Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Roy Oswalt might be the most famous player to come through Round Rock since Rojo Johnson.
If you recall, back in 2010, Johnson threw one pitch for the Triple-A Round Rock Express before getting ejected and being chased off the field by opposing players.
Johnson, who wore No. 99 while rocking an absurdly large gold chain around his neck, may or may not have actually been Will Ferrell with a fake moustache.
I'm guessing Oswalt won't be sporting any fake facial hair or gold chains when he arrives in Round Rock to pitch against the Albuquerque Isotopoes (not to be confused with the Springfield Isotopes from "The Simpsons") on Saturday.
But Oswalt should have his usual repertoire of a low 90s fastball, a slower than molasses curve ball and an Eric Gagne-esque Vulcan change on display when he makes his first professional start since last October later this weekend.
Oswalt signed a minor-league deal with the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night and ever since then he has seen his fantasy stock soar. He was snatched up within hours in the league I am currently playing in and overall he has been added in over 11 percent of leagues in the last two days. That percentage should keep on rising as Oswalt, who is scheduled to make four minor league starts before he gets called up to the majors, gets closer and closer to his season debut in a Rangers uniform.
But is all the enthusiasm surrounding Oswalt warranted?
Remember, this is a guy who finished with a 9-10 record last season and couldn't find work until 48 hours ago.
Well, that's not entirely true. Oswalt probably could have been on an Opening Day roster if he had been willing to lower his insanely high asking price or been a little more flexible about pitching further away from his home in Weir, Miss. Instead, he held out until midseason and landed with Texas for $5 million.
Joining a club midseason isn't unprecedented. Roger Clemens did it almost every season near the end of his career with decent results. He went 7-6 with a 2.30 ERA in 19 starts for the Houston Astros in 2006 while going 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA in 17 starts for the New York Yankees the following season.
Andy Pettitte unretired late in Spring Training this season and has enjoyed similar success since rejoining the Yankees in mid-May (2-2, 3.49 ERA in four starts).
Both Clemens (44 at the time of his comeback in 2007) and Pettitte (turns 40 in June) were much older than Oswalt (34) when they attempted their mid-season comebacks, so rust shouldn't be too big of an issue for Oswalt. Plus, he'll have four starts in Triple-A to shake off the cobwebs.
Oswalt is historically a much better pitcher in the second half of the season (82-29, 3.00 ERA versus 77-64, 3.38 in the first half), which also bodes well for the Rangers.
What doesn't bode well for the Rangers is that Oswalt has never pitched well in Texas' home stadium. His winning percentage at Rangers Ballpark (.286) is his lowest at any park (minimum five starts) except for the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis (.200). Chase Field (5.28), Miller Park (4.88) and Turner Field (4.81) are the only stadiums where Oswalt has posted a worse ERA than the one he has in eight career starts at Rangers Ballpark (4.78).
As bad as those numbers appear, they're pretty typical of pitchers who play at Rangers Ballpark. In 2011, no stadium recorded a higher park factor (1.41) than Rangers Ballpark and really, none of the other stadiums were even close: Coors Field was a distant second at 1.35 with Fenway Park coming in third at 1.17.
Texas has never been kind on pitchers. In fact, since 2002, only one Rangers starting pitcher has finished the season with an ERA under three: C.J. Wilson who just barely made the cutoff at 2.94. That's no coincidence.
Oswalt's fly ball tendencies (he gave up 23 home runs in 32 starts back in 2008) certainly won't help matters when he's pitching at home.
Rangers Ballpark isn't the only thing that Oswalt's fantasy owners need to worry about, however.
Often times, the declining health and ability of aging athletes is exaggerated but Oswalt's decline in 2011 was very real.
After a surprisingly effective 2010 season in which he went 13-13 with a 2.76 ERA, Oswalt's ERA slipped to 3.69 last year in his first (and only) full season in Philadelphia.
His ERA wasn't the only stat Oswalt struggled with in 2011. He also submitted the worst WHIP (1.34) and allowed the highest batting average on balls in play (.316) of his 11-year major league career. Plus, his average fastball velocity dropped from 92.4 mph in 2010 to just 91.2 the following year.
Injuries also did their part to slow Oswalt's success in 2011. Bothered by a bad back for most of the season, Oswalt was only able to throw 139 innings last year. It was Oswalt's lightest workload since groin problems limited him to 127 1/3 innings in 2003.
Oswalt's diminished durability and effectiveness also affected the length of his outings in 2011. That season, he pitched seven innings or more in only eight of his 23 starts. He had gone seven-plus innings in 20 of his 33 outings in 2010.
As ugly as last season was for Oswalt, it's hard to ignore his sparkling career 3.21 ERA and his three All-Star appearances. And even if 2011 was a struggle, Oswalt is still only two years removed from his brilliant 2010 campaign.
This isn't the first time Oswalt has tried to bounce back after a tough season.
After putting up the worst ERA of his career (4.12) in 2009, Oswalt began to realize that he couldn't blow hitters away with his fastball anymore. So he started using a vulcan change-up and the result was his best season in about five years.
Who knows what Oswalt is hiding in his bag of tricks this time. I don't think it's a fake moustache, but I guess we won't know for sure until Saturday.
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