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Rangers rotation fillers: Who starts Saturday?

Rangers rotation fillers: Who starts Saturday?

Credit: Getty Images

Robbie Ross probably deserves a spot start moreso than any other candidate. But that doesn't make him likely to get the Saturday appearance against Houston.(Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)


WFAA Sports Blogger

Posted on June 13, 2012 at 10:32 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 13 at 10:41 AM

The Rangers are breaking new ground, as far as 2012 is concerned, with their scheduled starter for Saturday. TBD is written in right now, which means 'To Be Decided', for those unfamiliar with acronyms. This is the TBD's first appearance of the year for the Rangers, whose  depth has been good enough to carry them to the #8 starter. The issue is, no one is really sure who the Rangers' #8 starter is, so you can read along for the next few hundred words to handicap the candidates.

The Major Leaguers:
Robbie Ross
You already know Robbie Ross. He turns 23 in less than two weeks, strikes out 3.67 batters for each one he walks, and gets 61.6% of balls put into play against him hit on the ground. He's good for multiple innings, he's actually been better against righties than lefties, and has probably been, on the whole of the season, the best non-Joe Nathan reliever on the Rangers' staff. He's also somewhat stretched out, having thrown 45 pitches over 4 innings on Sunday. 
You could take all those things and think he'd be good for the spot in the rotation because of them, but with Ogando out of the bullpen, Ross likely moves into the bridge/fireman role he occupied previous to the move to the rotation. Washington has stated his desire to keep Ross in the 'pen, and in this case I agree with him. Ross is just too good and too valuable in his role right now to move out. As well, it's unreasonable to expect more than 60 pitches out of Ross -- and one tough inning could eat half of that quota.

Michael Kirkman
You likely already know Mike Kirkman, who has been riding the shuttle between AAA and the majors for the last two seasons. If Kirkman could really control the stuff he has, he'd likely be in the top half of the major league rotation. He hasn't been able to for any real stretch, though, this year included. In AAA, he's walked 5.81 per 27 outs recorded, which is ok if you're Carlos Marmol and are a literal True Three Outcomes machine that strikes out an insane amount of batters.
Mike Kirkman does not strike out an insane amount of batters. He's striking out a good, but sane, 9 per 27 outs, which is good for 23% of all batters faced. Since the beginning of May, he's pitched 37 innings in 8 appearances (6 of them starts); likely, he's stretched out and could give the team 100 pitches. The issue with Kirkman is 100 pitches could take him into the seventh, or have him pulled with one out in the fourth.
The AAA'ers
Martin Perez
Perez has been one of the team's top prospects for roughly the last seventeen years, which is impressive given that he's a still-young for the PCL 21 years old (my math in the previous sentence might be off slightly in one direction or the other). The lefty is posting a career-low 5.27 strikeouts per 9 (13.1% of batters faced). He's also posting a walk rate of 4.08 per nine, which corresponds to 10.1% of batters faced. It's not good when those two ratios are so close.  From a qualitative standpoint, stagnation may be part of Perez's problem this year, he's far more talented than the results he's displayed. 
Also, Perez talked in Spring Training about adding a two-seamer to his repertoire and aiming to use it more to 'pitch to contact', which is generally a bad idea if you can pitch to strikeouts, because strikeout victims get on base far less than you hitters who make contact.  A mid-season cup of coffee like this spot start could be the spark he needs, mentally, to get back on the development track. Perez last pitched on June 10th, so he'd be on schedule for the start. 
Neil Ramirez
The 23 year old righty, the lone pitching holdover from the Rangers' three-headed 2007 first round class, is another example of results not matching up to talent. He turned a AAA spot start last year (not dissimilar to this very start) into 74.1 AAA innings in which he struck out 86. This year, the results have gone the same direction as the velocity- his FIP is 5.13, which is still better than his 7.88 ERA. He's become homer prone (allowed 10 in 61.2 IP, as opposed to 6 over his 74.1 last year) and is striking out far less (K-rate has dropped from 27% last year to 18.6%). He is stretched out, having started each of the 13 games he's appeared in- even though he's only pitched into the sixth in 6 of those 13 starts.
The AA'ers
Justin Grimm
Probably the most fascinating entry so far, Grimm is a 2010 fifth rounder out of Georgia who stands at 6'3''.  He's carved up the Texas League, throwing 77 innings so far with a 1.87 ERA and a 2.55 FIP that backs that up. He's achieved that through controlling his Three True Outcome stats; he strikes out 7.83 per 9 (22.2% of all batters faced) while walking 1.64 per nine (4.6% of all BF) and allowing only 3 home runs. In fact, he's struck out more batters than have reached via hit against him- 67 K's versus 65 hits. He gets 1.17 ground balls for each ball hit in the air, and doesn't have noticeable splits between RHB and LHB. In 13 games (all starts) he's failed to get through the sixth inning only 4 times. 
Grimm is not on the 40 man roster (the first entry not to be) but given that Matt West can be put on the 60 Day DL and free up the 40 spot, that's not an obstacle worth given a ton of consideration to. He's pitched every 6th day for most of the year, so he would be right on schedule to start Saturday.
Barret Loux
Loux, like Grimm, has been cruising through the Texas League this year. Pronounced 'LOWKS', he signed as a free agent in 2010 after being drafted (#6 overall) by the Diamondbacks, who then declined to offer him a contract when scans revealed possible damage in his throwing arm. The Texas A & M product stands at 6'4'', 220 lb and has a record of 11-0, which would really mean something if pitcher won-loss records really meant anything (especially in the minors). 
Loux has been slightly less effective than Grimm (although it stands to be noted Grimm is nearly a year older than Loux). He's even on GB/FB, strikes out 22.4% of all batters while walking 8.6%- a K/BB ratio of 2.58 compared to Grimm's 4.79.  He does have consistency on his side, only allowing more than 3 earned runs in one of his starts, and has at least pitched through the fifth in each of them since April. Like Grimm, Loux would require a move on the 40.

Chadwick Bell
This is a name you should probably learn, if you don't know it already. Bell is a 14th rounder from 2009 out of Walters Sate Community College in Tennessee.  He's taken to the Rangers' excellent development system; the 6'3'' lefty has struck out more batters (27) than he's allowed to reach base (26, 18 by hit and 8 by walk).  He's been dominant against lefties, allowing 5 to reach base. Out of 34 faced. That's good for a .147 OBP against. Bell is currently scheduled to start on Saturday, so very little gamesmanship would be needed to hide the move if the team wanted to keep him outside of the Astros' scouting scope. 
The bad news is Bell only has 34 innings of AA experience, less than anyone else on this list. The 23-year old is far less likely than any of the six above to be called up right now, but he's an under-the-radar prospect who's turning in an excellent season and deserves note. I wouldn't be shocked if roster shuffling in July led him to being a part of the Rangers' stretch run in the majors. 
Roy Oswalt
Had Oswalt signed a week and a half earlier, I have no doubts he would be the guy for the job. As it is, Oswalt pitched on Monday, throwing 85 pitches in 3.1 innings, allowing six baserunners and three runs- in AA. He's set up for another minor league start to ramp up to 100 pitches before making the jump to the majors- hopefully in this one, he can get past the third inning, in which he's been hit hard in both of the games he made it that far. Getting his offspeed pitches to work will be a big boost in that regard. However, too much shouldn't be made of Oswalt's results- as long as he builds up his strength and gets himself stretched out- healthily.
The Opponent
The Rangers are playing the Astros, who are very not good at baseball. One thing they are particularly bad, however, is hitting the ball when it is thrown by a left-handed pitcher. Situational OPS, which can be used to determine whether a team hits better or worse than their total sample in one specific situation, gives the Astros an sOPS+ of 94 as RHB vs LHP (which is bad, because you should be better than your total average when given the platoon advantage) and a mark of 24 for LHB vs LHP, which is so astronomically bad that I literally cannot make a joke that encompasses the magnificence of how terrible that is. That's a total sOPS+ of 81 versus lefthanders, which would be good, except that 100 is average.
That gives Ross, Kirkman, Perez, or Bell a sizeable advantage over the rest of the (right-handed) field. Given that the team has gone for several weeks without a real longman in the pen (which Kirkman can be) and a second lefty in the pen (which Kirkman also can be, but he can only be the second lefty if Ross is the first lefty, which Ross wouldn't be if he was taken out of the pen), I'd rule out Kirkman. Given that Washington has publicly come out against it, I'd say Ross is out of the running. That leaves Bell or Perez, and it's tough to see the team give a 40 spot to Bell and a ML appearance based off his limited tenure in AA, and that a mental blow like that could put Perez in a deeper funk than he's been in. Which is a very longwinded way of saying I would put my money-dollars on Martin Perez. 
Like a spot starter, WFAA really only wanted Joseph Ursery around for a few articles when the good writers were sick, but he's just somehow stuck around. Follow him on twitter at @thejoeursery for a good time.