The Rangers Should Turn Their Outfield Situation From Precarious to Puigcarious

In 2020’s scariest baseball moment so far, on Sunday, Willie Calhoun’s face took a direct hit from a Julio Urías fastball, leaving Calhoun on the ground in a great deal of pain. Any baseball to the head is a scary situation, and Calhoun hopefully is escaping from this incident with “just” a broken jaw. Further tests are scheduled for Monday, which will tell us more about the extent of the damage to Calhoun’s face. While the team’s first concern should be the health of their player, the Rangers still need to make baseball decisions.

The result, in the short-term at least, appears to be using Nick Solak in left field. Both the ZiPS projections and I are big fans of Solak, but this move likely simply shifts where Solak gets his playing time, and doesn’t necessarily represent a significant increase in usage.

Even before the Calhoun injury, the Rangers’ offense looked the worst of the plausible playoff contenders, at least if you buy into projections. As of this morning, assuming that Calhoun comes back and manages 448 plate appearances combined in left field and designated hitter, our Depth Charts rank Texas position players 28th in baseball. That’s ahead of only the Orioles and Tigers; the Rangers’ 11.3 projected wins are barely half that of the worst-projected playoff teams from last season, the Brewers and Cardinals.

I don’t believe the Rangers think of themselves as being among the most serious of Wild Card contenders in 2020. But I also don’t think they would have signed Kyle Gibson, Todd Frazier, and Robinson Chirinos if 2020 was seen as a lost cause, nor would they have been so insistent on getting a good price for Mike Minor at the trade deadline last year in order to make a deal. The most recent ZiPS run has the Rangers at 77 wins, while the Depth Charts forecast 78 wins; that’s a team that could at least make a little noise if things broke the right way.

That’s where Yasiel Puig comes in. The Rangers are light on offense, light on corner outfielders, and light on power from the right side. Puig is a fairly limited player these days, no longer the kind of star he was when he broke into the league. What Puig does remain, however, is a roughly league-average slugger who will give you right-handed power and not embarrass you in the outfield. After two years of lefties throwing fastballs against Puig with impunity, he finally made them pay in 2019. My colleague Jay Jaffe wrote more about this, but Puig slugged just .203 with a single homer against lefty fastballs in 2017-2018 combined. In 2019, Puig flipped the script, slugging .540 against lefty fastballs.

While a lot of teams would be able to find fill-ins for Calhoun from their backups or minor-league depth, outside of the starters and Nick Solak, the Rangers don’t really have any interesting options. If you don’t believe me, here are the ZiPS projections for the at least minimally possible internal options in left, with everyone re-projected as a left fielder:

ZiPS Projections – Rangers LF Options
Player BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
Henry Ramos .261 .304 .407 548 65 143 29 3 15 66 34 118 6 81 0 -0.3
Scott Heineman .246 .310 .396 601 78 148 28 4 18 63 47 169 14 80 1 -0.4
Sam Travis .261 .321 .390 510 62 133 22 1 14 48 43 128 7 82 -4 -0.4
Adolis García .230 .275 .430 570 76 131 28 4 26 86 28 186 13 77 2 -0.5
Leody Taveras .235 .286 .334 626 67 147 21 7 9 48 46 160 25 59 15 -0.8
Rob Refsnyder .244 .312 .365 496 60 121 24 3 10 48 47 139 3 74 0 -0.9
Eli White .228 .293 .348 589 68 134 27 4 12 51 46 187 14 65 1 -1.4
Blake Swihart .198 .272 .322 454 60 90 13 2 13 48 45 150 4 53 2 -2.2
Yadiel Rivera .207 .249 .309 434 46 90 13 2 9 42 22 140 11 43 3 -3.1

Not a single one of these options projects as better than replacement-level in left. Suffice it to say, Puig murderizes these projections.

ZiPS Percentile Projection – Yasiel Puig
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ WAR
90% .289 .361 .558 529 83 153 34 3 34 107 57 100 27 132 4.0
80% .282 .351 .526 532 82 150 31 3 31 101 54 107 22 122 3.2
70% .279 .345 .503 535 80 149 30 3 28 98 51 111 20 115 2.8
60% .276 .341 .489 536 78 148 29 2 27 95 50 114 19 110 2.4
50% .276 .339 .480 537 77 148 28 2 26 92 49 118 17 108 2.3
40% .273 .334 .469 539 76 147 27 2 25 91 47 122 16 104 2.0
30% .272 .331 .455 541 75 147 26 2 23 88 45 127 14 100 1.7
20% .268 .326 .443 542 74 145 25 2 22 85 44 133 12 96 1.4
10% .263 .319 .417 544 72 143 25 1 19 81 42 142 10 88 0.8

Even Puig’s 10th-percentile projection adds a win over a full season compared to the rest of the team’s options (he forecasts as an average player in 62% of his projections, an All-Star in 12%, and replacement level in just 3%). He’s also good enough that, like Hunter Pence was last year, he can carve out a significant role even as a non-starter, though he likely won’t match Pence’s surprising 2019 production.

Texas would be smart to treat a Puig signing with a bit of urgency rather than taking a wait-and-see approach. Puig was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer from the Indians, so unlike last year’s free agent stragglers, most notably Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel, there is no particular incentive to force him to spend April in street clothes. Nor are the Rangers the only team with a reason to give Puig a call. The Yankees are now without Aaron Judge and while Giancarlo Stanton ought to return from his calf injury soon, his recent injury record is likely enough to give the Yankees’ front office pause.

The Rangers already had a narrow path to the playoffs, and losing Calhoun and his possible upside makes that path even narrower. Texas is absolutely awash in cash, nowhere near any of the luxury tax thresholds, and Puig can help the team long after a Calhoun recovery. Sign Puig. Do it yesterday.

We hoped you liked reading The Rangers Should Turn Their Outfield Situation From Precarious to Puigcarious by Dan Szymborski!

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Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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Joseph Reimschussel
Member

Yes. Do this please. The Rangers offense lacks excitement. With or without him they’re a long long shot to compete for a playoff spot, but at least give me a reason to watch. Gallo, Calhoun, and Solak were the only at-bats that I refused to leave my seat for. Give me Puig even if it’s only for a few months