Timing

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If the three rules of real estate are location, location, and location, then creating three rules for baseball (although reductive) would be timing, timing, and timing. It boggles the mind how much of the game hinges on timing down to the smallest fractions of seconds. Baseball is a game of inches, but those inches are merely a derivative of millisecond changes in timing. 
The slightest of variations in the timing of a pitcher’s release point can mean the difference between a backfoot slider and a hanging cement mixer. A batter may knock a double down the line the opposite way that is fair by a few feet, but if he had swung a moment later it would only be a long strike. Hitting is timing, and pitching is disrupting timing. Everything in baseball is timing.

The 2013 Texas Rangers have been at the mercy of good and bad timing this season, and lately it’s been mostly bad.

Timing is the explanation for the team hitting just .241 with runners in scoring position on the season, despite an overall team batting average of .260. No team in the American League has a bigger dropoff from their season batting average to their batting average with runners in scoring position. After the Rangers’ loss on Saturday night, Adrian Beltre said it himself in a postgame interview that the team has been getting hits, they just haven’t been getting hits at the right time.

Timing is to blame for the Rangers’ most recent slump, as from game to game the offense struggles, or the starting pitching struggles, or the bullpen struggles, and no aspect of the team’s game is picking up the slack for the other to scrape out some dirty victories. Texas has lost 9 of its last 11 games, and have scored two runs or less in six of those losses, being shutout three times.      In the other three losses in that stretch, the Rangers offense scored 4, 4, and 8 runs, twice tallying 14 hits, but the pitching fell apart.

By contrast, the Oakland Athletics have been the beneficiaries of good timing, as their pitching has been able to cover the offense’s failures in the month of July. Since July 3rd, the A’s offense has hit .209/.284/.340, and pushed across just 3.2 runs per game. They have still managed to post a 12-8 W-L record in that time frame. The Rangers offense has been better between those same two dates, hitting .257/.316/.401 and scoring 3.8 runs per game, but as a team their record has only been 8-13.

Timing is the reason that Joe Nathan is currently being shopped, or at the very least discussed internally as a trade piece. The timing of the market is such that relievers are a hot commodity, the Rangers have a strength in their bullpen at this juncture, and the team’s recent performance is a piece of the puzzle as well. Similar to a prospect’s performance in the days leading up to the July trade deadline having a little extra weight on them, so too does a team’s performance at the big league level.

Timing is a key factor in the way a team is perceived by fans, and around the league when they are in a slump. If this were April, and the Rangers were in their current rough patch, we all might just yawn and drop baseball clichés like “small sample size” and “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” (take Tampa Bay’s 4-9 start to open this year, for example). But this is July, when the games just seem to matter more as division races take shape and the trade deadline looms.

Timing is also key for when a locked doors team meeting is held, like the one the Rangers had in Cleveland yesterday for close to an hour after being swept by the Indians. A team meeting is a drastic measure, the last step to be taken before the wheels completely fall off. For Texas, they usually work, and the team regains focus and approach and bounces back. But you can’t have a team meeting every time the team gets swept, or it loses its potency. The timing of when the meeting takes place makes a difference.

Bad timing doesn’t excuse bad performance, but it also means that bad performance may not be a true indicator of a team’s merit. The Rangers don’t look like a team of destiny right now. They are getting in their own way, missing energy in their play on the field, and aren’t catching any breaks. It makes them a very hard team to watch.

Whether it is because of karma, or the law of averages, or simply because they are “due”, the Rangers need some good timing. Thanks to a lighter August schedule against less competitive opponents, maybe they will very soon. There is still plenty of runway in this season for their timing to change, and their performance along with it.

The Rangers aren’t in the conversation for the best team in baseball anymore. They’re not even in the conversation for best team in their division right now. But as their manager Ron Washington likes to say, “It’s not always the best team that wins. It’s the team that plays the best.” That’s about timing, too.

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM
Peter Ellwood

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