Diagnosing(and curing) the Rangers’ offensive maladies
I don’t think it’s a big secret that a lot of analysis is based in guesswork. At least in how you start. You identify a problem or situation, before figuring out what’s wrong or right. It’s rare that identification is the problem; usually it’s more trying to explain the why and how. It’s not hard to identify when your air conditioning breaks during a Texas summer, but when it comes to what’s actually wrong and repairing it? That’s when you call someone you’ll pay a moderate amount of money to relieve you of your sweat-soaked misery.
Most of us know the Texas Rangers offense is in a bad way. I detailed it some last week when discussing Yu Darvish‘s struggles receiving run support. But outside of that, it’s not hard to turn on a Texas game lately and find a scuffling offensive bunch. Even with the addition of Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran, two strong upgrades at catcher and DH, the offensive outage continues.
So let’s take some time here figuring out what the problem is and how it can be fixed.
Let’s establish the baseline of the season. These numbers are combined from every hitter this year.
The on base is below average, but the slugging percentage balances out the OPS. Overall it reeks of average, but what’s concerning is the BABIP. .300 is the accepted line of league average, where you’re not being affected by good or bad luck. Texas sitting right at the line indicates that this is what they are. That’s concerning for a team that just went all in for a title chance.
So now that we have a baseline, let’s compare it against a few more nuanced calculations. We’ll start with hitting by position to date, focusing on a few choice places.
|Hitting per position||Batting Average||On Base Percentage||Slugging Percentage||On base plus slugging||Batting average w/ Balls in Play|
Not a lot of surprises here. Catcher and designated hitter were big enough problems that Jon Daniels and company addressed them at the deadline. Lucroy and Beltran should reverse trends there when given enough plate appearances with their new team. Center field is no shock also, as Ian Desmond has been an MVP candidate while handling most of the duties. One area of concern is the abnormal .360 BABIP, which helps in explaining Desmond’s return to Earth. Second base is also a curious look. While the positional OPS is almost .800, an on base below .300 is a problem. Rougned Odor is hitting for enough power to paint over some on base struggles, but some development in that area would be a delight.
Moving onto situational hitting, we’ll examine a couple different types starting with hitting related to various counts.
One surprise here is, despite my initial thoughts, the team’s stellar line on first pitches. They’re doing good work when up in the count, and they’re not bad even if they take one strike. After that though it gets scary. A below .500 OPS in two-strike, non-full counts is abhorrent for a team that likes swinging. Even more concerning is the team’s inability to rebound after going down two strikes. This means pitchers can get ahead in a count, and worry little about Ranger hitters coming back in the at-bat. Despite the “Never Ever Quit” mantra, the team tends to fold up shop when they have two strikes on them.
Here comes the hammer. Here’s how the team hits related to base runners and outs.
|On Base Situation||BA||OBP||SLG||OPS||BABIP|
|Any runner(s), any out(s)||.280||.334||.422||.756||.323|
|Runners in Scoring Position, any out(s)||.280||.340||.414||.754||.322|
|Bases loaded, any out(s)||.308||.326||.436||.762||.367|
|Runner on 3rd, no outs||.250||.182||.250||.432||.286|
|Runner on 3rd, 1 out||.417||.432||.556||.987||.424|
|Runner on 3rd, 2 outs||.291||.435||.455||.889||.311|
|Bases loaded, no outs||.375||.253||.625||.978||.417|
|Bases loaded, 1 out||.207||.268||.207||.475||.231|
|Bases loaded, 2 outs||.364||.382||.545||.928||.500|
A few things stand out. Texas is abominable with a man on third and no outs, yet as they add on more outs they improve dramatically. It’s rare to see a team get better with less margin for error, but when it comes to succeeding with a runner on third Texas does just that. You also see luck playing a big factor. Three different situations see Texas benefiting from a plus .400 BABIP, two of those with the bases loaded. So when Texas has failed in situations like that as of late, they’re not worse so much as they’re getting a lot less lucky than earlier in the season.
So with all these numbers, it’s safe to reach the following conclusions:
- They’ll need to improve overall with on base percentage
- They’ll need to stack their better hitters near the top
- They need to make the most of what they have
1. Nomar Mazara should always hit 5th (and play RF)
A lot was made about the rookie outfielder’s summer doldrums. That said, Mazara seems to be coming out of it with a .875 OPS over the last week. Regardless The Big Chill needs to have a constant spot in the lineup and 5th seems to be the best option. Yes, he has more plate appearances(PAs) hitting 2nd, but it’s hard to argue a .324/.359/.649/1.008 slash line in the five hole. The lineup is in a weird place right now, with Lucroy and Beltran giving Texas the great problem of multiple quality bats. That said, consistency for a young man still learning the big leagues would go a long way to helping him.
As far as his position, that won’t happen as Shin-Soo Choo is a terror in left and can’t DH full time yet. He has to play the field, and right field seems the lesser of all evils. It’s worth noting the difference in Maz’s slash line when he plays right as opposed to left:
2016 in RF: .299./350/.444/.794
2016 in LF: .224/.272/.341/.613
One thing to consider is a bit of a chicken/egg situation. Did Mazara start struggling when Choo’s return forced him into right, or is it just a correlation with major league pitchers getting a better book on him? Time will tell, but the numbers say Mazara prefers playing in right. It’s unlikely, but something to keep in the back of your mind.
2. Carlos Beltran should hit 2nd, not Ian Desmond, and Elvis Andrus should hit 8th.
If on-base percentage is going to be important, then Texas needs to think about it both at the start of and throughout the game. Desmond has a slight advantage on OBP (one point over Beltran this year), but this is more a big picture change. Beltran’s career OBP in the two hole is .372, his best by far. Desmond’s in that same spot is .374. However, Beltran has almost eight times the plate appearances hitting 2nd. The sample size benefits him, and Desmond’s .499 slugging would be better utilized in the four hole.
Why fourth? With one out, Desmond’s posting a career .785 OPS. With two outs? .941. These moves maximize the track records of both these Rangers who will be important for the stretch run. You’d ask why not just hit him 3rd?
We’ll get to that.
Elvis is a curious case. He’s performing better than usual, but that’s still right around league average in many respects. That said, he leads Rangers hitter with more than 200 PAs in on base percentage with .348(Lucroy and Beltran not included since they just got here). That said, his other stats scream “Keep away from the top of the lineup.”He profiles as a traditional 9 hole hitter, his OPS is over 100 points better hitting 8th(.826 to .715). More prudent to this discussion is his on base. In lineup spots where he has more than 100 career PAs, his .368 OBP is the best out of any other spot he’s hit in his career. A $15 million eight hole hitter isn’t ideal, but this is about getting everything out of a player. Plus, if the shoe fits then bat it 8th. That’s an old saying.
OK, so this one is a little out of left field. The Lucroy acquisition locks up catcher for now and 2017, which makes the backup position less vital overall. That said, there’s an argument to make that Nicholas deserves a chance to prove he can take the job. Remember this is about OFFENSIVE maximization, so the argument about defensive catching ability isn’t in play at this juncture.
This year, Chirinos has been sub par with the bat, posting a .189/.275/.462/.737 line in 120 PAs. In about a 4th of the PAs, Nicholas cobbled together a .257/.333/.543/.876 offering. Of course, there’s no guarantee Nicholas maintains that, but that’s more than enough to give him an extended audition. If he can’t handle it, well you know Chirinos is there to handle the job. If he hits well, you’ve stumbled into some free offense. The risk is more than low enough to pay off the ceiling.
4. Rougned Odor should hit 3rd
This is why Desmond slides to 4th, because Odor needs to be getting more at-bats with RISP. Odor’s aggressive style falls in line with Texas’ overall first pitch prosperity, posting a career .384/.398/.715/1.113 slash line when hitting the first pitch. With the rearranged batting order, putting a high-level offensive generator behind Choo and Beltran in the lineup could help jump start the offense.
Aiding that even more would be Odor increasing his patience. In addition to hitting first pitches well, Odor has a career OPS of 1.000+ on 2-0, 2-1, and any count after he goes up 3-0 in an at bat. It’s worth nothing that out of 1300 career plate appearances in the majors, Odor has only seen 11 3-0 counts. Patience isn’t a virtue he possesses, but it’s worked for him so far.
So after all these chances, what does the Texas lineup look like?
I understand there’s going to be a lot of people unhappy with some of the decisions. Beltre and Moreland moving down will bother some. I’m sure some of the other changes will perturb fans who are used to things being a certain way. The problem with that is when things aren’t working, sometimes a drastic change is needed. It’s not a disrespect to those individual players, it’s the hope that by doing this they can reach the goal they want more than anything. I’m of the mind that if this lineup functions like the numbers says it will, they could win a World Series. That’s my goal, to construct an offense that will take this thing all the way. Nothing more.