An Early Summer Survival Guide to Winning The AL West
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.