This subject has already been broached a few times by a few different people (both here and elsewhere), but I think there's some value in going to this well one more time with a sizable chunk of the Rangers fan base still on edge. You can buy into it, or you can attribute the Rangers' lacking play of late to whatever reason you'd like. It doesn't really matter. The reality, though, is that this team has not been as bad or as mediocre or as disengaged as our perception might suggest.
You can pick any endpoint that you feel makes sense here, but, for the purpose of simplicity, let's go back to the beginning of May. Since the calendar flipped 25 days ago, the Rangers have gone just 10-12 and ceded 1.5 games of ground in the AL West race. They've also ceded the best record in the American League crown to the Orioles of all teams, which has also helped drive some of the 'this team is overrated'-type grousing.
In that same span, though, the Rangers have outscored their opposition by a 118-95 margin in the aggregate, or by more than a run per game on average. Over the course of a 162-game season, that same clip of 1.24 runs scored for every one run allowed would give you an expected Pythagorean record of 97-65, or a winning percentage of roughly .600. From that standpoint, we would expect the Rangers' record over these last 22 games to be 13-9, rather than 10-12.
That the Rangers have not delivered that expected record is explainable to a huge degree by their "clutch" rating -- or, in other words, the number of wins the Rangers have gained/lost by performing well (or not performing well) in higher-leverage, game-critical situations. Since the beginning of May, the Rangers' offense has lost -0.79 wins as a function of "unclutch" performance, and the Rangers' pitching staff has lost -1.95 wins. Combine the two, and you have nearly three wins lost in the standings as a result of the team, as a whole, not playing well in key situations -- the second-worst mark in the majors during the month of May. There is your three-win difference between that 13-9 expected record and the 10-12 actual record.
I might find that all to be alarming if I felt as though there were any kind of predictive value in a month's worth of unclutch performance. I don't. In April, when the Rangers went 17-6 and scored 124 runs while allowing only 68 runs, the Rangers' aggregate clutch figure was -0.02 -- negligible to the point of not mattering, as the Rangers performed evenly (and performed well) regardless of the game leverage state. During the 2011 season, the Rangers' overall clutch figure was -3.93. During the 2010 season, it was +0.28.
There's no questioning that clutch pitching and hitting actually exists (otherwise, every team would have a zeroed out clutch rating, and every player would deliver the same caliber of performance in every game situation), and, clearly, the Rangers have not been a clutch team during the month of May. The bigger question, though, is whether there is any reason to expect this team to persist in not being clutch next month, or next week, or even tonight, or (again) whether there is any predictive value in this team's lack of clutch performance in May; as far as those questions are concerned, my answer is a pretty emphatic 'no.' A good snapshot explanation that covers the offensive end of the issue:
A substantial body of sabermetric research concludes that clutch hitting is not a perceptibly repeatable skill. Some more recent studies have found that clutch hitting skill can be identified, but that either the effect is small or the number of players who have repeatable clutch skill is very small (less than 2%). "The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball" concludes that clutch hitting skill exists but that the impact is very small and not statistically significant.
The Rangers may begin a new winning tear tonight, or they might end up on the wrong end of a disappointing outcome yet again, such as they did twice in Seattle, twice in Cleveland, twice against the Royals. One way or the other, we'll overreact. But as long as this team continues to do what it does best, and continues to outscore its opposition in the same manner that it has over the last two months, everything else is going to fall into place.