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June 17, 2005
Friday EditionColorado Rockies: The Rockies just have to be a regular team to win. No, wait. They need sluggers. No, no, hang on. Athletes. They need athletic outfielders. No, pitching. Sinkerballers. Or, wait: kids. Yeah, how about playing rookies? We'll take a bunch of young players and they'll mature in Colorado. Starting this year. Or next year.
Sure, the Rockies remake themselves more often than the high-school kid who shows up each September with a different wardrobe, catchphrase and favorite band. But whether the current youth movement in Colorado represents a true change in organizational philosophy, a roster du jour, or a reactionary necessity--there are 13 rookies on the 25-man roster, but they have nine guys on the DL right now--isn't quite clear yet. Fortunately, they have a well-regarded collection of rookies, young players and prospects to build around, making it less likely that we can snicker at the newest New Direction. Here are a few brief notes on the kids:
Texas Rangers: Ryan Drese, this year's opening day starter for the Texas Rangers, was designated for assignment last week and eventually claimed by the Washington Nationals. The attempt to slip Drese to the minors is unsurprising when you consider his stat line this year.
YEAR GS IP ERA RA H/9 HR/9 SO/9 BB/9 BAA BABIP 2005 13 69.2 6.46 6.72 12.4 0.7 2.6 3.1 .344 .345
Passing the ball every fifth day to a hurler with a 6.46 ERA was not an option for a team that sits only a couple games out of first place. Some of Drese's problems were due to bad luck (among the 160 MLB starters with at least five games started, Drese ranks ninth in worst BABIP). All the same, it's still hard to avoid getting tattooed when you're averaging just 2.58 strikeouts per nine. The Rangers signed Drese to a two-year, $1.825-million deal this past off-season, but did they have reason to expect all that much from him?
YEAR GS IP ERA RA H/9 HR/9 SO/9 BB/9 BAA BABIP 2002 26 137.1 6.55 6.82 11.5 1.0 6.7 4.1 .317 .368 2003 8 46.0 6.85 8.22 11.9 1.6 5.1 4.7 .314 .331 2004 33 207.2 4.20 4.51 10.1 0.7 4.2 2.5 .285 .309 2005 13 69.2 6.46 6.72 12.4 0.7 2.6 3.1 .334 .345
Which of those years is unlike the others? Obviously this year's strikeout rate is at an all-time low, but Drese's career is pretty unimpressive in every year but 2004. In fact, against his career numbers, that .345 BABIP from this year doesn't look all that abnormal. Actually, it's his 2004 career year rate of .309 (which is still above average) that looks like a lucky year.
In the Rangers' defense, $1.825 million is a rather small sum to pay for two years from a possible rotation mainstay. It's not chump change, but the alternatives were also undesirable: 1) dump your best pitcher from 2004 because you think the career year was a fluke, 2) try to secure a one-year contract and hope that he's good enough to earn the money but not so good that you get hosed in arbitration in 2006. In that context the deal makes sense, but when you consider the Rangers' rotation needs the deal becomes even more defensible.
Consider the Rangers' starters' raw stats:
Year IP ERA H/9 HR/9 SO/9 BB/9 P/GS WHIP 2001 926 6.00 11.1 1.38 5.88 3.58 96 1.63 2002 931 5.26 9.69 1.19 5.73 3.90 97 1.51 2003 832 6.24 10.6 1.59 5.77 3.72 88 1.59 2004 901 5.16 10.4 1.33 5.28 3.27 93 1.51
Drese's breakout year also coincided with the best year the Rangers' staff has had in ages.
Rangers' Starters Year ERA Rank_in_AL* #_of_Starters** ERA_Qualifiers*** 2002 5.26 12th 12 1 (Kenny Rogers) 2003 6.24 14th 16 1 (John Thompson) 2004 5.16 5th 17 2 (Rogers, Drese) * Rank of ERA vs. other AL staffs ** # of starters used to get to 162 GS *** # of starters who accumulated at least 162 IP
Not only was 2004 a breakout year for the Rangers in terms of ERA and the rank of the staff ERA vs. the rest of the AL, but it was also a record year for the team in terms of the number of starters they ran through. Because of injuries and ineffectiveness the Rangers were forced to rely on 17 (!!) starters to get through 162 games. This was just one year removed from the 2003 season in which they had to use 16 starters, and had only one player qualify for the ERA title. The Rangers have had trouble finding effective starters, but they'd had a harder time getting anyone to stay healthy and throw a decent game every fifth day.
In 2004 they found in Ryan Drese someone who pitched quite well and was also able to take his turn every time it came around (33 games started in 2004). In that context it is completely defensible for General Manager John Hart, and his lieutenant AGM Jon Daniels, to ignore the long history of ineffectiveness and sign Drese up for a moderate two-year deal.
For what it's worth, this year the Rangers have used just six starters, and that sixth was needed only after Drese was dismissed. It's too early to pop the champagne, but the Rangers are on pace to have their most consistent starting staff in years.