Well, let's go ahead and dive head-first into this one:
● Scott Feldman seems to be hopelessly trapped in a reverse DIPS nightmare, and, try as he might, he just can't seem to stir himself out of this maddening slumber. That's four more strikeouts against just one walk (and, admittedly, a hit-by-pitch) and no homers over six innings, which sounds like an effort you'd happily accept from Feldman -- but four of his six hits allowed came in the second inning, as did the hit-by-pitch, and, consequently, four runs crossed the plate on Feldman's watch. Give him some credit for not folding like a lawn chair after the early-game adversity and keeping Texas in the game ... but not an excess of credit, I guess, given that the hits mostly resulted from pitches that caught far too much of the middle of the plate. Blech.
So, despite amassing 28 strikeouts against just four walks over his six starts since the beginning of June, Feldman has still been plagued by an ERA north of 7.00 over that stretch, and, barring some sort of medical setback with Derek Holland or Colby Lewis (or Roy Oswalt grabbing another sparkplug wire with less desirable results than the first time around), Feldman will henceforth return to the bullpen. He still very much strikes me as an ideal change-of-scenery guy, somebody who would likely be happier elsewhere with a guaranteed start every fifth day and an organization that, in his view, isn't endangering his health by utilizing him as a swingman. Unless he purposely forces the issue with the organization, though, it's still kind of difficult to see Feldman getting dealt right now.
● On a brighter note, we got a very nice game from Josh Hamilton, who churned out a walk, a single, and a home run, and is sort of getting himself back on the right path from an offensive standpoint over the last two series ... but I'd like to sneak a quick, educational look back at one of his failures on the night, that being a seven-pitch strikeout looking in the fifth inning. Below is the screencap from that seventh pitch, along with FOX Sports Southwest's pitch location tracker and the seeming dualistic confirmation that the pitch didn't actually catch the plate at all:
This is a classic working example of the "outside strike to left-handed batters that isn't actually over the plate." Mike Fast went into much deeper detail on this topic last September, but, to make a long story short, left-handed batters work with a strike zone that runs 2-3 inches further outside than what their right-handed counterparts have to work with. It doesn't precisely conform with the rulebook definition of a strike, of course, but it is what is applied in reality, and it's what the batter, the catcher, and the pitcher all accordingly prepare for; in other words, this is a defensible called strike within the framework of the modern-day strike zone, despite the seeming peculiarity of the call.
For illustrative purposes, here are a couple of images -- the league-average 2012 strike zone for all left-handed batters on the left, and the strike three call from that Hamilton at-bat overlaying his called-strike heat map for the 2012 season (all data courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info):
● One of a handful of things that caught my ear during the FSNSW telecast came immediately after David Murphy laced an opposite-field single in the sixth inning off lefty reliever Leyson Septimo, toward which Steve Busby made a remark to the general effect of "Murphy, again, treating left-handers very rudely when he has gotten the opportunity to hit against them this year," after which he cited his .330-plus batting average against southpaws on the year.
There's nothing inherently wrong in that statement, but I think it's important to note that Murphy is hitting .333/.375/.367 on the year against lefties in a grand total of 32 plate appearances -- 32 plate appearances where he has walked just once while striking out 13 times, and where he has posted a BABIP of .588. Even with the small statistical lift provided by this year's high batting average against lefties, he's still a lifetime .258/.303/.350 hitter against same-handed hurlers over a sample of 500-plus big league plate appearances, and, again, one of the reasons why he has been so successful this year and is well on his way to posting career-best offensive numbers is because Ron Washington has consciously and significantly cut back his playing time against lefties.
It's great that Murphy is capitalizing in those few spots where he doesn't have a platoon advantage, but let's be frank here -- it's not going to last, and in spite of his success in a small sample, the ideal outcome here is Murphy continuing to see as little playing time against left-handers as possible, and, of course, continuing to start every day against right-handed starters.
● Please allow me to reintroduce Robbie Ross. Robbie Ross has a 0.99 ERA in 45.1 innings pitched this season. Here is Robbie Ross freezing Adam Dunn in place with meticulously located, naturally cutting 94 mph heat, en route to another 1.2 frames of hitless, scoreless ball, and his 14th consecutive scoreless outing dating back to May 26th:
The cynical saberist deep inside of me knows that this level of run prevention can't last, that the BABIP (.238) is unsustainably low and the strand rate (82.1 percent) is unsustainably high, that the strikeout rate (5.6 K/9) is relatively subpar and that it will probably come around to bite him at some point ... and then the saberist is drowned out by the other voice rhythmically chanting "his ERA is below ONE." I worry a bit about the fact that Ross is on a 90-inning pace, inasmuch as you don't want to totally burn him out before October rolls around, but I don't know how the Rangers can bring themselves to take the ball away from him right now -- workload-related concerns or not. It may not be sustainable, but Ross is a monster right now, and it's just a whole lot of fun to watch.
● Ron Washington summoned Mike Adams from the bullpen to begin the ninth inning of a knotted 4-4 game, and, as Adams undertook the task of spinning his warm-up pitches into the plate, Steve Busby and Tom Grieve embarked upon a very strange conversation:
Grieve: "Well, Mike has been the eighth-inning guy to get the ball to Joe Nathan ... [he'll] try to get the ball to Joe Nathan in the ninth inning, send this game into extra innings."
Busby: "... and that's one of the things that you think about, I guess folks have seen Ron Washington use Joe Nathan in the ninth inning of a tie ballgame, but that's been at home when there is no ... opportunity for a save, so he will use his closer to keep a ballgame tied in the ninth inning. Here, he has to go pretty much with the setup people until the Rangers get a lead to set up a save situation for him, [as the White] Sox will have the final at-bat".
Grieve: "Otherwise, if you bring the closer in on the road in a tie game, for him to win the game, he has to pitch two innings."
Which, of course, sent Scott Lucas's head spinning around in place, and personally left me a bit slack-jawed:
Are Grieve and Busby really talking about how you can't bring your closer into a tie game on the road?Good God.— Scott Lucas (@scottrlucas) July 5, 2012
With all due respect to Busby (who I've thoroughly enjoyed ever since exigent medical circumstances forced him to the television side), the notion of "having to go with the setup people until the Rangers get a lead to set up a save situation for [Nathan]" is ridiculous. The slavish devotion to the save statistic and save opportunities and this broken thought process that discourages summoning your best reliever into non-save situations is an antiquated, inefficient bit of baseball "strategy" that needs to go ahead and die off forever; with that said, though, Jonah Keri already took his best print-form shot at killing it, and still it perseveres, so there's that.
And, to the extent that Busby was merely vocalizing the Rangers' thought process on the matter, he was actually validated when Mike Adams ran into all sorts of trouble in the 10th inning (with the game still tied at 4-4), and the first -- and apparently only -- guy to get up in the bullpen was Michael Kirkman, rather than Nathan. There's no point in holding your closer, your best relief pitcher, back for a possible save situation if you're in grave danger of losing the game right then and there. That's your highest-leverage spot, and you want your best reliever on the bump right there, regardless of whether or not the game state conforms with the arbitrary criteria of a save situation.
Not that it ultimately mattered, of course, because the White Sox went ahead and plated the winning run before the Rangers even had a chance to rescue Adams from his dire situation. A crappy finish to a game with a promising start, and the Rangers' second loss in as many games. But, yeah, there's always that one familiar rallying cry that we can reliably turn back to in these times of baseball distress ...
... "at least the Angels lost."