Roy Oswalt, nitpicking, and looking forward


May 29th, 2012 could potentially mark the day we all look back on as what propelled the Rangers into being the hands-down American League favorite. That, or it will be looked at as the day Texas lost all financial flexibility towards improving the team sometime near the trade deadline. Either way, the signing of 34 year-old Roy Oswalt certainly created a substantial amount of buzz, and ended the debate of Where on Earth is Roy Oswalt headed?

Privately, even before the season started, I had my doubts about what the aging Oswalt could bring to the table for the two-time American League Champion Rangers. I don’t mean to let my presuppositions affect my optimism and confidence in the Rangers’ scouting department, but clearly Oswalt has a number of factors working against him.

For starters, his best days are behind him; it remains to be seen just how far. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, his chronic back problems have limited his workload over two of the past three seasons, enough to where he failed to pitch 200 innings. Not only that, but his fastball hasn’t touched 95 in a handful of years, certainly not like it did during his more memorable days pitching in Houston. His back issues and diminishing fastball were two of the major reasons as to why teams shied away from him during this most recent offseason, conflated with the fact that Oswalt appeared to be vociferous on pitching for a championship-contending franchise.

But the biggest reason I lacked faith in him succeeding in Arlington was due to the fact that he’s yet to throw a pitch in the AL. It’s far simpler to flip the opposite direction — going from the AL to the NL — to find success, rather than the other way around. Why? It should be obvious to you. Pitchers don’t bat in the American League. It’s easier to sustain dominant numbers when the pitcher hits each time through the order. Not only does the American League boast the designated hitter, but overall, the lineups are just flat out better.

The American League has New York. And Boston. And Detroit. And Toronto. And Tampa Bay. And Anaheim. So I’m not exactly saying I don’t assume success from Roy Oswalt while he’s pitching for the Rangers. I’m more-so acknowledging that it’s a difficult transition for any pitcher, and with that it would be smarter to manage the expectations you place on him.

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As of right now, the Rangers are 31-18, 5.5 games up on the team we should all be concerned with, the Angels. Last night’s 10-3 romping by the Mariners was one of the worst losses the Rangers have taken all season. Scott Feldman failed to make it out of the 5th inning in his second start in place of the injured Neftali Feliz, the defense was sloppy, and Josh Hamilton drove in the only three runs, highlighted by a towering blast onto the berm in center field. But I guess that’s why they play 162, and why last night was just one.

The team has seen some great individual performances so far this year. Josh Hamilton is the hands-down MVP of the league, Elvis Andrus is having his best season yet as a professional, and the solid regulars like Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre have more than held their own to this point.

But right now, you should be expecting more from certain players. Mike Napoli has yet to really hit his stride. The same can be said for Nelson Cruz, though he’s been busting out a little more as of late. And Michael Young… Well, there’s not much to be said for him other than his respectable .277 batting average. But comparatively speaking, for a DH, he’s terrible. He’s taken just 8 walks in 202 plate appearances, and is slugging an anemic .371, giving him an OPS (on base plus slugging) of .674. To give you a little context, Arizona’s Willie Bloomquist (.684) and Baltimore’s Robert Andino (.670) make up some of the collection of names surrounding him. In essence: not good.

Aside from that, this is still a first place team. The numbers (runs, on base %, SLG%) all indicate Texas has the best offense in baseball. And the pitching, if nothing else, has been about as good as any team in the league. So what, really, is there to complain about?

Roy Oswalt will not be ready to pitch for the Rangers for about a month. He’ll be building arm strength down at AAA Round Rock for the time being. By the time he’s ready, Neftali Feliz may or may not be. But regardless, it’s safe to say that when Feliz is — in fact — ready, he’ll likely be pitching out of the bullpen for the conclusion of the regular season and potential postseason run.

So, barring injury or trade, the rotation will look something like this in September:

Yu Darvish
Derek Holland
Colby Lewis
Matt Harrison
Roy Oswalt

The bullpen will consist of:

Robbie Ross
Mark Lowe
Koji Uehara
Alexi Ogando
Neftali Feliz
Mike Adams
Joe Nathan

I get it — I’m looking way too far ahead. Where does Scott Feldman fit into this equation? Do you carry 8 arms and only a 3-man bench? There are a lot of questions. But this is without doubt as formidable as the Rangers’ pitching staff has ever looked.

The Rangers were good enough to where they didn’t need to bring Oswalt in to reach the World Series for a 3rd consecutive season, but he’s here now, and this is what we’re all looking at.

I’ll have more on how the Oswalt situation affects the fate of Neftali Feliz, both in the short-term and for upcoming seasons. But for now, let’s just enjoy the best team in baseball, even when they aren’t clicking on all cylinders.