I got the call to pinch hit for Joey this morning at 5:00 am, so here's something that's more food for thought than a thoroughly developed argument.
I've had pitchers tell me things over the years that reveal the extent to which their awareness of the composition of their defensive support dictates how they choose to pitch (e.g. "When I have Gentry aand Boggs out there, I'll pound them with 4-seamers all day long." "I utilized Elvis's deerlike footspeed with sinkers.")
Pitching to contact is much easier to do when you know the boys behind you are going to make plays. But I think it's safe to say that when the defensive alignment is suspect more often than not at more positions than not, pitchers tend to find it much more difficult to pound the zone with impunity.
Among the many things that have gone wrong for the 2011 Rangers over the past few weeks, an enormously bad development has been the steep decline of the defensive performances at virtually every position, save third base.
Here are the player / positional metrics for the 2011 Rangers, whose -6.6 team UZR ranks 20th in MLB.
And here are the player / positional metrics for the 2010 Rangers, whose 18.1 team UZR was the ninth best in MLB:
The enormous improvement at third base was certainly expected, but it has been offset by steep declines in the outfield where Julio Borbon has regressed, Nelson Cruz has been abysmal in right field (likely due to the fact that he was likely playing hurt for most of the season before finally crying uncle last week) and appearances by Mitch Moreland in right and David Murphy anywhere have resulted in a lot of balls falling into the outfield gaps for hits that didn't fall in last year with the Hamilton - Borbon - Cruz lineup.
Note also how much more difficult it is for Rangers pitchers to turn ground balls into outs when Michael Young appears at second base.
The return of healty Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz should go a long way towards solving much of this mess, but not all of it. The Rangers will still have to find ways to shoehorn Michael Young into the defensive alignment which will push Mitch Moreland into right field from time to time where he is a liability. And David Murphy is going to play, exposing the pitching staff to a fairly significant defensive liability each time he does.
But for as much as the Rangers have been damaged by the loss of their production at the plate, the absence of a healthy Hamilton and Cruz has arguably been equally as harmful to the defense and (inescapably) the pitching.