Disclaimer: It's still early. I may take a bit of criticism for having such a conviction on an issue this early in the season, but it's my opinion nonetheless. Proceed at your own risk, and don't say you weren't warned.
We're beginning to get to a point in the season where players with dubious distinctions begin to stick out like a sore thumb. For example, it's somewhat noteworthy that Hector Noesi barely avoided the dubious distinction of pitching the worst inning in franchise history on Sunday. In giving up 7 runs in the 9th inning, only Adam Dunn saved Noesi from himself.
Of course, Ron Washington knew the game was lost. With a 0.1% win expectancy prior to a pitch being thrown in the 9th inning, I don't exactly blame him. In other words, if the game had still been in question, Noesi wouldn't have been left in as long as he had, so we can somewhat explain part of his awful outing.
However, a player that is putting together a dubious Rangers resume of his own thus far in 2014 is J.P. Arencibia. On the season, he has a grand total of two hits. The first came on Opening Day, and since then, he's been mostly a punchline for the occasional GIDP.
In fact, on several occasions in the past week, Wash has had Leonys Martin bunt ahead of Arencibia in order to make sure the double play opportunity wouldn't be in play afterwards.
I suppose I could banter on about the Rangers' 7-2 record with Chirinos starting behind the plate as opposed to the 4-6 mark with Arencibia starting. While I'm sure there's at least a little something there, I'm not exactly sure what it is, and I'm not willing to go too far at this point in the season other than to say the pitching staff definitely appears to be more comfortable with Chirinos behind the plate.
What concerns me the most with Arencibia is his total lack of offensive contribution thus far in 2014. I have no doubt he'll get a few hits here and there as the season progresses -- assuming he's allowed to accumulate that much playing time -- but I'm honestly not convinced that he's a whole heck of a lot better than his current .067/.125/.100 mark. Sure those numbers figure to improve a bit with regular playing time, but I just don't feel like the Rangers can give him that time.
To see what kind of pitches Arencibia has been given to work with, I decided to pull a heat map for pitch frequency:
It isn't exactly as if pitchers have been nibbling the corners against him. In fact, they don't appear to be afraid to go right at him, and so far, the approach seems to be working.
If we look at contact, Arencibia has been limited to three balls put in play that are classified by ESPN Stats & Information as "hard-hit balls" -- all while essentially splitting time with Robinson Chirinos.
"Arencibia isn't an everyday player", you may say. Which I totally get. However, in one at-bat, one plate appearance, Luis Sardinas, who was called up on Saturday on what figures to be a temporary basis, managed half of Arencibia's hit total. Even Jim Adduci managed three times that total (6) before going on the DL on Saturday.
A BABIP of .080 certainly allows some room for optimism, but again, when a guy simply isn't making good contact, it doesn't much matter what kind of defense he's hitting the ball into. Most Major League defenses can handle weak contact, and they have been.
The real problem with J.P. Arencibia comes in the acknowledgement that his entire Major League career suggests that he is, at best, going to be only a tick better than replacement level. The Rangers aren't calling Jorge Alfaro up anytime soon, and I'm not sure what the thought process is revolving around Chris Gimenez, who is getting his reps in Round Rock as of right now.
It seems that it would be a great idea to play Robinson Chirinos at least two of every three games right now, especially with the current road trip running through Oakland. Yet, I can't help but wonder: If Arencibia continues to struggle, if he continues to look this bad, how much longer can the Rangers keep him around?
Arencibia has the Rangers on the hook for a $1.8 million base salary with up to $300,000 in possible incentives, so while he wouldn't be cheap to cut ties with, it wouldn't be crippling either.
The Rangers were hoping that he could rebound from a career-worst season last year in Toronto, and at the time, I thought that for the price, he could at least serve as a decent backup. When Geovany Soto's injury came to light, I was less optimistic about J.P.'s contributions heading into the season as the de facto starter.
My usual thought process with a struggling player is, "Hey, the Rangers could do worse." In this case, however, I just haven't been able to quite wrap my head around that same line of thinking. A multi-hit game in the near future might calm a little bit of this down, but for the time being, the curious case of J.P. Arencibia -- and his missing bat -- have caught my fancy, and I'll be interested to see how the Rangers handle the catching situation during this current road swing through Oakland and Seattle.