Decisions

At 5:13 this morning, Texas Rangers reliever Jeremy Jeffress was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Dallas County, Texas.  

This is disappointing in so many ways.  

First; the obvious: driving while intoxicated is a very serious and dangerous action that can be easily avoided.  DWI is a crime that is committed far too frequently, yet is one with extremely serious consequences.  I understand that people make mistakes.  I understand that alcohol hinders judgement.  I have not lived my life as a saint and made plenty of mistakes myself, but this one is just hard to understand.  

Jeremy Jeffress is a man with an incredible amount to lose.  

Jeffress finds himself in the midst of a playoff push, being traded from the cellar to a contender at the deadline. 

Jeffress has already been suspended from baseball twice for marijuana usage, in 2007 and again in 2009, so his next strike with substance abuse will be his third and final.  

Jeffress shares a bullpen with Matt Bush, who is the embodiment of the dangers of DWI, as Bush overcomes his demons to finally contribute to a major league team.  

Jeffress is in a clubhouse known for helping teammates overcome substance abuse issues, with the image of the team celebrating a birth in the World Series with ginger ale rather than alcohol in order to help Josh Hamilton remain sober being one of its most famous. 

Yet, a little after 5am this morning, Jeremy Jeffress made a decision that could forever change his life. 

Fortunately, his decision did not alter the lives of others.  

Typically, I am quick to forgive, especially when I do not know the demons an individual faces.  However, this one is nearly inexcusable.  As a Major Leaguer, there is absolutely no reason to get behind the wheel.  Call a cab.  Grab an Uber.  Phone a teammate.  If Jeffress needed a ride, I have no doubt that people would have lined up to take him wherever he wanted.  

Yet here we are. 

Last night's game felt like a turning point.  The offense clicked, Hamels dominated, Mazara gained confidence, Rougie made plays, and Gomez found the love of the game all over again. 

Yet here we are  

This morning's news can result in three possible outcomes:

The team becomes incredibly distracted and loses what seemed to be a valuable piece

The team rallies behind Jeffress, helps him with off the field issues, the clubhouse becomes stronger, and the tight-knit group moves forward

The team completely ignores it and ownership praises Jeffress for his leadership (we will call this the Jerry method)

Which is it?  

Only time will tell, but if there is a clubhouse in MLB that can handle this, it's the one in Arlington.  

Making Sense of the Run Differential

After a 3-0 loss in Cincinnati last night to the cellar-dwelling Reds, the Texas Rangers sit at 73-53 and remain 5.5 games up on the Seattle Mariners in the AL West. No, it’s never fun to watch a punchless offense struggle in a National League park, but the fact remains that how you arrive at 73-53 is slightly less important than simply getting there.

Regardless of how you feel about the decision to bunt in the 7th inning of a 1-run game with men on 1st and 2nd with no outs -- I think it’s yet another example of a supposed “analytics oriented” manager not playing the percentages at all -- a single loss on August 23 won’t likely be the one you can point to if somehow, over the next five weeks, things go incredibly awry.

In giving up three more runs than they scored, the Rangers also earned another dubious distinction: their run differential dropped to -2 on the season.

While it’s not all that rare for a team to be above .500 with a negative run differential, what is uncommon is for a team to have such a great record while allowing more runs that it scores. On pace for about 94 wins still, the results and the projections don’t exactly add up.

For starters, the pythagorean wins formula that measures a team’s expected winning percentage based on run production believes Texas to be a .498 team. That is, if you ran them through a computer 100 times, more often than not, you’re going to end up with a team hovering around an 81-81 record.

Sometimes, as is the case with the 2016 Texas Rangers, however, that doesn’t end up being the case. Imagine for a moment that a baseball team is a two-sided coin with one side being “win” and the other “loss”. If you flip it 162 times, you would expect it to come up “win” 81 times. Of course, your actual results will likely end up varying from your expected results.

Following a normal distribution with a mean of 81 and a standard deviation of 6.36, you would expect about 95 percent of your observations to come within two standard deviations of the mean.

That is to say, one time in 20, you would expect a team to win 94 or more games -- or conversely 68 or fewer games -- based on pure luck alone. So the Rangers have been lucky, it would seem.

Now, before you lump me into the “Rangers are just lucky” group, keep in mind that I’m not also saying that the Rangers aren’t good. They are. They’ve simply needed some good fortune along the way to make that happen.

For starters, Texas is 27-8 in one-run games. That is, I think it goes without saying, pretty fantastic. Any number of things can go wrong to flip that in the other direction. A blooper here, an error there. And yet, Texas finds themselves on the winning side of that coin, which on its own could make the difference between Texas being a 94-win powerhouse and something closer to a team hovering around .500. That’s where you’ll see the word “luck” thrown around.

Beyond that, it’s important to note that the starting rotation has been something of a mess this season. Of the 126 games the Rangers have played in 2016, 50 have been started by some combination of Cole Hamels, Colby Lewis, and Yu Darvish. And in those 50 games, they’ve combined to give up 102 earned runs on 317.2 innings pitched. That’s good for an ERA of 2.92.

Then you have everyone else. The Rangers have used 8 other starters in the other 76 games in 2016, and in 408 innings pitched, those pitchers have given up 230 earned runs; an ERA of 5.07.

Pushing aside the fact that bullpen pieces like Tom Wilhelmsen and Shawn Tolleson played their own part in giving up significantly more runs that you’d expect, the starting rotation alone has been a problem area.

Even if those 8 starters could have put up a combined ERA of 4.41 to this point, that would have been around 30 fewer runs allowed, and the pythagorean winning percentage would have the Rangers somewhere closer to 85 wins. No, it doesn’t make up the entire difference, but replacing the production of this pitching staff with something resembling a below-average ERA goes a long way toward explaining any “expected versus actual” discussions.

If you want to have even more fun and imagine, a good rule of thumb is that every 10 runs is worth around one win. Score five more while allowing five fewer? There’s another projected win.

So while projections and formulas are oftentimes correct -- and in most cases, provide useful predictive value -- there’s alway room for statistical uncertainty. No matter the formula, there will always be an outlier, and as a Rangers fan, I’m thrilled that this year’s team -- which now looks stronger on paper than it did a month ago, and looks to get stronger with rotation reinforcements -- is one of those statistical outliers.

Odds 2.0

A little over a week ago, I visited some playoff odds and talked about the W-L records that would need to happen in order to make the AL West competitive again.

Over a week later, and the Seattle Mariners have gained… a whole half-game on Texas in the standings. Meanwhile, Houston has actually dropped another half-game.

The deeper we get into August, the more likely it becomes that Texas will be representing the AL West as division champs in the ALDS. So it’s in that frame of mind that I wanted to revisit where things stand.

Today, Texas sits at 71-50, and still on pace for 95 wins by the end of this thing. At the risk of counting chickens before they hatch, stick a fork in Houston. They’re done.

At 9 games back in the division, it’s just not happening. Even if Texas finished out the regular season slate by going 19-22 to hit 90 wins, it would take a 29-14 finish by Houston to accomplish that same record. They also play Seattle six more times, so barring a sweep there, they’ll still find themselves looking up from the third slot in the AL West standings.

Speaking of Seattle, they’ll need to finish 27-17 in order to reach 90 wins. They still play Texas seven times. Even if they manage to go 4-3 in those games, or if we’re feeling really bullish on their chances of going 5-2 in them, that would leave them needing to go 23-21 or 22-22 with their remaining slate. Not impossible, but with six games also against Houston, it’s a bit tougher.

Of course, this all assumes that Texas drops off from their current pace, and significantly. If Texas continues close to this pace and/or wins the majority of the head-to-head games against Seattle, it’s game over in the AL West. As it is, over at FanGraphs, the projected rest-of-season standings have Texas finishing out their schedule at 21-20, good for 92 wins. Seattle would need to finish 29-15 to get there and force even a one-game tiebreaker.

And that’s probably why the playoff odds have Texas at 87.1% to win the division. We can talk about the record in one-run games (27-8), or how the run differential doesn’t look so great. And if we were talking about the same exact roster as before the trade deadline, it’d be a perfect comparison. However, most of 2016’s run differential doesn’t factor in the contributions Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy are already making.

It’s hard to say for sure, but Martin Perez throwing his changeup -- the pitch that put him on the prospect radar -- 40 times on Monday evening would seem to have at least something to do with Jonathan Lucroy’s influence behind the plate. And if you haven’t seen his plate approach, or the way Carlos Beltran has impacted the offense -- his game-tying single on Tuesday evening as an example -- then it’s hard to truly appreciate that an offense that already ranks as 4th in the AL based on run production might actually be better than that.

Beyond that, Yu Darvish looks healthy again. Cole Hamels is, well, Cole Hamels. And if any combination of Martin Perez, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, etc. can produce in the rotation, that run differential can actually improve before season’s end.

So while the division race may not technically be over, if I’m a fan of Seattle or Houston, I’m not exactly feeling confident that my team can do what Texas did last season and erase a large deficit to claim the division crown.

Abdication

Throughout history, there have been numerous cases when the heir apparent to the throne has suddenly, and often unexpectedly, stepped down, making an opening for a younger royal to ascend to glory.

As of today, another Prince will announce he is stepping aside, making room for others to find glory in his stead.  

After 12 years in the bigs, Prince Fielder will announce today that he has taken his final at bat, stepping aside from the game he loves after being declared medically disabled following his second neck fusion surgery.  Fielder will not officially retire from the game, but rather go on the 60 day disabled list where he can continue to collect his salary while recovering from another difficult surgery.  

As a fan of baseball, this makes me very sad.  As someone who often criticized Prince’s play as a Ranger, I can’t help but feel genuine empathy and sorrow for Prince Fielder, the human.  

For all of you who are reacting to this with sentiments of “Good”, “he was a bum anyway”, or thinking that Jon Daniels should feel your wrath as a fan for this; stop.  Take a moment to remember that this is an actual person, a person who loved the game, a person who, often unwisely, played through large degrees of pain to attempt to help your favorite team.  Take a moment to remember that inside of that number 84 jersey, there was more than just numbers and dollar signs.  

As a fan of baseball, it’s a sad thing to see a player who had such potential decline so rapidly due to medical issues.  Early in his career, Prince was an absolute force, a joy to watch, and the biggest draw to some mediocre at best Milwaukee teams.  50 homeruns in 2007.  141 RBI in 2009. 114 walks in 2010.  32 intentional walks in 2011. Played 809 of 810 possible games 2009-2013.  

Yet, as Texas Rangers fans, we only saw a shell of the player Prince once was.  

This is sad on many levels.  

We will remember Prince Fielder in Arlington as a disappointment, as someone who didn’t live up to his billing, and as someone who was not even replacement level.  

We will think about pop ups and balls rolled over on to the right side.

We will think about the what could have been with Ian Kinsler.

We will think about that contract, especially with the amount of dead money remaining (after insurance and the partial payment by the Tigers, Texas will still owe him $9 million a year through 2020).

While these thoughts could be construed as unfair, they are unfortunately a part of the tough reality of the baseball business.  Sometimes, no matter how great the player, things just don’t work out.  

However, as unfortunate as the Rangers were to never see the true All Star caliber player that Prince once was, the players in the clubhouse were blessed to learn from him, to see his desire, and to experience his leadership first hand as he fought to be on the field every single day.  On top of that, the only thing that topped his 80 grade power on the field was his 80 grade skills as a parent off of it.  For not just those who know him personally, but also to the casual observer, it became impossible to prevent yourself from smiling while watching Prince interact with his sons, or to even see his sons interact with others.  

I hurt for Prince Fielder.  I wish with all of my heart that things would have been different, I wish that the Rangers were not hamstrung with his contract, I wish that Texas could have gotten more value from his time here.  But at the same time, I am happy that Prince was able to instill life lessons on the Texas Rangers dugout, and I am even happier than now he has more time to teach those lessons to his own sons, using the lessons he learned from his own childhood to raise two promising young men.  

Now the DH spot is being left up to others, with Beltran getting the majority of the ABs going forward this year, and providing a logical lineup destination for Choo and Gallo moving forward.  As the Prince abdicates his throne, the possibilities for this lineup provide more potential than many of us ever imagined, and those who are filling the spot originally intended for Fielder have only one thing on their minds:

Providing a lavish gift to royalty.  


It’s time.  Go win a ring for the fallen Prince.

The Lowe's Walk-Up

If you've been following me on Twitter for any length of time, you likely know by now that I'm a huge fan of collecting baseball memorabilia. Recently, I've shared pictures of my new office setup, which includes not only autographs, but items obtained at the ballpark as well through promotional giveaways.

Bobbleheads are always neat, t-shirts are nice, and collector's pins can really accent the entire package. However, one of the better promotions I've seen is coming up this Friday, August 12, as the Rangers take on the Detroit Tigers.

The promotion, called the Lowe's Walk-Up, is -- as you would be correct in guessing -- sponsored by Lowe's, and it gives fans a chance to experience a few minutes of what it's like to be in the shoes of Elvis Andrus walking up to the plate.

This is accomplished with a small virtual reality viewer that you assemble and slide your phone into, at which point you can use the viewer like a set of goggles to look around and see all of the sights that Elvis sees when he's preparing for an at-bat at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

Fortunately, Lowe's was gracious enough to send me a viewer to play with ahead of time, and like the kid at heart that I am, I wasted no time in having some fun.

For starters, the box. The viewer itself rests just inside, and there are instructions on assembling the viewer. Very straightforward, easy, and from there, the only thing needed is your phone.

With the viewer assembled, prior to inserting my phone, I merely needed to visit loweswalkup.com/rangers from my phone. At that point, you're able to play the video in 360 degree view. Yes, you can really turn and view your surroundings, hear the sounds, and if you're like me, you'll find yourself saying "hello" back to Elvis when he greets you.

I'm a sucker for technology, so this is all pretty neat to me. If that's you, it's worth checking out. If not? Well, it's easy to use, so it's still worth checking out.

The great news is that if you head out to Friday night's game, the first 12,000 fans in attendance will receive one. Even cooler? There are a great number of videos on YouTube that are compatible with the viewer, so the playability extends well beyond what I'd initially expected.

Lowe's and the Rangers have teamed up to create a neat little exhibit, and it's definitely worth checking out, and plus, you know, getting to watch a baseball game on a Friday night complete with post-game fireworks.

Will you be at Friday's game? Be sure to use #RangersWalkup on Twitter!