The Best of Mike Maddux
How many games were the Rangers going to lose in 2015? Depending on which media outlet you listened to or watched, anywhere from 90, 95, to upwards of 100. Why were they going to lose so many games? Take a look back to the ‘00’s, where Globe Life Park was chock full of big-boppers but lacking in quality starts. This year’s version of your Texas Rangers were looking to be no different than the 2007 club, who hit for a .263 average, clubbed 179 homers, became the only team to score 30 runs in a single game, and had a torrid 4.75 staff ERA. With Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, and Mitch Moreland finally healthy, 2015 looked to be a season of much improved offense and terrible pitching, with Yu Darvish lost to Tommy John surgery before the season began and no lefties residing in an already questionable bullpen.
The Rangers made the trip to the O.co Coliseum for Opening Night with a pitching staff that resembled a patchwork quilt. Of the 12 pitchers that made the 40-man roster out of spring training, five had never before pitched for the Rangers in regular season play (Yovani Gallardo, Anthony Bass, Ross Detwiler, Keone Kela, and Logan Verrett). To make matters worse, seven of the eight players that would open the season on the disabled list were also pitchers (Lisalverto Bonilla, Kyuji Fujikawa, Matt Harrison, Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, and Darvish). After an 8-0 drubbing at the hands of the Swingin A’s, it looked as if 2015 was the perfect recipe for disaster. With many eyes turned to Mike Maddux for any kind of help from his staff, how did the pitching coach respond? With his most effective job to date, to say the least.
After a rough first month of the season that saw the Rangers hit .210 (by far the worst in baseball) on their way to a 7-14 record, it became apparent early that Maddux’s young staff was going to have to perform at a level better than expected. In the first month of the season alone, the Rangers used 18 pitchers in 21 games, the most in the Maddux era in April (he was hired in 2009). Seven of those pitchers had less than one year of MLB service time, also by far the most in the Maddux era here in Texas. Even though their record did not reflect it, the staff as a whole finished April with a passable 4.18 ERA, despite being wrecked by injury and composed of very inexperienced youth (and no left handed relievers to boot).
In May, the staff ERA took a bit of a dip to 4.20, but just as in the month before, Maddux continued to make strides with limited resources. Of course, it helped that the Rangers went from the worst hitting team in baseball to one of the best (.210 to .273), but both younger and older pitchers began to make their mark on the success of the club. May saw the long awaited debut of an uber-prospect, 23-year-old Chi Chi Gonzalez, drafted by the Rangers in 2013 and Maddux-molded since. 24-year-old Nick Martinez, another Maddux product since he was drafted in 2011, gave the club three quality starts in May, winning two of them.
Even more startling were the contributions made by the older starters in the rotation. 35-year-old Colby Lewis, along with recently added 36-year-old Wandy Rodriguez, went 3-1 and 2-1 in May , respectively, after being thought of as at the end of their careers before the season began. Not to be outdone, bullpen hands such as Alex Claudio (rookie; 2.84/14 appearances), Shawn Tolleson (all but given away by LAD; 3.21/14 appearances), and Keone Kela (rookie; 1.32/14 appearances) all began to heavily contribute under Maddux’s direction. With the end of May, the truly remarkable days in Arlington were just about to begin.
In June, a streak began that had never before been seen or thought of in Arlington. The Rangers’ starting rotation went on a streak of 12 consecutive quality starts, the most in the majors since the Tigers went for 17 in a row in 2013. What is more impressive than the numbers is the personnel that Maddux has had to work with so far this month. Twelve consecutive quality starts were put together by Lewis (35 years old; hip replaced), Gallardo (thrown away by MIL for practically nothing), Rodriguez (36 years old; released after spring ball), Martinez (only a second year pitcher), and Gonzalez (a young rookie drafted just two years ago).
With all the youth, old age, inexperience, and injury that has befallen Ranger pitching before and during the 2015 season, one common denominator has remained true: the pitching coach. Whether his staff is composed of forgotten pitchers (Rodriguez, Tolleson, Gallardo), terribly young pitchers (Martinez, Gonzalez), or old, hurt pitchers (Lewis), Maddux has continued to somehow turn a bad hand into a royal flush. Might 2015 still turn out to be a bad season? Maybe. But with the idea that Martin Perez, Matt Harrison, and Derek Holland all may be healthy before the season’s end, the sky is the limit for Maddux’s patchwork staff.
The news today that veteran left hander Cole Hamels would be willing to waive his no-trade clause to come to Arlington has many Ranger fans skeptical. Who can blame them? Hamels is in his 30’s, pitching for a bad team in a cool climate, and is owed over $20 million until his age 35 season. Why shouldn’t Ranger fans fret? Because he’ll be coached by a man who works wonders with pitchers in their 30’s, and is in the middle of the best coaching job of his career.