It’s that time of year when most folks start reflecting on the past 365 days, and thinking about what they would have liked to have done differently, or change about themselves. These reflections typically result in a laundry list of items that usually center around improving physical health, spending more time with loved ones, or achieving greater career aspirations.
As I look back on the 2011 Rangers, I have nothing but great memories of the unit as a whole. Yes, 2011 could have been a better year if the Rangers had captured that elusive first World Series title in franchise history. However, to experience back-to-back years where my team was on the field for the last out of the season is not something I will take for granted.
Yet, when I look at some of the 2011 Rangers as individual players, there are areas where I would like to see a change in 2012. I will not focus on individuals such as Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, or David Murphy, because their production in 2011 was in line with what I reasonably expect from those players.
So, without their permission, seated comfortably in my armchair, here are my resolutions for some of the Texas Rangers in 2012.
Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton
Overall, both players had very solid years. Hamilton hit .298/.346/.536 (.882 OPS), including 25 HR and 94 RBI. Cruz hit .263/.312/509 (.821 OPS), including 29 HR and 87 RBI.
Resolution: For these two cogs in the Rangers outfield to stay healthy.
Hamilton missed 36 games, and Cruz missed 32 games in 2011 due to injuries that landed them on the disabled list. These stints on the DL were followed by some of each players’ biggest slumps of the season, as they struggled to find the rhythm of the game again.
Hamilton and Cruz need to find a way to stay healthy for a full season, especially headed into October. One method of doing so may be more regular days of rest, allowing each player to have a day off once per week. That is a luxury the Rangers can afford thanks to the quality of their 4th outfielder in David Murphy.
Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando
There was nothing wrong, per se, with the 2011 years for Feliz and Ogando. My resolution for these two, however, is based on their potential, as well as the increased role for both of them in 2012. This resolution is twofold, but based around the same objective of being top-of-the-line starting pitchers.
Resolution 1: During this offseason I would like to see both pitchers build up their endurance so that they can make it through a full season without running into the kind of deadarm issues that Ogando faced in the end of 2011.
Thankfully, instead of 6 weeks to prepare for a starting pitching assignment like in 2011, they have had a full offseason to know they will go into Spring Training to win a spot in the rotation.
Resolution 2: Both of these hard-throwing righties need to craft a quality third pitch to go along with their fastball/slider combo.
Because these two pitchers relied almost entirely on two pitches, it allowed hitters to have a much better idea of what pitch was coming, thus greatly increasing their likelihood of getting on base. In 2011, all Major League hitters hit .349 with a 3-1 count, mainly because they can look for “their pitch” (fastball that can be handled). In contrast, hitters hit a combined .180 with a 0-2, 1-2, 2-2, or 3-2 count. That little morsel of doubt created by not knowing what pitch was coming goes a long way to winning the battle between pitcher and hitter.
The likely choice for each pitcher is for that third pitch to be a changeup. With that in mind, I hope Greg Maddux is exhausted of talking to these two by the end of Spring Training. Maddux displayed one of the game’s greatest changeups throughout his career. If he is able to connect with Feliz/Ogando, and transfer that knowledge, it would go a long way to increasing their ceiling in the starting rotation. It is for this exact type of situation that Greg Maddux was hired.
I know Moreland suffered from wrist tendonitis in the second half of the 2011 season. That would significantly hamper one’s ability at the plate. However, beyond getting back to full health, there is one major way for Moreland to improve.
Resolution: Study how he was pitched to in the second half of the season, and adjust his approach at the plate to combat the scouting reports of other teams.
Baseball is a game filled with adjustments. When a talented player first hits the major leagues, oftentimes that is their most successful stretch of production because there isn’t a strong scouting report on them. The league hasn’t yet been able to exploit that player’s weaknesses without a larger sample size. In combination with his injury, I think Moreland suffered from other teams developing a book on how to pitch to the Rangers first baseman, and now Moreland will have to make the adjustment.
Young is my favorite Rangers player. I really enjoy the way he approaches the game, and the hard work he puts in to get the most out of himself. But it is plain to see that he is no longer a strong defender at SS, 3B, or 2B. I don’t think he should ever play SS again, and the dropoff defensively if he needs to be subbed in at 3B or 2B is dramatic. There is one position on the field where Young should still be able to be an asset with his glove, and that is at first base. I don’t know if it was because he wasn’t ready to embrace the other corner of the infield, or what the issue was, but Young was inexplicably terrible at playing first base in 2011, highlighted by his lack of performance in the World Series.
Resolution: I need to see Michael Young re-committed to being a quality first baseman.
For a player that has shown he can adjust to position changes in his career, there is no reason he can’t be successful at this position too. It’s a tough position to play, and maybe it’s a slight case of an old dog learning new tricks, but he needs to be better.
Derek Holland/Matt Harrison
2011 was an excellent year for both young lefties. They showed that they finally belong in the Rangers starting rotation without a question mark next to their name. Holland flashed brilliance, while Harrison put up more consistent and better numbers overall. Again, my resolution for these two pitchers is based on what they can be, not in disappointment for what they were.
Resolution: Cut out the nibbling mentality they both fell victim to at times during 2011.
This is a big step in the maturation of a starting pitcher, when they begin to attack the strike zone, instead of dancing scared around the edges of it. It all contributes to displaying command on the mound, trusting your stuff, and pitching with authority. In that regard, there is much that these two youngsters can learn from the Maddux brothers (Mike and Greg), and Nolan Ryan.
Mike Adams/Koji Uehara
These two big bullpen pieces the Rangers paid heavily to acquire at the trade deadline in 2011 had their ups and downs. Clearly, Uehara’s downs were on full display in the 2011 postseason, while Adams’ downs were more so a matter of ill timing.
Resolution: In both cases for these pitchers, I would like to see them command greater respect on the mound when they enter the game.
For Uehara, that command will need to center around better utilizing his full arsenal of pitch selection, and forcing hitters to respect his fastball. Too often in 2011, Uehara entered the game and begin predictably firing fastball after fastball at the hitters, or failing to locate his offspeed pitches. The result was professional hitters being allowed to wait on one pitch (fastball), and that is a recipe for disaster.
For Adams, that command can come from tweaking his pre-pitch routine. Adams by far was the slowest working pitcher on the Rangers staff in 2011. Mike Maddux is a big advocate of working with a purpose on the mound. This is displayed by not delaying for long periods of time between pitches, but instead by taking the ball and getting right to work. The result is a perception of the pitcher knowing exactly what he wants to do, and working quickly to execute it.
I’m not a coach, I’m not a scout, and I’m certainly not a professional baseball player. As a student of the game, and fan of the Texas Rangers, these are some tangible changes that I think could be made that would significantly improve pieces of the Rangers team in 2012.
Have a very happy New Year, everyone, and may you succeed in achieving your own resolutions.