Breaking Down Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando's Impressive Starts to the Season
Matt Harrison and Alexi Ogando had two terrific performances which have helped propel the Rangers to a 9-1 record and an early lead in the AL West. The Rangers toyed with the idea of starting Neftali Feliz this spring training, and there was considerable support to put him in the depleted rotation. However, the Ogando switch has taken pressure off of Jon Danlels and Nolan Ryan off the hook for not making the move, and Tommy Hunter's injury has allowed both Harrison and Ogando to flourish while Feliz remains in the closer's role.
Harrison has shown improved velocity in his two starts against the Red Sox and Orioles. Harrison's four and two seam fastballs have shown a lot of life and movement this season. He has averaged 90-91 mph on his fastball as a full time starter and 92.2 mph as mostly a reliever last season. However, he has averaged 93 mph in his first two starts, and he has topped out at 97.6 mph in his last start. All of his pitches, which include both fastballs, a cutter, curveball, change and slider have shown more movement in 2011. With the increased velocity and movement on his pitches, Harrison has been getting more swinging strikes (9.2 percent), and he has struck out seven per nine innings up from his career mark of five per nine.
Harrison has shown better control so far, averaging 1.93 BB/9, better than his career 3.61 rate, and has induced groundballs at a 50 percent rate. His xFIP is impressive at 3.42 and if Harrison is able to keep his home run rate lower than in previous seasons, he could stick in the rotation for the rest of the season.
Ogando's starts against the Mariners and Tigers have been just as impressive. Ogando does not throw as hard as a starter, but his 93.8 mph is still above average (96 mph in 2010 as a reliever). Some scouts worry about his ability to retire left-handed batters, but he did not allow a hit to one in today's start and he struck out two.
Ogando's xFIP of 3.89 indicates that he might be relying on too much contact, but he had similar numbers during his stellar 2010 season. I am a little concerned about his groundball percentage at 29.5 percent along with his reoccurring blister problem. However, Ogando's slider has been excellent with increased usage to both types of hitters. I don't think he will be as successful later in the season, but he is a better alternative than the lucky Tommy Hunter.
With these impressive starts, the Rangers have shown depth in a rotation that some considered average. No one believes that this group will be as a good as they have been during the first week and a half, but with this offense they don't need to be.
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