Despite last night's drubbing at the hands of the Oakland A's, the Texas Rangers still boast the American League's best record. That feat is more amazing when you consider that, for almost every one of those games, the Rangers have had two of the worst everyday players in the major leagues in their lineup on a consistent basis.
More specifically, Prince Fielder has been the worst player by fWAR at -1.4, with Mitch Moreland as the 24th-worst with an fWAR of 0.0. Fielder's case is made even worse by his providing no defensive value, even negative value on the occasion that he actually plays first base. By wOBA alone, Fielder is still in the bottom-five category.
In other words, it's probably something of a minor miracle that the Rangers have ended up where they are with those two scuffling so badly while the organization waits (hopes?) for them to get things turned around.
I've made my stance on Fielder previously known. He looks like a player that's done. The bat speed is gone, and he's chasing out of the strike zone at a career rate. I'm of the opinion that at some point, he'll get the Pablo Sandoval treatment; that is, the Rangers have a good amount of talent, and there comes a point in which Fielder's contract is a sunk cost.
Moreland, on the other hand, is a different animal. While I'm not necessarily a fan of him getting starts against left-handed pitching, he has the opportunity to at least provide some value. I've never been as high on Mitch's "potential" or "ceiling" as some have been, but at $5.7 million, you could certainly do worse.
He provides some pop from the left side of plate, and had a career year last season in which he was worth 2.1 fWAR. The problem? He's put up a wOBA of .320. While not as bad as Fielder's wOBA of .265, it's still not exactly good. So, what's the problem? How does a player have a career year and not manage to make solid contact the next?
Well, for starters, Moreland finds himself swinging at more pitches this season then at any point in his career. On both pitches inside and outside the strike zone, he's swinging about three percent more often. As far as contact goes, his contact rate outside the zone is about in line with recent seasons, but his contact rate in the strike zone is down 3.3% from last season and is 4.2% lower than his career average: An average that is ticked down even more due to his contact struggles this season.
Note: As I write this, Moreland just hit a blast, but these points still remain. It also gave me another GIF to work with, so way to go, Mitch.
Mitch Moreland has always been something of a streaky hitter, but in 2016, those streaks seem to be easily identifiable by what's going on with his swing. For starters, here are some examples of his swing with home run results on 6/13, 6/12, and 6/10.
So, those all look pretty good. And now, we take a look at some poor swings. The first two are from 6/13 -- last night's game in which he hit a home run -- and the last is from 6/9 against the Astros.
In each of those swings, Mitch starts his stride, sets his foot down, and then in the middle of his swing, that front foot pulls back toward the first base dugout.
I say all this with the caveat that I'm not a hitting coach. However, on the surface, a motion that essentially causes Mitch to step away from the plate would seem to take away a significant portion of the strike zone. That might at least partially explain his lower in-zone contact rate in 2016.
The good news is that I've noticed fewer of those swings in recent days, which jives well with the five home runs he's hit over his past five games. I still don't want him hitting against lefties, but at the very least -- and assuming he can get consistently on track -- he should be a valuable offensive weapon against right-handers. And if that happens, the Rangers will be better for it.
And while I don't really hold out much hope that Prince Fielder will get his season turned around, I'm a least slightly optimistic that Mitch Moreland can get his going in the right direction, if he hasn't already.