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February 28, 2006

Prospectus Matchups

You Gotta Show Up

by Jim Baker

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Will the Rangers starters represent in 2006?

You gotta show up
All we're asking: please show up
When your arm is saying you shouldn't pitch
That's when you put on your cup…
--paraphrase of famous Broadway baseball song written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross as updated to reflect the recent misfortunes of the Texas Rangers starting pitching

From 2000 to 2004, four teams dominated the sweepstakes for getting the least amount of work out of their starters. They were:

Texas (8)
Tampa Bay (8)
Cincinnati (8)
Kansas City (9)

The parenthetical number describes the total number of pitchers they had qualify for the ERA title (one inning pitched per game played) during that five-year time period. Last year saw the Reds bust out of this cell block with four qualifiers. The Devil Rays had three, and the Royals two. The Rangers had two as well, but that still left them at the very bottom for the years 2000-2006 with only 10.

Say what you will about Kenny Rogers, but when he wasn't knocking cameras about, he was showing up for work and giving the club some frames. These are those 10 instances, four of them courtesy of Rogers:

2000: Rogers, 227.3; Rick Helling, 217
2001: Helling, 215.7; Doug Davis, 186
2002: Rogers, 210.7
2003: John Thomson, 217
2004: Rogers, 211.7; Ryan Drese, 207.7
2005: Rogers, 195.3; Chris Young, 164.7

Without overstating the obvious too much, there are two things a club is looking for in a pitcher in this regard:

*The ones who are capable of throwing this many innings.
*The ones who you want to throw this many innings.

Finding someone other than Rogers who fits both descriptions has been the undoing of this ballclub, an operation that has finished below .500 in five of the six seasons in question. Obviously, the Rangers can't go on like this. Last year, the eight playoff teams averaged 3.4 starters who qualified for the ERA title. The year before, it was 3.8. Of those 16 teams, only three got in there with two pitchers doing so: the '05 Yankees and Padres and the '04 Astros. This shows that, while having an above-average number of qualifiers isn't a guarantee of success (see last year's Reds, mentioned above), it certainly helps.

As has often been discussed with the starters of the Colorado Rockies, what constitutes a good outing is different at home than it is for those who pitch elsewhere. The same is true of the Rangers and their ballpark, so that has certainly been a factor in their reduced workloads during recent years.

Now that the Rangers have completely remade their rotation--including jettisoning the two men who did qualify last year--are they now in a position to, at the very least, have a rotation that can be relied on to come early and often and stay late?

The Rangers' starting five, as projected by the team site at MLB.com, is as follows:

  • Kevin Millwood
    What is the best you can hope for when you sign a pitcher to a five-year contract? I think a contribution of 1,000 innings is a nice place to start at setting a minimum expectation. The problem with signing one to a contract that long is that I don't think you're really clear on what you want to see on his resume. Is it better to have a proven record of eating innings so that you know what you're paying for or a pattern of moderate use that suggests the pitcher's arm won't detach at some point during the duration of the contract? I'm not sure if there is a correct answer to that question in that its very premise is flawed: pitchers should not be signed to five-year contracts under any circumstances.

    As far as Millwood goes in 2005, let's put it this way: if he doesn't qualify for the ERA title then that will be a pretty good indication that the Rangers' season was a lost one. He's made it in six of his eight previous seasons.

  • Adam Eaton
    Eaton was put in the rotation by the Padres on May 30, 2000 and left there for the rest of the season. In only two of the following five seasons has he managed to make what could be considered a full complement of starts (over 30). He's done DL time and/or minor league rehab time in every season but 2004.

  • Vicente Padilla
    Had Padilla managed six innings per start last year for the Phillies he would have made it, but he didn't. In fact, Padilla had the shortest average stints of any pitcher in the National League who threw at least as many innings as he did (147), going just 5.44 innings per start. The only pitchers who had shorter average outings were Jose Lima of the Royals (5.27) and the man traded, in part, for Eaton, Chris Young (5.31). Padilla was over 200 innings in both 2002 and 2003 but spent much of 2004 on the disabled list.

    There seems to be a pattern here with the Rangers' front three. All pitched more in the middle past than they did in the recent past. These are the combined innings pitched of Millwood, Eaton and Padilla:

    2003: 613.7
    2004: 445.7
    2005: 467.7

    PECOTA is projecting 89 pitchers to qualify for the ERA title in 2006. That's right around the number that did so last year. This means that an average team should have three pitchers who make it. The Rangers only have one: Millwood. Padilla and Eaton are close, though.

  • Kameron Loe
    Loe's innings pitched PECOTA projection is based on the premise that he will be splitting his time between the bullpen and the starting squad in 2006, much as he did in 2005. It is, therefore, somewhat, er, uh, low. He is the number four starter as of this writing and, as such, could well step up and finish second to Millwood in IP. Why get so excited about him? Sample sizes be damned. When you're the Rangers, any starting pitcher that can hold his ERA under 3.00 regardless of how few starts he makes is cause for elation. Since 2000, only two Ranger starters have done this. Ricardo Rodriguez registered a 1.96 ERA in four starts in 2004 (although the rest of his big league career has been a runfest). Loe did a very nice job in most of his eight starts last year, posting a 2.70 ERA in those outings. If I were the Rangers and got 180 innings with an ERA in the 4.20 neighborhood, I'd call it a victory.

  • Juan Dominguez and C.J. Wilson
    Wilson could slip into the rotation because he's lefthanded. Otherwise, there isn't a lot distinguishing their PECOTA projections. Wilson hadn't relieved as a pro until getting called up by the Rangers last year. Don't expect either to generate a ton of innings.

In order for Texas to even think about competing, at least three of these pitchers have to show up--and that's without even addressing the matter of the quality of their work once they get there. Millwood is an excellent bet to do so and between Padilla and Eaton, one of them is bound to be healthy enough to make it. Loe has what it takes to, at the very least, stabilize the rotation.
Related Content:  The Who,  Kameron Loe

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