Friday, February 18, 2011

Spring Training Report

Injury Updates:

Omar Beltre: lost for at least 3 months if not the whole year with a genetic condition that causes narrowing of the spine that requires some sort of surgery (probably to create some space between bone and nerves). I've made note of Beltre's extensive injury history (shoulder, elbow) since the fall of 2008, noting that he was probably a DL baby from here on out (at 30yo) and that a bullpen role was probably best for him in order to keep him healthy. Last year, Beltre was on and off the DL all year, and in and out of the rotation as well after missing all of 2009. He also had a weird winter league pitching schedule this year which started late and ended abruptly, so I suspect that he was dealing with this issue then, if not for the last 2 years in some capacity. Reports note that he dealt with numbness in his extremities last year and it continued into the off-season so the team has probably been evaluating the issue anew since shutting him down in December.

Craig Gentry: the injury prone kid might not be on the mend. His broken wrist still has him in some pain and he will be reevaluated by a specialist. Worst case scenario, Eric Hurley. Gentry and Endy Chavez (seems healthy now after a season in winter ball) were probably going to compete for the 5th OF role whenever that role would be needed. It is likely that Endy Chavez (if healthy) will be the guy now if Gentry's wrist is still a problem, and that is not a bad thing if healthy, as he's a better hitter, with lots of ML experience and a stellar glove man, but old of course.
UPDATE: Gentry gets shot, scans negative.

Brandon Webb: As I wrote some weeks ago - see Brandon Webb's Shoulder - I felt that Webb was unlikely to make his debut in the rotation given the nature of the problems he had last year during his rehab. If the first week of camp is any indication (sometimes it is, sometimes it ain't), Webb is on track to debut on the DL and get some innings in AAA:

Webb Day One:
At one point during the session, Maddux gave Webb an adjustment to try to keep him from "flying open.""Mechanically, he's rusty," Maddux said. "He's inconsistent with his delivery right now and he's got to tighten the ship on that. We went over some things and got a brief look."Webb said he felt good after the session but that he has to fight the tendency for his arm to get ahead of his body. It's something he'll address more on Sunday.

Webb Day Two:
While most of the Rangers' pitchers are throwing off a mound every two days and throwing some pitches to live hitters, Webb is going to throw off a mound every three days and not pitch to live hitting yet.

I think the uncertainty about Webb made the Dave Bush signing a must and he could prove to be a very valuable signing as a 5th starter should Webb begin the season on the DL. Even if he is not in the roto to begin the season, I think he makes the club as the long man/spot starter in a similarly valuable role.

Fabio Castillo: As I noted before, has a fractured foot. Is currently in a walking boot.

Chad Tracy: Being held out of the OF for now, as he continues to strengthen his shoulder from off-season shoulder surgery.

Scott Feldman: As expected, Feldman seems to be out of the running for a rotation spot until June while he rehabs his knee so he'll be moved to the 60 day DL as soon as 2/26. He likely won't throw off the mound until April and then pitch a month in AAA.

Scatter Shots:

"Tired Meme" alert #1: "Texas has 12 starting pitchers competing for 5 spots. Texas has more depth among starting pitching candidates than in recent memory. "

Let's unpack this: Hurley is not a candidate for the rotation as he will have his innings limited after missing 2 years; Beltre would have been the 13th (Feldman the 14th, and don't forget Seth McClung, who took last year "off"), now shelved, but who I argued should have been moved to the pen to keep his arm/elbow healthy; Scheppers is not a candidate for the rotation as he needs innings as a starter in AAA; it will either be Feliz or Ogando (or neither one) but not both, and I'm not convinced that Ogando has a third pitch to start (among other issues); Webb has missed 2 years and I predict he starts the year getting innings in AAA; Harrison has lost the trust of Texas coaches in whatever role he's in. Kirkman has terrible command vs RHH and a fringy changeup so is most likely to start in the AAA rotation; Holland has regressed since his debut and has a lot to prove; Hunter imploded for a couple of months last year and struggled in the playoffs.

Only seven "candidates" pitched at least 100 innings last year: 2 of those are on the DL and 2 others did it in AAA (Lewis 200+; Wilson 200+; Hunter 155; Holland 134; Feldman (DL)145; Kirkman 150 AAA; Beltre (DL)102 AAA; Bush 174). Not to mention that 2 others haven't pitched in 2 years. So what kind of depth are we talking about? Get real.

"Tired Meme" alert #2:
"The following pitchers looked impressive throwing live BP today" - (rotate 1/2 dozen names each day): Ryan Tucker, Mason Tobin, Y. Tateyama, Zach Jackson, Zach Phillips, Seth McClung.

According to TR Sullivan, Schepper's mechanics were all awry, meriting some extra attention from Maddux, with the assertion that he has a lot of work ahead of him. Hmm. I still stick to my prediction that he will be ready to move into the rotation at mid-season if needed.

Count Maddux as one of the guys in the "Feliz can be a #1" camp:
"What I do like is you have the potential of having a No. 1-type starter," Maddux said. "What I don't like about it: You wouldn't be having your No. 1 closer.
"But at the end of the day, if you are faced with that decision, would you rather have 70 innings out of your No. 1 guy or 200 innings out of your No. 1 guy? It's kind of a no-brainer."

According to Wilson, Texas put Feliz on an "long-toss-intensive throwing program to get him more stretched out than he had been last spring". Not sure what that means really. Does it mean that Texas failed to stretch him out properly last year or is this just misspeak? Whatever the case, I assume that Ogando is on the same program (since early December) as he has only 3 starts in his entire career.

I still refuse to buy into the idea that Ogando is "ahead" of Feliz when it comes to becoming a starter given that Feliz was a starter in the minors and Ogando was not. In addition, I don't buy the idea that Ogando has better secs than Feliz just because Ogando threw his slider more often than Feliz threw his curveball, with both rarely unsheathing a third pitch. Basically what I know about Feliz is that both his changeup and curveball have flashed above-average to plus in the past including last year.

The crux of the issue to me is not "who has the better secs?", though it is not clear to me that Ogando's split change is good enough to be a starter, but, who has the better pitchability. Ogando has never been a starter at anytime during his entire career so he is the one he has to prove he knows how to pitch well enough to start. Feliz already has about 200 innings as a starter so Texas should already know whether he is ready to start or not. Another issue might be whether or not Feliz wants to start, and given his public pronouncements about his love for closing, maybe the outcome is already a fait accompli.

Another critical issue with Ogando is the increased injury risk associated with a huge jump in innings given his unique profile. Though Evan Grant has done his best so far to peddle the "pen to rotation injury risk" meme so far, there has never been any common sense data to support this contention. Neither Feldman, Wilson nor Lewis were really ever injury risks: Feldman lost his stuff last year, not his health; Wilson pitched every other day for the last 4.5 years and started in the minors; Colby Lewis threw 180 innings for 2 consecutive years while pitching once a week in Japan. What the Feldman and Wilson case seem to prove, supporting what seems to be a generally accepted position on the matter, is that pitching 50-70 innings per year while throwing every other day for at least a couple of years seems to condition the arm just fine for pitching 3x as many innings every fifth day as a starter.

Now this is where Ogando is a unique case where his injury risk might be elevated by a large increase in innings. He has accumulated only 93 innings from 2006-2009, missing 2008 altogether (that I can tell). His 73 innings this year (plus the playoffs) are the first time in his career that he has gone over 35 innings in a season. So basically the assumption seems to be that Ogando will have no problem pitching the same amount of innings this year as a starter as he has accumulated over the last 5 years _combined_. Given that this year was the first year that he has pitched in a full season league (March thru October), he hasn't even really thrown every other day in his career save for this year. If there were a commonsense case for future injury due to a transition from pen to roto due to the increased innings, Ogando would seem to fit the profile. Texas doesn't seem to be concerned however, though I'm not sure why exactly; his situation is not the same as Wilson or Feldman.


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