Few positives can be found about the current lay of the land for the Texas Rangers. But there are a couple good notes that were erased from the forefront of our minds when Matt Dominguez sent a 3-2 pitch off the wall in right field, and thus a dagger into our hearts, with a walk-off Astro win Wednesday.
The performance of Nick Tepesch is an obvious plus, as the pitching staff needs him to step up and step up now. He did that. But let’s focus on the hitting and how it relates to the curious case of the 2014 Rangers’ offense.
Prince Fielder’s third-inning RBI single Wednesday was a seeing-eye grounder that snuck through the overshift that has eaten up so many Fielder grounders this season. Adrian Beltre’s RBI single in the fifth was a reaching, broken-bat blooper to center on a pitch that couldn’t have been less than a foot out of the zone.
Wednesday’s run-scoring hits were refreshing, as they were a small dose of good luck on a day full of very, very bad misfortune. Of course, Rios’s line shot home run and Fielder’s smashed opposite field double, each to left field, were a positive step in the right direction as well.
Fielder now has a .356 batting average in the month of May (with a .395 BABIP). That’s a vast improvement from his .206 mark (.224 BABIP) in April.
It has been pretty much a consensus opinion that, no matter Fielder’s improved production, the Rangers offense has struggled this season, and the stats support that with the team a game below .500 and ranking 15th in the league in runs.
Heading into their off day on Thursday, though, the Rangers offense ranks fourth in the majors with a .263 team batting average. So, they’ve just been hitting it right at people, right? No, the club also ranks fourth inat BABIP at .315 (and that total is actually higher than two of the teams ahead of them in raw batting average. And Texas is also fourth in the bigs in line drive rate (21.7 percent).
So it’s a peculiar case for the Ranger bats this season.
Four runs is a relatively pedestrian total. But they came against Scott Feldman, a member of an Astros staff that has been solid through the first quarter of the season
Houston did, after all, enter the game with the American League’s sixth-best rotation ERA at 4.03. Feldman, who once donned the Ranger red and blue, boasted a 1.93 ERA in 2014 before Wednesday’s game.
There’s always the humbling rebuttal to success stories against Houston:
“Well, it was just the Astros.”
And while it’s true, the ‘Stros haven’t provided much stout competition for their intrastate rival in recent years, there’s no room for such disclaimers with the Rangers in their current state.
One area in which Texas is not finding success is in high leverage situations. Every situation in a game, according to fangraphs, is given a leverage index based on the inning, score, outs, and number of players on base to define how important that situation is.
The Rangers rank 22nd in Major League Baseball with only 157 plate appearances in high leverage situations. Their .252 batting average in those situations ranks 15th in MLB.
Texas is fifth, however, in low leverage situations, hitting at a .272 clip.
So what we can conclude from these metrics is that Texas is getting hits, but not at the most opportune time. After Sunday’s game against Boston, which included two innings in which the Rangers put multiple men on base and failed to bring them in, players explained that it’s just baseball.
“Sometimes you’re going to get runs in, and sometimes you aren’t able to,” Rios said Sunday. “It’s part of the game.”
“When someone is on base, you can’t score them every time,” Shin-Soo Choo said. “We try to, but it’s not easy.”
The Rangers stranded 20 men on base in the series loss to Houston. They recorded 28 hits, but only eight runs in the series, including a shutout loss Tuesday.
Choo is correct, scoring runs isn’t always easy, but Texas is going to have to improve the rate at which it converts those baserunners to runs on the scoreboard. With a decimated pitching staff, runs will likely become more and more valuable.
So even as lackluster as the offense has seemed this year, all it needs to do is keep doing what it has been doing… Just do it when it matters. And that’ll be a big step in the right direction toward righting the ship (even if that ship is sinking) in 2014.