Welcome to the latest installment of the Daniels’ Minions Roundtable. The minions for this edition are Let’s Talk Rangers writers Bo Reed and Matthew Irby, Rangers blogger Nick Simmons and KZNE The Zone’s Stephen Rhodes.
In this edition the minions discuss Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando, whether teaching Chris Davis to play the outfield is a good idea and roster moves the Rangers should make after watching the team over the first two weeks of the season.
1) Matt Harrison has been very sharp to start the season but we've all seen this before from Matt. Has he turned the corner or will he turn into a pumpkin in May?
Count me in with the group of fans and bloggers who were both surprised and somewhat irritated that Harrison was put in the starting rotation regardless of his performance in spring training because we’ve all seen this movie before. Matt always starts off hot and then fades mid-season; you could literally set your calendar around it. However, it’s not his numbers that have turned me completely around on Harrison, even though they are spectacular. It’s his mound presence that has caught my attention.
This isn’t the Harrison we’ve seen the past couple of seasons; the light appears to have finally come on. I forget which start this was, but Matt was in some trouble and had just been squeezed badly by the plate umpire. He responded by striking out the next batter with hard fastballs on the hands. It was a moment of pure defiance and displayed a killer instinct I’ve never seen out of him before. I know I could be setting myself up once again for another Harrison letdown, but I think this is finally the year he puts it all together.
I definitely consider myself one of Harrison’s toughest critics. Too many times have we been teased by flashes of great pitching, only to be dashed by some stupid mistakes and frustrating outings. However, after three starts, I must agree there is something different about this guy. It has the feel as though he is figuring / has figured it out. I know that I could be setting myself up for heartbreak, but I believe Harrison has turned a corner. The question remains, for how long can he keep this up.
Let’s briefly look at the progression of Matt since his 2008 debut. Harrison did not have two back-to-back games in 2008 where he allowed less than one run. In fact, he never even had back-to-back quality starts in 2008. He had two games that season that are comparable to his two this season: Aug 16 against Tampa (8.0 IP 0 ER 3 H 8 K 0 BB) and Sep 12 at Oakland (9.0 IP 0 ER 5 H 5 K 4 BB).
In Matt’s 11 starts in 2009 he had just 2 quality starts, and they happened to be back-to-back starts: May 8 at the White Sox (9.0 IP 0 ER 4 H 5 K 1 BB) and May 14 against Seattle (9.0 IP 2 EP 5 H 7 K 0 BB). During the other 9 starts he only went over six innings one time. He averaged 97 pitches per start in 2009 (111 and 102 on the two complete games). Efficiency. By looking at those numbers, the two starts were when Matt was most efficient. He made 4 starts after the two complete games; in those games he averaged more earned runs (5.5) than he did innings pitched (~4.2).
In 2010, Matt started the season in the rotation, and got off to a hot start against two weak teams. His two first starts of the season (against Seattle and Cleveland respectively) he went 6.0 innings with 1 ER and followed it up with 7.0 innings and 1 ER. Then he imploded in his next two starts of April. He did put together one more solid start in his tenure as a starter in 2010, coming on May 1st: a quality start at Seattle.
In looking Matt’s progression, this next start is the most important. His back to back solid outings (like we’ve seen in 2011) were all high pitch counts (all but one between 108-116). Could he just be getting worn out? Is it a mental issue? I read somewhere awhile back that Ranger pitchers had some offseason required reading, and either Holland slacked off or I misread, because in TR’s notes from 4/20/11 he mentions that Holland has picked up some books from Matt: Mental Game of Baseball by Karl Kuehl and The ABC’s of Pitching by Dr. Harvey Dorfman. It certainly seems that Matt made it a point to improve his mental game this offseason.
This past April 15th Matt did two things that he had never done before: he started a game at Yankee Stadium, and he put together his third consecutive quality (and if ‘quality’ is 6 innings with 3 runs, we can call his 2011 starts ‘uber-quality’ starts) start as he went 8 innings against the Bombers allowing only 1 ER. Certainly three starts do not make an ace nor do they instill ultimate unwavering confidence in the fan-base to maintain that production, but Matt is doing things he has never done before. I’m certainly excited to see him go out in the rubber match against the Angels tonight and a guy in Weaver who is one of the most underrated pitchers in the game. The AL strikeout leader in 2010 is also off to a great 2011 start. These two hot pitchers butt heads in Arlington tonight and I’m excited for it.
I think Harrison has hit his stride. He won't be perfect, but he will stay great as long as he doesn't struggle with injuries.
2) When the Rangers put Ogando in the rotation Nolan Ryan said it was going to be a temporary move, but Ogando has pitched like an ace through two starts. Of course it's early and the league will adjust to him, but should the Rangers start looking for an 8th inning guy, either in house or outside the organization?
The Rangers should definitely start looking for another 8th inning guy and I think Pedro Strop is just the guy for the job. He’s a power arm that has gained control of his arsenal and much like Ogando last year; he’s gotten off to a great start. Strop is starting out exactly the same way Ogando did last year before he was put in the 8th inning role when Francisco started having injury problems. If the team puts Strop in the 8th inning, they can both keep Ogando in the rotation and have Oliver go back to his role in middle relief and situational left-hander.
It never hurts to start evaluating 8th inning, right-handed options now. I still think it’s a month too early to decide if Ogando should remain a starter or return to 8th inning setup duties once the Rangers have a healthy Brandon Webb or Tommy Hunter. I might be in the minority here, but I move Ogando back to the 8th when the time comes, however once the season ends, I think Texas should take a long, hard look at Ogando as a starter. He is proving right now that he can handle the situation.
This would be incredibly difficult to predict since I’ve been blindsided by a lot of organization decisions in the past 6 months regarding pitchers. However, the depth of the Rangers goes much further in starting pitching than shutdown bullpen guys. The numbers of the current relievers should reflect some confidence (only Lowe has an ERA over 3.72), but those of us that watch don’t seem to have complete confidence in anyone but Feliz. The question is whether Feldman, Hunter, Webb, or Hurley could make up the opportunity loss of putting Ogando back in the bullpen. Frankly, regardless of what the numbers say, I’m not sure I can take a full season of Oliver, Rhoades, and O’Day shutting down the 7th and 8th. It’s kind of nerve racking. We also don’t even know if Ogando can handle, physically, pitching 150+ innings; I think he can, but then again what do I know…
Lowe is in AAA, Kirkman got worked over against the Angels, and Tobin probably won’t throw another pitch in a Rangers uniform as he left with elbow pain. If you’re familiar with the injury history of this Rule 5 draft pick, then if he isn’t finished for the season, then I can’t imagine the Rangers can keep him on the roster for the entire season to keep from being offered back to the Angels. Strop has been alright this season and has the makeup for an 8th inning guy (with very similar credentials to Ogando). Wash will probably treat him like he did with Ogando last season and limit him to non-pressure situations.
That said, I still don’t think Ogando will stay in the rotation. Even with the struggles of Colby Lewis, Ogando will still probably be the man bumped out at the next healthy alternative. Not only because of the need in the bullpen, but Ogando only really throws two pitches. So far this season, he has thrown his fastball 63.5% of the time and his slider 32.0% of the time. With just the two pitches, it’s difficult to assume he can continue this success throughout a high number of starts.
JD is a smart man. I don’t know who out there would be available. If he can find a guy to make the team better for now and in the future, I know he will.
The first third of the season is spent assessing the roster in place, the middle-third is dedicated to addressing team needs and roster weaknesses through trades and call-ups, and the final third is occupied by observing the results of their mid-season roster reconstruction
I think that even if they do keep Ogando in the rotation, that we are so stacked in pitching, that it will be someone else in house that will get the spot. I say that assuming that some guys get healthy. I don't feel good about Mark Lowe, and I'm not 100% comfortable with the older pitchers (Oliver and Rhodes). So if the banged up guys don't get better, then I will say yes go out and get someone. However, I do not think that he will stay in the rotation, and I hope that I am wrong.
3) The Rangers are reportedly going to start teaching Chris Davis how to play the corner outfield spots while serving a part-time role for the team while he learns the position. What are your thoughts?
I don’t like that they’re doing this at the major league level and it just seems like trying to put a square peg in a round hole so I’m not wild about the idea. Mitch Moreland is the team’s first baseman and doesn’t need to break his routine playing right field so the Rangers can reward a player for a good spring training. The whole idea of having Davis on the major league roster is beyond ridiculous. Not to mention his trade value won’t get any better riding the pine with the big league team. If the Rangers feel that Davis can play the outfield, fine. Send him to AAA, teach him how to play the outfield and if he proves to be good enough then call him up and maybe the Rangers can finally trade the guy.
I like the idea of teaching Davis both corner outfield spots. One, if he is used as trade bait for a mid-season starting or relief upgrade, having a player with strong AAA numbers that can play 1B, 3B, LF, and RF can and will go a long way. Two, if and this is a rather big “if”, he puts the hitting together at the Major League level, then Texas would have another “super-utility” player that at any moment can go into the game and play half the positions in the field. There has and will never be any real concern about Davis’ defense and I think that will hold true if he sees time in either corner outfield position. The problem has always been his hitting at the Major League level. He is the ideal AAAA hitter, but until he takes that next step, then anything and everything we can do to make his trade appeal look better is the best thing for the organization.
I haven’t read much about this yet, but I’ll take the same stance I have on Julio Borbon. The minor leagues are for learning and polishing defensive positions, not when games matter. However, anything they can do to make Davis more attractive to other teams, I am for (another reason to keep him raking in AAA). That’s why I liked the idea of him trying out catcher as well.
I'd be all for it if they would have tested it out at Triple A. This is nuts to experiment like this. He won't be ready until Josh is back! Send him back to triple A for Gentry or some other OF, and test him out there.
4) Let's have some fun with the Rangers roster. What moves would you make, if any, after the first couple of weeks of the season?
First I fix the mistake of replacing an outfielder with an infielder by sending Davis down and bringing up Doug Deeds. Sending Lowe down to AAA should hopefully bring some stability to the Rangers bullpen. It’s not a roster move but I do want to say again that Strop needs to get his shot at the 8th inning setup role. I also talked to Matthew Irby about this during the series with the Yankees and I think the Rangers should look at closers on teams looking to sell at the deadline. The Rangers are moving Feliz into the rotation next year so why wait to find his replacement. Trade for a closer now; put him in the 8th inning setting up Feliz with the understanding he would take over as the closer in 2012. If the Rangers can find a closer still under contract for 2012 then an extension can be worked out over the winter instead of overpaying for a free agent closer on the wrong side of his prime.
Obviously there are some concerns with the bullpen; O’Day, Lowe, and Strop are all getting on my last nerves. I think, as stated above, if and when Texas moves Ogando back to the bullpen, things could begin looking a lot better. However the one move I would make right now is the promotion and Major League debut of Doug Deeds. Keep Davis at AAA and teach him the corner outfield positions there, and let the current Round Rock corner outfielder Deeds get his shot at the Bigs. I understand this would start the clock on Deeds MLB service time, but Texas has seen what Craig Gentry and Endy Chavez can do in the Majors, both are serviceable, but not and may never been consistent MLB players. Therefore, I would like to give Deeds his shot and let’s see if he is the next David Murphy or not.
Well, I’m still not sure why we are playing with a short bench and why Davis is here instead of Chavez or Gentry. If Moreland can be the 4th outfielder, he can be the 7th inning guy too!! (I’m kidding but he was a pitcher back when). Now that Lowe has been sent down and Tobin is hurt, the club should bring up Gentry or Chavez to be the backup center fielder. This brings the bench back into balance, allows for a pinch runner in the late innings, and keeps Murphy out of center. The other night Ron made a 9th inning defensive replacement, moving Murph back to left and Borbon in center. Immediately, Borbon made a play that Murphy probably wouldn’t have. I also wouldn’t be devastated to get another catcher here in place of Davis to give us that optimum Napoli flexibility back again.
Right now things really aren’t so bad. The guys are playing well and the pitching has been good. I give Ron Washington a lot of crap because I’ve been against a lot of his in-game decisions and don’t see him as the best manager this team could have. He’s a great coach, but I’m just not sure the team performs at best with him making decisions. Ceterius paribus, the move I want the most is getting another CF with the club. Ron can figure out his bullpen while waiting for Webb/Hunter/Feldman to be ready, but for right now, replacing Josh with another first baseman is just… Washington.
I want to keep Ogando in the rotation. I want to get another 8th inning guy. I want another OF. I'm happy other than that.