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Baseball Prospectus Kisses The Rangers Goodbye

As teams have exited the postseason, Christina Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus reviews their season and looks ahead, with sections written by Kevin Goldstein and various writers. There is also a version of this behind ESPN's Insider wall, so you'll have to pay one way or another to see the entire piece, but there are several on-point items here that I think are worth mentioning.

First, two of the comments in Kahrl's section involve the defense and Tommy Hunter. As she points out, these issues are related. 

The key number: 2.16. That's the Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency of the Rangers in 2010, good enough to make them the best collection of defenders in the major leagues. That represented an improvement from their fifth-place finish in 2009-when they had installed Elvis Andrus at shortstop-and makes for a vast improvement from their 29th-place finish with the leather in 2008.

What won't happen again: Tommy Hunter starting a World Series game. Until he develops a reliable off-speed pitch that big-league hitters will chase, it seems hard to expect the big man to be part of the rotation's long-term picture, and with a full run's worth of difference between his actual ERA and his Skill-Interactive ERA, you can understand where the doubters are coming from. 

Regarding the defense, first, you have to give Jon Daniels and Nolan Ryan another 'job well done' congratulations for turning this defense into an asset. Daniels did the hard work by acquiring Andrus, Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton and drafting Julio Borbon. The reason that I credit Ryan is that I thought that starting 2009 with Elvis Andrus was a mistake - even taking into consideration the realities in dealing with Michael Young. I still think that it was a mistake, since the end result of 2009 with Elvis taking over on May 1 would have been the same, and the long term result will be one less year of control and leverage before he can leave as a free agent in his mid-20s. Having said that, Ryan's insistence on rushing Andrus to give his pitchers defensive support right from the start of 2009 may have been a legitimate positive factor for the Rangers' playoff run. Andrus has matured in these two years, even if he faded badly offensively this summer. A less experienced Elvis - I suspect that if Jon Daniels were completely running things, Michael Young would have been the team's shortstop for most of 2009. 

The Rangers were able to put up those defensive numbers despite carrying Young at third base and for the second half of the season with Bengie Molina's fading arm behind the plate. Molina will likely be replaced, and if the team has the guts to do what eventually must be done and move Young again (1B or DH this time), it could be even stronger next season. The rest of the cast is back and all are in their prime defensive years.

As far as Hunter, many more people can see it now that he's tried to get playoff lineups out, but he wasn't nearly as good as his ERA indicated in 2010. Part of that is absolutely the great defense behind him, since a lot of balls were put in play. But part of it was most likely just luck. As Scott Feldman showed in 2009 and 2010, a pitcher who allows a lot of contact can excel with a terrific defense behind him, but it's no guarantee. Without improvement, there is every chance that Hunter experiences a Feldman-like 2011. It's why I was consistently interested in the idea of Derek Holland as the 4th postseason starter, and it's why Hunter doesn't need to be thought of as more than a back-end guy moving forward. A rotation with Hunter and Feldman, and with C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis, who were both great but will carry flags of their own next season, is no certainty to be a strength. 

Jason Churchill offers some free agent speculation that is worth a look, but the final note of interest to me is Goldstein's on Tanner Scheppers

One is forced to wonder whether Tanner Scheppers could have been another power arm out of the bullpen this year. A supplemental first-round pick in 2009, Scheppers was a dominant force in short stints early in the year, striking out 46 batters in 30 relief innings while allowing just 16 hits, but then the Rangers decided to move him to the rotation, and the results were disastrous. Not only did he fail as a starter; he continued to scuffle after returning to relief work.

 This isn't the first time that Goldstein has made this point, but I think that it is quite valid. The Rangers got greedy with Scheppers. His stuff was positively electric early in the season, and he took to the midlength relief role. Since the Rangers see him as a long term starter and since they thought that they had plenty of high quality relievers, they moved him to the rotation in Triple-A. Whether his struggles with control/command there were inevitable and whether he would have worn down in the bullpen and at higher levels anyway, we don't know. What we do know is that Scheppers had hardly pitched in over a year. He was not likely to handle a higher innings load very well. We also can more clearly see now that relying on finesse relievers for bunches of key spots and innings in the playoffs tends to not be a good idea. The Rangers made an error in underestimating Alexi Ogando because of his lack of experience and overestimating the Darrens because of their experience. They may have made another error in their handling of Scheppers. There was certainly no guarantee that he could have been coaxed into a significant role, but better - or at least different - handling would have at least opened that possibility.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.