890 OPS that dwarfs his current .637 and striking out exactly half as often
as he is now.  I suppose that bodes well;
if the Rangers are at the same win-loss with Hamilton
completely out of sync, and with the division weaker than it was a year ago, there’s
obviously room for the team to be playing better if due to no other factor than
Hamilton
finding his rhythm.

 

A thought: Option David Murphy, recall Brandon Boggs?  Not because Murphy isn’t a big league player,
or because Boggs (.250/.438/.333) is tearing it up in Oklahoma City.  Instead, because Murphy isn’t going to get regular
at-bats right now with Marlon Byrd (.344/.344/.656) and even Andruw Jones
(.500/.650/1.000) locked in, and he could use a steady, daily dose of plate
appearances to break out of this.  Boggs would
be used no more often than Murphy has been, but would provide great defense
when he’s out there, and is a far better left-handed bat than right-handed
(.360/.431/.520 vs. .167/.167/.278 in AAA last year, .269/.457/.346 vs.
.200/.385/.300 so far this year), so in that sense he would give the club what
they’re looking to Murphy for right now.

 

I am sports sore today in a big way today.  It’s the best.  As old as I feel right now, 15 hours after
another early-morning doubleheader, the last time I felt that young playing ball,
Alec Baldwin was playing serious roles and Tom Hanks was doing comedies.

 

I think about team flights. 
How good the one to Detroit
must have felt after the sweep of the Indians. 
How rotten the flight back home must have been after the way Texas blew
a brilliant Kevin Millwood start with a bullpen meltdown in the eighth,
allowing the Tigers to sweep.  And how
good this one to Toronto
is going to feel.

 

You should read Grant
Schiller’s interview with Bakersfield lefthander Tim Murphy
.

 

Two weeks into a three-year contract, and Cubs outfielder Milton
Bradley has already lost playing time due to a right groin strain and a
two-game suspension for a run-in with a home plate umpire, after striking out
in his first Cubs at-bat at Wrigley Field.

 

Bradley is hitting .053/.308/.211.  He’s 1 for 19 (a solo home run) with five
walks and two hit-by-pitches.

 

Brad Wilkerson suited up for AAA Pawtucket and traveled to Buffalo for the Red Sox
affiliate’s season opener on April 9.  He
went 0 for 4 with a walk.  The next day,
he singled in five trips, fanning in three of his other at-bats.  When that game ended, he told manager Ron
Johnson that he was retiring.

 

In his age 26-27 season, Wilkerson hit 39 doubles, 32 home
runs, drew 106 walks, and scored 112 runs for Montreal. 
The idea that, just five years later, he would call it quits after playing
a game in Buffalo, New York, is sort of surreal.

 

Check out Scott Lucas’s fascinating
breakdown
of the youngest players in the four minor leagues in which the
Rangers have affiliates.  Texas has the youngest
player in the AAA Pacific Coast League (Neftali Feliz), the youngest position
player in the AA Texas League (Marcus Lemon, hitting a cool .545/.571/.727), the
second-youngest player in the High A California League (Engel Beltre), and the
youngest pitcher in the Low A South Atlantic League (Martin Perez). 

 

Travis Metcalf was hitting .261/.414/.522 for AAA Omaha when
Alex Gordon was placed on the disabled list with a cartilage tear in his hip
that will cost him up to three months, but rather than call Metcalf up, Kansas City instead moved
Mark Teahen in from right field to third base and recalled outfielder Mitch
Maier. 

 

Ben Harrison’s hot start at Oklahoma City (.333/.481/.619) has been
sidetracked by a hamstring injury that has forced him to the disabled
list. 

 

RedHawks right fielder Greg Golson (.355/.412/.452) had
three walks on April 16.  He has zero
walks in his other eight games.

 

Lehigh
Valley corner outfielder
John Mayberry Jr.: .206/.308/.441. 

 

Pssst.  Luis Mendoza has made two RedHawks starts:
five scoreless innings in the first, 5.1 scoreless innings in the second, both
two-hit jobs.  In those 10.1 innings, he’s
walked six (unacceptable) but fanned 13 (good grief).  And the 1.83 G/F suggests the sinker is in
full force.

 

When asked by D
Magazine
‘s Jeff Miller what it was like playing shortstop behind Derek
Holland when the two were teammates in Frisco, Andrus said: “Boring.  Nobody hits it to shortstop.  Strikeout or pop-up.”

 

I thought about Holland
today, even though the right situation for his big league debut hasn’t yet materialized.  I thought about what must have been going
through his mind as he and a half-dozen teammates and coaches watched Michael
Young’s shot off Kyle Farnsworth sail over the fence, between the two bullpens that
it connected, and as they immediately poured in from the home bullpen toward
the plate and the dugout to join the party. 

 

If it hadn’t fully sunk in yet for Holland that he’d made it to the big leagues,
that moment probably drove reality home.

 

As for Young, who had never hit a walkoff home run as a pro,
there’s a difference in the early going between what he produced in 2008
(.284/.339/.402), much of which he played with two broken fingers, and 2009
(.298/.389/.553).  His 12 homers last
year traveled an average distance of 385 feet, with an average speed off the
bat of 102.1 miles per hour, down from 405 and 104.7 in 2007. 

 

In 2009, through 47 at-bats, Young has three home runs, a
frequency four times greater than his last two seasons.  The first two shots traveled an average of 424
feet, at an average speed off the bat of 107.9 miles per hour.  Today’s will ratchet those two averages
higher.

 

But the 427 feet that Young’s blast off Farnsworth pierced was
just a prelude to the spectacular 360 feet that ended this way:

 

michael_walkoff_1.jpg

 

michael_walkoff_2.jpg

 

Love this Game.

 

You can read more from Jamey
Newberg
at www.NewbergReport.com.

 

Derek Holland is a Major League Baseball Player.

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Two years ago this weekend, Wallace State-Hanceville Community
College lefthander Derek Holland was getting ready to face Gadsden State Community
College in a huge Alabama Community College Conference showdown.

 

Holland’s draft-and-follow clock was ticking down, with just
a few weeks remaining before he’d have to decide between taking the Rangers’
offer to sign and fulfilling his commitment to transfer from the Lions to
Arizona State, with an eye towards being drafted again in June 2008.

 

He chose to go pro.  The
Rangers’ decision to offer fourth-round bonus money to the 25th-rounder
helped.

 

One year ago today, Holland
secured his first win of the 2008 season, in what was his third appearance of the
year.  It was a decent enough Low A outing
– 5.2 innings in which the LumberKing lefty limited the Dayton Dragons to two
runs on two doubles, a single, and four walks, fanning six – but not the kind
that would suggest he’d end up going 13-1, 2.27 at three levels before allowing
one run in 20.2 AA playoff innings. 

 

And not the kind that had even the most intrepid minor
league baseball blogger figuring that the one-year anniversary of that start would
be commemorated this way:

 

The Texas Rangers have purchased the contract of lefthander Derek
Holland from Oklahoma City.  He will work, for now, out of the bullpen.

 

The Rangers have 10 days within which to trade Rupe, release
him, or (if they can get him through league-wide waivers) outright his contract
to the minor leagues.

 

As for Holland, who made five High A starts, seven AA starts
(including the playoffs), and one AAA start since his 7-0, 2.40 run with Clinton
a year ago, today is his normal day to pitch, having made that one Oklahoma
City appearance on April 13, a four-inning, four-run effort against Nashville
that came after a highly unusual 11 days of rest (due to the transition from
spring training to the AAA season plus an early RedHawks rainout).

 

But if he does get the ball sometime tonight, it will be anything
but a normal day to pitch for the 22-year-old from Newark, Ohio. 

 

This photograph . . .

 

Holland_KC.jpg

 

. . . is of Holland
facing the Royals.  On March 4.

 

In relief of Kevin Millwood.

 

Results: Strikeout swinging, pop-out to shortstop, flyout to
left in the fourth.  Single to right,
groundout to mound, groundout to second, run-scoring infield single, groundout to
third in the fifth.

 

That appearance, the first of many that opened plenty of eyes
after Holland’s shaky Cactus League debut six
days earlier – also in relief of Millwood, also against Kansas City – didn’t count.

 

Now they do. 

 

Millwood faces the Royals in a couple hours, and the way he’s
been going, you hope Holland
isn’t needed tonight.  But he’s ready,
according to the team that found him in the 25th round, thanks to
scouts Jeff Wood and Rick Schroeder.

 

The last time Holland
spent more than three months with one team was in junior college.

 

That’s about to change.

 

And now Wallace State-Hanceville can claim that it has
produced a major league baseball player.

 

You can read more from Jamey
Newberg
at www.NewbergReport.com.

 

Pressing.

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From February 16, 2009:

 

This team simply has to have a
better April.  Its record through the end of the first month in the two Ron
Washington seasons is 20-33 – which is a .377 win percentage, or a 61-win pace. 

 

Why does that change in 2009? 
Several factors to consider: (1) Texas opens at home this year, after opening on
the road the previous two; (2) Texas plays more home games than road games this
April, after the opposite the previous two; (3) of the 22 games on the club’s
April schedule, three are against a team that had a winning record in 2008.  And
that team’s winter has been highlighted by the loss of A.J. Burnett and the
addition of Keith Millar on a minor league
contract.

 

But the biggest reason to
realistically believe that April 2009 will be better is that is has to be.  The
Rangers showed some character when their backs were against the wall in May last
year, with major changes reportedly imminent, and in any number of games
throughout the season when they came back to win in dramatic fashion.  In a
sense, their backs are against the wall coming right out of the gate this year. 
Another bad April will mean a new manager in May.  These guys love playing for
Ron Washington.  They know he’s got to have a good start to survive, and that’s
on the players.

 

Better defense in April is
imperative.  Better pitching is, too, obviously, and we can hope that one
offshoot of the stricter off-season conditioning programs and the more
challenging spring training regimens will be that the starting pitchers in
particular will break camp ready to roll.  Even the offense is responsible for a
better start: April was the Rangers’ worst month in terms of OPS last year, and
their second worst in 2007.

 

*          *         
*

 

Does a better April mean a better
season?  Not by definition, but it sets a tone, and forges a momentum.  In the
last seven seasons, Texas has had two winning Aprils, in 2004 and
2006.  Those were the only years in that stretch when the Rangers won at least
80 games.

 

Texas has found
different ways to lose its six games, but most of them have been kicks in places
you don’t want to be kicked.  Pitching and defense have been repeat culprits,
but, on one night or another, every phase of the game you can imagine has
figured in.

 

Kansas
City
came into last night’s game hitting
.216/.297/.373 as a team.  

 

Worst in baseball in average.  Tied for worst in
reaching base.  Fifth-to-last in slug.

 

Last night: .442/.520/.744. 

 

Gil Meche came into the game with a lifetime ERA in
Rangers Ballpark of 8.10.  Texas had hit
.303/.390/.626 off Meche in Arlington. 

 

Last night: 0.00.  And
.261/.320/.261.

 

So tonight, we turn to Kevin Millwood, who has probably
gotten off to the second best start in the league (just ahead of Armando
Galarraga and John Danks).  Second to whom?  Tonight’s opposition, Zack Greinke,
who has yet to allow a run in two starts, striking out 16 and walking five in 11
innings.

 

(That’s Greinke, whom so many of you said I was crazy to
suggest trading for in August, when he was a lifetime 30-44, 4.39 pitcher, crazy
not so much because I was interested in trading for the then-24-year-old who
wouldn’t be a free agent until after 2010, but because I’d proposed offering
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Eric Hurley, John Mayberry Jr., Joaquin Arias, and Zach
Phillips for Greinke and reliever Ramon Ramirez, whom the Royals would later
trade to Boston for Coco Crisp . . . before extending Greinke through
2012.)

 

(For what it’s worth, Greinke has what has been
described as “very minor” no-trade protection in 2009 [$3.75 million salary] and
2010 [$7.25 million], but none in 2011 [$13.5 million] or 2012 [$13.5 million],
prompting one league executive to tell Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports in January:
“He’s going to get traded in one of the thirteen-and-a-halfs, unless he wins a
Cy Young Award before then.  And he could.”)

 

Maybe the more interesting matchup is Millwood, who has
allowed zero extra-base hits in 2009, against the Royals, who hit seven of them
last night alone.

 

Nah, it’s Millwood vs.
Greinke.

 

I want to feel like the Angels’ loss of Vladimir
Guerrero for the next month opens a door even further. 

 

But then, down 9-0 but with the bases loaded and seven
outs to play with, Michael Young is lifted for a pinch-hitter.  Seemed strange
to me not to let him have his cuts in that situation, where one swing (and the
middle of the order waiting) might have made the game interesting, as this team
has managed to do a couple times late this year.  Pull him after that if you
want to give him the final couple innings off (following yesterday’s off-day). 

 

But if you do hit for him, why Vizquel (1 for 5 with six
walks against Jamey Wright) rather than Andruw Jones (.318/.423/.636 in 22
career at-bats against Wright – including two home runs)?  Why not hit Jones
there and then bring Vizquel in to play defense? 

 

What’s the message to the
team?

 

It’s nitpicking, I know.  The issue here is much bigger
than a call from the bench in the late innings of a 9-0 game.  How many times
can you say “It just wasn’t our night”?

 

There’s a lot going on in this organization to be
excited about in the early going.  A farm system whose pitchers, as a whole,
have an ERA of 3.66, an opponents’ batting average of .243, eight strikeouts per
nine innings, and four walks per nine. 

 

Brilliant offensive starts to the season for Greg Golson
and Ben Harrison, Marcus Lemon and Manny Pina, Tim Smith and Matt Lawson and
Jonathan Greene, Mike Bianucci (who went 6 for 6 last night, a Hickory franchise
first) and David Paisano (watch out) and Jacob Kaase. 

 

The mound work of Thomas Diamond and Beau Vaughan (who
takes a scoreless five innings, featuring one hit, one walk, and seven
strikeouts, from AAA to AA to make room in Oklahoma City for Warner Madrigal),
Guillermo Moscoso, Michael Kirkman and Blake Beavan, and just about every
pitcher wearing a cap with a Crawdad on it, contributing to that club’s
shockingly sweet 2.11 ERA (including 1.51 by the
starters).

 

Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus (check this
out) and Nelson Cruz and Marlon Byrd.


Frankie Francisco and Jason
Jennings.

 

Millwood.

 

And it’s worth pointing out that, for all that’s gone so
badly so far for the big league club, the record is just 4-6.  Make just one of
those bad losses a win, and the team is at .500.

 

But even a .500 record this month, given the way the
schedule set up, would feel like a letdown.

 

I gave the proprietor of the local Uwe Blog website an
interview in March that finally made it to that site yesterday
.  One of the
questions I was asked was: “What is success for the 2009 Texas
Rangers?”

 

My response: “Knowing, going into 2010, who at least
four of our five starting pitchers will be.  Having Brandon McCarthy and Jarrod
Saltalamacchia turn the corner, and Nelson Cruz establish himself.  Getting
Elvis Andrus through the challenges of a rookie season so that he’ll be a
dependable piece of the puzzle in 2010.  Getting Derek Holland acclimated at
some point this summer.  Maybe Justin Smoak or Max Ramirez as well.  Getting an
unexpected bullpen boost from someone like Corey Young or John Bannister.
 Staying in the race at least until mid-August would be a point of success as
well.”

 

There are long-term benefits in staying in the
race.

 

Last year the Rangers played very good baseball in May,
but starting with Game Ten of the season, a five-game slide that turned into 12
losses out of 14 put the club in a hole in April it could never dig out of, even
if it was as good as anyone in May.

 

We’ve just gotten through Game Ten this year and have
already had the five-game skid.  Can’t afford to let it blow up into something
uglier, like it did in 2008. 

 

The tone and the momentum from that season-opening
series against Cleveland now feels like weeks ago, and it would be an extremely
welcome development for Millwood to reassume his role as number one tonight and
set a new tone, and maybe triggers a better momentum.  Half of this fortuitously
scheduled April is now gone, and we learned a year ago that finding a groove and
playing lights-out in May is probably going to be too late. 

 

Maybe I’m pressing now, but it seems like it’s time to
turn it around.

 


You can read more from Jamey
Newberg
at www.NewbergReport.com.

 


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