Three Early Offensive Trends

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The Major League Baseball season is obviously a long one, and there’s no sense in getting too terribly worked up this early on about the struggling offense. In pointing out these three trends, I’m not saying that I believe that they will continue for the duration of the season, I’m simply pointing them out as potential reasons for why the offense has struggled up to this point. I’m not ready to jump off any cliffs yet, and neither should you. That being said, here are some early offensive trends:

The Ranger hitters aren’t seeing a lot of pitches

When the Rangers introduced Shin-Soo Choo in the offseason everyone knew what it meant for the offense. Choo is a guy who will sit at the top of the lineup and see a ton of pitches while getting on base like an absolute machine. So far he has been as good as advertised, but the rest of the lineup has failed to follow suit, Prince Fielder especially. As a team, the Rangers see the 4th fewest pitches/AB in the AL at 3.79. With an offense that has struggled out of the gate, a more measured and patient approach could prove to be beneficial.

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The current AL average for pitches seen in an at-bat is 3.9, according to Baseball Reference, which leaves Choo and Beltre as the only regular starters who are above average in this regard.

Simply put, this team is not hitting with any kind of consistency right now. While it’s normal for there to be some ebb and flow in the current form of a hitter, having a mentality that grinds out at-bats and works pitchers can remain constant.

This issue is especially apparent in the case of Prince Fielder. Prince’s struggles at the plate have been evident to anyone and everyone who follows this team. From 2006 to 2013, Prince saw an average of 3.78 pitches per PA, as opposed to 3.53 (lowest of any regular Ranger starter) so far in 2014. He is also swinging at 48.9% of the pitches he has seen in 2014 – a 3.7% increase over his career average.

He obviously has plenty of time to turn it around, but given what we’re seeing from him in terms of plate discipline, his issues go back to his approach.

Choo and Elvis are doing their jobs at the top of the lineup

You can’t ask for much more from the first two hitters in your lineup than what the Rangers have gotten so far from Choo and Andrus. They currently rank first and third respectively on the team in wOBA. Choo is 4th in the AL in OBP amongst players with at least 50 plate appearances, while Elvis is providing the type of offense that we’ve come to expect from him. In fact, he’s currently sitting at 4th on the team in SLG%, which may say more about how much everyone else is struggling rather than how well Andrus is hitting, but that’s beside the point.

The fact remains that when you’re getting the kind of production from the top of your lineup that the Rangers are getting, the middle of the order should be able to produce more than they have.

After a hot start to the season, Alex Rios has cooled off dramatically. The decline in his production has been so precipitous that even Prince Fielder has posted better numbers across the board over the last 6 games. While the Rangers eagerly await Adrian Beltre’s return from the DL, Rios and Fielder have scuffed around and posted the 2nd and 3rd worst wOBA on the team over the last 6 games, bested in their futility only by Josh Wilson. That kind of production from the middle of the order is not going to get it done, regardless of how well the top of your lineup is performing.

Opposing pitchers are routinely getting to the 6th and 7th innings

Through the first 13 games of the season, opposing starting pitchers have pitched at least six innings 11 times.  Starters have gone at least seven innings six times, with Jake Peavy and Roenis Elias coming just short with 6.2 IP. The only two pitchers who failed to complete at least six innings were Cliff Lee and Felix Doubront. While struggling through a series win against the Astros, the Rangers saw all three of the starters for Houston go at least seven innings.

More patience at the plate would help in this regard, but so would an extra base hit or two. With their SLG% currently sitting at 2nd worst in the AL (even worse than the Astros), and Mitch Moreland tied for the team lead in extra base hits, the Ranger lineup isn’t exactly striking fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers. According to Fangraphs, the Rangers see the 3rd highest percentage of strikes among AL Teams.

That’s a stat that’s unlikely to change as long as the Rangers struggle to muster any kind of power at the plate. Having very few big innings against opposing starters has, in turn, led to few opportunities to get deep into the opposition’s bullpen.

Conclusion

Again, it’s far too early in the season to get too worked up over any of these early trends. A lot is going change as this thing keeps rolling along, and we get into the summer. I laugh when I hear people suggest that Fielder is a failure, Choo is overrated and the team as a whole sucks. Really?

The unfortunate thing about these trends is that they are at the beginning of the season when fans are most prone to overreaction. A 13-game run with a 6-7 record and a struggling offense barely registers as a blip on the radars of most fans in the middle of July. These things happen. What’s important is to recognize why they’re happening so we can all enjoy baseball as informed fans that don’t believe the sky is falling just because the first three weeks of the season haven’t gone quite according to plan.

Tyler Kern

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