So, yeah, Texas finished the first month of the 2010 season 11-12. And the 2-0, 12-inning victory over Seattle was an ugly win. It was also the sort of win that can send a team off on a great run. And while Texas’ record could be a lot better, it could also be a lot worse. Here are 10 (more) reasons why the Rangers faithful shouldn’t be bracing for impact, despite the turbulent April.
(1) Nelson Cruz is really good.
Coming into the season, cynics asked whether Nelson Cruz’s breakout 2009 season wasn’t just an outlying blip on his career’s radar screen. Until a balky hamstring interfered, Cruz was answering with a wOBA of nearly .500. Sure, that won’t last. But encouragingly, it isn’t all just power: Cruz is swinging at only 20 percent of pitches out of the zone, his walk percentage is back up from a dip last year, and the result is nearly a 100-point difference between his batting and on-base averages. Oh: and the guy who’s third in MLB in wOBA is also leading the majors in UZR. What does it all mean? It means that Nelson Cruz leads the majors in value as measured by WAR. Get well soon, Nelson.
(2) Elvis Andrus is really good, too.
Easy, Kevin Goldstein, you won’t find a Hanley Ramirez comp in this paragraph. But as recently pointed out over at Lone Star Ball, Andrus’ OBP-happy approach at the plate -- which has featured an astonishing number of line drives and walks drawn -- hasn’t wavered, and we’re getting to the point at which the automatic response of “small sample size” doesn’t hold as much statistical water. Will Andrus finish the season with a walk rate of 18 percent, a line-drive rate of 30 percent, or a BABIP of .350? Almost certainly not. But a .340 wOBA is by no means out of the question. Couple that with his defense (even with his April gaffes, he’s logged one of the 5-8 best defensive performances by a major-league shortstop this season), and you’ve got a heck of a player on your hands.
(3) Michael Young isn’t really this bad.
Young entered the Seattle series sporting a horrid .285 wOBA and an isolated power metric (ISO) of .101 -- 45 to 50 points below league average on each count. That’s worse than every qualifying third baseman in the league but for Pedro Feliz, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Jose Lopez, and Aramis Ramirez. By the metrics, Young‘s defense has either been average (DRS) or awful (UZR); by the eye, it’s been subpar. Yet while Young’s range isn’t going to improve, he’s likely put the uncharacteristic errors behind him. And at the plate, it’s almost inconceivable that he’ll log a .263 BABIP and a line-drive rate of 14 percent for the season. Michael Young simply being Michael Young will go a long way to helping this team out offensively.
(4) C.J. Wilson looks for real.
In a month marred by starters’ flirtations with disaster, C.J. Wilson has been going steady with success. Some people might point out the fact that Wilson’s simply not going to go a full season without giving up a home run. This is an optimistic article, though, so those people can stuff it. We’re simply going to ignore the unsustainable 0.00 HR/FB ratio, and the 4.05 xFIP that it drives, and note that Wilson’s FIP is in the top 20 in the league.
(5) Josh Hamilton is figuring out how to be productive without hitting home runs.
Chicks dig the long ball, sure, and at his current pace, Hamilton won’t clear 25 home runs. But ponder this: in 2008, Hamilton finished with 32 home runs, a .385 wOBA, and a .226 ISO. Coming into Friday night’s marathon, he’d posted a .379 wOBA and a .241 ISO. He’d also been showing much improved plate discipline, swinging at only a quarter or so of pitches out of the zone. (Yeah, that’s about league average – but in the last couple years, Hamilton was swinging at more than a third of those pitches.) If Hamilton keeps this up, the 2010 line on the back of his baseball card might not look quite as sexy as the 2008 entry – but the production will be every bit as sweet.
(6) Ian Kinsler is back.
After the first 12 games, some folks noted that Kinsler couldn’t represent much of an improvement offensively over Joaquin Arias, who had logged a .384 wOBA in that stretch. What a difference 10 games makes. Arias’ wOBA has plummeted to .321 (below league average), despite a .321 batting average that’s based on an unsustainable .370 BABIP. Kinsler may not play at 100 percent this season, but he’s never put up a wOBA of lower than .345 in the big leagues, and having him back -- sore ankle and all -- should improve the Rangers’ lineup considerably.
(7) Justin Smoak is up.
Look, I’m a fan of Chris Davis. I really am. And as Thursday afternoon’s game showed, his steady glove at first is going to be missed as Smoak settles in. But .188/.264/.292 (and a dreadful .246 wOBA) just doesn’t cut it for a big-league first baseman, and there’s not much evidence to support the idea that Davis was simply getting unlucky, or was bound to break out any day. Smoak’s .158 batting average through his first seven games didn’t turn any heads, but his tremendous plate discipline and budding power have resulted in a wOBA nearly 100 points higher than Davis’ (though, of course, in only about half as many at-bats). And Smoak’s BABIP is not going to stay at .143 for long.
(8) There’s more where that came from.
Scheppers, Ogando, and Holland: oh, my. Tanner Scheppers graduated from Frisco after just six games. But oh, what a six games: 11 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 1 HR, 19 K, and 0 BB. That’s right: zero walks. His erstwhile Double-A teammate Alexi Ogando hasn’t been far behind (though reports suggest he has work to do to avoid telegraphing his breaking stuff): in four games, the visa-cursed righty has pitched 10.2 innings, surrendering just one run on two hits and two walks, against 14 strikeouts.
Both Scheppers and Ogando are good bets to bolster the Rangers’ beleaguered bullpen at some point this summer, if not sooner. And Derek Holland’s performance with Triple-A Oklahoma City is, of course, fueling debates about whom he should replace in the Rangers starting rotation immediately; that’s what five starts (33.2 IP) with a 0.53 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP, and 4.83 K/BB ratio will do for you.
(9) Unbelievably, the Rangers are only half a game back of first in the West.
There’s no other way to put it: the AL West had a horrid April. By dint of the Rangers’ win over Seattle last night, no team in the West is over .500 -- and so it should go without saying that every team has glaring weaknesses, Texas included. It seems very unlikely that any one of the four clubs is going to run away with it, but the Rangers have the talent to take the division title, and they’ve already weathered a number of early season storms. They’re by no means a perfect team, but they’re perfectly capable of catching lightning in a bottle and making the postseason for the first time since 1999.
(10) The Rangers are one month closer to new ownership.