A Rangers reliever returns to the majors in the midst of a career-redefining resurgence.
I appreciate the leap of faith it took to click this link, knowing full well that the article it took you to would be about Neal Cotts. You could have spent this time, during which you’re probably supposed to be working, reading about much more famous players, whose names are more likely to come up in conversation and make you sound smart. You probably won't ever sound smart because of Neal Cotts. But Cotts' story is exciting. It’s not just that he's back in the majors after wandering in the baseball wilderness for years. That part is pretty cool, of course, considering how long he’s been away. But if that were all it was, the excitement would wear off quickly. What makes the story special is that Cotts, at age 33, has come back a completely different guy, a completely dominant guy, and, until proven otherwise, possibly the best pitcher who has ever thrown outside the realm of the immortals. And now that I’ve hopefully hooked you, let’s recap how Cotts sank into the obscurity from which he recently returned.
You might remember Cotts from his days with the White Sox and Cubs. Then again, you might not, since he was a mostly unremarkable reliever. His most memorable season was 2005, when he won a World Series with the Sox after posting a 1.94 ERA in 60 1/3 innings. Even that season wasn’t nearly as good as it seemed on the surface: Cotts had the lowest HR/FB rate (1.8 percent) and one of the lowest BABIPs (.237) of any pitcher to top 60 innings. In all other seasons combined, Cotts recorded a 5.14 ERA in relief. He struck out about eight batters per nine, walked about four, and gave up too many home runs. He was a lefty, but not a specialist, since he had a career reverse split (southpaws slugged .456 against him).
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A team that has often struggled with poor pitching in the past has done an excellent job of supplying arms from within.
The leader of the last Rangers pitching staff to lead the league in runs allowed was Rick Honeycutt, so you know it’s been a lean few decades. Complemented by Frank Tanana, Charlie Hough, Danny Darwin, Mike Smithson and an able bullpen, that Honeycutt-led staff allowed 609 runs in 1983—11 years before the Rangers’ move to their current, hitter-friendly ballpark.
That’s an ambitious example to follow for this Rangers team, which currently leads the league in runs allowed per game, chased by another team hardly helped by its home park, the Yankees. Ultimately the third-place Tigers may catch them, helped by the more neutral Comerica Park, but that’s not really the point here. It’s that this is so unlike the construction of any Rangers team we’ve seen in this generation of the offensive explosion and immediate aftermath. This season, Texas is living at the league median on offense, eighth in runs scored per game.
The first of a five-part series on the pressing questions confronting each team in 2013.
In the week leading up to Opening Day, we're asking and answering three questions about each team in a five-part series ordered by descending Playoff Pct from the Playoff Odds Report. Today, we get things started with a look at the six teams with the highest odds of winning at least a Wild Card. As a reminder, you can find links to our preview podcasts for each team here.
Which of last season's contending teams have been least active this offseason, and why?
With only 50 days remaining until the first February report dates—and 100 until Opening Day—most teams have already crossed off the majority of the items on their winter to-do lists, and only a handful of the top 20 free agents are still looking for work. But while many of baseball’s best clubs have stayed busy bringing in new players or bringing back old ones, a few of the teams that made (or came close to making) the playoffs last season have been quiet. Here’s a look at four teams with more tumbleweeds than transactions this winter:
Biggest move they’ve made: Re-signing Nate McLouth to a one-year contract Why they haven’t been busier: The Orioles went from last place to the playoffs without making many major moves last winter, and they didn’t stop tinkering after Opening Day. Unlike the Yankees, who’ve spent much of the winter trying to keep or replace free agents, the O’s entered the offseason with most of their important players under team control for 2013. However, they will have to pony up for arbitration raises, which restricts their financial flexibility. Will they wish they’d done more? The Orioles’ run differential didn’t prevent them from making the playoffs last season, but the odds aren’t good that they’ll be able to replicate their 29-9 regular-season record in one-run games. Balitmore can hope for better health and better production from their young players, but with their division rivals all active since October, the O’s run a real risk of falling prey to the Plexiglas Principle and losing ground to the teams they leapfrogged last season. What might they still do? Last winter, Dan Duquette waited until January to sign Wei-Yin Chen and February to trade for Jason Hammel, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he took the patient approach again. This year, Joe Saunders is the most likely late entry to the rotation. It’s a long shot, but the O’s have also been linked to Adam LaRoche, who’d fit in nicely at first with Mark Reynolds off the roster.
The Orioles' first playoff game, much like their season, didn't go quite the way we expected.
As was noted in the Wild Card Roundtable, Joe Saunders’ performance in the Orioles’ 5-1 win over Texas serves as a near-perfect analogy for Baltimore’s season as a whole. Nobody expected either to stick around very long, but while it wasn’t pretty, both got the job done. Saunders, whom I wrote would have a short leash, didn’t need much slack tonight, hurling 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball. Though he found himself in quite a few jams of varying sizes, he never let things get out of hand. He allowed a baserunner in every inning (except the sixth, when he got pulled), but Saunders’ specialty, the well-timed groundball—including three double plays!—helped him minimize the damage. As a result, the Orioles have reached the ALDS for the first time since 1997 and will host the division-rival Yankees at home on Sunday.
Watching Yu Darvish is wonderful. Hitting against him is hell.
Beside pitch speed, pitch location, pitch spin, pitch movement, pitch type, count, batter, park, umpire, release point, etc., PITCHf/x also logs something called pitch-type confidence. Since the system is using algorithms to deduce what the pitch is based on speed, movement, and release point, it has to make some assumptions. If a pitcher throws only one type of fastball, and it is 10 mph faster than any other pitch he throws, and it is the only pitch that breaks to the pitcher’s glove side, the system can be pretty confident when it labels a 98-mph pitch a fastball.
But then there’s Yu Darvish. Of all the pitches Yu Darvish has thrown this year, 43 were give a confidence level of 50 percent or lower, and 506 were 80 or lower. Compare this to, say, Wandy Rodriguez, my go-to control group. He has thrown just one pitch with a confidence rating lower of 50 percent or lower, and 121 at 80 or lower. Or compare to (random pitcher) Stephen Strasburg: five below 50, 120 below 80. Strasburg has thrown 81 pitches that PITCHf/x was 100 percent confident about. Yu Darvish has thrown none.
The Rangers and Giants will probably both be playoff teams, but two other virtual locks for October, the Yankees and Nationals, made them look bad last night.
The Monday Takeaway
According to the playoff odds as of Tuesday morning, the Rangers are virtually certain to (99.5 percent) be dancing in October, and the Giants have more than a puncher’s chance (58.4 percent). Twelve hours earlier, the Yankees and Nationals, respectively, made them look like bona fide pretenders.
In the Bronx, Ryan Dempster retired the first six Yankees he faced, allowing the Rangers offense to build a 2-0 lead. Then, someone moved batting practice to the bottom of the third inning, and Nick Swisher highlighted the five-run session with a four-run missile into the second deck. The grand slam was Swisher’s 200th career home run, but it had nothing on this 441-foot, sixth-inning blast off the bat of Eric Chavez. And, as if those two bombs weren’t enough, Derek Lowe—fresh off the scrap heap and straight into mop-up duty—needed only 44 pitches to cruise through four innings and earn his first save since 2001. A game Texas led 2-0 ended 8-2 the other way, and the Yankees surged a half-game ahead in the race for the American League’s number-one seed.