Thursday, March 3, 2016

Thursday Throwback - Ryan Langerhans

I've mentioned before that I love to play Out of the Park on the PC. It's a baseball simulator that gives you loads of customization and all of the stats that you could ever wish for. I just pre-ordered OOTP 17, which comes out later this month, and will probably order OOTP 18. It's the only game that comes out every year in which I purchase each version. Part of that reason is that you grow attached to teams and players inside a mini universe you build. Several years ago, today's Thursday Throwback was one of those players for me. While his career wasn't too significant, Ryan Langerhans developed into an All-Star and study player for nearly ten years for me. As the real version became AAAA filler, my version was hitting second and helping me get to the playoffs. It's enough to cloud your memory of a player because now when I look at Langer's career, I'm a little shocked that it was so...uneventful. Oh, well.

Elsa/Getty Images
A third round pick out of the 1998 draft, Langerhans went straight from Round Rock High School (TX) into a professional career with the Braves. As a prospect, Langerhans was never a high-ranking guy, but outside of a terrible season with the Pelicans in 2000, he was pretty sturdy and developed some decent power and on-base skills along the way. He first made his debut on April 28, 2002 as an emergency injury fill-in. He received just an at-bat and spent the rest of the season in Greenville. He got a bigger look in 2003 with 16 games and 15 PA, but he managed just four singles.

At this point, Langerhans was "just a guy" (h/t Outfield Fly Rule), but in 2004, the 24-year old had a bit of a breakthrough campaign. He spent all of the season with Richmond and hit a stout .298/.397/.518 with 20 HR. It was the perfect time for Langerhans to start to put it all together. In the majors, the Braves still had Andruw Jones in center field, but things weren't nearly as set around him. J.D. Drew was leaving after an MVP-quality one-and-done year with the Braves and in left field, the Braves had moved Chipper Jones back to third base. That gave us a platoon of Charles Thomas and Eli Marrero in 2004, which was very productive. Thomas, of course, would be dealt to the A's while Marrero, who had slashed .320/.374/.4520 over nearly 300 PA, was surprisingly traded to the Royals for Jorge Vazquez. That was probably a salary dump.

John Schuerholz knew he had options on the way. Kelly Johnson would be shifted to left and Jeff Francoeur was closing in on a promotion. With a declining payroll, Schuerholz rolled the dice on a few veterans holding down the fort with Raul Mondesi in right and Brian Jordan in left. Both veterans had sucked the previous year, but the Braves were hoping for a little magic for a year. Behind those two and Andruw was Langerhans, a perfect fourth outfielder. He could sneak at-bats against right-handed pitching and play all three outfield spots. Plus, he was out of options so that helped the Braves make a decision on him.

Langer had a bad first month as he learned to be a backup, but seemed to turn it around from there and after April, Langer hit .275/.353/.435 with 7 HR. He picked up 80 starts as Jordan and Mondesi failed nightly with the latter getting released and the former eventually DL'd just to hide him. The eventual promotions of KJ and Francoeur cut into Langerhans' time, but he remained a key part of the outfield mix well into the summer. He struck out a little too much, but he showed an understanding of the strikezone and walked at a solid rate. While others wore the Baby Braves banner with more fanfare, Langer was a very important part of the 2005 Braves.

Which is part of why it was so surprising that Jordan, who didn't even on-base .300 during 2005, got a Game 1 start in the NLDS over Langer and KJ. We were told that the lefty Andy Pettitte was the reason, but it seemed ridiculous for someone who had hit so poorly playing over the clearer better options. Jordan went 0-for-3 and his rally-killing double play in the 4th when the Braves had fought back to make it 4-3. By the time Langer hit for Jordan in the 9th, it was 10-4 Astros.

Langerhans got the Game 2 start and contributed a pair of singles in Atlanta's 7-1 win over Roger Clemens. He would go hitless in Game 3, but did walk and score a run in Atlanta's 7-3 loss. In Game 4, Langerhans would play all 18 innings and had a single, a double, two walks (one intentional), a HBP, and - amazingly - his first successfully stolen base as a major league player. In the 18th, Langer was the one at the base of the left field wall praying that a miracle would happen as Chris Burke's series-ending homerun reached the fans.

That was a lot written about Langer's 2005, I know. There's a reason for that. In 2006, Langer was still good, but his power numbers fell and his strikeouts went up. A 50 point drop in OPS is not the worst sophomore slump, but it would be the last year he reached the 250 PA plateau as a major leaguer.

2007 got off to a rotten start for Langerhans. It was absolutely woeful. His batting average fell under .100 with a pinch-hit strikeout on April 16. It bottomed out at .049 a dozen days later and he was traded a few days after that. Overall, in 20 games, Langerhans went 3-for-44 with a double, 6 walks, and 16 strikeouts. He was literally that guy from Little Big League who couldn't hack it anymore. When he would get a hit, his manager, the prepubescent Billy Heywood, went crazy until his pitching coach said something to the effect of "don't you think it says something when you get this happy over a seeing-eye single?" Perhaps if the Braves had an option left, they would have kept Langerhans on, but attempting to get something for him, they trade him on a conditional deal to the A's.

I'm not sure what the conditions of that deal were, but when he was traded a couple of days later to the Nats for Chris Snelling, I'm sure the Braves didn't receive much for dealing Langerhans away. Langerhans really didn't bounce back, but a bad Nationals club kept him on. In 103 games with Washington, he slashed just .198/.296/.370. He would continue on with the Nationals in 2008, but he would be banished to the minors in '09 before becoming the answer to "what did the Mariners get for trading Mike Morse to the Nats in 2009?"

After the trade, Langerhans spent a good portion of the last two months with the Mariners, but continued to struggle. Still, he became a bit of a fixture as a guy going up-and-down between Tacoma and Seattle through 2011. Two brief cameos with the Angels and Blue Jays in '12 and '13 respectively put a close to his major league career. He kept his career alive for one year with Sugar Land of the independent Atlantic League in 2014, but the writing was on the wall and Langerhans hung up his cleats. After his sophomore follow-up of 2006, Langerhans had hit just .196/.318/.341 over 716 PA in the majors over seven years and with six different teams.

Since retiring, Langerhans has been part of the Buck Commander tv series with former teammate Adam LaRoche among others. Not really my thing, but hey, I'm sure Chipper and him have a lot to talk about. Me? I just remember how I couldn't have won a couple of World Series in OOTP without Langer being a constant in the #2 spot.

Other Thursday Throwbacks...
Special - Rafael Furcal's Near-Signing (2008)
Marquis Grissom (1995-96)
Terrell Wade (1995-97)
...or view ALL of them.

1 comment:

  1. Nice story. I can relate as I also had an attachment to Langer because of his fictional success in my console videogame (can't remember which title; The Show maybe). I even remember creating him a few years later when he wasn't included on that year's roster (probably because he was in the minors). Anyways, I created him, but messed up when selecting his name and accidentally put Rheal Langerhans - I liked it. So from then on, I had Ryan Langerhans as an outfielder and Rheal Langerhans as a utility infielder - fictional brothers.

    I guess the root of my underwhelming story is: Even though a player had an uneventful career (or possibly wasn't even a... rheal... person) it doesn't mean they didn't have a profound effect on a fan's life.