An Early Summer Survival Guide to Winning The AL West

Jun 30, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland (18) hits a two run home run in the second inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Starting today, Friday, May 27th, the Rangers will have one off-day in a 26-day stretch.  The majority of those games are against AL West rivals. This isn’t a “HOLY CRAP, FIX EVERYTHING BECAUSE WE SUCK!” article.  For the most part, the offense is going well and starting pitching has been outstanding. They’re in a good way currently, but this will be a telling chunk of the season. They could rise and make themselves the clear front runners of the division, or they could flounder and lose ground to the Mariners.

I have an easy four-step plan to help the Rangers get through the next four weeks and to the All-Star break.

1 – Bench Prince Fielder. The fabled Mendoza Line is each player’s lowest point where his offensive production is acceptable given his defensive contributions. There’s no Mendoza Line for a designated hitter. Two home runs, a .193 batting average, and an OPS of .550 is unacceptable for a DH or anyone hitting above 8th in the batting order. Fielder has no defensive contributions. Even if he did, this performance would be well below his Mendoza Line.

So why bench him as opposed to more dramatic solutions?

Fielder can’t be demoted to the minors, and with his terrible contract and absent offensive production, he’s not going to be traded. Nobody will take on that contract without the Rangers paying most or all of his salary. Even if he was raking at the plate, it would still be a challenge to work a trade given the contract. If JD can somehow work a miracle and get Fielder out of here, that would be the ideal solution.

The only other option other than riding the pine is a mystery injury and lengthy stay on the disabled list (assuming he’s not playing through an actual injury). It’s not that I don’t like Fielder – he’s a good dude and seems to be enjoying himself in Texas more than he has in the past. He was a valuable contributor last season, even without the power numbers. So, the most viable option for getting him out of the lineup is to sit him. Give him some time to clear his mind of whatever is holding him back right now, and hope he can fix what’s wrong for the second half of the season.

Right now Joey Gallo is up in Arlington being deprived of daily at-bats that he needs for his development, and he’d do better with a cricket bat than Fielder is. Gallo needs at-bats every day, whether that’s in Arlington or Round Rock.  At this moment, I believe that Gallo’s floor is higher than Fielder’s ceiling. Not only would he be an improvement over Fielder, but having him up in Arlington and not getting at-bats is stunting his development. At the very least, Fielder should bat no higher than 7th in the order while he’s in this extended funk.

2 – Demote Shawn Tolleson.  During this 26 day stretch with one day off, the bullpen will be taxed.  Even with the starters rolling right now, there will be days that the bullpen will need to step up. Jeff Banister will be tempted to use Tolleson due to past performance and experience but Tolleson hasn’t shown at any point this season that he can be trusted.  It’s better to remove that temptation entirely. The only problem is that there doesn’t appear to be any better options in the minors. It may be that Tolleson only needs minor work on his mechanics and a few good outings to rebound.  He showed the talent and mental toughness it takes to be a closer during his outstanding 2015 season. There’s just something wrong mechanically or mentally that prevents him from getting outs this year.

3 – Get smarter on the basepaths.  Given the base running woes, the Rangers have a surprisingly decent record stealing bases. They’re tied for 6th in stolen bases at 31 while ranking 10th with only nine caught stealing. That puts Texas 5th in MLB with a 77.5 stolen base percentage. Unfortunately that doesn’t carry over for other outs on the bases where the Rangers have made 63. Only the Angels (66) and Brewers (65) respectively, of course, have made more. They lead the league in outs at third base with 20.  They’ve been picked off base 13 times, which is only above the league average by one. Aggressiveness is great; the Rangers have 160 bases taken (meaning taking an extra base, first to third, etc) which is good for 6th in the majors. But giving up outs on the bases can be a game breaker. Aggressiveness with awareness is the key. There’s some debate as to whether this is a coaching problem or a player problem. I propose that it is a coaching problem. Whether the coaches are calling the bases or the players are left to their own judgment, the coaching staff needs to instill a better base running philosophy. Be aggressive but also smart, aware, and in control.

4 – Less Mitch Moreland. (See what I did there?  It looks easy, but it’s not.)  Moreland is an excellent defensive first baseman. The unfortunate reality is that 1B is an offense-first position, and the Mendoza Line is pretty high for the position. Moreland’s production last season was fairly solid, but lagged behind other first basemen who match his defensive skills. This season has been poor, worse than what should be expected from him year to year. His performance thus far is closer to what realistic expectations should be for him as opposed to his over-achieving 2015. Mitch is hitting a paltry .226 with a .370 slugging percentage, with four home runs and 17 RBI. This ranks him 21st, 20th, 23rd, and 24th out of MLB first basemen. His WAR of -0.2 is among the bottom of all players who have played 1B at any point this season. At least we can take some joy from the fact that he’s better than Mark Teixeira this season.  Mitch is a free agent after this year and 2016 is likely his last season in Arlington. In the meantime, while he IS the best defensive first baseman on the team his offense is struggling and more production is needed out of the position. Ryan Rua is batting well against left-handed pitching while being serviceable at first. Perhaps a platoon situation to minimize Moreland’s at-bats while he’s scuffling is the solution. Joey Gallo could also factor in to this solution.

Four simple tweaks to keep the Rangers on the tracks through the All-Star break.  Wholesale changes aren’t needed. JD and Banister have the team pointed in the right direction, but stretches like this in the middle of the season can take their toll on the team. Making minor adjustments can be the key to success vs. failure.

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Jeremy Stroop
I'm a life-long baseball and Rangers fan from about 1975. My dad covered the Rangers for the Associated Press when I was a kid, so I went to a LOT of games. I'm not a Rusty Rose-colored glasses-wearing Pollyanna Rangers fanboy. I love the Rangers like no other sports team, but I'm a realist. My wedding had a Texas Rangers theme. Public servant. Outdoor enthusiast. The details of my life are quite inconsequential.

3 comments

  • Baserunning – “Aggressiveness with awareness is the key.”

    “CUE THE PROFAR VIDEO.” That guy’s a natural genius on the bases.

  • Quite a few things happened over the weekend since I wrote this article on Thursday. Yeah, I didn’t mean a permanent benching for Prince. Just take him out of the lineup for a few days – he’s an offensive black hole and at the very least shouldn’t be batting so high in the order. Typically, the 3rd spot in the order is for the best all-around hitter on the team. Right now, everyone on the team (except Hoying) is better than Fielder. I believe that Mazara should be batting 3rd right now, Desmond 5th, Elvis 2nd, and Prince 6th, Rua 7th, catcher of the day 8th, Moreland 9th… until they can emerge from their funks.

    Also, Gallo got sent back down to make room for Darvish after I had completed this article but before it was posted. I agree, Gallo needs to be left alone at Round Rock until he’s ready to make the permanent transition to the bigs, or a major injury makes his presence required. What he needs is to play every day, so he can work on both his offense and defense.

    It was nice to see Moreland and Fielder get home runs this weekend, but they both still look very uncomfortable/uneasy at the plate, like a golfer with the yips. I don’t recall which game it was, but I saw Mitch strike out on what had the be the one of the worst swings I’ve ever seen a big league left-hander take – like he’s got some hitch in his swing. Sometimes all it takes is a good weekend like Mitch had to break out of it. I really hope so. I’ve always liked Mitch, especially after the revolving door of underperformance the Rangers had at first base for a few seasons after Teixeira forced his way out of town. While Mitch didn’t provide stellar offensive performance, it was consistently average, with excellent defense, and he’s a good dude. After Teixeira’s behavior then Smoak and Davis both underwhelming, Mitch was a refreshing change of pace, and with contract control + reasonable contracts it was easy to keep rolling with him as the every day 1B. It’s going to get interesting this off-season, watching how the Rangers address that conundrum.

    Tolleson: Man… I had no idea his dad was in poor health until after I wrote this piece last week. That has to be distracting, and I’m sure he hasn’t had the focus needed to be an effective closer because of it. I’d really like to see him rebound this season. He was nails last season. I’m a big fan of Dyson, and I’d like to see a healthy competition for the closer spot.

  • Find a way to get Fielder a couple of days off without actually sitting him entirely. Then, yes drop him in the order. It’s a production business. He ain’t getting it done. I agree 6 or 7 is where he needs to be until he can get himself on track. For the record, I continue to believe the ability is there, he is just mentally taking himself out of good AB’s.
    In my opinion, Gallo should be left alone at RR. Bringing him up seemed to be making a move just for the sake of doing so. Not a John Daniels typically well thought out transaction.
    Tolleson, well that’s handled for now. When he gets back, got no problem with swapping him out for The Bartender if he continues to show the progress he has.
    I’m sure they talk about being smarter on the basepaths. Surely you and I can’t be the only ones thinking it. It’ll be fine.
    Mitch vexes me. I’d say it was contract-year’itis but he doesn’t particularly seem to be pressing. I watched Desmond go through it in DC last year and it was obvious with him but Mitch just seems to be unwilling to adjust to what the pitcher and the defense is showing him, more than he seems to be pressing. But yeah, he’s vexing me right now, a lot.
    Your overall point is spot on. If this team is going to go deep this year then they need to put together a couple of 7-3, 8-2 streaks in the next 5 weeks or so.

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