2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Texas Rangers

Perhaps the Rangers should follow the lead of the Angels.  They should become the Arlington Rangers.  Then the Dallas Rangers.  Then the Dallas Rangers of Arlington.  Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it.  As the thirty part series of team reviews (in reverse alphabetical order!) continues, let’s see how long it takes me to make a Chuck Norris reference.
Record: 75-87, 4th in the AL West… good for the best record by a last place team in baseball.  The plaque’s in the mail.
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula): 78.34 wins (816 runs scored, 844 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
Baseball Time in Arlington
Other Rangers Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status
Trade Rumors
Overview: Texas can only be described as a mixed bag.  In five years, if they’re celebrating a World Championship, then this will be the year where they executed their master plan to perfection.  If in five years, they’re still a meandering team that seems stuck below .500 and is embarking on another rebuilding plan, well, it’ll be business as usual in Arlington.
What went right: Oddly enough, the biggest stories about Texas this year were the stories in which they were only somewhat involved.  In every will he/won’t he story about A-Rod opting out of his contract, there was always a mention of the fact that the Rangers were still on the hook for part of his salary.  He opted out and Texas suddenly has money with which to play.  So, the biggest positive for the Rangers year happened because of a member of the New York Yankees.  Honestly, for those who live outside the Dallas metropolitan area, did you even notice that the Rangers were playing this year?  Did anyone in Dallas notice?  Even the most recent big news that involved a Texas Ranger went back to A-Rod.  Elias Sports Bureau, who has clearly lost all contact with reality, decided that Texas’s Michael Young was the best person to play 2B, SS, or 3B in 2007.  Over A-Rod.  Sure Michael Young had a decent enough year, but in what universe is he in any way better than A-Rod?  Seriously.
There was the night that they won 30-3.  But did you even remember that it was Texas that played in that game the next day?  On the flip side, in ten years, what game will ESPN Classic be showing from the 2007 season?  That one.  So, maybe the 2007 Rangers will live on in infamy more than any of the other teams this year.  And Wes Littleton can cherish the save that he got from the game.
The Sammy Sosa signing worked out, sorta.  The Rangers paid $500K and got 21 HR (team leader!) and an above average OPS for their money.  I suppose there are people who have ethical issues with it because it’s Sammy Sosa, who’s now a pretty, one-dimensional player (was he ever multi-dimensional?), but what kind of a return did your team get on your $500K free agent?
What went wrong: After hitting 12 home runs in the early going of the season, Ian Kinsler cooled off and did not end up hitting 60.  He did, however, steal 23 of the 25 bases he tried to swipe.  Utility guy Matt Kata went to my high school’s arch-rival.  That right there is cause to land in the “what went wrong” file.  Hank Blalock had a rib removed(?) due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which necessitated giving way too many at bats to Ramon Vazquez. 
The thing that really went wrong is that Texas was basically the only team to completely run up the white flag at trading deadline time, shipping out Kenny Lofton, Eric Gagne, and Mark Teixeira.  From that point on, it was just a matter of getting to September 30th.  The Rangers really weren’t trying all that hard this year as an organization.  But…
Yeah, that about sums it up: On the surface, this was a boring year for Ranger fans.  The real work was below the surface.  In the trades mentioned above, Lofton brought in minor league catcher Max Ramirez.  Gagne brought in Kason Gabbard and David Murphy.  Teixeira brought in that Salty guy and a few other interesting Braves prospects.  The Rangers are actually pretty well-stocked with young talent.  Nelson Cruz, Jason Botts, Victor Diaz, and David Murphy all split time between AAA and the Majors and all had an OPS over .800.  Pitcher Edinson Volquez dominated in AAA.
But stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  In 2004, the Rangers had an infield of young promising infielders in Teixeira, Soriano (at the time they thought he was about 23), Young, and Blalock.  A young Adrian Gonzalez was on that team for a moment as well.  Somehow, Soriano was sold for some magic beans, Teixeira is gone, and Young is 30.  Gonzalez has become a pretty good starting 1B in San Diego.  So what happened? 
This is the same team that traded Travis Hafner for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese.  Some of Texas’s talent will mature and maybe even a star or two will be born. Given the team’s track record, will those stars be born in Texas?
What the heck happened to Kevin Millwood?: In 2005, Kevin Millwood signed a one-year make-good deal with the Indians and looked outstanding.  He lead the American League in ERA, and parlayed it into a nice five year deal.  Millwood, in his past two seasons hasn’t been the same pitcher.  Did Texas get a lemon?  It’s odd because now Millwood has traversed the path from phenom to disappointment (remember the Johnny Estrada for Millwood trade?) to resurrection project to “veteran presence” since winning 17 and 18 games for the Braves in 1998 and 1999 as a 23 and 24 year old.  So what happened to Kevin Millwood?  Let’s compare the Kevin Millwood of 2005 to the Millwood of 2007.  His strikeout rate is down a wee bit (6.8 to 6.4 per nine innings), and his walk rate is up (2.4 to 3.4 per 9).  However, his batted ball profile (GB/LD/FB) looks almost identical.  The big difference is in BABIP.  Millwood, early in his career put up BABIPs of around .290-.300.  In 2005, he was right there (.291), but in 2007, he was up to .348.  A good amount of Millwood’s problems are that balls are dropping in.  BABIP is generally considered to be something over which a pitcher has little control.  The walk and strikeout rates going in the wrong direction are more concerning, but let it be known that Kevin Millwood is probably a much better pitcher than last year’s number indicate.
One minor thing that he might just look into though.  Thanks to fellow Sabermetrician Josh Kalk (go to his site!), who has done amazing work with the Pitch f/x data out there, we can sneak a peek at Millwood’s pitch selection.  He only really throws his curveball when he has two strikes.  Elsewise, it’s all 92 MPH fastball and 87 MPH change.  2005 was his first year in the AL.  Perhaps after that year, when Millwood went to Texas, the “book” on Millwood got passed around and AL hitters realized that early in the count, they didn’t have to watch out for Millwood’s breaking stuff.  We don’t have data on pitch selection from before 2007, so it’s not clear if he’s always been pitching this way or not.
What a fun name to say!: Joaquin Benoit.  C. J. Wilson got the saves after Gagne got traded, but it was Benoit who faced more hitters overall and had a higher average leverage when he pitched.  Benoit learned to control his walks within the last year, dropping a full BB/9 from his resume, which is interesting because 38% of his pitches have been balls in each of the last three years.  He’s always had the stuff to strike batters out.  Maybe Benoit learned how not to throw ball 4, or maybe he got lucky in the bunching of his pitches not to walk so many as he has in the past.
One additional warning sign.  Check out his batted-ball-type distribution.  From 2006 to 2007, his fly balls, especially infield flies, are dropping and his line drives are increasing.  He actually got hit harder last year than in previous years, although his BABIP didn’t suffer for it.  Still, Benoit just signed a two year contract worth some cash.  Rangers fans, here’s to hoping he ends up being worth it.
Outlook: Surprisingly strong long-term.  There’s some talent in Texas, and if they all develop, Texas could put together a very good team.  Or it could be yet another Rangers team that falls apart and tries to fix it by signing Chan Ho Park to a 5 year deal at $15M per.

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One Response to 2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Texas Rangers

  1. dan says:

    You brought up an interesting tidbit in that 38% of Benoit’s pitches have been balls the last 3 years. Something that I’ve thought about in the past, and you might want to look into when your “year in review” columns are finished is the importance of situational pitches.
    Benoit’s walk rate dropped while his strike% remained the same. I believe the ML average strike% is 61, with guys like Maddux and Wells in the high 60s. Looking at those two, it would seem like there is a strong correlation at first glance. However, look at Tom Glavine. He’s at only 59% since 2002, and only 58% last year (walking fewer batters in 2007 than his career rate). I don’t have the knowledge of how to do this kind of study yet, but I think it’s something to look at.

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