Somethings gotta give….right?
With every bullpen meltdown and display of offensive ineptitude it’s normal to think that this can’t be real. This team can’t be this bad… right? A whole team doesn’t just go into a slump and never snap out of it… do they? An entire bullpen full of guys who have proven themselves to be high quality relievers doesn’t just lose it all at once… or do they? These are the questions that are being asked over and over and over again. With every loss, with every 13 strikeout, 2 hit game by the offense, and with every Sam Dyson appearance that seems like it’s better before a solo shot inevitable tells you that it indeed is not. It’s not better and it may not be better this season for the Rangers but it can’t stay this bad… can it?
Last night was, yet again, the same old story. The Rangers offense managed just two hits and struck out 13 times. They were 0-5 with RISP and left 6 men on base. The Padres meanwhile, one of the worst hitting teams in baseball, hit three home runs and had all the fun with 10 hits and 5 runs on the evening. This story has gotten old very quickly. It’s like the song on the jukebox at the dive bar that keeps playing over and over again and won’t stop. You try everything, you even unplug it the machine and it keeps going. You can’t fathom how it could possibly be playing the same song. It just doesn’t make sense. But alas, the song keeps playing and eventually you give up, having given in to the inevitability that the melody will sear itself deep into your weary soul. Maybe that’s a bit too far, but getting destroyed by the Padres will make you go to dark places.
Maybe the bullpen thing isn’t so crazy. It’s extremely hard to predict a bullpen from year to year. You can think you have it made and it falls apart on you. Conversely, you can feel pretty uneasy about a pen and then be pleasantly surprised. You just never know. This year, the pen was supposed to be the strength of the team, and honestly it still could be. At this point, however, they have given up 70 runs, tied for last in all of baseball.
The biggest conundrum of all has been the Rangers offense. It’s extremely normal for individuals on a team to struggle out of the gate. It’s also normal for an entire team to be bad at hitting if they are a team full of guys who are known to be bad at hitting. This Rangers team is not that. The track record of several players on this team who are struggling just doesn’t point towards these slumps continuing. There are only a few explanations. Either every veteran on this Rangers team has regressed at the exact same time (highly unlikely) or this is simply terrible luck to begin the season. Very rarely does everyone on a team slump at once. Two or three guys may slump at a time but the others in the lineup pick them up until they trade places. Not so for this Rangers team that has literally set records for futility in the past week.
So which one is it? Are they all just getting bad, are there signs that pointing towards this happening or is it just extremely bad luck? Let’s take a look at a few of the Rangers veteran hitters and see if anything makes sense.
Jonathan Lucroy is batting .214 this year and his average has not been above .250 for the entire season. Lucroy’s on base percentage is just as bad at .267; his slugging is just .333 and his OPS, a meager .600. In case you are wondering, all of this is bad, very bad. So is this who Jonathan Lucroy is? A cursory glance at his career numbers would tell you no. Lucroy has a career average of .282, OBP of .341, Slugging of .439 and OPS of .779. Hey that’s pretty good, a catcher who can finally hit. We should sign that guy to a long term deal right? Well not before we figure out what is wrong. Clearly Lucroy’s career numbers don’t correlate to his terrible start to 2017. Let’s look than at his career as a whole and see if Lucroy has ever started a season this slowly before.
In 2014, Lucroy had a fantastic year at the plate and spent the majority of the season as one of the top hitters in the National League. Lucroy ended the campaign with a .301 batting average, .373 OBP, .465 slugging, and .837 OPS. It was a fantastic and consistent offensive season. In 2015, Lucroy had an eerily similar start to 2017. Lucroy started off very slow at the plate and then was injured for the entire month of May. Once Lucroy came back, he continued to struggle and through 25 games played he was hitting just .218 and still trying to find his rhythm. Lucroy eventually rebounded and went on to hit .262. 2013 told a similar story as Lucroy again started very slow over the first 30 or so games, yet rebounded to hit .280 and have a very productive season for the Brewers. Other than that, Lucroy has been remarkably consistent and had probably his best all-around offensive season just last year. So what does this tell us? It tells us that Lucroy’s start isn’t entirely unusual. It also tells us that it’s not crazy to expect him to break out of this slump and go on to have a very productive season. In each of the seasons where he struggled, he had one prolonged slump at the beginning of the year but once he found his rhythm, he remained consistent without any other major slumps. It’s also safe to say that Lucroy hasn’t gone from his best year to all the sudden being a bad major leaguer who will never hit again. That’s too much regression in too short a time span.
The last player we are going to look at for the purpose of this latest attempt to make sense of the Rangers insanity is Shin-Soo Choo. For Choo, it’s all about health. If you look at his time in Texas, it’s been disappointing to say the least. He’s been a shell of the player the Ranger’s thought they were signing and yet a lot of that can be attributed to his health. For this reason, we are going to look at years when Choo was healthy for an entire season. Choo’s only full healthy season with the Rangers was in 2015.In that season, Choo sat right around his career averages in batting average .276, OBP .375, slugging .463 and OPS at .838. It was a productive season for Choo who also hit 22 home runs and drove in 82 runs to go along with 76 walks. Even in Choo’s best season with the Rangers he struggled for long periods. In 2015, Choo was extremely inconsistent for the majority of the year before he turned it on in August and went on a tear. He was probably the Rangers best hitter for the last two months of the season and was a big reason why they were able to overcome the Astros to win the AL West.
The worry with Choo however, is that injuries or not, he has shown a lack of productivity with the Rangers more often than not. If you look back at Choo’s final year in Cleveland, he had a healthy .285 average, .423 OBP, .462 Slugging and OPS of .885. That season is why the Rangers invested in him the way they did. Looking back further, you will find that Choo’s pattern of playing at a high level when healthy continues. In his least productive year with Cleveland he played just 82 games. In every other healthy season, Choo was extremely productive. With Choo that makes things more confusing. You could certainly say that regression has taken its toll and it more than likely has to an extent, yet if he can stay healthy, his history tells you that he will end up being a productive player in 2017. There’s no telling how long that will take though with Choo who didn’t turn it on till late in 2015.
So what does this tell us? It tells us that there are no easy solutions to this riddle. It also tells us that we should expect more out of the Rangers offense. We shouldn’t expect them to continue to struggle at this level all year though. They will snap out of this at some point, let’s just hope it’s not too late if we are not already at that point.