Game 130, Rangers at Mariners
Roenis Elias vs. Miles Mikolas, 7:10pm
Wildcard odds: Fangraphs.com: 55.0% Baseballprospectus.com: 55.6%
I’ve made no secret of my respect and grudging admiration for the way the great Rangers teams of recent years were constructed. There was no was to sum up what they did in a 10-second elevator pitch. There were no good guys and bad guys, no “one weird trick”-style overly-simplifications. They just did a lot of things well – from drafting to player development to negotiating their TV deal to pitcher rehab. They didn’t stock up on high draft picks, they just wrung value out of the guys they drafted. To patch holes, GM Jon Daniels made a series of trades that all seemed to work out – without seeming to imperil the long-term viability of the team. They didn’t overpay for Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton or Prince Fielder (foreshadowing!) – they wrapped up Yu Darvish for a comparative pittance, and let others pay for the decline phase of ex-Ranger stars. Whatever you call their approach, or to get management-consulty for a moment, their system – it made them seem, at least to a beaten-down, cynical M’s fan, unbeatable.
It’s late August, and the Rangers have the worst record in major league baseball. Their 50 wins are fewer than the Colorado Rockies have – the Rockies that have very publicly imploded this year. Worse, they now trail their in-state and in-division rivals the Houston Astros by four games. The *Astros*. The team that has famously not tried to win at the big league level, and whose recent seasons remind me of famously awful albums recorded by artists trying to escape a bad record deal. The Rangers season isn’t just a failure, it’s a legendary, colossal failure. As I mentioned a bit before, Sam Miller wrote about this recently at BP, and about how shocking it is that a team that had won 90 games a few years AND had a top-5 farm team three years ago is on its way to losing 90 or 100 games this year. It rarely happens, and it’s easy to see why – to be both good now *and* seemingly stocked for the future takes competence, and while anyone can suffer from bad luck, the competent have contingency plans. A top-5 farm system is its own contingency plan, after all. Anyway, a collapse this total and this sudden makes you question the qualities that made them seem impervious to collapse.
To give Daniels and co. credit, injuries have played an inordinate role in Texas’ 2014 struggles. Every team deals with injuries, but the Rangers are off the charts. Adrian Beltre and Darvish started the year on the DL, and it didn’t take long for Prince Fielder to go down with season-ending surgery. Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez all suffered serious injuries, and that’s just looking at the pitchers. Jurickson Profar went down with an injury in the spring, and his somewhat-rushed replacement, Rougned Odor, suffered a shoulder injury that’s limited his impact. 1B Mitch Moreland wasn’t terribly good, but he was better than turning 1B over to JP Arencibia or the ghost of Carlos Pena. Even the best-run franchise couldn’t compete or even make a run at .500 with this kind of injury report. Still, what about that top-5 farm system? Where were the great late-round draft picks who could pick up the slack, from CJ Edwards to Cody Buckel to Neil Ramirez? The player development machine that once looked magical now looks…well, it looks like everyone else’s. I’m not going to beat up the Rangers FO because some prospects don’t pan out – MOST prospects don’t pan out. But their depth seemed inexhaustable. Who the hell is Nick Tepesch and why could he give them so-so production from the #5 slot? Tanner Scheppers was always hurt until, suddenly, he was the unhittable righty in the ’13 bullpen.
More strikingly, the team that had studiously avoided the big high-profile whiff in free agency or in trade made a series of them. The Shin-Soo Choo deal looked like an overpay, but we’re still at the point where *everything* can look like an overpay as the value of a win in free agency keeps rising along with MLB’s revenues. OK, so you paid a lot for a very good player. Instead, Choo’s been replacement level – undone by a shocking lack of power and abysmal defense. Worse, the team decided to eat Prince Fielder’s contract in the Ian Kinsler swap – a move that pretty much every saber-inclined observer panned, and which went from bad to worse when Fielder needed neck surgery early in the season.
They’ve gone from a team that seemed to magnify each other’s strengths (great defense making the pitchers look even better) to a team that seems like a hodge-podge of parts that don’t form a cohesive team. The Rangers are last in the AL in both FIP and ERA. The Rangers have the lowest GB% AND they have an atrocious outfield defense that now makes their pitchers look WORSE than they are. Miles Mikolas, tonight’s starter, has poor control, so he’s responsible for a lot of his own 55% (!) strand rate, but the fact that he’s a fly-baller with Alex Rios and Shin-Soo Choo behind him doesn’t help. Mikolas, a RHP they acquired after he was DFA’d by San Diego, traded to Pittsburgh and then shipped to Texas for a 1B prospect, throws about 93-94 and has a four- and two-seam fastball, a change-up, a slider and an interesting looking curve ball, was a reliever his entire career until this season. After never being able to harness a fastball that occasionally touched the high-90s, he was starting in the PCL and averaging less than one walk per 9IP. The so-so control to sudden, overnight 0-walk precision made me think of Doug Fister’s incredible 2009 season, but that’s probably the last time Mikolas will be mentioned in conjunction with Fister. Mikolas has been destroyed thus far in the big leagues – his ERA and FIP are both awful, and he’s given up a few HRs as well.
He’s posted strong reverse platoon splits in his brief MLB career (he had some time in the San Diego bullpen too, mostly in 2012). Much of this is undoubtedly random luck, and you’d think they’d straighten out over time. But some of it is that curve ball, a slow yakker with a lot of vertical break. RHBs and LHBs both have trouble elevating it, and he’s been able to keep the ball in the ballpark. The problem is that he can’t spot it. He throws it for a ball over half the time, so he’s not getting called strikes. Still, there’s something to work with. His fastballs have been problematic, and his slider’s not enough of a swing-and-miss pitch yet. This lack of command means he doesn’t resemble a guy who never walked anyone in the minors this year, and it makes it seem less likely that he’s been the victim of bad OF defense and more like an accomplice. He’s not giving up base hits on fly balls – he’s giving up home runs. His line drive BABIP looks pretty normal, too – the problem is that there are just too many of them.
This is a good match-up, basically.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Chavez, RF
9: Taylor, SS
I keep wondering what it is about the Rangers collapse I find so startling. Is it unsettling to think that it’s just not possible to prevent every outcome – that no one can think their way out of a systemic failure? I’m a bit surprised I don’t feel more schadenfreude about the whole thing, particularly after the M’s post-2009 collapse (“#6 org lololol!”). I know how I’ve felt the past few years when the Rangers would come to town in August, tuning up for the post season, and facing a Mariner team stuck in “rebuild,” showing some promise but ultimately going nowhere. I like this feeling much, much better. I like poking through someone else’s wreckage.
The Rainiers beat the Iowa Cubs in 14 innings last night, coming from behind in the 14th to do it. Kris Bryant homered for the I-Cubs because of course he did, but the R’s got a HR from Corey Hart and another from Ji-Man Choi. Taijuan Walker pitches tonight, so go go go go. 7:05 first pitch in Tacoma.
Before this even got posted, I’ve had to update it with more Rangers injury news. According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, Shin-Soo Choo will miss the rest of the season to have surgery to remove bone spurs. And if that wasn’t enough, Daniels all but stated that Yu Darvish won’t pitch again this season after hitting the DL two weeks ago with elbow inflammation.