The Rangers Are 26-20

The Big Chill doesn't fear the Angels.

  • Martin Perez started tonight's game, and it was a very solid outing for the lefty. He went 6 innings on 89 pitches (61 for strikes) with 6 strikeouts and 2 walks. The biggest of those innings was his final one, when he ended up with the bases loaded and 2 outs and the Rangers clinging to a 1-0 lead. He ended up striking out Johnny Giavotella to end the inning and turn the game over to the bullpen.
     
  • The offense was driven tonight by Ian Desmond and Nomar Mazara. At this point, that shouldn't really be surprising. Desmond was 3-for-4 with a run scored. Mazara was 3-for-3 with a walk, and had the biggest hit of the game, a 2-run home run to put Texas up 3-0 in the bottom of the 6th inning.
     
  • The only other hit came on an Elvis Andrus double that scored Adrian Beltre.
     
  • Another rough one for Prince Fielder. In his first plate appearance of the game, Prince worked a 3-2 count, only to have home plate umpire Ted Barrett call ball four as strike three. So, that was frustrating. Other than that, he was never really a threat.
     
  • Jake Diekman, Matt Bush, and Sam Dyson combined to work the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. Nothing to see here, move along.
     
  • The Rangers find themselves in position to win yet another series with a day game tomorrow. Colby Lewis -- aka the non-human -- takes the mound at 1:05 PM against Hector Santiago and the Angels.

The Curious Nature of Fandom

I entered “sports consciousness” later than most. As a kid I went to Ranger games with my father, but I only liked the team because I thought he liked them. Later, I would find out that he really didn’t care either way. My Dad is a casual observer of sports. I hate the usage of the phrase “casual fan”, because those who use this phrase don’t understand that fan is short for fanatic. Suffice it to say, despite playing baseball, I did not pay attention to the sport until I returned home from Afghanistan in October 2011. It was then that a movie changed my thought process and my dedication to a sport, forever.

Of course, the movie I am referring to is “Moneyball”.  I am sure if you are reading this article, you have probably seen this film. If not, it is worth a watch. I watched this movie and it changed the way I saw the game. The fact that a walk is as valuable as a single (with no one on base), was a concept which was brilliant, yet painfully obvious. In short, this revelation led to me reading the work of Baseball Prospectus and Bill James. This would lead to me making a decision that would alter the rest of my life.

As I stated before, most of my childhood and even early adulthood was spent “front-running”. I didn’t understand the nature of fandom and for that I can only plead ignorance. During my time in the military, I wasn’t concerned with sports. I had issues to deal with that did not allow for many distractions. So, shortly after watching “Moneyball” and the 2011 season, I decided that being a Rangers fan and sticking with that team, no matter what, was the course I would take. To this point it has opened my eyes to how great and how heartbreaking our sport can be.

Baseball fans are a different sort of people. In no other sport are you expected to be a lawyer, a historian, an analyst, a statistician, scout, and fan. In the course of a baseball conversation you are bound to hear talk about contracts, former players, advanced metrics, pitching mechanics, and how last year’s playoff loss sucked. I believe that baseball fans have more influence on the sport than fans of other sports. For example, sabermetrics has changed the way organizations value players and play the game. There are countless Websites dedicated to the sport as a whole, not to mention the number of specific team blogs and websites (which have little or no affiliation with the organization).  The nature of baseball fandom is part of the reason I decided to start writing.

It has been scientifically documented that male testosterone levels rise when their team wins and falls when they lose.

Personally, I -- and I’m sure many of you feel a connection to the Rangers and their players -- hated it when Jose Bautista flipped his bat last year in the ALDS. I was jumping up and down like Tuco (from Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul) when Rougie landed that hard right hand just over a week ago.  Every Spring I am cursed with the optimistic view that this year might be the year and I believe it. I believed it in 2014, before the injury bug struck. I believed it in 2012, where they were in it until the last game. I believe it this year. I have committed myself to this franchise and I feel as though I am a part of one of the best groups of fans in the game.

Finally, I believe that baseball and Rangers fans are among the most dedicated in the game. Now, I sneer at guys who are wearing Kansas City caps when two years ago they were wearing Red Sox gear. There is an element of loyalty in sports, but especially in baseball. Rarely is there a team that goes back-to-back in the World Series and if your team is bad, it can be bad for a long time. However, for those that stick around and hang in there, the joy of a championship is beyond great. One day, when you see that guy (you know the one I’m referring to) walking around with a Rangers hat on, you will smile. You will smile because he didn’t stay the course as you did and he didn’t wait like you did. Delayed gratification… it can still be wonderful.

Shaking Up the Rangers Offense

It's May 24. That means it's almost June. With that, all of those "small sample size" comments have pretty much gone straight out the window. It's put up or shut up time. You are what you are.

And right now, the Rangers are an average team. 20th in offense in terms of wOBA. 15th in pitching in terms of ERA (while being 22nd in wOBA-against). Sure, the 25-20 record has them within striking distance of the first-place Mariners, but from a runs scored/allowed perspective, their Pythagorean win percentage would have them sitting closer to 23-22.

Now, before you order me lynched and remind me that baseball isn't played in a computer, it's worth noting that those sorts of win percentage models are much more useful looking back at an entire season rather than two months. Nonetheless, it's still useful in pointing out the disparity between the results and the numbers.

For example, you could theoretically look at Sunday's 9-2 win against the Houston Astros and say, if not for that game, the Rangers have a negative run differential on the season. At the moment, that stands at a plus-6; not exactly conducive for consistent, winning baseball.

Fortunately, Yu Darvish is slated to return on Saturday, which figures to alleviate at least some of the pitching concerns. Furthermore, despite poor peripherals from the pitching staff, the defense has been good enough for 18 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), best in the American League and trailing only the Cubs for the MLB lead. So that leaves us with the offense.

I've been accused of beating a dead horse on this one, but I'm mentioning it again: Prince Fielder is having an abysmal season. We're beyond the point of saying he's simply in an extended slump. With 183 plate appearances under his belt, we've got a significant amount of data with which to say that his wOBA of .255 is cause for concern. That translates to a wRC+ of 49, or 51 percent below league average.

From an offensive standpoint, Prince is the 6th-worst player in baseball thus far. The five in front of him? Four play shortstop, and one is a catcher. Prince Fielder is a designated hitter. He's supposed to be your big bat from an offense-only position.

Moving right along, there's also Mitch Moreland. His wOBA is .300 -- 30th worst in MLB -- with a wRC+ of 79, or 21 percent below league average. He's your starting first baseman. It's a position in which players are often expected to hit for more power to make up for being in the least-demanding defensive spot on the field.

In the middle of these two guys, on most days, Jeff Banister has Adrian Beltre. That Beltre has put up a wOBA of .328 -- a wRC+ of 98 -- hitting between two veritable black holes... well, that's something of a minor miracle, now that I think of it.

Ian Desmond has been better than advertised, and along with Nomar Mazara, are the most consistent hitters on the team. One was an $8 million signing that no one else wanted. The other just turned 21 years old.

So, it's not difficult to see that perhaps this Rangers team is overachieving thus far in 2016. And that's OK. That doesn't mean there isn't time to improve.

Going forward, I don't know how long the Rangers can roll with Prince Fielder hitting anywhere near the top of the lineup. It's killing the offensive flow, which is supplemented by his RE24 -- the difference between the run expectancy before and after his plate appearances -- of -4.09. Moreland's is -3.16. Beltre's? In the positive, at 2.58.

The Rangers called up Joey Gallo yesterday. He had a pinch-hit appearance late in the game, but it's unclear exactly how long he'll be up, or what his role will be while he's here. At the very least, I would think it fair to say that if he's not going to get regular playing time, he shouldn't be up at all. And I'd imagine the Rangers tend to fall into that category as well. Where he plays? I don't know.

At the very least, it appears that the Rangers are ready to see if he can perhaps provide some upgrade somewhere in there. If it's taking away some plate appearances from Prince Fielder, so be it. If it's Mitch Moreland -- a scenario I find to be more likely for a player who almost-certainly won't be a Ranger next season -- then more power to him.

The sticking point would seem to be this: Despite having average to below-average statistics to this point of the season, the Rangers find themselves in a favorable position. That's something they couldn't say at this time last year, and we saw how that ended up.

If there's even a chance that Joey Gallo can provide the type of upgrade the Rangers can use in the lineup, they're going to give him a shot to prove it. And at some point, that may come at the expense of some other players in the lineup, regardless of how much they're paid.

It's the same reason Texas signed Adrian Beltre to a contract extension. Sure, they want him to retire as a Texas Ranger, but more than that, he gives the organization the best chance to win right now, and with the pitching staff looking to receive a boost within the next week, maybe we're getting close to seeing a little something extra from the offense as well.

Josh Hamilton Out for the 2016 Season

In a move that many of us probably could have seen coming several months ago, Josh Hamilton is officially out for the 2016 season. He will undergo yet another knee surgery in an attempt to alleviate issues that have kept him from playing meaningful baseball pretty much since the 2014 season.

It's weird, in a way. When Texas opted to make a trade to bring Hamilton back, I was on board with it. For the cost, it was a no-brainer. Even given the way things have gone, it's not as if Texas has been buried in exorbitant amounts of money that they owe to him. That distinction belongs to the Angels.

Now, over a year later, I'm not sure Josh Hamilton will ever play baseball again. Naturally, there will be some that question his "want" or "drive". Don't.

Players don't just have knee surgery for the fun of it, or because they'd rather limp around than go out and play baseball. Furthermore, that forgets that things like this happened:

Seriously, other than a couple of games in September of 2012, there's nothing that has ever suggested the Hamilton doesn't want to play baseball. In fact, you can look back and many of his injuries were the direct result of playing "too hard".

In 2011, he was very nearly -- and probably should have been -- the hero of Game 6. He played the entire playoffs with an entirely torn abdominal wall that required surgery after the season. And yet, he mustered every ounce of strength he had to hit a 2-run home run in the 10th inning to once again get the Rangers in position to be one strike away.

No, his exit to LA wasn't harmonious. And no, I don't think you'll find anyone that will say Josh is the best in dealing with the media. But he's still a human being. And he's one that is currently doing everything he can to just play baseball again, even if his club won't have a place for him to play by the time he returns.

For now, that's where the Rangers find themselves. Obviously, Hamilton won't retire; it would leave a ton of money on the table. And good luck finding a trade partner for a guy no one knows will play again.

Thus, I find myself thinking that Josh Hamilton may never play baseball again. The Rangers will give him every opportunity to rehab and get back out there. And he'll give that effort his full attention. He'll collect his salary -- mostly paid by the Angels -- and then after 2017 is done and gone, I'm not sure we'll see him in a uniform again.

I hope to God I'm wrong. I want to see Josh come back, be pain-free enough to be a solid DH when needed, and perhaps collect a few big hits along the way. It's just that, with the way things look now, that looks more like a pipe dream than a budding reality.