Friday, June 11, 2004

My Stance On Laynce (That Is Clever Because It Rhymes)

In an effort to appease readers who have no interest in the Pirates, I have decided to take a quick look at one of baseball's more annoying position "battles." The Pirates, you see, are not the only team in the bigs with a bewildering preference for veterans. ("Veterans," it should be pointed out, is a loaded word, so from here on out I will refer to them as "old players.") This preference seems to dominate their decisions even in the face of statistical evidence to the contrary. One such team is the Texas Rangers.

The Rangers have been the feel-good story of the majors so far, cutting ties with or trading a large number of expensive superstars in favor of starting from scratch while vastly improving their record (They were 20 games under .500 in 2003). In doing so, the Rangers have made a number of moves that make baseball geeks like Charlie drool. They have allowed Hank Blalock to develop into a young star, stuck with hard-hitting 1B/3B Mark Teixeira through all of his injuries and struggles, acquired Alfonso Soriano in a cap-clearing trade, and given many opportunities to players like Kevin Mench and Michael Young. The Rangers seem to be doing everything right, and that is because they have...almost.

Even after all of their success with young players, the Rangers have seemed reluctant to start CF Laynce Nix. This is puzzling because the 23-year-old Nix has a .299 BA, .340 OBP, and .594 SLG with 8 HR in only 137 ABs. Nix has had some brief injuries, but as far as I know, the only reason that he has had about 100 fewer ABs than every other regular player in the league at this point is that Buck Showalter seems to want to make sure he has at least some old players on the field. When his youth and lack of experience are taken into account, it is clear that Nix has been impressive at nearly every stage of his career, but his playing time has been stolen by David Dellucci, Gary Matthews Jr., Chad Allen, Brian Jordan, and Eric Young. Yesterday, in a game against (you guessed it) the Pirates, Showalter sent Eric Young to center, Chad Allen to left, Gary Matthews Jr. to right, and Herbert Perry to the DH slot. This makes me sad. Matthews has always been only a decent bench player, Perry is OK but old, and Allen is a journeyman who did most of his best work for the Albuquerque Isotopes. In short, the logic used to create this lineup was composed of several atoms of Crapium.

This is not to say that all of the Texas outfielders are bad; they clearly aren't. Young and Dellucci in particular have had productive seasons thus far, and deserve playing time. However, there is no reason why Nix should receive so few opportunities. Showalter may be under the impression that Nix struggles against lefties, but Nix is 23 years old, and 31 major league at bats against them are not enough to prove that. Furthermore, if Nix has a problem with lefties, he must learn how to overcome it, and the only way to do that is by (gasp) playing.

Baseball, like all sports, is filled with variables that are beyond a manager's control — injuries, slumps, and strength of schedule sometimes can't be helped — so I think that it is the job of every manager to make choices by seeking out the highest probability of success. Benching a young, promising player in favor of a platoon of older, less-productive ones is not strategically sound, especially when your pitching staff appears to be a walking time bomb and the younger player is better anyway. In my opinion, Showalter would do well to figure this out, lest someone catch on to my awesome rhyming rhetoric and dub him Suck Showalter.

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