The Farm Report -- 6/8/2008

Eric Hurley is among the rumored replacements for Sidney Ponson, who was designated with extreme prejudice on Friday. His 5.30 ERA in Oklahoma doesn't inspire confidence, but he's made genuine improvements recently. Here's a status report:

The Rangers had a drum-tight 40-man roster over the winter and were forced to make some difficult designations. Now, they have room. If Hurley were to be activated and optioned later this season, he effectively would lose an option in 2011. But if he's not deserving of an active roster spot on by then, lack of an option wouldn't be the real problem.

I had hoped April and May would comprise Hurley's tune-up period for the Majors. Instead, in his first seven starts, he had a 7.32 ERA and a 7.82 Run Average. However, in his most recent six starts, he's pitched according to plan: 3.46 ERA, 4.62 Run Average. What's the difference?

Simply put, batters crushed him on contact in his early starts. Even after deleting the eight homers he allowed in 36 innings, opponents hit .404 and slugged .529 when they put the ball in play. Hurley didn't induce many grounders (only 32% of batted balls), and even those hurt him (.389 hit rate, effectively a .421 OBP with errors included). Bad luck is part of that equation, but not a large part. Hurley was just getting shelled. It would have been worse if not for his terrific 24% strikeout rate.

Since then, his grounder rate has improved to 44%, and batters are hitting only .204 on those grounders (.250 effective OBP including errors). He's allowed a combined four doubles and triples compared to ten in his early starts. He's also received more defensive support in the form of five double plays, compared to none in his first seven starts. This has resulted in a much better ERA despite a lower strikeout rate (18%) and fewer infield flies (4 vs. 14).

Homers remain a problem. 20% of his outfield fly balls left the yard in his early starts. Since then, the homer/fly rate is 21%. His rate of walks plus HBPs has been league-average in both his older and recent starts.

Hurley won't maintain that .204 hit rate on grounders, but on the whole, what we're seeing is a pitcher who's allowing too many homers but is no worse than average in other respects. Compared to April, that's a dramatic improvement. I was surprised to hear his name mentioned among the possible call-ups, but on further review he has earned the consideration.

Hurley's first seven starts:
Innings per start: 5.1 with 102 pitches thrown
Grounders: 32% of all batted balls, .389 average / .444 slugging percentage
Outfield Flies: 36%, .400 / 1.175
Line Drives: 20%, .864 / 1.045
Infield Flies: 13%, .071 / .071
Bunts: none

Hurley's last six starts:
Innings per start: 6.5 with 104 pitches thrown
Grounders: 44%, .204 / .204
Outfield Flies: 30%, .294 / 1.000
Line Drives: 20%, .682 / .773
Infield Flies: 4%, .000 / .000
Bunts: 3%


If you're still disappointed about Saturday's bullpen loss, you might want to skip today's recap.

Stars of the Day:
Oklahoma: Eric Hurley, Wes Littleton
Frisco: Mike Ballard / Craig Gentry, Dustin Majewski, Ben Harrison
Bakersfield: Jordan Stewart / Chad Tracy, John Whittleman, Chris Gradoville
Clinton: Engel Beltre, Renny Osuna, Mitch Moreland

AAA: Oklahoma 2, at New Orleans 3 (10 innings)
Loss: Rowe (1-2, 4.60)

Tied at two in the 10th, New Orleans scored the winning run on three walks and a Chris Davis error. Davis (.267/.327/.444 in AAA) drove in both Redhawk runs with a 1st-inning single.

Eric Hurley (5.30 ERA, 1.54 WHIP) gave up two runs in 6.2 innings, allowing a Michael Abreu solo homer and six other hits, two walks, and striking out seven. If not for one bad inning on June 1st, he'd have four consecutive starts of two or fewer runs. Wes Littleton (4.10 ERA) pitched 2.1 scoreless innings with three strikeouts.

AA: Frisco 5, At San Antonio 6
Loss: Laughter (0-1, 1.93)

Tied 2-2 in the 8th, Frisco scored three and gave back four. In the top half, Corey Ragsdale doubled to lead off, Dustin Majewski and Max Ramirez singled, and Ben Harrison hit a two-run double. On the flip side, Brennan Garr gave up a single and two walks, then Andrew Laughter surrendered a double and single. With still none out, a bases-loaded double play plated the go-ahead run for San Antonio.

Mike Ballard (4.71 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) allowed two runs (one earned) in 5.2 innings, walking two and striking out three. Craig Gentry homered for the 2nd time and singled. Majewski added a double to his single.

High-A: Bakersfield 6, at San Jose 8
Loss: Lueke (2-2, 4.50)

Tied 0-0 in the 4th, Bakersfield scored four and gave back six. The Blaze retied the game in the 5th but a couple of 8th-inning runs proved fatal. Zach Phillips (5.88 ERA, 1.53 WHIP) tossed four shutout innings outside of that rocky 4th. He walked none and struck out two. Jordan Stewart(4.72 ERA) offered two scoreless innings.

Chad Tracy doubled twice and singled. He's batting .457 with nine extra-base hits during a nine-game hitting streak. Catcher Chris Gradoville belted a three-run homer and singled twice, and John Whittleman (.263/.367/.415) doubled and walked.

Low-A: Clinton 5, at Peoria 7
Loss: Quintero (4-2, 6.14)

Down 4-1 in the 6th, Clinton tied the contest with three runs but quickly yielded three back to Peoria.
In his first start and appearance of the season, Michael Kirkman allowed three runs in three innings on six hits, two walks and a strikeout.

Engel Beltre (.276/.301/.401) and Renny Osuna each went 3-5 with a double. Mitch Moreland (.318/.374/.503) doubled and walked.


Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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