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Entries in Texas Rangers (77)


Rangers Ink Nathan; Feliz to Start

Texas Rangers signed RHP Joe Nathan to a two-year, $14.5 million contract with a $9 million club option for the 2014 season.

Turning 37 today, Nathan's days as a tier-one closer are likely over. But in his first post-Tommy John season, the longtime Twinkie pitched better than his ERA would suggest. Nathan gives the Rangers a capable late-inning arm without a leviathan three or four-year commitment and allows the club to make a reliever-to-starter conversion for a third straight season by moving Neftali Feliz to the rotation.

Nathan didn't get through the 2011 season unscathed (he missed a month with a right forearm injury), and his fastball, which once consistently sat 94-95 mph, averaged a more modest 92.3 mph. His lower-octane stuff led to his first relief year in which he struck out less than a batter per inning (8.7 K/9 in 44.2 frames). However, Nathan displayed pretty good control (2.4 unintentional BB/9) and his fielding-independent numbers paint the picture of a pitcher deserving of a 4.00ish ERA instead of his actual 4.84 mark, which was the result of a very low rate of stranding base runners (64 percent, compared to a 79 percent career average).

One concern for Nathan is how his fly ball-heavy approach will play in Arlington. Nathan induced ground balls slightly under 36 percent of the time in 2011, and he served up 1.4 homers per nine innings. Like in past years, he tried to challenge hitters up in the zone with his fastball:

Nathan's fastball location, 2011

But, sitting at 92 instead of his vintage 95 mph, Nathan's fastball got hit hard:

In-play slugging percentage by location on Nathan's fastball, 2011

All seven of the homers that Nathan surrendered came on fastballs. Hitters slugged nearly .600 against the pitch, and whiffed at it less than 13 percent of the time (18 percent average for relievers). Thankfully, his breaking pitches were more effective: batters slugged a combined .220 versus Nathan's low-80s curveball and high-80s slider (.302 average for RP).

Nathan's signing means the Rangers will try to go three-for-three in converting relievers to the rotation. C.J. Wilson (who Feliz may well replace) made the jump in 2010 and Alexi Ogando did it prior to 2011, and now Feliz gets his shot. The 23-year-old righty was a starter coming up on the farm with the Braves and has long been lauded for a devastating, mid-to-upper-90s fastball. As a starter, however, he'll need to show better control (he walked 4.2 per nine unintentionally last year), dust off his breaking ball and further develop either his high-80s cutter or changeup.

As a reliever in the majors, Feliz has averaged 96.3 mph with his fastball. Not surprisingly, he has fallen in love with that pitch, throwing it about 77 percent of the time. It's arguably the best fastball among all relievers. Even though hitters guessing fastball would have been right more than three-quarters of the time, they hit .181 against the pitch and slugged .291, while also whiffing 26 percent of the time that they dared take a cut.

That fastball, even if it loses a couple ticks in extended outings, will be the center piece of his approach. But his secondary stuff needs a tune-up. Feliz has thrown his power slider for a strike less than half of the time, and his changeup also has a below-average strike rate in the mid-fifties. As he develops those pitches more in Spring Training, he could also go to a high-80s cutter that he started throwing in 2011 (green on the chart below). That pitch would give hitters something more to think about instead of just gearing up for a fastball (red) or looking for a sweeping slider (blue).

Release velocity and pitch break on Feliz's pitches, 2011

Nathan no longer hangs out in Mo Rivera/Papelbon territory, and there are concerns about how his aerial approach applies to a park that increases homers by 19 percent for lefty hitters and 14 percent for righties. Still, if his signing keeps Texas from going 3 years/$30+ million for someone like Francisco Rodriguez or Heath Bell and lets Feliz maximize his value as a starter, it's a defensible move.


FA Wilson Would Miss His Infield D in Texas

Now that CC Sabathia has reworked his contract with the Yankees, C.J. Wilson is the best remaining starter (non-Yu Darvish division) on the free agent market. The 31-year-old lefty scuffled in the postseason, but he ranks 24th in Fielding Independent Pitching and ninth in Wins Above Replacement among qualified starting pitchers since he converted from the bullpen two years ago.

Wilson recently told Paul Salfen of Scorecard Daily that he could easily see himself staying in Texas:

"Yeah, there’s a great chance because I like it here and I’ve won here." He added later, "It’s now all about figuring out how all of the guys on the team – not just me – there’s Elvis, Nelson, Josh, Ian – a lot of guys have contractual things that are coming up. I think one thing the Rangers want me to know is what they’re planning on doing with all of these other guys in the long term. So that gives me confidence that we’re going to keep winning."

With Sabathia no longer an option and presumably lots of revenue coming in due to two straight World Series appearances and a 10,000 fan-per-game increase in attendance over the past few seasons, the Rangers have plenty of reasons to lock up Wilson. But, in addition to playing for a winning club, Wilson has one big reason to stay: the Rangers' elite infield defense helps him out greatly.

Wilson induces a lot of ground balls, as his 49.4 GB% over the past two years is well above the 45.3 percent average for starters since 2010. And Texas' infield D, with 2011 Gold Glove winner Adrian Beltre at third, shortstop Elvis Andrus and second baseman Ian Kinsler, does a fantastic job at converting those grounders into outs.  

Over the 2010-2011 seasons, Wilson has a .211 opponent batting average on ground balls hit. For comparison, the big league average for starters over that time frame is .239. Only Toronto's Ricky Romero (.189 BABIP on grounders) and Oakland's Trevor Cahill (.192) had lower BABIP figures on grounders among starters with at least 500 batters faced.

Beltre, Andrus and Kinsler not only keep hitters from reaching base on grounders, but they help Wilson eliminate them if they do get on first. Rangers fielders turned a double play in 14 percent of their opportunities with Wilson on the mound in 2010, and 20 percent of the time in 2011. The MLB average is 11 percent. Wilson's 52 total double plays over the past two years rank fourth among starters, behind just Atlanta's Tim Hudson, Romero and Sabathia.

With comparatively little mileage on his arm and improved performance against right-handed batters, Wilson should succeed no matter where he lands. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a better destination than the one he has called home for the past seven seasons.


Carp Goes on Short Rest

With the World Series on the line, Chris Carpenter takes the ball on short rest tonight for the St. Louis Cardinals. Carp, who gave up four runs in three innings while pitching on short rest against the Phillies in Game Two of the NLDS, gets the nod over a fully-rested Edwin Jackson and Kyle Lohse.

Starting pitchers typically perform worse on three days' rest. Baseball-Reference keeps track of a stat called tOPS+, which compares a pitcher's on-base-plus-slugging percentage in a particular situation to his overall OPS. One-hundred is average, while anything over 100 means the pitcher did worse in that situation than he did overall. With the exception of 2009, starters have lost a good bit of their effectiveness when going on short rest:

2008: 115 tOPS+ (15 percent worse on three days' rest than in other situations)

2009: 94 tOPS+

2010: 113 tOPS+

2011: 121 tOPS+

How have pitchers fared in the playoffs on short rest? Not well. Since 2008, there have been 10 starts made on three days' rest. The pitchers lasted slightly more than 5.1 innings per start, with a solid strikeout total (7.6 per nine innings pitched) but also plenty of walks (3.8 per nine) and lots of home runs allowed (1.55 HR/9). Those starters had a collective 5.79 ERA.

The sample size is awfully small (a total of 54.1 innings pitched), but we are talking about some of the best starting pitchers in the game. After all, a manager wouldn't consider putting a pitcher out there on short rest unless he thought that his less-than-optimal-ace would still be better than a well-rested, middle-of-the-pack starter. In recent years, though, those aces have coughed up runs at a Kyle Davies-like clip.

Here's the list of short-rest playoff starters since '08, ranked by Game Score (the average is around 50):


Is 70-80 percent of vintage Chris Carpenter better than Edwin Jackson at 100 percent? We'll find out tonight, though it's entirely possible that Carp is only the nominal starter, going once through the Rangers' lineup, and Jackson sees a few innings of action as well. Given how starters tend to fare worse in the mid-to-late innings -- compared to their first time through the lineup, their opponent OPS climbs 29 points the second time through and 74 points when facing batters a third time -- being quick to the bullpen is a smart strategy. 

If Game Seven is even one percent as thriling as Game Six, we'll all be in for a treat.