The Texas Rangers crash landed into the All-Star Break. They were outclassed by the Seattle Mariners at home, capping the first half of the season with a four game sweep. The Mariners looked like another failed hype roster for much of the season. They mounted a tremendous win streak before the break to surge back into Wild Card contention. The exclamation point of this run was the series against the Rangers. This series was a backbreaker for the Rangers. It put them a sickening 9 games below .500 and their division rival firmly in the #2 spot in the division. The Astros are a seasoned winning machine that has much of their World Series core still intact. They have essentially already won the division. They are 30 games above .500 and too big to fail. When you are playing for second place by the break, getting destroyed by the surging second place team is particularly brutal.
The two biggest offseason additions for the Rangers were the middle infielders. Marcus Semien started insanely slow. He has worked his way back up to league average. He has stayed healthy and played good defense. It is a far cry from the numbers he put up last season when he ranked 3rd in MVP voting. His double play partner Corey Seager has been solid at the plate. 124 OPS+ (100 is always average, higher is always better.) He has 22 homers and 52 RBI. Are they Prime A-Rod numbers? No, and his defense is average.
“I had my best defensive season down in Texas,” recalled A-Rod fondly during his ESPN 2 Sunday Night Baseball telecast with Michael “Yankee Boy” Kay.
Seager makes some goofy errors, like first baseman Nate Lowe. Seager shows great moments with the leather sometimes though. Lowe is capable of a nice scoop and not much else. Lowe leads the team in many offensive categories due to his intelligent approach at the plate. Lowe takes what the pitcher gives him. When attacked with outside heaters, he slaps the ball to the opposite field. When given inside offspeed pitches he pulls them for towering homers. Lowe hits properly. He does not moronically try to pull everything like many lefties who are happy to beat 50% of the balls they hit into the shift. Lowe’s hitting philosophy is refreshing and is the main reason he has been an effective player this season. If power hitters who are better than Lowe took a page out of his book and went oppo every once in a while their averages would spike. Other teams would be reluctant to shift against them. But if you never show the ability to bunt or hit to the opposite field, the other team will happily employ the shift against you.
Jonah Heim has been great as the primary catcher. He plays excellent defense. He hits for power. His injury prone backup Mitch Garver is already out for the year after contributing little during yet another injury plagued season. Sam Huff has seen some time at catcher. He has been one of the Rangers top prospects for years. He looks clueless at the plate and even worse behind it.
Charlie Culberson’s biggest attribute this season are his mop up efforts using his knuckleball. He will be out of the league within a couple seasons. Nick Solak has officially flamed out. He does not have a position. He cannot field. He cannot hit well either. The Rangers traded Pete Fairbanks for him and were hosed.
Adolis Garcia plays everyday and is a brightspot. He plays top tier defense. He is fast. He hits for power. He also strikes out a ton. Leody Taveras has joined him in the outfield and is hitting very well. He just hit triple digit plate appearances though. Kole Calhoun has been below average. He is hitting .221.
Brad Miller has been unplayably bad. He is a butcher in the field and is essentially just an older Nick Solak. Losing super utility man Eli White is a huge blow for the Rangers. He was insanely fast, played a ton of positions very well, and could hit better than the other bench players. He was insanely valuable to Skipper Chris Woodward, who likes to use his bench aggressively.
Infielder Ezequiel Duran has been solid but is still young. Josh Smith has had his moments too but both are too green to truly contribute consistently. Hopefully the same is not true for Leody Taveras. Taveras finally making the leap to big league hitter would be huge for the Rangers. They tried to make it work last year but he was not ready.
Overall the Rangers offense has been sub par. They do not have a leadoff hitter. Josh Smith has been slotted here. Eli White too. But mostly it has been Marcus Semien. That is wasteful. Seager and Semien need to be hitting with runners on. Having them leadoff and hit second nullifies the engine of the offense. A bonafide leadoff man is the thing this offense really needs because of how much better it would make Semien and Seager. The Rangers need a fast, high on base percentage guy for Semien and Seager to drive in. What they have now is a scuffed setup that forces one of them to leadoff, thus shuffling the entire lineup up one slot and making everyone a bit worse. The top of the lineup is a huge deal. The 1st inning is the inning where the most runs are scored. Why? Because the skipper guarantees the order that the pitcher will have to attack. The pitcher might only begin an inning with the leadoff guy that one time. It is important to maximize the punching power of this opening salvo. Woodward tries to do this, but the lack of leadoff man makes the #3 slot (that should be occupied by Semien or Seager) a huge hole.
Adolis Garcia strikes out far too much to be a consistent #3 or #4 hitter. He is more suited for the 5 or 6 slot. This is the sort of cascading effect not having certain lineup roles can have on an offense. A lineup is supposed to be more than just a collection of ballplayers hitting .250 trying to string hits together. The top of the lineup in particular is supposed to have clearly defined win conditions. Look at the late 80’s Yankee’s lineups for example:
- Rickey Henderson
- Willie Randolph
- Don Mattingly
- Dave Winfield
- Gary Roenicke
Rickey Henderson has a high on base percentage and is the king of stealing bases. He gets on base over 40% of the time and is a nightmare for the pitcher on the basepaths. His ability to steal will force the pitcher to work from the stretch, throw over, slide step, pickoff, step off the mound, and focus on something other than the current batter. Henderson is the prototypical leadoff man.
Willie Randolph bats second and hits for a solid average. He watches a ton of pitches, does not strike out much, and puts the ball in play a lot. These two traits synergize well with Henderson. They maximize the chances of Rickey getting on 2nd or 3rd for the big boppers hitting 3rd and 4th, where lineups will have their two best hitters. Many will point out that lineups now will have one of their best hitters in the #2 slot; but this lineup shows why having a pesky middle infielder in this slot has merits and buffs the leadoff man. It is easy to say you should have a top tier hitter in the #2 slot, but a team usually only has a couple of those guys. Coupling a speedster like Henderson with Randolph makes them both better and makes their strengths as players even more lethal.
Mattingly at #3 needs little explanation. He is an MVP caliber player that strikes out infrequently and hits for power. He won a batting title and was a perceptive, intelligent player.
Dave Winfield hitting cleanup also needs little explanation. He is a top tier slugger that hits for average and power. Winfield and Mattingly will come up to bat frequently with fast players on base ahead of them. Seager and Semien lack this luxury.
Gary Roenicke hit 5th and was hitting .310 at the time. His purpose is to “protect” Dave Winfield. Meaning Gary is scary enough for the opposing pitcher to not just throw Dave Winfield garbage. Not having lineup protection is a big deal. It is the main reason Barry Bonds never won a title. He rarely had someone scary hitting behind him. This example shows that a lineup can be more than the sum of its parts if configured correctly.
The Rangers lineup does not come with a clear win condition like the example 1986 Yankees lineup. The Rangers lineup is full of holes and lacks direction. Yes, it is full of guys that hit .220 and strikeout too much. But worse than that, it is a strategic disaster. Lowe and Garcia are above average but not world beaters. Semien and Seager were both insanely cold but have always needed people on base in front of them. Heim is in the mix playing well, but it is not enough. There is a blackhole at third until former Texas Tech star Josh Jung is ready. The outfield is pretty weak outside of Garcia. Getting a top flight leadoff man will be a top priority this offseason. He will probably be an outfielder. Next year lineup will probably look like:
- Outfielder X (Aaron Judge is going to be a free agent. Juan Soto is being shopped)
- Marcus Semien (2B)
- Corey Seager (SS)
- Adolis Garcia (LF)
- Nate Lowe (1B)
- Leody Taveras (CF)
- Jonah Heim (Catcher)
- Josh Jung (3B)
- Mitch Garver (DH)
This lineup would be pretty solid. Having a top tier guy leading off would make everyone else better.
The pitching this season has been poor outside of a couple guys. Martin Perez has been elite and made the All-Star team. Jon Gray has been exceptional. Brock Burke, Brett Martin, and Matt Moore have been lights out from the bullpen.
Matt Bush and Dennis Santana have both been solid. Santana looked elite early but awful lately.
Starters 3-5 is where the Rangers have really struggled. Taylor Hearn has been horrific. Dane Dunning looks like another defeated Rangers sinkerballer who expects to throw belt high “sinkers” to victory. Youngster Glen Otto has tried to fill the backend rotation spot but has been wretched. Spencer Howard has been sent into the firing line a few times too. Both of these guys look like the classic Rangers “pitching prospect.” They come up for a few starts, get shelled, get sent back down, don’t progress, and either go succeed with another team or flame out of baseball completely. Will this be the fate of Howard and Otto? Neither of them look good or show flashes of big league stuff, but they have a better shot than Kolby Allard. The Rangers show remarkable proficiency at converting highly sought after arms at the deadline to these deadweight non-prospect scrubs.
Chris Martin was a top end bullpen arm when he was traded to the Braves at the deadline. The return? Kolby Allard. Allard had already peaked. His stuff was always flat. His ceiling was low.
Yu Darvish was traded for Willie Calhoun, a player with virtually no potential.
Ian Kennedy and Kyle Gibson to the desperate Phillies for Spencer Howard.
Lance Lynn for Dane Dunning. Another swing and a miss.
Despite pitchers always being needed at the deadline, the Rangers did a terrible job of getting any return at all for these arms, many of which were All-Stars at the time of being traded to desperate, pitching thin teams. The Rangers always come away with a haul that is underwhelming, even at face value.
Jose Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez have both returned but are being treated with kid gloves. Their arrival could not come soon enough, as Joe Barlow has been awful for the past 45 days as the closer. His ineptitude started the downward spiral for the Rangers. The Rangers record in one run games is awful. Joe Barlow is a big reason for that. He will probably never close again.
The Rangers have given their young pitching prospects room to excel but they have not been able to rise to the occasion. The Rangers play two kinds of games for the most part: Jon Gray/Martin Perez start and they look pretty good. Anyone else starts: thin bullpen working by the 5th. Too little margin for error. Sloppy fielding and too many strikeouts lead to vexing losses.
This has been the story of 2022 so far for the Rangers: a bunch of guys hitting .240 with a couple good starters and bullpen arms.
Last draft the Rangers took Jack Leiter with the #2 overall pick. He was the top pitching prospect in the draft. He was also the most hyped pitching prospect in years. They got Texas Tech star slugger Josh Jung the year before that. This season they drafted the top two pitching prospects in baseball. At #3 overall they took flamethrower Kumar Rocker. Kumar Rocker, not to be confused with Southern flamethrower and critic of New York John Rocker, went to Vanderbilt with Jack Leiter. Brock Porter was signed in the 4th round. He was the top rated high school pitcher in the nation. He throws 100 MPH and recorded multiple no hitters as a senior up in Michigan. These are the sort of top tier arms the Rangers can hang their hat on. These kids will carry the staff in the near future. Rocker and Leiter should be ready within a couple years, obviously Porter has further to go, but you do not often hear Top Pitching Prospect in the Country and Texas Rangers in the same sentence. Much less twice in the same draft. The Rangers hit an intellectual home run targeting these two guys. The future is bright in Texas.
Upcoming Schedule – All Times Central
7/25 @Mariners 9:10 p.m.
7/26 @Mariners 9:10 p.m.
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7/30 @Angels 8:07 p.m.
7/31 @Angels 3:07 p.m.