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Oakland A's at Texas Rangers: Series preview

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The Athletics begin their second three-city road trip of the year with a visit to Arlington, Texas. Here's a preview of what to expect from these Texas Rangers.

Colby Lewis starts for the Texas Rangers on Friday against Oakland's Scott Kazmir.
Colby Lewis starts for the Texas Rangers on Friday against Oakland's Scott Kazmir.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The fourth-place Oakland Athletics (9-14) depart from their 1-5 homestand and head to Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas to face the last-place Texas Rangers (7-14) in a three-game set. The Athletics' 4-9 start at home equals the 1968, 2000, and 2001 teams as worst in Oakland history, writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser.

The Rangers are performing poorly in other ways. They have yet to win consecutive games this season (Oakland has performed the feat once this year) and 7-14 (.333) marks the worst April in Rangers history, beating the 6-11 (.353) mark set in 1982.

Starting pitchers

Friday
Scott Kazmir vs. Colby Lewis
0.99 ERA 3.75
2.57 FIP 4.32
3.26 xFIP 4.80
28.3% K% 15.6%

Colby Lewis starts for the Rangers on Friday night against Oakland's Scott Kazmir. His Brooks Baseball profile shows us his five pitches are fastball (89 mph), slider (83), sinker (88), curve (78), and change (84).

Among the 50 qualified starters in the American League, Lewis's 15.6% strikeout rate ranks 40th. So how does Colby Lewis get people out? His 50.7% fly ball rate is second out of 50 and 13.2% of those fly balls are infield fly balls. Lewis has probably been a little bit lucky that as many fly balls stay in the park as they do. The 7.9% HR/FB rate would be a career low for any season where he made at least four appearances, and he has an 11.1% rate for his career.

So what to watch out for? On two strikes, Lewis will keep hitters guessing, throwing breaking balls a little more frequently, but almost never a changeup (twice in 124 pitches) or sinker (seven times). That slider is his best swing-and-miss pitch, inducing a whiff 12 out of the 91 times he's thrown it (13%).

Saturday
Drew Pomeranz vs. Nick Martinez
4.50 ERA 0.35
3.74 FIP 3.50
3.54 xFIP 4.99
22.8% K% 10.5%

Saturday, Nick Martinez faces Drew Pomeranz. Martinez joined the rotation at the number five spot out of spring training after Yu Darvish fell out of the rotation to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Martinez's two main pitches are his fastball at 91 and slider at 83, and Brooks Baseball also has him throwing a sinker, change, and curveball. Martinez's curveball usage is interesting in that it is very much a first pitch pitch for him. He's only thrown the curve 21 times this year, and 15 have been on the first pitch to the hitter.

Martinez is around the middle of qualified American League starters in terms of ground ball versus fly ball tendencies, ranking 30th out of 50 in GB/FB ratio. He has yet to allow a home run in his four starts.

Sunday
Sonny Gray vs. Yovani Gallardo
1.98 ERA 4.05
2.75 FIP 3.60
3.82 xFIP 3.39
18.4% K% 22.4%

Sunday's finale pits Sonny Gray against Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo leads Rangers starters in strikeout percentage at 22.4%, punching out 26 against 116 batters faced. He has a fastball-slider combination going, and also throws a sinker, a curve, and occasionally a changeup.

When batters do put the ball in play, Gallardo has been more of a groundball pitcher, his 51.9% groundball rate ranking 14th out of the 50 qualified AL starters, in line with recent year groundball rates of 50.8% and 49.2%. Part of that can be explained with a change in approach. As August Fagerstrom pointed out for Fangraphs in the offseason:

Especially towards right-handed batters, high strikes have been traded for low ones. You can see a similar effect to lefties, though more subtle. Gallardo's problem had always been home runs, as is often the case for pitchers in Miller Park. Perhaps this was an effort to combat the dingers.

At the plate and in the field

A's AL Ranks Rangers
6th (4.78) RS/G 14th (3.57)
5th (104) wRC+ 15th (69)
11th (18) HR 13th (13)
4th (.265) AVG 15th (.210)
5th (.323) OBP 14th (.293)
7th (.400) SLG 15th (.318)
9th (.136) ISO 14th (.108)
6th (13) SB 5th (15)

The trouble with the Texas Rangers is that they're not hitting. And not hitting means not scoring runs. The Rangers' 3.57 runs scored per game is 14th in the American League.

One problem is that the Rangers have only three players with a wRC+ greater than 100 and more than two plate appearances. One of those three is backup catcher Carlos Corporan (104 in 35 plate appearances).

Let's compare what seems to be our newest approximation for Mario Mendoza around Athletics Nation, Eric Sogard's 63 wRC+, to the Texas Rangers. 585 of Texas' 807 plate appearances have been given to hitters batting below the Sogard Line. That's 72.5% of plate appearances taken by batters batting worse than Eric Sogard.

In the field, it's also looking pretty bad for the Rangers. If you like errors, guess who's tied with the A's for most in the American League? Texas with 21 and in two fewer games. Just to highlight who is leading their way to the blooper reel in the advanced metrics, Elvis Andrus, Jake Smolinski, and Rougned Odor each have -4 Defensive Runs Saved in these first 21 games. As a rule of thumb, a fielder having an awful full season racks up worse than -15 DRS.

Bullpen

The Rangers bullpen is running in the middle of the pack, with a 3.89 ERA. It has the highest workload in the AL so far, partially due to Derek Holland exiting in the first inning of his only appearance, and also due to seven extra innings. Amazingly, relievers have pretty much avoided the disabled list that basically has an entire starting rotation on it, save Kyuji Fujikawa, who is currently on a rehab assignment recovering from a strained groin.

2015 Stats Recent usage (pitch count from www.rosterresource.com)
Player Hand ERA K% GB% FB% 29-Apr 28-Apr 27-Apr 26-Apr 25-Apr 24-Apr 23-Apr
Neftali Feliz R 5.00 20.5% 30.0% 46.7% 14 38
Shawn Tolleson R 1.93 37.1% 47.6% 28.6% 14 31
Keone Kela R 2.70 17.4% 44.1% 32.4% 30 14 27
Roman Mendez R 2.70 20.5% 11.5% 57.7% 17 19 10
Stolmy Pimentel R 1.13 16.1% 68.2% 13.6% 36 15
Alex Claudio L 0.00 0.0% 33.3% 66.7% 2 7
Anthony Bass R 3.44 18.1% 50.9% 24.5% 13 9 17

The games

This set starts Oakland's second three-city trip. They head to Minnesota and Seattle after this weekend. This will be the last three-city road trip until September 11-20.

All times Pacific, all games on CSN California and the Oakland Athletics Radio Network:

  1. 5:05 PM: Scott Kazmir (2-0, 0.99) vs. Colby Lewis (1-2, 3.75)
  2. 5:05 PM: Drew Pomeranz (1-2, 4.50) vs. Nick Martinez (2-0, 0.35)
  3. 12:05 PM: Sonny Gray (3-0, 1.98) vs. Yovani Gallardo (2-3, 4.05)