Today we’re continuing with our Q&A’s with fellow members of the SweetSpot Blog Network. We’ve got Joey Matschulat from the Rangers’ blog Baseball Time in Arlington here to answer a few Rangers questions. If you’re unaware, BBTiA is one of the better baseball blogs out there. I’ve been reading it for quite some time, even prior to joining the SweetSpot Network. It’s a great blog if you’re into sports writing and baseball — even if you’re not a Rangers fan — and I would recommend adding it to your bookmarks.
Without any more delay, let’s get down to the Q&A.
1. The Rangers have improved their team pitching in each season over the past three years — FIPs of 4.83 (2008), 4.49 (2009), 4.17 (2010) — besides the awesomeness of Cliff Lee, what do you attribute the continued growth to?
Nolan Ryan. Well, not really. But sort of. The talent infusion has been the biggest factor, without a doubt, and this season in particular Texas connected on several fairly risky swings with guys like Colby Lewis and bullpen convert C.J. Wilson, and been fortunate enough to brandish an excellent bullpen. I do think, however, that the improved performance is symptomatic not only of better talent, but also better conditioning — to some degree, at least — and the greater emphasis on aggressiveness and fearlessness and pitching with confidence that trickles down from guys like Ryan and pitching coach Mike Maddux. And Cliff Lee is merely an extension of that.
2. Any concern with DH Vlad Guerrero playing the OF in National League games?
A bit. I’ve observed before that Guerrero appears to have the elongated and vaguely awkward stride of a champion racehorse on his last legs, which is an eloquent way of saying that it almost hurts to watch him run — in the field, on the basepaths, anywhere. He doesn’t accelerate well (anymore), isn’t particularly fast (anymore), and doesn’t appear to get good jumps/reads on batted balls (anymore). Pairing that information with his inferior second-half numbers (289 PA, .278/.322/.426) against those of the lefty-swinging and much better-fielding David Murphy (240 PA, .311/.388/.509), it’s hard to find a saber-rooted rationale for sticking with Guerrero in the outfield.
All that being said, Ron Washington believes in Guerrero. The Rangers believe in Guerrero. That sounds very hokey on the surface, but I think Guerrero’s eventual ALCS-clinching RBI double — and, in a slightly different way, Bengie Molina’s monster post-season — and the Rangers’ unbelievable October success have effectively silenced a lot of the outcry that one would normally expect from a saber-unfriendly decision like this. Guerrero might very well misplay a critical fly ball or post an 0-for-5 at the plate or some such, and if that eventuality comes to pass we’ll have a story on our hands, but until then the Rangers are going to live or die by Guerrero — and the fans will, for the most part, happily accept it.
3. How have fans welcomed Bengie Molina to Texas? He had a tough regular season with the Rangers (.266 wOBA) but he’s been having a very nice postseason (.390 wOBA) so far. Bonus side question: You can have Chris Ray back.
The initial perception of the Molina trade was very mixed on the Rangers’ side, albeit far more because of the inclusion of formerly overhyped top prospect Michael Main — who didn’t do much of anything in his first go-round with the Giants — than Chris Ray. As a consequence, I believe it took people a little while to truly accept him here; granted, the offense was still abysmal (195 PA, .240/.279.320) during his time in Texas, but he touted a good defensive reputation (particularly on the game-calling side), and the Rangers’ pitching staff readily embraced his game-calling abilities … and, to be honest, so long as the Rangers had a huge first-place lead, you probably could have inserted a brick wall behind the plate and people would have tolerated it.
I won’t say outright that his huge post-season numbers have elevated him to hero status in Texas, because not all that many people have talked about his impact in that regard, but make no mistake — the Rangers owe a ton to Molina and his October performance, without which I’m not completely sure they win the AL pennant. I don’t know about the rest of my Rangers-obsessed peers, but regardless of what happens in the Fall Classic, Molina’s always going to hold a very special place in my heart because of what he did to help this team capture its first pennant.
4. For those of us that haven’t seen the Rangers play that much this season, what’s the team’s biggest strength? And on the other side of things, their biggest weakness?
Strengths — well, Josh Hamilton, obviously. Nelson Cruz. Ian Kinsler. The heart of the order is pretty damn scary, on the whole. And so are the Rangers’ front three starters, but you knew that already. Weaknesses are more illuminating to discuss … Michael Young’s range at third base is one. Tommy Hunter hasn’t done very much to inspire confidence as the Rangers’ No. 4 playoff starter, and will represent a golden chance for San Francisco to swipe a game in Arlington. The bullpen almost resembles a three-man unit at certain moments, with Neftali Feliz, an intermittently shaky Daren Oliver, and suddenly red-hot Derek Holland seemingly recording the vast majority of the Rangers’ post-season relief innings to date.
If San Francisco can manipulate the game to a point where the Rangers are rotating through relievers in a rapid-fire style (as they’ve already done a few times this post-season, with poor results both times), and force Texas onto the defensive, things will probably be looking up for the Giants.
Thanks, Joey. Be sure to keep up with BBTiA as the Giants and Rangers battle it out in the World Series.