30 Teams in 30 Days: Texas Rangers Roundtable

Rangers

Our guest bloggers is Matt Seybold from The Sporting Hippeaux.

Question 1 – How many starts can be expected from Rich Harden?
Jeff: I think history would show around 15 or less — he’s started less than 20 in 6 of his 9 previous seasons, including season’s of 4, 9, 12, and 13– and frankly I don’t expect much more, unfortunately for Texas — a healthy Harden is an important piece of a surprisingly good young staff…..it’s such a damn tough place to pitch, though…the ball SAILS out of there in June/July/August — but back to Harden, I think it would be unrealistic to expect much more than 20 starts, so let’s start the over/under there, 20.

Matt: I will take the over on 20 starts. He’s made at least 25 starts in each of the past two seasons and I think it’s reasonable to believe he might be able to do that again.

It will be interesting to see how he reacts to the Mike Maddux/Nolan Ryan philosophy in Texas. Harden does tend to be a six-inning pitcher. Will they try to force him to go 110-120 pitches a start?

Everybody who pitches in Arlington is going to give up dingers, but I don’t think that will bother Harden terribly. He gave up 29 homers while pitching for the Cubs and only three of them came with more than one man on base. 19 were solo shots.

Because, when he’s at full strength, he’s as dominant as anybody in baseball, Harden has the luxury of challenging hitters, especially when nobody’s on base, and getting ahead of the count. Those are clearly the qualities that Maddux and Ryan covet and they’ll want guys like Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, and Tommy Hunter to emulate.

Aaron: Harden hasn’t looked good this spring and his past fragility doesn’t align with the overhyped “Nolan Ryan approach” to pitching that the simple-minded media has lapped up like puppies. He’ll give Texas 18 starts this season and, as usual, he’ll be alternately tantalizing and frustrating.

Daniels: I’m a big fan of the Nolan Ryan “Man Up” approach. Honestly, there seems to be something of a backlash (in real circles, not just by old men longing for the days of 200 pitch games and guys retiring at 26) against the 100 pitch number. There’s no conclusive proof it really does anything for pitchers over 25. They also suggested that a four-man rotation making 40 GS/season would suffer injuries at a similar rate as a five-man rotation making 30 starts. So, really, Ryan might actually be on the cutting edge of something here. At least until someone decides to try out having 14 relief pitchers that have a one-inning rotation.

Eugene: I’m torn here. I think that Harden could stay healthy, but I don’t know if he’ll be effective in Texas. I think his ERA will creep up to the 4.00 range and fans will be ready to run him out of town. Plus, if the young pitching is ready by mid-season and the Rangers are not in it, he’ll be a trade candidate.

Hey Daniels – that’s much like Tony LaRussa’s phase in Oakland where he’d have 3 pitchers pitch 3 innings per day and they’d pitch every 4 days, or something to that effect. It didn’t work all that well.

Question 2 – How will the admission that Ron Washington used cocaine last year affect the team?
Aaron: It won’t. Arlington, Texas isn’t New York or Boston or Philadelphia and save for the inevitable early season media sessions, I think the team will put this behind them fairly quickly. From a franchise perspective, Josh Hamilton’s well-publicized relapse last offseason was a much bigger deal than this and now, no remembers it. Hell, OF Nelson Cruz posing nude for ESPN The Magazine will have more long-term heckling effect than a story on blow.

Matt: Agreed, by June nobody will care that Ron Washington had one crazy night. I’m not sure anybody really cares now. The Rangers brass clearly doesn’t. Washington has proved himself to be a very good manager already (I would’ve voted for him as Manager of the Year) and if the Rangers are once again in the thick of the AL West race, the last thing on anybody’s mind will be what went up Washington’s nose in 2009.

Daniels: I’m in general agreement with Matt and Aaron here. I think most of the media is past the Washington story. I don’t even know that media would care all that much if it was a player testing positive for cocaine unless it was Josh Hamilton. If it’s not a steroid, it doesn’t matter.

Eugene: It’s not even a story any more. I thought the bigger story was that they were testing the coaches and managers for drugs now.

Question 3 – Which player could have a big impact for the team this year?
Matt: If Texas is going to make a run at the AL West title, they are clearly going to need at least one of their young pitchers to step up and have a big season, winning at least 15 games. My first inclination is to say that Tommy Hunter is that guy. He was quite solid after his promotion last year (9-6, 4.10 ERA) and the Rangers didn’t tax his arm terribly. He seems like the kind of pitcher who could have success in Arlington, with excellent control and a variety of off-speed offerings, but I’d like to see him induce more groundballs. Hopefully, this oblique strain will only cause him to miss a start or two in the regular season.

Obviously, I love the stuff of Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland, but I think it may be a couple years before they are consistent winners. I expect one of them, at least, will begin this season in the bullpen, possibly both. The other dark horse starters are Colby Lewis, Brandon McCarthy, and Matt Harrison, all three of whom are sneaky good.

It’s hard to know what to expect from Lewis, who the Rangers have already declared a member of the rotation, since he spent the last two seasons in Japan. He fared very well, leading the league in strikeouts both seasons, and thus far he has a dozen strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings this spring. So, the early returns are encouraging.

McCarthy was a dominating minor-league pitcher in ’04 and ’05, but that seems like a long time ago. He has been unable to keep himself healthy since coming to Texas, but he’s still quite young.

Harrison had some spectacular outings in ’09 before he got injured, but he also got roughed up a few times. Like Hunter, he profiles well for the Rangers because he limits base runners with stellar control and, when things are going well, he keeps the ball on the ground.

The Rangers are expecting all the players from this group will eventually turn into above-average major-league pitchers. With such a large collection of talented arms, all of whom have a decent combination of youthful upside and experience, there’s a strong chance a couple of them develop into quality starters this season.

Eugene: I think Elvis Andrus will take a definite step forward to join the elite class of shortstops. He won’t hit for much power, but he’ll get on base and swipe a few. I also think Feliz could have a big year if he’s handled right.

Question 4 – Where will the Rangers finish in the AL West?
Matt: I think the Rangers will be right in the thick of the AL West race. Their pitching was much better than people realized in 2009 and I think it could improve even more this season. Combine good young pitching with rebounds from Hamilton and Guerrero following the worst offensive season in Texas since 2000 and I think the Rangers will eclipse 90 wins and head to the playoffs, just squeaking past the Angels.

Eugene: I like the moves that the Rangers made, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to pass the Angels or Mariners. They’ll finish in a solid third. 2011 will be closer to a first place finish, once most of those kids get their feet wet.

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