The Austin Chronicle

From Worst To First

By Will Eidam, August 22, 2011, 2:51pm, The Score

The Round Rock Express are on the verge of clinching their first Pacific Coast League division title since 2006. Obviously this is a much different team than in past years, thanks to the much-talked-about affiliation switch. But how exactly did Round Rock improve this year?

Pitching: The Pacific Coast League has always been known as a hitter’s league, so it’s no surprise that the stats between Round Rock of last year (when they were affiliated with the Houston Astros') and Round Rock of this year (now part of the Texas Rangers' farm system) are pretty much the same.

In fact, the 2010 Express had a lower ERA (4.68) than this year’s squad (4.74). But the glaring difference between last year and this year is the strikeout ratio. While the 2010 Express had a league worst 5.77 K/9 (812 total Ks), the 2011 Express have improved drastically with 7.38 K/9, already eclipsing last year’s strikeout total with 948. It’s clear that this year’s Express have more tools in the rotation than last year.

Standout: 22-year-old Neil Ramirez, with nine-plus Ks per nine, was sent down to AA with a sore shoulder and is currently rehabbing in Frisco. Ramirez has major-league-type stuff: a 93-96 mph four-seam fastball, a circle changeup, and a curveball.

Batting: If you’re looking for an explanation why it’s been so much more fun to see an Express game this year compared to last year, look no further than the hitting statistics.

While last year’s team ranked at the bottom in pretty much every category that mattered (batting average, RBIs, home runs), this year’s team is near the top in every important statistical category.

It’s laughable to even dissect the differences between last year’s stats and this year’s. But just to give you an idea of how much things have improved:

Batting average:
2010 Round Rock: .259
2011 Round Rock: .292

Home runs:
2010 Round Rock: 108
2011 Round Rock: 161

2010 Round Rock: 558
2011 Round Rock: 759

Not to mention that 2011 Round Rock has 15 games left to play, it’s clear that the Rangers’ farm system has been much more equipped than the Astros’.

Standout: Outfielder Joey Butler: After getting called up to AAA early in the year, Butler has been a consistent hitter with a .332 average, showing a little bit of pop (11 homers) as well as some proven speed (13 stolen bases). Even if there’s no room for him to start in the Rangers’ lineup, expect the 26-year-old to be on their 25 man roster at the beginning of the 2012 season.

With hitting that much improved, it's impossible to imagine Round Rock not being better this year. As the team with the best record in the regular season, this revamped Express team is going to be a fun group to watch in the playoffs.

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