It’s Kind of Amazing the Rangers Are Where They Are

The Rangers are currently riding a six-game winning streak. That’s the longest active streak around! Now, to be fair, three of those wins came against the Padres, who are bad, and the other three came against the A’s, who are more bad than good. And even with the winning streak they’ve pulled off, the Rangers still have one more loss than they have wins. They’re under .500 and eight games out of first. Suffice to say, the Rangers haven’t come sprinting out of the gate.

But it would be easy to look at the Rangers and feel a little disappointed. What if we were to spin things in the other direction? It’s true that, yes, overall, the Rangers have failed to impress. Yet at the same time, it’s impressive that they’re even 19-20, given how things have gone. Rangers fans are probably already acutely aware of what I’m going to discuss, but, it’s time to talk about the top of the Rangers’ roster.

Here is every team in baseball. What’s shown is the combined preseason projected WAR of each team’s top five players. The number five is arbitrary. It’s still far more pleasing than four or six. Deal with it.

You already basically internalized this information in February and March. The Nationals came in with plenty of star power. The Cubs, too! And the Dodgers, and the Indians, and so on. The teams at the back end, not so much. There’s a pretty strong relationship here between combined top-five projections, and overall team projections. For the Rangers in particular, they show up in 11th place. Not good, but a little better than average.

Here’s a related plot, showing the combined actual WAR so far of all the same players.

The Nationals have held steady at No. 1, which has allowed them to survive a nightmare bullpen. By far the biggest mover here is the Reds, who have jumped from No. 28 to No. 3. The next three biggest movers have all dropped by 16 places. The Cubs have dropped from No. 2 to No. 18. The Blue Jays have dropped from No. 9 to No. 25. And the Rangers have dropped from No. 11 to No. 27. All three of these teams have been disappointments. I feel like the Rangers’ top five players have been the biggest disappointments.

Just to complete the picture, here’s the combined WAR for all the players *outside* of that preseason top-five:

Kudos to the Yankees, who are light years in front of the competition. And you can see the Giants, bringing up the rear at exactly replacement level. The Cubs are at No. 12. The Blue Jays are at No. 15. The Rangers are at No. 19. So it’s not like the Rangers have gotten a lot from their depth, either. But the depth has been more helpful than the group of guys that was supposed to lead the team.

To break it down, by this point we would’ve expected the Rangers’ top five players to have been worth a combined 4.2 WAR. They’ve actually been worth a combined 1.5. So, right there, that’s roughly a missing three wins. The top five preseason players were Adrian Beltre, Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Rougned Odor, and Jonathan Lucroy.

Beltre hasn’t under-performed. Instead, he just plain hasn’t performed. What seemed like a day-to-day calf injury toward the end of spring training has kept Beltre off the field into the middle of May. According to the latest update, he’s jogging. Beltre should return within weeks, but for now he’s holding steady at zero at-bats.

Darvish has been the best of the good players. He’s the guy who hasn’t been a disappointment, with an ERA under 3 through eight starts. If I wanted to be picky, I’d point out that Darvish has a career-low strikeout rate, and his worst walk rate since he was a rookie. I won’t make too much of that just yet.

Hamels is on the disabled list with an oblique strain. It’s a pretty significant strain, one that could cost him two months, and Hamels made just five starts. It’s at least a worthwhile excuse for why he was pitching poorly; he was striking out just one of every nine hitters he faced, which is worse than Jered Weaver. As a pitcher in the major leagues today, you don’t want to be worse than Jered Weaver at anything.

Odor hasn’t been injured. He’s played in every game. His wRC+ is 59. He’s made outs in three-quarters of his plate appearances, and his average is under .200. Odor hasn’t pulled the ball less, or hit the ball in the air less. He’s even slightly improved his discipline. But the results have been awful. He’s hit six homers, and 13 pop-ups. Last season he had 33 homers, and 16 pop-ups.

And that brings us to Lucroy. To be totally honest, Lucroy is deserving of a post all his own. It wasn’t even that long ago Lucroy was in the conversation for being the best all-around catcher in baseball. Here’s the good news: Lucroy’s strikeout rate is at an unthinkable 6%! By far the lowest mark of his career. But his actual contact has been lousy. Lucroy has a wRC+ of 83, because his grounder rate stands at 54%. He’s hitting more grounders than ever, and his hard-hit rate has plummeted. And that’s not even the most interesting stuff. Remember how Lucroy used to be the face of pitch-framing? By the numbers at Baseball Prospectus, Lucroy this year has been the league’s least valuable receiver. He’s at -7.5 runs, separated by three runs from the next-worst catcher. And this isn’t yet something that shows up in our WAR. So Lucroy’s effective WAR ought to be worse.

Before the start of the year, we had the Rangers projected to play right around .500. They’ve actually played right around .500, with a positive run differential. They’re one Sam Dyson away from a winning record, and that’s while getting so very little from the roster’s best assets. Darvish is the one guy who’s come through for them. Hamels has been bad and hurt. Beltre has been nothing and hurt. Odor has been bad and healthy. Lucroy has been bad and healthy. In fairness to Lucroy, he’s hit better of late, but he’s still hitting too many grounders, and the overall numbers are weak. Thank goodness for Joey Gallo. Thank goodness for Robinson Chirinos and Elvis Andrus.

I suppose there are opposite ways to take this. If you lean toward the positive side, the Rangers should get more from their good players from now on. Especially when Beltre makes his return to the hot corner. If you lean toward the negative side, teams tend to struggle when their good players aren’t good, and none of the five players have improved their stock in the past month and a half. I’m not going to tell you how to feel; I don’t even know how to feel, myself. Mostly, it’s just amazing the Rangers are where they are, today. This season could’ve gone completely off the rails.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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5 years ago

“Deal with it.”

Consider yourself put on notice, Fangraphs commentariat: Jeff is increasingly tired of your shit.

5 years ago
Reply to  Joser

Jeff’s readers may at-tack at any time…