CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Future Shock: Org Watc... (09/08)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Perspective... (09/06)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Perspective... (09/09)
Next Article >>
On the Beat: Falling O... (09/08)

September 8, 2010

Prospectus Perspective

Not Dead Yet

by Christina Kahrl

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory
Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat

            Sun Tzu

For the first time since the Rangers' dwarfish dynasty run of the late '90s, this year's outfit figures to mosey into October with a post-season invitation. Unfortunately, they also stand a very good chance of doing little better than perhaps doubling their franchise total of post-season victories.

There's the usual reason for that, of course: the Rangers seem incredibly likely to draw the best team in the league as their first-round opponent, and whether that's the Yankees or the Rays, it figures to be a tough matchup against a team with significantly betters lineups and stronger rotations.

The problem becomes just that wee bit worse, however, because the club's great summer gambit, the acquisition of Cliff Lee to have a shutdown starter with which to open any post-season series on an up note, may go for naught. Lee's aching back has kept him out of the regular rotation of late. While the Rangers are being sensibly cautious, his missing starts is bad enough, but worse yet he hasn't been Cliff Lee v.2009 or even Cliff Lee v.7/10/10. In his last seven starts, he's been more like Cliff Lee v.2007, the guy who got hammered with alarming regularity. The Rangers have lost six of his last seven starts—a performance for which Lee deserves much of the credit.

Now, admittedly, given some of the indicators we like to kick around, everything might seem relatively ducky, even with his recent failures. Rangers fans can affect a certain sangfroid by noting that Lee has struck out 47 batters in his last 45 ⅓ innings across seven starts, against just five walks. In that frustrating seven-start run, he posted quality starts in each of the first four before things really got ugly, only to see three of those quality outings get blown after the sixth inning. Sure, he's allowed 60 hits and 35 runs, but BABIP fanciers can blithely note his .386 clip, blame the seven men on the field behind him, and call it a day.

Or not, since the Rangers feature the best defense in baseball. If you want to splice minute samples to conjure up a reason why that isn't related to Lee not having his best stuff, other than quibbling about his having to deal with the occasional spot start afield for Vladimir Guerrero, or a few too many non-Borbons in center, but it's a bit hard to blame the glove men, squelching much of the root of any over-worn talk about regression. With his pitch efficiency dropping (from 3.4 per batter to 3.7, and with more of those pitches coming from the stretch (what with all the hits), his recent, shorter shellings don't have a lot to recommend them. As much as you can place absolute faith in Gameday, his velocity isn't down.

Given that Lee's breakdown didn't really become obvious until his last three starts, is there anything Jon Daniels and the Rangers should have done? Surely they could have jumped in on some starting pitcher during the waiver period, and helped themselves out, right? Any comment about execution in the abstract is that the Rangers have to operate in a real world, one that involves a calendar as well as a budget. Their options, however expansive they might seem if you're dealing with the basic proposition that you need to do everything possible to give your team a shot at the pennant—and not simply an invitation to be squashed by an AL East powerhouse TBNL—were limited by both factors.

They were more limited still when you get into the distractions involved with an awkward ownership shuffle; not necessarily a paralyzing setback, but something that's going to consume time via meetings, conference calls, conversations, and interviews. That chews up time that might have been better spent on the team on the field.*

As is, the Rangers' acquisition of Lee wasn't about owning him forever after—it was about leveraging this season's post-season appearance and turning it into something more than just a first-round squashing and re-enactment of the ignominy of the Rusty Greer Era. It was exactly what the team should have done, an adaptive exploitation of an opportunity created by the organization's slow build-up to become a true powerhouse. The initiative displayed was a nice bit of execution by Daniels and company as far as the operational art, but the foundations of the franchise's future success are all still in place, whether Cliff Lee's post-season star shines or tarnishes in his latest uni, before his inevitable departure as a free agent.

All of which might sound a bit glum for the time being, but stepping away from this wee bit of back-related drama, are the Rangers really dead? Maybe it's my brand of perpetual optimism, but I don't think they're done just yet, whether Lee is all there or not.

First, they do have the advantage of a healthy lead in a division where it's doubtful that either the Athletics or Angels could build up a head of steam and make a sustained run and play above .500. So when it comes to the health of Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton and Elvis Andrus—yes, those things are all troublesome, but they're also the sort of thing the club won't have to exacerbate by chaining them to the daily lineup. This should also help them manage Lee's situation. Given their laudable depth in the rotation, it's something they can ride out.

Even then, if you can set aside the questions over Lee's effectiveness and what the absence of an ace might mean going up against the Bombers' top tandem of CC Sabathia and a rehabbed Andy Pettitte or the Rays' duo of David Price and Matt Garza.** Happily, they're still arguably the best defensive team in the game—well shy of recent standards of single-season greatness, but still very good, handily leading the majors when it comes to getting PADE. Second, they're armed with one of the best bullpens.

Of course, so are the Yankees and the Rays, but as a result it isn't inconceivable that the Rangers' bullpen and defense wind up being the collective heroes of the hour in any scenario in which they win a Division Series. Given those two key factors, it's no surprise that they're well-slathered in Secret Sauce—again, not as liberally as their likely first-round foemen, but they aren't desperately outclassed.

If there's an immediate challenge, it's in focusing on getting their regulars healthy. Lee's name looms largest for the time being, but their caution here is like their readiness to rest Andrus' barking hammies—they still have the big picture in mind, and if this year's run comes up short, it's still an exciting first step in what's expected to be a run of lasting success. Their shot at unseating an AL East team or two in the postseason was always going to require a few things going their way; thanks to the weakness of the West, they can still try to line those things up to take their best shot.

*: As Matt Richtel's remarkable investigations already appear to have made clear, that guy you know in your office who jabbers about his capacity to multi-task? You guessed it, he's really just an unfocused boob.

**: Here, I'm just going off performance. I realize that the Rays' faith in James Shields as a workhorse might jigger assignments around a bit. The Yankees' dependence on Pettitte coming back successfully may get drowned out by the Yankees being the Yankees and futzing around with Lady Gaga and non-stories like Joltless Joe's fatal attraction to Wrigleyville, but it's arguably as important as Lee's health is to the Rangers—in the matter of Javier Vazquez, you can't say I didn't warn you.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  Cliff Lee,  The Call-up,  Tactics

2 comments have been left for this article.

<< Previous Article
Premium Article Future Shock: Org Watc... (09/08)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Perspective... (09/06)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Perspective... (09/09)
Next Article >>
On the Beat: Falling O... (09/08)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article The View from the Loge Level: The Alex Jacks...
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Power Outage
Premium Article What You Need to Know: September 19, 2014
Premium Article Raising Aces: Carlos in Charge
Notes About Baseball: The Second-Hardest Par...
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Cueto's Quirks
Premium Article Moonshot: Detecting the Best Medicine

MORE FROM SEPTEMBER 8, 2010
On the Beat: Falling Out of First
Premium Article Future Shock: Org Watch: Red Sox, Angels, Do...
Premium Article Manufactured Runs: Solving the Mays Problem
Premium Article Checking the Numbers: Triple Crown Update
Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Cooperstown Bound
The Unappreciated Slugger
Premium Article Under The Knife: Before there was Tommy John

MORE BY CHRISTINA KAHRL
2010-09-22 - Premium Article Transaction Action: Phillies, Nationals, Cub...
2010-09-21 - Premium Article Transaction Action: Braves, Marlins, Mets
2010-09-20 - Premium Article Kiss'Em Goodbye: Toronto Blue Jays
2010-09-08 - Premium Article Prospectus Perspective: Not Dead Yet
2010-09-03 - Prospectus Perspective: Waiving Good-Bye?
2010-08-31 - Premium Article Prospectus Perspective: A Wrigley Rebuild?
2010-08-23 - Premium Article Prospectus Perspective: Handicapping the NL ...
More...

MORE PROSPECTUS PERSPECTIVE
2010-09-13 - Premium Article Prospectus Perspective: Padres' Playoff Chan...
2010-09-10 - Premium Article Prospectus Perspective: Man Up, Mariners!
2010-09-09 - Premium Article Prospectus Perspective: Race to the Top
2010-09-08 - Premium Article Prospectus Perspective: Not Dead Yet
2010-09-06 - Premium Article Prospectus Perspective: The La Russa-Rasmus ...
2010-09-03 - Prospectus Perspective: Waiving Good-Bye?
2010-08-31 - Premium Article Prospectus Perspective: A Wrigley Rebuild?
More...