The Rangers haven't been the team their record suggests. Here's why that's OK.
The Texas Rangers are currently sitting pretty atop the MLB standings, and through games played on Monday stood one win ahead of the ever-popular, ever-publicized Chicago Cubs. Both teams currently lead not just their divisions, but their leagues, and by wide margins at that.
But things aren’t all rosy in Arlington. The Rangers are currently running out an ailing rotation that can’t seem to catch a break, the numbers suggest that that they have one of the worst bullpens in baseball, and they’re middle-of-the-pack offensively.
Taken in isolation, that combination of facts leaves you scratching your head, wondering how the Rangers have gotten to this point and how they’ll manage to make it any further.
Fielder for Kinsler was supposed to be the fix for both teams' surpluses, but the 2016 season has put the clubs' returns in stark relief.
Three offseasons ago—November 20, 2013 to be exact—Detroit and Texas made a rare one-for-one, star-for-star trade between contending teams, with the Tigers sending five-time All-Star first baseman Prince Fielder to the Rangers in exchange for three-time All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler. In addition to the obvious star power involved, this particular trade had some interesting money-related factors and featured the analytical juxtaposition of a traditional slugger with shiny RBI totals and negative defensive value being swapped for an up-the-middle defender with less of a bat and a far more varied all-around game.
Three-and-a-half years later the trade looks like a blowout victory for the Tigers, to the extent that they added one of the best all-around infielders in the league and saddled the Rangers with a bad player on an albatross contract that runs through 2020 at an annual salary of $24 million. All of which is much different than things appeared around this time last year when Fielder, not Kinsler, was chosen for the All-Star team on the strength of his .339/.403/.521 first half that seemed to be proof of a full recovery from the neck surgery that halted his first season in Texas after 42 games.
Fielder’s production fell off in the second half, as he hit .264/.348/.394, and this season he’s been arguably the worst everyday player in baseball. WARP sees him as producing the sixth-worst overall value, with all five of the lower-WARP players—A.J. Pierzynski, Mark Teixeira, Dioner Navarro, Ryan Howard, Chris Coghlan—playing part-time or sitting on the disabled list. Fielder has started 67 of 72 games for the Rangers, hitting .203/.273/.325 with his usual bad defense and poor baserunning, which is how he’s the lone big leaguer with more than 200 plate appearances and a WARP worse than -1.0. Dating back to last year’s All-Star break Fielder has hit a combined .235/.313/.356 in 140 games.
The Rangers' star was a steal last winter--though how much of a steal we can't say.
There are several important things to say about the surprising, runaway division-leading Texas Rangers. The first thing we should say is that they might not actually be this good, or even close. They climbed to 45-25 on Sunday, but their run differential suggests they should have five wins fewer, and their second- and third-order winning percentages only push them further down. Their true talent level is not that of a 104-win team, or even a 94-win team. The Mariners trail Texas by 8.5 games in the standings, but are probably a better team.
Another thing to say about the Rangers: they’re outperforming their projections right now. Elvis Andrus has a .268 True Average this year, which is not only the highest of his career, but also outpaces his career TAv by over 20 points. It’s not exactly stunning, since Andrus is only 27 (yes, really, still), but there wasn’t much reason to expect this kind of breakout. His performance so far roughly matches PECOTA’s 80th percentile preseason projection for him. PECOTA projected Ryan Rua for a .260 TAv prior to this season, but with his .292 in 152 plate appearances so far, Rua has dragged the system’s esteem of him up to a rest-of-season projection of .265. Nomar Mazara was an elite prospect entering this season, but no one exactly foresaw him getting a serious opportunity this soon. PECOTA mostly matched him to players who didn’t play (or played sparingly) at age 21, and projected a .240 TAv if Mazara did see substantial playing time. Instead, Mazara is raking to the tune of a .283 TAv in a full-time role.
Colby Lewis' near-magical day, and more from Thursday's action.
The Thursday Takeaway Colby Lewis’ day didn’t start out as anything particularly special—a 20-pitch first inning of exactly the sort of unremarkable-but-decently effective stuff you expect from Colby Lewis. It didn’t take long, however, for him to look not simply decently effective but uncommonly so. There was an impressive swinging strikeout courtesy of his slider in the second, then there were three straight flyouts in the third, and from there, he was really dealing. The next few frames zipped by, as Lewis breezed through with eight or fewer pitches per inning through the seventh, including a series of six straight groundouts. True to his typical style, the performance wasn’t flashy—just three strikeouts through seven, with his standard mix of high-80s fastballs and a slider not too far behind—but it was perfect.
On the internet, nobody knows you're a Juan Gonzalez fanatic.
When I was a kid, I loved old magazines. Books were fine too, as far as they went. But there was something surreptitious about reading old magazine articles, reading outdated reviews and glancing at anachronistic advertisements. Something about the transitory nature of them made them feel forbidden, like they were written for a specific moment that I was intruding on. Like the powder blue pullovers and the shaggy hair of the baseball generation just before mine, they made me feel like I was peeking into the wisdom of adulthood.