Maybe you heard one of my heated arguments on the Rangers Xtra Innings Sunday night, maybe you didn’t. I’m good for one or two of those a year. If you missed it, don’t worry. Just a couple of passionate people going back and forth. The subject was Rougie but, bigger than that, we discussed sample size.
I just want to remind folks that most coaches and players and scouts and other evaluators will tell you that a hitter needs about 100 ABs and a pitcher about five starts before you can really start picking at their production, or lack thereof. Of course, that doesn’t mean we ignore what they do until then, but it just means we do so with the understand that the sample size is really small.
With all of that said, once hitters and starting pitchers get to those respective thresholds, it doesn’t mean their season will continue to follow those established trends.
When we woke up on June 1st, 2018, Rougned Odor was slashing .204/.252/.301 (.553) and people were shouting for a change or a demotion or a release of the once-heralded star second baseman. He was 103 at-bats into his 2018 campaign. Things were decidedly not going well. Did I, a Rougie apologist, consider that maybe he never would return to a level of production that justified everyday status? Absolutely. But I also knew there was plenty of season left. God forbid we don’t allow (what ultimately ended up being) the first 22% of his at-bats define his season. And guess what? He turned it around. Shocker. Odor slashed .267/.346/.458 (.804) the rest of the way, ending the season with better-than-league-average numbers of .253/.326/.424 (.751).
We allow first impressions to stay with us. It was amazing how many people with whom I spoke last year didn’t even realize Rougie was turning things around, beholden to their memory of his slow start. Those same people probably didn’t realize that Shin-Soo Choo struggled mightily in the second half:
Pre-All Star: .293/.405/.506 (.911)
Post-All Star: .217/.329/.316 (.645)
Sure, I am giving you stats in this very blog highlighting early season performance, but I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s too early to suggest a 2019 trend!
The phrase “small sample size” is not a convenient crutch to avoid an argument involving your favorite player. It is real. Don’t fall into that trap.
*I always get a kick out of professional athletes watching and appreciating other professional athletes. On Sunday in the clubhouse, there wasn’t a bunch of mingling. Instead, we were all just watching Sunday Tiger and the rest of the field at The Masters. The hitters had a meeting, but the pitchers had their own personal Tiger cheering gallery, going nuts after Molinari went in the water the first time and Tiger was able to reach a share for the lead.
*I guess with the Rougned Odor injury, I might owe Matt from wherever he was from a dinner for he and his wife. Hopefully I can get in touch with Matt because I’m happy to follow through. If you missed it, Matt and I had a heated exchange about Rougned Odor and told him that Rougie would be hitting better than .225 on May 1. I’m not conceding because I don’t believe in Rougie, but with his knee injury he likely isn’t playing again until early May. As long as this injury isn’t going to linger or keep him out longer than the predicted 2-3 weeks, then maybe this will be a great opportunity for Rougie to hit a quick reset. Chris Woodward identified Rougie’s desire to attack the opposite field as a reason he’s been behind on fastballs in the zone. Woody shared his thoughts: “It’s an easy fix. Just a timing thing. I’m excited about how he’s stuck with the process and am confident he’ll have a great year.”
*A closer straying from perfection is not unusual. Even the best closers in the game go through rough patches. For Jose Leclerc, that occurred in Arizona. After blowing his first save since being named the closer late last season in the opener on Tuesday, Leclerc pitched again Wednesday with a four-run lead but couldn’t complete the inning due to non-existent fastball command. Chris Woodward identified a lack of conviction in his pitches with the possibility of some mechanical issues. I’m not concerned about Leclerc yet, but I’d like to see him return to his supreme bat-missing ways. Check the stats section below for some notable early-season differences.
*The Rangers played two games in Arizona this past week on Arizona’s new coconut husk artificial surface. The significance? That’s the same base the Rangers plan to use at Globe Life Field. The verdict? Most players enjoyed the surface, but found it to be a tiny bit soft. It’s great feedback because the Rangers are still determining the best combination for the sub-surface. The softness in Arizona isn’t a concern with as much time as the Rangers have to tweak.
*Mike Minor’s importance to the organization is tremendous. With the free agent pool diluted with everyone and their mother getting extensions, there really isn’t a notable free agent pitcher in this upcoming offseason’s class other than Gerrit Cole. Might that impact Texas’s plans on trading Minor? If they get blown away with an offer, no, but perhaps the bar to trade Minor has been elevated. His performance will obviously help dictate possible returns. He is, however, under contract through 2020 so he could present a strong top-half of the rotation option for a Rangers team that could have their eyes on a playoff spot in 2020.
*One positive from this week was Drew Smyly’s start on Friday against the Athletics. With a charge to better utilize his changeup, Smyly threw the pitch (unofficially) 19 times after using it just three total times in his first two starts. It isn’t a featured pitch for him, but it helps balance out his fastball/curveball combo, especially against right-handed batters. For Smyly, a guy who hadn’t pitched in the bigs since 2016 prior to this year, Friday’s start was a big step in the right direction.
*Big comeback win for the Rangers on Sunday and that doesn’t happen without five scoreless IP from the pen. Especially nice to see Leclerc turn things around with a strong 9th. The Rangers bullpen has gotten off to a rocky start this season, having allowed a run in 12/14 games. If the Rangers want to compete and try and surprise some folks this year, they’ll need a couple guys to really emerge from the pen. I think Leclerc will be fine and Shawn Kelley is reliable, but who else will join them?
I think the Rangers still see Willie Calhoun as a part of their future. Whether or not he fits or makes his place as a part of the future is still to be determined based on his continued development. One of the challenges is that right now Calhoun is a LF/DH without any added flexibility. With that said, his potential as a hitter is so high that a place would be made for Calhoun if he fulfills that promise.
Calhoun is being developed to become a better player. The Rangers need not commit to developing him for their team or others. The reality is that Willie’s improvement will benefit them one way or another, and that’s true for all minor leaguers. So, maybe that’s by producing for the big league team or maybe it’s by helping them land someone in a trade.
Executing trades in this sport, with all of the variables and quirks of the CBA, is very difficult. It happens a lot, but I’d be curious what percentage of conversations that actually have some substance result in trades compared to other sports. With that said, I think the Rangers are very open to that possibility, but they aren’t going to virtually pay all of his deal for him to suit up for another team. He’s such a good on-base guy and a veteran presence that there’s value to him being here. My guess is that there will be conversations surrounding Choo if he performs well, but I can’t confidently guarantee he will or won’t be traded.
Jesse Chavez has struggled this year. He’s also coming off of a 2018 season with a 2.55 ERA. He’s unlikely to match that and perhaps he pitches his way out of a high-leverage role, but Chavez is a veteran pitcher who is a leader in the bullpen and is capable of pitching multiple innings. There’s value there. If you punted on Chavez two weeks into the season, it sends a horrible message through the clubhouse that small stretches of bad performance can cost you not just your role, but you place on the roster. That doesn’t instill confidence in players and, worse yet, it will have them looking over their shoulder. The MLB level is much tougher than AAA. It is tough to simply say, “Player X has a better ERA in AAA than Player Y does in the bigs so we should consider Player X.” There are tons of factors. That aside, when I look at the Nashville bullpen, Brady Feigl, CD Pelham, and Brett Martin are all intriguing and potential options this year. None of those three are really capable of filling Jesse’s multi-inning role so bringing them up would leave the bullpen exposed in the way of length.
*Asdrubal Cabrera didn’t start the opener of the Rangers’ two-game series versus the Diamondbacks because of logging some pretty serious off-day travel from Anaheim-to-Miami-to-Phoenix. No, he wasn’t partying. He was getting sworn in as a U.S. Citizen in Miami on Monday. Cabrera traveled cross country for the ceremony and then back for the Diamondbacks series.
“Other than winning the World Series in 2009, that 2004 season was the most fun I had in my career.” -Mark Teixeira on the 2004 Rangers who, despite picked to finish last almost unanimously, won 89 games and barely missed a playoff spot.
“I’ve seen him play a few times, but I know he has a huge lego statue at Legoland.” -Shin-Soo Choo, who was one of several Rangers who recorded a congratulatory message to Dirk, on what he knows about the recently retired Mavericks legend.
*SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT: Jose Leclerc, in just 6.0 IP, has generated a whiff rate of just 19.0% of swings, down from 37.1% last year and 36.9% in 2017. The good news? After just 5 total whiffs over his first 6 outings, Leclerc got 4 whiffs on Sunday vs. Leclerc. That two-year stretch is more than enough reason to believe his numbers will normalize as it maybe started to do yesterday.
*The sacrifice fly stat began getting tracked in 1954. Since that year, Joey Gallo is the only player with at least 1300 plate appearances and nary a sac fly in his career.
*Jesse Chavez’s fastball velocity averaged 93.0 MPH last year. This year, it’s just 91.2 MPH. His cutter has gone from 91.5 MPH to 88.8 MPH. Has it impacted his effectiveness? On the surface, yes. He’s posted a 9.82 ERA. But when you dive deeper, opponents have a .417 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Anytime that number soars about .300, it’s an indication of bad luck. Unless, of course, guys are just hitting the ball really hard against you. Are they hitting the ball hard against him? No. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Average exit velocity by year:
2019: 82.3 MPH
2018: 88.6 MPH
2017: 88.8 MPH
*Willie Calhoun has had a strong start. He’s slashing .286/.400/.500 (.900). What’s interesting is that he’s already walked 8 times with a rate of BB/6.25 PA. Over his AAA career entering this season his walk rate had been a BB/13.57 PA.
*Hans Crouse made his second start of the year on Wednesday. How’d it go? You decide…5.0 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 9 K, 0 BB.
*This is a big year for Leody Taveras. He’s repeating High-A Down East after hitting just .246 with a .644 OPS there in 2018. He’s just 20, but you’d like to see him have significant success a second time around. So far, so good for the centerfielder. He’s slashing .395/.452/.474 (.926). Oddly, Taveras, who has never averaged a K/g, has struck out 15 times in 10 games.
*And don’t forget about SS Anderson Tejeda. He returned to switch-hitting after lefties gave him fits last year. Overall, Tejeda’s slashing .395/.452/.658 (1.110) with 2 HR and 4 2B. He’s 4-for-11 as a RHB, which is a great sign for his switch-hitting development.
*Tyler Phillips is one of the many young pitching prospects for the Rangers. He’s pitching for High-A Down East this year and has delivered 12.0 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 7 K, and 0 BB over two starts. He’s walked just 57 batters over 317.0 minor league innings, a strong demonstration of control. Some scouts believe he’s a definite back end starter at the big league level with the chance of more if he develops more of a strikeout pitch.
*Rangers 3B Asdrubal Cabrera talked about becoming a U.S. Citizen
*Rangers RHP Adrian Sampson shared with me the history of his slider.