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Rangers. Frustrating Game. Etc.

Final - 5.20.2011 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Texas Rangers 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 2 7 0
Philadelphia Phillies 0 2 0 1 0 0 0 0 X 3 4 0
WP: Roy Halladay (6 - 3)
SV: Ryan Madson (8)
LP: C.J. Wilson (4 - 3)

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Friday night just served as a representation how frustrating the Rangers season has been this season. During the slump Texas hasn't been exactly bad -- if they were they wouldn't be hanging around above .500 -- but whenever one part of the team is doing well, the other aspects aren't there to help them out. It's a great pitching performance not supported by the offense -- or the other way around -- or a bad defensive showing, or the bullpen collapsing. There's talent on the team, that's why it looked good on paper before the year started, but it has had trouble coming together at the same time. On top of that, there are the twin demons of officiating and luck -- which sometimes work out for you and sometimes do not, but the latter seems more true this season -- and the occasional mysterious decision by management. All of that was in play tonight.

The person to show up was C.J. Wilson, who made mincemeat of the Phillies most of the way. Through seven innings pitched he had 10 strikeouts, all in the first five innings, with just two walks, and almost nothing hit hard outside of two unfortunate fly balls. He had nine swinging strikes, and it may have made you wonder what he'd do if he got to face NL line-ups every five days. It was a dominant, and at types electrifying, performance, and far better than the barely-a-quality-start finish makes it seem.

Unfortunately, he did struggle at times to find the strikezone, but that was only partly on Wilson. The rest was on the mystifying strikezone of Andy Fletcher. Few umpires call the low strike, but they'll be generous up high. Fletcher was the opposite. Mostly. He was also inconsistent and a bit confusing. For example, here he was against left-handed hitters:


That would be hilarious if it didn't affect your team, or the sport you love. That looks like a satirical strikezone you'd make up to exaggerate a point about how bad an umpire was, but it's not made up. It's very real. There are nearly half as many balls in the strikezone called balls as there are called strikes, and the a couple of the balls are the most clear strikes of all! Almost as many strikes out of the zone as in the zone, mostly thrown by Roy Halladay. Almost all umpires have a strange tendency to expand the zone quite a bit outside against lefties, but that is ridiculous.

All told, there were as many as nine Rangers pitches that touched the strikezone called balls, to as many as three strikes called which did not. Conversely, as many as six Phillies actual balls were called strikes, and maybe three (maybe no) strikes called balls. It is pretty clear Halladay and company benifited from the strikezone more than Wilson in this game.

Now, that is not to accuse Fletcher of calling an unfair zone, at least not purposefully. I doubt he had a vendetta, though Sports Illustrated did find strong evidence that home pitchers get favorable calls more often, and we've long known established pitchers might get some aid, as well. Further, the two pitchers seemed to attack different areas, with Wilson continually trying to get high strikes, and Halladay continually going way outside against lefties because he could. Halladay did a better job of finding where he could get strikes than Wilson did, and some of that blame falls on Ceej. Some, the fact that it's a problem falls on Major League Baseball. I cam accusing Fletcher of having a horrible strikezone, and which pitcher can find what the strikezone du jour is going to be should not be part of baseball. It was tonight, and though it may not have actually affected the outcome in the end, we also don't know that it would not have. What we do know is that it affected the game.

Take the swing of the bat that ended up being the difference in the game, the Ben Francisco two-run home run in the second. Setting up the home run, with two outs in the inning, was this Raul Ibanez walk:

Pitch one and four were clearly and completely in the strikezone. Pitch two almost certainly clipped the zone, given the size of a baseball (and moved towards the center as it passed the front of the plate). So, that's at least two, probably three, strikes in a four pitch walk. Human element, eh?

At this point, Wilson doesn't know what the strikezone is, and has this performance against Ben Francisco:


Again, Wilson throws a high strike that doesn't get called, and that puts him in a 3-1 count. In response, he goes low, throwing a pitch that would often be called a ball in most games. It was a change-up, and Francisco swung away to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead. Who knows what's different if Francisco is in a 2-2 count, like he should have been, and has to worry about high strikes. Maybe he still hits a home run, but it seems at least slightly less likely, and, at the very least, it comes to lead off the third inning with no one on base.

The only other run Wilson allowed can't be blamed on anyone but himself, as he threw a 90 mile per hour fastball almost exactly in the middle of the plate, and Ibanez parked it easily. He wasn't perfect, but he was pretty darn great, and despite struggling with an astoundingly bad strikezone, had his team in a position to win.

It might, then, seem like the offense should probably be blamed, but they were facing a future Hall of Famer getting strikes more than a foot outside of the zone, as well as low calls you rarely ever see. That they managed seven hits, a walk, and two runs out of that on the road without a DH might just be cause for celebration.

They could have used help from Mike Napoli, though, who didn't get to play because of the National League rules. So he was there as a pinch hitter. Yet, with the tying run on first with two outs in the ninth, and Taylor Teagarden up to bat, Ron Washington left Napoli on the bench. Thus, we come to how questionable management decisions factored in today. I cannot imagine why the man with the wRC+ who can play the same position as the Major League bust didn't come up in the most important plate appearance of the day, but he didn't. Perhaps having a back-up catcher for extra innings is so important to Ron Washington he'd rather increase the odds of not seeing extra innings at all. That seems crazy to me, but it's what happened.

But then Teagarden didn't end up ending the game. Instead it was David Murphy, who broke for second and was thrown out. Technically he was thrown out. He actually looked extremely safe in the limited replays shown, which might just be one more way the umpires affected the game. The Rangers were probably losing, anyway, especially with Teagarden down in the count, but the game shouldn't end on a bad call when replay technology has been around for decades (the same goes for Jimmy Rollins being awarded first thanks to a fake hit-by-pitch earlier in the game).

Why Murphy was going, I have not yet seen. If it was his own decision -- safe or not -- it was stupid, he's not that fleet of foot. If he was sent, that makes two insane managerial decisions in one plate appearance. If it was a hit and run with one of the worst players in all of baseball at making contact, then pardon me while my head does a few rapid revolutions on my shoulders.

In any case, the Rangers lost. They may well have lost even if they were healthy, or even if the umpires call the game accurately (it's not like Halladay isn't great, anyway), or even if a few more balls fall in for hits, or if Murphy stays put, or if Wash pinch-hits Napoli. The problem is that none of those things happened, and the Rangers lost. This was a game where the odds were against them, so losing is definitely nothing to be crushed about, but they managed to make it a one-run game where the go-ahead run was at the plate in the final inning, despite all the things that have conspired against them this season showing up and a future Hall of Famer doing his Hall of Fameings.

The bright side is that all these things are reasons to believe this team is not in shambles. C.J. Wilson is good. The offense has talent, and some even better talent is coming back. The manager has clearly been able to get his team to the World Series before. The bad luck and the umpires are not a conspiracy, they're something that will sometimes be in the Rangers' favor in the future. They're even still alone in first place! Putting the talent together at the same time, getting better luck, and getting some fortunate calls are all things that can and should happen down the road to result in better stretches than we're seeing right now, and losing a one run game in Philadelphia is no reason to think otherwise. It's not like this team lost the talent they looked like they had last year and this Spring.

Unfortunately, each day I write about one of these frustrating games is another day the Rangers have not gotten any or all of those things. And each time that happens, it makes it a little more likely that, for whatever reasons, they will be a talented team on the outside looking in when October comes around.


FanGraphs Win Expectancy


Biggest Failures (What is this, I don't even. . . ?)

  1. Ian Kinsler -22%
  2. David Murphy -15%
  3. Michael Young -13%

Andy Fletcher's Strikezone from Brooks Baseball


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