Now that the All Star break is upon us, I want to take a look and evaluate how well the club is performing thus far. Please note though, that I am “grading” on the performance of the Rangers in general and not grading in comparison to the expectations we started 2009 with. There is no doubt this team has performed leaps and bounds beyond anyone’s expectations at this point. However, if I am going to take an honest look at the club, I have to put that aside for the time being; otherwise, this post really becomes nothing more than a complete homer post.
Anyways, I will be grading the following categories: Starting Pitching, Bullpen, Offense, Defense, Mental Game, and Coaching. At the end, I will give an overall grade of the team, but please note that said final grade won’t be an overall exact average. Grading subjectively is fun.
On to the grades!
Starting Pitching: B+
There has been no doubt that the starting pitching has been one of the strongest aspects of this team. While their team ERA for starters may not be in the top half of MLB (4.47 ERA, ranked 16th), the Rangers starting staff still boasts quite a bit of impressive stats. They are ranked 10th in innings pitched (521.2) and tied for 3rd with 5 CG, echoing the Nolan Ryan mantra of making starters go deep into games. They are also ranked 10th in walks allowed (190 BB) and less free bases are always a good thing. But perhaps the most impressive stat is the 35 wins that the Rangers staff has put together (ranked 8th).
The Rangers obtain their high grade though for being able to put together these stats in a hitter’s park that is their home field. We’ve been told to never expect solid pitching because of this, yet here is a staff (and a very young one at that), that has been able to do it. The Rangers have also been able to fight through the injuries of their rotation as well, and still be able to hold these numbers together. Usually, if a starter went down for Texas, chaos would follow, but that hasn’t been the case this year.
The main thing keeping the Rangers from a higher mark is the lack of strikeouts thrown by the starters. While you can’t expect all 5 of your starters to be power pitchers and strike out machines, you surely don’t want to stay ranked 27th out of 30 teams in Ks (303 Ks). The top staffs in the Bigs will strike batters out a much more consistent basis to say the least.
Of course, improving some of the other stats listed above would also boost the grade as well.
This was probably one of the harder components of the team to grade. While the bullpen isn’t so hot in several statistical categories like ERA (4.09 ERA, 20th rank), BAA (Batting Average Against, .254, 19th rank), but something definitely needs to be said for the Rangers converting 24 of 31 saves (that rating is 2nd in the majors) as well as a MLB 11th best 1.37 WHIP.
Outside of O’Day, Wilson, and Francisco, the bullpen can get a bit scary — and even those pitchers have proven to be vulnerable throughout the season here and there.
But really the grade is there for this simple reason: Once you get to the bullpen, more often than not you feel like your lead will be safe. The blowups clearly don’t happen as much as the solid outings do. Plus, once you get to the 9th, you more or less feel like it is game over for the Rangers’ opponent.
Now here is where I see some glaring issues. The power does seem to somewhat be there though with a SLG of .454 which is 2nd best behind the Yankees. Texas is tied for 1st with 132 HR and round out the top-10 in RBI with 409.
However, these numbers are also accompanied by some very disturbing ones: .255 BA (22th), .317 OBP (25th), 263 BB (27th), 690 Ks (3rd worst…thank you Davis and Salty), and probably the most disturbing is the BA with RISP (runners in scoring position) at .257 (21st). Ouch.
In short, if the Rangers have a power outage in a game, don’t expect too much in the way of producing runs. Those stats are just straight rally-killers to say the least. You can’t win by constantly relying on the long-ball to be your offense. It is as simple as that.
This also speaks to the larger issue of how the Rangers seem to be approaching the plate. Kinsler can’t seem to figure out what it is to be a leadoff hitter as his .250/.327/.816 and 20 HR are hardly the numbers you look for out of that slot. Maybe from your 5 or 6, but not the leadoff. Hamilton has also stuttered with a .243/.298/.726 and 6 HR — again, hardly what you are looking for out of him.
And who are the .300 hitters on the team right now? Michael Young. Yep that’s it.
This grade is more than fitting for a very below average offense with only its power pop saving it from being completely horrible.
.984 is the current fielding percentage of the Rangers, which ranks 16th and their 52 errors is right in the middle of all of baseball. While these are fairly pedestrian numbers, the fact of the matter is that the Rangers have been able to quite literally steal away what used to be hits from opposing players.
Look no further than Elvis Andrus for the best example of this. The SS position for the Rangers have got more total chances than any other club in baseball (466) and Elvis is a large reason why (385 chances are his, only trailing Marco Scutaro). His range is much better than Young’s by far and his arm allows him to convert those tough plays/potential hits into outs — his SS league-leading 5.34 RF (range factor — [putouts+assists]/games played) also attests to this. Also, you have to consider the 58 double plays he has helped to turn (tied 3rd best).
Ian Kinsler is also a major piece of this defensive improvement, watching his errors drop to only 6 (he had 18 last year), and also leading the majors (tied with Aaron Hill) with 66 double play turns. His RF of 5.32 (4th best among all 2B), sure doesn’t hurt either. He also happens to lead all 2B in total chances with 453.
The improved and solid defense is a large part of the reason why the pitching has been so good. The two more often than not will always go hand-in-hand, especially if your staff is not striking out a whole lot of batters.
73 SB, with a success rating of 84% (tops in the majors). Baserunning mistakes have also been at a minimum as well. You really can’t ask for much more than this. Unlike last year, the Rangers are not running themselves out of innings and they’ve been able to do this while being far more aggressive on the bases.
Mental Game: C+
Like Yogi said: “Baseball is 80% mental, and the other half is physical.” This rating of course is completely subjective, but in my opinion has a large impact on how a team preforms.
Overall, the Rangers have been decent with the mental game. Stupid baserunning mistakes are way down from last year and that has been the biggest source of improvement; however, there are still a lot of mental blowups and short-comings that have plagued this season.
Padilla started the “wtf are you thinking!?” moments with his complete meltdown against the Yankees. Never has it been more obvious that a pitcher had simply given up and was just waiting to be taken out of the game…and then plunking Teixeira twice for the hell of it was just baffling. Although since that game, he has been much more like an actual #2 starter…seems the “we’ll put your tail on waivers without blinking” message was received rather well.
Chris Davis was another problem this season. You don’t just strike out over 100 times in less than half a season because your swing is bad. He clearly got in his own head during his strikeout fest. Somewhere along the line you have to make the adjustments that are needed and not press. If his swing was really that bad, he wouldn’t have made it past AA ball.
Hamilton even feel victim to the same issue, just in a different way. He saw his numbers decline, and started pressing to get them up. So what does he do? Swings at the first pitch he sees nearly every single time. Granted, this has gotten better since he has arrived back from the DL, but he had a very long stretch of swinging at the first pitch more than 70% of the time. And I have just a slight feeling you don’t throw an easy to hit pitch to the #3 slot over 70% of the time on the first pitch.
Ian Kinsler as mentioned before has had several issues figuring out how to hit like a leadoff man. He continuously swings for the fences and that just makes no sense to me at all. Also, although the baserunning mistakes have been few and far between, the culprit more often than not has been Ian.
There have been several positives though, and the majority of them have been the poise of most of the young guns that have been thrown into the fire this season. Folks like Holland, Hunter, and Andrus have been doing a fantastic job thus far in the season.
Overall though, there is room to improve.
When positive things happen to the club, you have to give the manager a lot of credit. Washington has done a solid job with the Rangers and to not give him said credit would be simply wrong. However, he has still had many moments were I believe he has left some pitchers in too long (namely Milwood), and pulled other people far too fast (namely Holland). You can’t really put too much of a blame on him for the losses the club has had though. Overall the ratio of dumb decisions compared to really good ones have been quite solid.
Mike Maddox also deserves loads of credit for transforming this pitching staff to looking like…well an actual pitching staff. He is probably the best off-season transaction this team has had in years.
And we get to Rudy Jaramillo…
Now I really can’t wrap my head around this guy. He is lauded by pretty much all of baseball as one of the best hitting coaches ever, but within the past couple of years I watch Ranger batter after Ranger batter take horrible approaches to the plate. The trend of hitting purely for power and not to the situation is also very disturbing. While you can blame a lot on the hitter, if these problems come up season after season, you have to start pointing the finger at the man in charge of coaching the swings as well.
Frankly, the coaching would be an easy “A” if it weren’t for the perplexing performance of the Rangers’ hitting.
The Rangers, while definitely performing very well in several aspects of the game, still have a lot of work to do, namely in the hitting and mental game. This team definitely has what it takes to compete with the upper-tier of MLB; however, to say they are on the level of the elite is pressing it. They will definitely be able to make a lot of noise in the West at this rate and, if the offense makes some solid strides (with the pitching holding of course) might even be able to make a post-season appearance.
Some other notes to close:
Halladay I don’t think will be traded. According to St. Louis beat writer Joe Strauss (via his Twitter):
Asked about the price tag for Halladay, a club source said: “Give Ricciardi [ED: GM of the Blue Jays] all our minor-league rosters and let him circle any 5 names.”
Yeah…pass on that. I’m pretty sure most of baseball will feel the same.
For those so sure that we needed to call Smoak up to replace Chris Davis, here are their AAA numbers so far:
Justin Smoak: 26 AB, .115/.281/.512, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 6 K
Chris Davis: 23 AB, .348/.407/1.060, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 6 K
Which do you think is more major league ready? This is why you don’t make crazy roster moves (especially ones that affect your 40-man roster) for someone that is only doing well in AA. Smoak still has a long way to go before he is considered ready for a call-up.
Davis though is looking like he might just be getting some of his confidence back. Hopefully this pace can keep up so he can find his way back into the Rangers lineup and be a solid contributor once again. Having his glove back at 1B would be a nice addition as well.