Tyler Kepner on Nolan Ryan and his first-place Rangers ...
- In Ryan's second season as team president, the Rangers are thriving as a team built in his image. Through Monday they were 26-18, three games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West. Their starters rank first in the majors in complete games, and their bullpen ranks last in the majors in innings pitched.
"I haven't been pleased with the direction baseball's taken pitching over the last 15 or 20 years, and I felt like we needed to regain some of what we had lost," Ryan said. "I felt like we had a lot of pitchers that have been on pitch limits ever since Little League, and we don't know what their genetic potential is as far as the number of pitches and workload they can handle."
To Ryan, teams have tried so hard to prevent injuries - and protect guaranteed contracts - that they have underconditioned pitchers. More injuries have resulted, he said, because pitchers cannot handle the stress of their job.
"The highways," Ryan said dryly, "are littered with good intentions."
After all those years of lousy pitching, a course correction was in order. It's hard to argue with the Rangers' success this season, and anyway Ryan's program is just getting started. So it's far too early to pass judgment and I've certainly got an open mind.
That said, the pitching "improvement" this season is mostly a mirage. Texas pitchers rank last in the American League in strikeouts, and they're surviving only because the Rangers' infield defense is vastly improved this season (as has been documented in various ways and places). Kevin Millwood (3.25) and Scott Feldman (4.04) are the only Ranger starters with ERAs better than league average (Brandon McCarthy and Vicente Padilla are close). As near as I can tell, the only positive thing about all those complete games and innings from the starters is that a pretty thin bullpen hasn't been terribly exposed yet.
I'm moderately optimistic about the Rangers, because I believe their hitting -- or more specifically, their on-base percentage -- has some growth potential. But their pitching, while not a disaster (at least not yet), is hardly a real strength.