Wait…a BASEBALL Post in December???

I warned you way back at the beginning that this blog would be quite random and I wasn’t kidding.

I came across some Texas Rangers news actually got me very excited this morning. That doesn’t just happen either, especially if the news centers around pitching, which this just so happens to be today.

You see, if any die-hard Ranger fan hears the words “pitching news” during the offseason, the next question tends to be: “Well who did we trade away this time and how soon are we going to regret it?” Pitching has always been the bane of the Rangers existence and it hasn’t gotten better since Tom Hicks has owned the team. He apparently thought he could apply the hockey spending mentality he used with the Stars to baseball and shelled out tons of money for offensive prowess (see: Alex Rodriguez), overpaid for sub-par veterans (see: Chan-Ho Park), and if that wasn’t enough we would trade away some of our better young pitchers in horrible, horrible trades (see: the Chris Young trade, we currently have zero of the people we traded for). To no one’s surprise, it promptly backfired on him due to lack of young talent in the system and very little pitching talent.

The last year a hire was announced that created excitement and several questions: Nolan Ryan as team president. Everyone wondered if this was just a figure head hire in order to get butts in the empty seats at the ball park or would Ryan actually be able to have a say and an impact on how this franchise operates. Of course, with a pitching legend like Ryan coming back, the main hope was that somehow, someway our pitching would improve.

Well, this offseason, the answer is becoming crystal clear. Ryan is tired of the new trend of pitchers not completing their own games and managers yanking them as soon as the pitch count reaches 100. In short, he is going old school:

In his first year on the job as Texas’ president, Ryan has been struck by the limited expectations for pitchers. Six innings are fine. Throw no more than 100 pitches. Start every fifth game.

Ryan watched it first-hand this season. Texas had six complete games. That is as many complete games as Ryan had with the Rangers in 1989, at age 42.

It is enough to make Ryan decide to swim against the tide.

Ryan cannot undo past pitching mistakes by the Rangers, who gave away righthanders Justin Duchscherer of Oakland, Chris Young of San Diego, Armando Galarraga of Detroit and lefthander John Danks of the Chicago White Sox for the equivalent of a bag of batting-practice baseballs. They also had Cincinnati righthander Edinson Volquez, but did get All-Star center fielder Josh Hamilton from the Reds for him.

Ryan can make a difference in the future. Texas pitchers are about to step into the way-back machine, at his urging.

Ryan wants more complete games. He had 222 complete games in 773 career starts. There were 136 complete games, 10 by lefthander CC Sabathia, in the majors this season.

Ryan also dislikes the endless procession of relievers, which often leads to a team losing a game with its 12th-best pitcher on the mound. He prefers relievers who pitch to more than one hitter or more than one inning.

It all starts with stronger pitchers.

“To me, it’s a matter of physical conditioning, and then you get into the area of mental toughness,” Ryan said. “That’s what we’re trying to address now.”

Ryan wants Texas pitchers to learn the difference between being sore and being hurt.

Ryan suggested pitchers are too willing now to stop when they feel the tiniest of twinges. An examination invariably shows something wrong, because pitching is an unnatural act for the shoulder.

“Pitchers feel pain sometimes and think they’re hurt,” Ryan said. “A lot of times, they’re not. They have to learn to pitch through it.”

Texas pitchers have already had one conditioning camp, in which they learned that running will be a way of life. That’s running as in sprints, not leisurely jogs.

The workload will increase in spring training. If the plans hold, the Rangers could return to the four-man rotation, which has been out of favor for more than 30 years.

Some teams, such as Colorado in 2004, have tried a four-man rotation only to go back to the five-man arrangement. Kansas City, in 1995, is the last team to have used a four-man rotation for an extended period.

Ryan believes a pitcher’s command improves when he starts every fourth game. Given Ryan’s longevity and success (324 wins), who’s to argue?

I sure won’t be arguing as I couldn’t agree more. This is topic has been coming up every season between my dad and I without fail. Pitchers just don’t go the distance anymore and a parade from the bullpen is the norm. It slows the game down, it takes the defense out of a rythym, and like the article said, you are depending on your lesser pitchers to hold the game together.

Having pitched before (a long time ago), I understand the need to protect arms, but things are getting ridiculous. These aren’t 12 year old little leaguers, these are professionals. It is their job to keep their arms in as best shape as possible. Arms will get sore, but you just pitch through it. There is a big difference between being sore, having twinges and having an actual issue like a muscle tear. It is a fine line, but it can be walked, and it has been walked many times before.

I can’t wait to see how this new attitude affects the rotation this season with the Rangers. We have a lot of young pitching talent and if they can get in the kind of shape Ryan was in during his career, we could have one hell of a rotation in Arlington in the very near future.

  • John

    There's nothing inherently wrong with good conditioning or using relievers for multiple batters, but if I were a Rangers fan, this would scare me. Fortunately, I'm not, so I'll be laughing when Neftali Feliz makes his fourth trip to Dr. James Andrews. Running your pitchers into the ground just to "speed up the game" and "keep your defense in rhythm" (admittedly, this comes from my sabermetric bias, but you'll have to educate me on the value of a "rhythmic defense") seems like a rather poor tradeoff.

    Nolan Ryan is a freak of nature, and asking current Rangers pitchers to be similarly freakish is going to end poorly. Nothing new in Arlington, I suppose.

  • Ryan

    Considering our pitchers can barely get through 5 innings half of the time, I'm not so worried. Our guys are horribly out of shape to pitch in the Texas heat and we seriously overworked our bullpen last season. I highly doubt pitchers are going to be pushed to a breaking point, but with better conditioning we should be at the very least be able to hit more 7 inning starts, which I would personally be looking for.

    My definition of a "rhythmic defense" is one that is on its toes throughout the game more or less. Constant pitching changes or even pitchers that move at a slow pace tend to get the defense back on their heels. Same can be said for a pitcher that walks everyone and then all of a sudden a ball is hit in play — a defense shouldn't have a moment of shock that the game is moving again.