This past Thursday, Jamey Newberg held his annual Book Release party at Sherlock’s out in Arlington. This year, he had Derek Holland, Matt Thompson, Joe Wieland, and Tanner Scheppers signing autographs and participating in a Q&A session. It was a lot of fun as usual. This week I will give a recap of the night and give some analysis on Cliff Lee going to Philadelphia.
My dad and I got to Sherlock’s at 4:30 for the 6:00 event, and there were already plenty of people there. We got a table and ate with Ted Price (http://dallassportsnetwork.tv/), and Jamey Newberg came over and ate and chatted with us for a while. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger, which was good, along with some decent fries. Two years ago at the event, the news broke that AJ Burnett was going to sign with the Yankees, but there was no big news this time, just the fact that I shouldn’t have benched Vincent Jackson on my fantasy team. Devin Pike (http://www.redcarpetcrash.com) and Eleanor Czajka (http://emcmlb.blogspot.com/) also came over and sat at the table with us for a little while as people were getting their autographs. It was fun talking with and hanging out with them. Scott Lucas (http://rangers.scottlucas.com/) was there too but I didn’t get the chance to talk with him much. I also spent some time at the Newberg Book Table with my friend Ryan Wolfson, who introduced me to potato skins, by giving me one, which made me end up getting my own order of potato skins.
After I finished eating the potato skins, I got autographs from the four players (Derek Holland, Joe Wieland, Matt Thompson, and Tanner Scheppers), and they were all extremely nice. I was towards the end of the line, so not too long after I got my autographs, the Q&A session started. Here are the highlights from the session:
Me: This question is for Tanner. What are the three biggest differences between the independent league, where you pitched for the St. Paul Saints, and the minor leagues? (This is one of the two questions I asked during the Q&A)
Tanner: One, you get paid more in the minor leagues, two, the competition’s a little bit better, and, three, the atmosphere.
Q: How do you keep your composure when there are so many trade rumors out there and you’re the centerpiece of so many of them?
Tanner: You can’t really worry about trade rumors. You’re a Ranger as long as you are. If it happens, it is what it is.
Derek: The main thing is not to worry about it. It’s a rumor, remember that. It’s not true until it happens. The best thing is not to worry about it. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Like Tanner said, you’re a Ranger until you’re told otherwise.
Q: Derek, you shut down the Yankees twice in the playoffs. Tell us how you did it.
Derek: The main thing is to keep throwing strikes. They’ve got to hit your pitch and, sure enough, they weren’t hitting it.
Jamey: Matt, if you had turned the Rangers down and gone to TCU, who would the ace of the Frogs’ staff have been last year, you or Matt Purke?
Matt: Go Frogs. They had a great year over there obviously and they’ll have another great year this year.
Q: This question is for Tanner. I read in an interview that you’re still going to be a starting pitcher. Is that correct? How does that make you feel? Do you have a preference?
Tanner: I definitely like the opportunity to start. Going into spring training, that’s what they’re telling me I’m going to do. All I can do is go out there and prepare as a starter and see what happens.
Eleanor: Joe, will you miss pitching in Bakersfield and what are your memories of pitching with the team?
Joe: Will I miss pitching in Bakersfield? No, definitely not. That league is a hitters’ league and unfriendly to pitchers. But I did kind of like how we started games at 7:45, because the sun was in the hitters’ eyes. It was fun, but I don’t think I’ll miss it.
Jamey: I’ve got one for Joe. Your first camp with the Rangers was also Nolan Ryan’s first camp since he came back to the organization. There were stories that he took a real liking to you the first time he saw you and I assume that involved a couple of conversations you had with him. Just talk about what that was like, being just out of high school and Nolan Ryan’s talking to you about pitching.
Joe: Everything he said, I took to heart. He’s got the best advice to offer. It’s incredible having a guy of his stature taking an interest in you. It helped me out quite a bit.
Q: I know Derek’s going to take ‘awesomeness’ to Surprise. What’s the one thing that the rest of you are going to take to Surprise?
Joe: I’m going to bring my toe shoes. If anybody doesn’t have toe shoes, I recommend it.
Matt: I’m just going to laugh at Wieland’s toe shoes.
Tanner: I’m going to bring Rangers attitude to Surprise. And a mountain bike.
Q: Do you guys pitch because you can’t hit or do you pitch because you’re a better pitcher than hitter?
Tanner: I’m a better pitcher than hitter.
Matt: I couldn’t hit to save my life.
Joe: Definitely a better pitcher.
Derek: Forget these guys. I’m both. Actually, I’m pretty much lying. I’m 0-for-6 so far. But you know what? Actually, I might get to face Cliff Lee. It’d be awesome to take him yard.
Q: If Cliff Lee hit you with a pitch, would you charge the mound?
Derek: I think it’d be even funnier if I just laughed. No, I won’t charge. He’s a nice guy.
Q: Tanner, you played in St Paul, which is an amusing little ballpark. What was it like playing for Bill Murray and, while you were there, did they still have the target with the guy hanging from it in right field?
Tanner: My two highlights in St. Paul are midget wrestling and dog day.
Q: Derek, a couple of years ago, you were at a Newberg event but were still in the farm system. A couple of years later, you’ve pitched in the World Series. What’s going through your head?
Derek: I was in awe. There’s no feeling to describe it. It’s breathtaking. But then again, the way I was taught by Bengie, who’s one of the greatest leaders of all time, is that the game doesn’t change. It’s always the same. It’s just like a regular season game. You just have more media. The game stayed the same. I was very composed. It’s just a little different atmosphere. That’s it.
Devin: You always hear that pitchers have their favorite catchers. At the major league level, you might have that luxury but, in the minors, you might have up to six catchers during the course of the season. So do you have the ability to express a preference for who you’d rather work with?
Joe: I don’t really think we have that luxury. I haven’t asked. I feel it would be disrespectful to the other catchers.
Matt: If you have a good relationship with your manager and pitching coach, you can tell them who you’re more comfortable or have a better connection with. If you recommend it, they can try to work to it as much as they can.
Tanner: Yeah, there are definitely catchers I connect with more than others. But it’s the manager’s decision and you go with what he says.
Q: Derek, first pitch in the majors or first pitch in the World Series? Which one’s better?
Derek: This will be easy. First pitch in the majors, because I threw a ball in the World Series. I threw 11 of them I think, which was very frustrating. Anyway, the debut definitely has more meaning because it’s the first step in the big leagues, so to me it was more important.
Q: Who was your favorite team or player growing up?
Tanner: Favorite team growing up was the Dodgers. Favorite player growing up was Nomar Garciaparra.
Jamey: The Texas Rangers were my favorite team. Probably Buddy Bell was my favorite player.
Matt: Texas Rangers for me as well. Rusty Greer was probably my favorite player.
Joe: I honestly didn’t have a specific favorite team. You guys might hate me for this but Alex Rodriguez was my favorite player.
Derek: Growing up, I was a big Braves fan. Chipper Jones was my favorite player and I wanted to be just like Andy Pettite.
Q: What’s your opinion on the DH?
Derek: I love the DH. It takes a lot of pressure off the pitcher. A lot of pitchers let a bad at-bat affect them when they go back out to the mound. To me, the DH helps out.
Joe: Since I have yet to hit professionally, I’ll have to say designated hitter. Having that extra bat in the lineup really helps out.
Matt: I really don’t have an opinion because I’ve never faced an opposing pitcher when he’s hitting, but I like the DH when I’m in the dugout and our team’s hitting.
Jamey: I’m actually a National League guy. I love interleague play when we’re traveling. I like that brand of baseball better when the bullpen strategy is what it is.
Tanner: It’s nice offensively to have a DH.
Q: I’ve heard it said that Ranger fans are unresponsive to the plays on the field. Derek, is that true? And do you really hear what we’re saying or not saying?
Derek: Personally, yeah, we can hear you guys, and that’s good. We have the greatest fans, just so you guys know. But one thing that I am going to ask, and I know that a lot of guys get irritated with this so don’t take it the wrong way, but the wave needs to go. When I was in the bullpen in the playoffs against the Rays, we had a close game and we were ahead and fans were too busy doing the wave instead of getting behind us. Do it when we’re up by a lot, that’s all I ask. The wave is great, just do it at the right time, that’s all. Please don’t take any offense to it. We like the wave – just do it at the right time.
Q: How much is the defense up the middle determined by what pitch is thrown versus the scouting report on the batter?
Derek: It’s not mainly about the pitch but more about the scouting report.
Q: Jamey, how do you not get in trouble with your wife?
Jamey: I’m really very blessed. Obviously my wife’s very tolerant of all this stuff that I do. But the last few years because of our son Max being more insane about the game than I was at his age, I think she’s given up. She actually kind of jumped aboard, and she had a great time rooting for a baseball team this year, which has never been the case before.
Me: Matt, what adjustments did you make following the 2008 season to lower your WHIP by more than 2 base runners per inning?
Matt: Really, I had a tough time coming out of high school. In high school, it was really about throwing it over the plate somewhere. I signed late, came into the Arizona Rookie League, and found out quick. My first professional pitch was about 93 or 94 mph and it was about 150 back at my face. I tried to make the adjustment over that offseason. I think I made some really good improvements.
Q: Tanner, do you prefer relieving or starting?
Tanner: Right now, definitely starting because that’s what they want me to do.
Q: Matt, do you realize you’re the only guy from Burleson to make it this far?
Matt: I did not know that. I’m competing with Kelly Clarkson.
Q: Now that there are expectations for this team, how does it change your offseason and your approach to the game?
Derek: If you would have come into that clubhouse after we lost, you would have seen that next year is going to be unbelievable. We are very hungry for this. We got a taste of it and now we want the whole thing. We’re not worried about pressure or any of that kind of stuff. We know what we have to do and we’re going to make sure we do it.
Joe: Being in the minor leagues, it was a lot of fun to be able to look up at the big league team and see them win their division and go to the World Series. I got to go to two games in San Francisco and it was just an unbelievable experience. It gave me that much more fire to improve and make adjustments and advance. Watching those guys, it looked like a blast and it’s something I want to experience. Hopefully in the next few years I’ll be able to get that chance.
Matt: Yeah, it was really exciting to watch these guys take care of business this year, just like they’ll do next year. At the lower levels, when the big league club has a season like they had and will continue to have, it makes us want to push ourselves harder so that one day we can come join them and be successful with them.
Jamey: Maybe less Rally Minka. Or more. My approach isn’t going to change.
Q: Derek, who is the most feared big league hitter in a clutch situation that you would not want to face?
Derek: If we’re going to use anybody, I can go ahead and say Josh Hamilton. But if one of us is pitching, then I’m going to say, and I know you guys aren’t going to like this at all, but Derek Jeter. You have to tip your hat to him. He’s one tough guy to get out.
Jamey’s book is awesome as always and is the most complete coverage of the Rangers’ 2010 season that you’re going to find. I highly recommend it. The forewords this year are by Chuck Greenberg and Brad Sham. Jamey included his prospect rankings (top 72, plus breakdowns of the players in each position that are on those lists), his 20 players who could break out in 2011, all of his reports for the season, and the 2010 draft. It is well worth the $25. You can order it off his website (http://www.newbergreport.com).
Disappointed? Yes. A little frustrated? Yes. But, do I think the Rangers handled everything right? Yes to that, also. Although it is disappointing that Lee is with the Phillies, I feel that the Rangers did exactly what they should have done throughout the entire process. They gave Lee a very good offer, and upped it and upped it to match the Yankees, but then knew exactly when they would be giving him too much, and stopped right before that. Personally, I think it’s cool that Cliff decided to take less money to go to Philadelphia just because he liked it there. I just find it disappointing that the Rangers weren’t the team that he liked playing for the most and weren’t the team that he’d take a pay cut to go to.
As far what we should do now that Cliff Lee is off the market, I’m not really sure. But here’s what I don’t want to do:
1. Trade for Zack Greinke – He has a social anxiety disorder, and who knows how he will handle a new situation and pitching for a contending team. Plus, I think he’s overrated, as he had an ERA above 4.00 last season for the Royals.
2. Trade for Matt Garza and Consider Him an Ace – Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Matt Garza. I think he’s a fine pitcher, and I wouldn’t mind having him. But I don’t think that he’s an ace. I think he’d be a very good #2 pitcher, but, I’m sorry, as far as aces on playoff teams go, a 3.91 ERA
(Garza’s 2010 ERA) just doesn’t cut it. So, trading for him I have no problem with, but not as an ace.
3. Sign Carl Pavano and Count on Him as Ace in the Playoffs – Once again, I see nothing wrong with Pavano. Actually, I like the guy. I mean, he screwed up the Yankees, so what’s not to like? Anyway, I think Pavano would be a great guy to sign. As your #1 in the regular season, he’d be great. He eats up innings (221 last year), and he consistently gives you quality starts. But, come playoff time, when he is matched up against CC Sabathia or Jon Lester or Tim Lincecum or Cliff Lee, he won’t win you those games. So Pavano as regular season #1: Fine. But Pavano as postseason #1: Bad.
4. Do Nothing – Our pitching staff just isn’t good enough without one more pitcher. Here’s the Rangers rotation:
CJ Wilson: Great #2, not sure about #1
Colby Lewis: Great #3, Not-So-Good #2
Derek Holland: Potentially Fantastic #4, Risky #3
Tommy Hunter: Fine #5, Mediocre #4
Come back next week for an interview with Rangers pitcher Tanner Scheppers.