Game 153 Mariners at Rangers

marc w · September 21, 2018 at 5:02 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Erasmo Ramirez vs. Connor Sadzeck, 5:10pm

It’s been a rough year for the Rangers. It’s hard to believe it was only a couple of years ago that the Rangers occasioned a bunch of “Can teams beat their run differential consistently?” articles by winning 95 games despite a run differential of just +8 (and which was negative for most of the season). A pretty clear rebuild started last year, when the Rangers swapped FA-to-be Yu Darvish for today’s #9 hitter, Willie Calhoun. They’d spent lavishly on FAs like Adrian Beltre, Shin-Soo Choo; they’d extended Darvish and Elvis Andrus, and they’d taken on Prince Fielder’s and Cole Hamels’ salaries. Injuries to many of this crew meant that some salaries weren’t movable, while Fielder’s injury forced him into retirement. Hamels and Darvish were traded, and at this point it’s clear that the Rangers aren’t trying to add more veteran presence.

All of that means they’re in a very different position than they were back in late 2014 when they hired manager Jeff Bannister to try to coax another run out of an aging core. Bannister did that to a degree, but after a meeting with team ownership, the Rangers fired him, seemingly out of nowhere, this morning. Old M’s manager Don Wakamatsu will now manage about 10 games. It’s a weird situation, albeit quite different from the one that saw long-time manager Ron Washington fired near the end of 2014 – the move that opened the door for Bannister. The Rangers are bad, and were bad last year. I’m not sure that anyone really had high expectations for the club, but I’m still pretty surprised to see a manager canned this close to the end of the season. Like Scott Servais, Bannister came in with the idea that he’d be the bridge between the analytics department and the players, but I wonder if the GM/owners wanted to get a bit more avant garde in the dying days of a lost season that Banny was comfortable with.

It’s sort of fitting that the first game of the post-Banny Rangers will feature a Rays-style “Opener” in right-handed reliever Connor Sadzeck. Sadzeck was a Rangers draft pick back when they were coming off an AL pennant, and he’s racked up solid K numbers in the minors, but couldn’t avoid walks or dingers. He’s got great velocity from a 6’7″ frame, but he could never put everything together as a starter, so the Rangers moved him to the pen. Even there, he never quite pitched up to the level his stuff suggested, but pitchers can often live by the BABIP as often as they die by it. After getting BABIP’d to death in AAA, he’s pitching around too many walks in his first few MLB innings by giving up essentially no hits on balls in play. He’s walked 5 and K’d 5, and there’s nothing in his performance record that gets you too worried about things, but then he’s averaging 97+ with a straight, almost sinker-y fastball, and he’s got a hard slider at 88 and a big breaking curveball at 79 that could be a real weapon some day. The fastball isn’t fooling anyone, but the slider sure is. This is a classic specialist profile, at least at this stage; he’s struggled with lefties for a while, but he can often give righties problems.

Since moving to the leadoff spot, Mitch Haniger’s been absolutely great, hitting for average and power and racking up key at-bats. This *should* have more of an impact on run scoring, but much of the team has scuffled just as their lead-off man got hot. With Jean Segura back, the M’s have the best 1-2 line-up positions they’ve had all season… and you can understand why the Rangers might want to use Sadzeck in the first inning to see if he can get past these two plus Nellie Cruz before handing it over to someone who could pitch a bit longer. For all of the potential the whole “opener” thing has to artificially suppress salaries, it really seems like it’s working. The Rays give up surprisingly few runs employing the strategy, and they only use it when Blake Snell isn’t pitching. They’re making the back of their “rotation” – guys like ex-M’s prospect Ryan Yarbrough – into legitimate MLB pitchers by putting them in positions to succeed. Remember it was the Angels’ righty-heavy top of the line-up (anchored by that Trout guy) that brought about this experiment in the first place, when the Rays used ex-closer and current ROOGY Sergio Romo to “start.” It’s weird, and I get why a lot of people don’t like it, but just like the shift, if you’ve got a lefty 4th or 5th starter and you’re facing a line-up with 2-3 tough righties at the top…doesn’t it make sense?

1: Haniger, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 1B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Span, LF
7: Gamel, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Gordon, 2B
SP: Ramirez

The top of the line-up is still righty-heavy, but the M’s may have overcompensated in making the bottom of the line-up so lefty dominant. It’s not a bad line-up – it’s probably the M’s best possible line-up overall – but the lefties are bunched up together starting with Kyle, and a lefty reliever may get a couple of innings in to deal with it.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.