I don't want to talk about Alexi Ogando or the New York Yankees. I'm not going to talk about Alexi Ogando or the New York Yankees. I'm not that much of a masochist (yet). What I am going to talk about this morning -- in violation of my Clubhouse confession -- are five myths about the Rangers' 2011 offense and its components that I have seen disseminated in one form or another at some point during the first 2 1/2 months of this season, and why, exactly, they're myths:
The Rangers' offense sucks: This is a fun little meme to propagate whenever our frustration boils over at a lousy hitting night, but if you're looking at the entire offensive package from the outset of the season up until now in its totality, that meme doesn't have any basis in reality.
In 2,581 team plate appearances this season, Texas has hit .262/.326/.422, which doesn't sound all that great in the abstract and seems to be a step backwards compared to last season's team-wide .276/.338/.419 showing -- that is, until you find that the Rangers' team wRC+ (a measure of runs created, similar to OPS+ and adjusted for park, era, and league) has jumped from 102 last season to 106 this season, or six percent better than the league average. Thank the plunge in run-scoring across baseball for that. Looking at this from a wide-angle perspective, the Rangers have comfortably been one of the five best offenses in baseball this season, and if you're one to incorporate baserunning numbers into the mix, they're right there at fourth overall with Toronto's prolific lineup, with a huge drop-off between that offensive tier and the closest one behind them.
The Rangers' offense is just fine: "Wait, what?", you mutter. "But you just said ..." -- indeed I did. Look, here's the thing -- I'm as vulnerable to the beckoning temptation of recency bias as the rest of you, which is why I feel especially compelled to look at a set of full-season numbers before formulating an opinion about a player or a team. The Rangers scored more runs per game two months ago than they're scoring right now, but we don't just disregard all of those extra runs from way back when; they're very real and imparted very real benefits. That being said, I am not a fan of this current offensive trend, especially when you recognize that the lineup has been at full strength (or something very close to it) since May 23rd:
April: 996 PA, 8.4 percent BB%, 15.6 percent K%, 0.60 BB/K, .270/.338/.468, 122 wRC+
May: 1091 PA, 8.7 percent BB%, 18.3 percent K%, 0.54 BB/K, .252/.320/.393, 97 wRC+
June: 494 PA, 5.1 percent BB%, 17.4 percent K%, 0.31 BB/K, .270/.314/.392, 95 wRC+
In fairness, last year's squad had its share of underperforming (or, where April 2010 was concerned, miserable) offensive months, but in no single month last year did the Rangers post a sub-0.42 walk-to-strikeout ratio such as they're currently on pace to do, and last year's offense tracked in the opposite direction, starting poorly but gaining traction as time progressed. I think this goes a long way towards explaining some of the confusion that's prevalent out there -- in short, the Rangers' offense has been good on the whole, but really hasn't been good on a consistent basis in some six weeks' time, and is in the midst of a particularly nasty slump at the moment. You tell me what is the likeliest to carry forward.
Ian Kinsler is a infield fly-happy, poor-hitting vegetable: The air is thick with vitriol for Ian Kinsler these days, and his sub-.700 OPS showing since the third day of the season goes a long way towards explaining why; furthermore, if you go so far as to cite his total wins above replacement (2.2) as being the best on the team, sometimes you get a nice message back casting doubt upon the validity of the metric itself using a synonym for male cattle excrement. (The virtues and flaws of WAR are best discussed another day). I, for one, won't profess satisfaction in Kinsler's offensive performance this season, because I keep waiting for that truly special breakout season and I'm beginning to think that I'm not going to see it happen in my lifetime. Next lifetime? Maybe.
Let me lay this on you, though -- yes, Kinsler's been especially atrocious with the bat this month (47 PA, 175/.298/.225), but he's done so while posting a walk rate in line with this season's (career-best) 13.3 percent mark, and while posting a horrid .200 BABIP that isn't congruent with his excellent batted-ball rates. That's a microcosm of his entire season, really -- enhanced walk rates, terrible BABIPs that you wouldn't expect given his otherwise decent batted-ball rates, and overall hitting performance that is, surprisingly, still right there among the best marks at second base in baseball. I'm not going to tell you to fall in love, but I am going to tell you that this will get better ... and I'm also going to tell you that his 10.2 percent infield fly ball rate is only the 68th-highest mark in baseball.
Michael Young is in the best shape of his life having the best start of his career: This was a reasonable proclamation to make as recently as two weeks ago, and, to be clear, I don't have any kind of personal vendetta against Young and want to see him excel, which I say preemptively because I'm also going to say that Young has completely and horrifically fallen off the wagon in these last two weeks. Young is, in fact, Kinsler in reverse -- he's stopped hitting the ball with authority as a function of his on-going slump and is consequently hitting .157/.173/.157 this month, which would look better if not for the fact that he has failed to draw a single unintentional walk since May 28th.
He is still hitting a tick or two better than the average designated hitter at .305/.344/.431 on the season, but the reality is that if he slips much further (the complete disappearance of his home run stroke is very troubling in this regard), he's going to be a below-average-hitting DH/1B with a little bit of positional flexibility being paid gobs of money that, unfortunately, can't be allocated elsewhere. There's no really no acceptable solution or out here beyond Young hitting, and hitting well.
David Murphy is more than a fourth outfielder: Last season was supposed to be the proof that Murphy could hang as a starting corner outfielder somewhere in the majors, and so he came out this season, earned another opportunity to further that perception after Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz succumbed to injury ... and turned into a pumpkin. As in Young's case, the power has virtually dried up through his first 200 plate appearances, and he's beating nearly 60 percent of his batted balls into the ground, which is fine if you're a Juan Pierre type that can beat a great number of those out, but not so great if you're a corner outfielder with average-at-best wheels. He can still be an asset as a fourth outfielder on a first-division team, but I think any future attempts to elevate his role beyond that are going to end in similar disappointment.