The Big Mac Blog

The 2017 Texas Rangers scapegoat

Texas Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail (46) enters his second season with the team.
Texas Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail (46) enters his second season with the team.

From the time they purchased the Texas Rangers the ownership group of Ray Davis and Bob Simpson has repeatedly displayed a penchant for opening their wallets to pay players. The team’s payroll has routinely been in the top 10 in MLB.

Paying anyone else? That’s an entirely different matter.

Aside from spraying big money to retain GM Jon Daniels until the end of the 3045 season, Ray Bob has slashed payroll in other areas of the organization, from the front office to staffers to reduced benefits, right down to the coaching staff.

It’s not a new stance among owners; Dallas Mavs owner Mark Cuban is renowned for this philosophy, with the exception that he pays coaches. Mark likes players and coaches. Those who can’t make him feel cool are expendable and, thus, cheap and easily disposed.

The reason the best pitching coach in Rangers’ history left for the Washington Nationals had nothing to do with the fact that Mike Maddux was a perceived “Nolan Ryan guy.” It had everything to do with money.

For a team that for several decades failed to assemble a consistent pitching staff until he arrived, the Rangers should have barred the Ballpark shut until they came to agreement with him. Because of this team’s prior lack of sustained success in pitching, Maddux was the rare instance of a position coach who was worth it.

Maddux was as close to Dave Duncan (Tony LaRussa’s former personal pitching guru) as the Rangers ever had. But the Rangers preferred to be cheap and went with a guy trying to prove himself.

Brocail coaches much different than he pitched, which is a good thing, but he also has the makings of scapegoat if this team’s pitching staff has a bad season. Doug is no dummy, and in the final year of a two-year contract he knows what he’s facing.

“I pitched my whole career on one-year contracts,” he told me. “I’m OK with it.”

It will not be the fault of Brocail if Yu Darvish does not win the Cy Young, which Ray Davis famously predicted that will happen. If the rotation, which right now has three real arms in Yu, Cole Hamels and Martin Perez – falls flat, don’t blame Doug Brocail.

The bullpen has some solid arms in Sam Dyson and Matt Bush, but there are major concerns in the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. This is not set up to thrive, but it’s also not built to collapse.

When a team under performs, the position coach is usually sacrificed.

At least to hear it from the pitchers themselves, they are fans of Brocail. The same for the rest of the staff.

At least statistically, the transition from Maddux to Brocail was not especially noteworthy. Last season the team’s ERA ranked 22nd overall in MLB; it ranked 23rd in 2016.

Incredibly, the Rangers’ bullpen ERA was 24th in the majors last season during a year it set a major-league record for one-run wins.

Like Maddux, Brocail was never able to “reach” left-handed starter Derek Holland, who simply never could sustain success here despite his natural talents.

“Our biggest break through was Yu Darvish last year,” Brocail said. “He was coming off injury and my job is to keep you healthy. What do you need from me to do your job? It was, ‘To hell with the tinkering. What do you need from us and we’ll stay out of your way.’ What you want is for the message to match (between coaches) and we did that.”

Most players, and coaches, agree a position coach can affect one to two players per season. The rest?

“The rest? It’s a struggle. It’s a big struggle. It’s the reality of a man versus a man,” Brocail said.

As a pitcher, Brocail’s reputation was good stuff, impatient, and bullheaded. He was also a survivor. He lasted 15 MLB seasons and retired when he was 42 from the Houston Astros.

“When I was pitching I had a pitching coach and said, ‘I can’t believe this guy can’t help me get any better,’” Brocail said. “I had a hitting coach, Al Kaline, of all the lessons I learned this was the most important; he said, ‘At some point you have to find out how good your (blank) is — start challenging hitters.’

“For me, how quick can we get to two strikes? I have to get this staff believe they can throw strikes and get to two strikes. If a guy can’t throw strikes, we can fix that. If they won’t throw strikes, we can’t fix that. It’s fear.”

Brocail is likely good at his job, and no different than any other man in his spot who needs some talent to look competent. He just has the unfortunate distinction of following a man who had more success than anyone else ever has; simply put, Mike Maddux should never have been allowed to leave.

Doug Brocail has this season to prove he’s an able replacement to a set of bosses who view the job as easily replaced.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Mac Engel: 817-390-7697, @macengelprof