The Rangers’ Silver Lining Playbook
In what could charitably be described as a sluggish start for the Rangers, there is a lot to be skeptical about so far this season in Arlington. Injuries have reared their ugly head, the most recent of which will shelve right fielder Shin-Soo Choo for 4-6 weeks and starting catcher Robinson Chirinos for 10-12 weeks. The depth and talent in the bullpen has yet to realize it’s potential, sitting at 29th in the league in overall WAR (-0.3). Finally, the bats have yet to shake off the early-season rust, slashing an uninspiring .201/.296/.314 along with a weak .113 ISO.
It would be uncharitable, however, to merely point out the flaws on this team. They are too legion and obvious to mention. Besides, SDI strives to zag when others zig. To that end, let’s focus on the silver linings of week 1, identifying reasons for hope moving forward this season.
Including Martin Perez’s start versus the Angels last night, the Rangers’ starters have managed to compile six quality starts out of seven total chances. They would have a perfect record but Derek Holland only went five innings in the series opener (but he was in line for a quality start when he got pulled). The strikeout rate is just a shade below last year’s average (27th in the league), but the rotation is inducing worm burners at a prolific rate (51.5% GB, top 5). This bodes well in an offense-friendly climate like Globe Life Park and is playing to the team’s stellar defensive strength so far, which has put up a .991 fielding percentage (top 4 overall).
The rotation has struggled with control early on (4.19 BB/9), and have been giving up too many long balls. However, they’ve been able to strand runners at an elite clip (84.7%) and their HR/FB rates should regress to league average as the season wears on. It hasn’t always been pretty so far this season but the starters have kept the team in the games up to this point.
While team offense has struggled as a unit, there have been some bright spots in the lineup that are worth mentioning:
Adrian Beltre has come out of the gates swinging, busting out a .304/.360/.522 slash line while lowering his strikeout rate by over 20%. Beltre has also been showing off his Gold Glove defense at the hot corner, putting up highlight reel plays like this:
He’s the clubhouse leader and his strong start bodes well for the rest of the young hitters that look to him as a mentor and steady presence. Beltre is healthy and can still be a 25 HR threat in the lineup this season.
Delino DeShields is not particularly lighting it up via batting average (.143), but he’s doing what leadoff men should do: get on base. He’s currently sporting a 7:5 K/BB ratio, which is good enough for a .391 OBP and has already stolen two bases (although he has been caught once as well). In order for the meat of the order to produce, they will need to have DD on base often and productive on the base paths.
Rougned Odor, who is being touted as the next elite second baseman, is making progress in two key areas of his game so far this season. First, he is walking at a much better clip (11.5% in 2016 versus 4.7% career mark). This bodes well for his offensive production and can only help him to see more drivable pitches deeper in the count. Second, through seven games he has turned nine double plays, made 23 assists, and has done it all without an error. Provided these numbers end up as trends and not statistical noise, we could be seeing Odor’s game rounding into form early on this season. The hits and home runs will come, but these flowering fundamentals are even more important early on this year.
Of course, everyone will be pointing to prospect stud Nomar Mazara, whose completely inconspicuous start yesterday (3-4, HR) speaks volumes to the Rangers’ depth and talent on the farm. And rightly so. He’s got a cannon for an arm in right field, can play passable defense, and can obviously hit the ball. The 20-year old, who is currently the youngest player in the Big Show, batted second on Sunday and will take over for Choo full time for the next 4-6 weeks. He may not go back down when Choo returns either.
There are a plethora of other bats waiting in the wings in Triple-A Round Rock including Joey Gallo and Jurickson Profar. Matt Bush threw consecutive innings for Double-A Frisco the past two nights, and future phenom Lewis Brinson awaits his chance as well. Jon Daniels has stocked the farm well and help is available should the need arise (even more than it already has).
ODDS & ENDS
Team statistics may not reveal these little nuggets, but don’t sleep on the following players:
Keone Kela: Five strikeouts in 2.2 IP, 0.73 FIP, and a 50% GB rate. He’s been, by far, the best reliever in the bullpen that no one is talking about. He has been and continues to be my sleeper for closer (sometime in the second half if not sooner).
Jake Diekman: the second best arm in the ‘pen, and a sneaky get in the Cole Hamels trade. He’s got the stuff to be an electric setup man and close if needed. He had an elite 56.4% GB rate last season.
Prince Fielder: leads the team with 7 RBI (top 10 in the league), and is walking at a more career-like clip (15.4%). He’s been unlucky so far (.214 BABIP), and although I don’t like his power production, he should still hit 20 HR if he stays healthy.
Ian Desmond: in 53+ innings so far he has not made an error in left field. That is an unqualified success so far. If that bat comes around to be a 15/15 type then he’ll be a bargain at $8mm.
At the end of the day, and despite a slew of injuries (we didn’t even mention Yu Darvish) the Rangers are 3-4, sitting one game back of the division-leading A’s. While it’s not the start that everyone had hoped for, one has to feel good that pundit-favorite Houston is 2-4 along with an improved Mariners’ squad and Mike Trout’s Angels. These are some silver linings to be enjoyed, but only time will tell if these celebrations will end with champagne. We’ve still got 96% of the season to figure that out.