So, as you've probably noticed, I've been a bit tied up lately. Between moving and starting a new job, I just haven't had the time I'd have liked to write. If you haven't noticed, then... where have you been?!
In any case, today seemed as good a time as any for some real talk.
We're now past the All-Star break. The point in which decisions that will shape the remainder of the summer and fall begin to take place. Trades, promotions, demotions, all those great things.
The Rangers, for their part, are overall in a great position. If I said back in March that the team would wake up on July 18 at 55-38, 4.5 games up in the AL West over the Astros, nearly all of us would have taken in. For the rest of you, you're lying.
As with everything else in life, however, context is important. And so just as there was context behind at least SOME luck being involved with the Rangers heading into July with a .638 win percentage, there has also been some context behind the recent dip in performance.
Injuries, to be sure, have played their part. And yet, sometimes, it's just plain old regression that bites a team in the rear. And this bite has been centered squarely on one Prince Fielder, and to a lesser extent, Mitch Moreland.
There's been a running line that somehow, Prince has been "turning it around" lately. That he's looked better than his abysmal start. And being fair, it would be hard to really be worse than a .561 OPS and .252 wOBA after the month of May.
And yet, for all that talk of him turning it around, a quick look shows that in July, his OPS is... .593. wOBA? .277. So sure, while that's a little better, and while that's cherry-picking out of a small-sample size to an extent, it's exactly in line with what many of us have come to expect at this point, and makes his slightly above average June (OPS of .803 and wOBA of .348) look more like an aberration than any sort of norm.
Prince Fielder is who he is at this point. And what is he? A below-average hitter who provides no value -- even negative value -- defensively, and who takes away plate appearances from more deserving players.
In this case, that player is none other than Jurickson Profar, he of former top prospect status.
Profar, in 137 plate appearances, has amassed an OPS of .830. His wOBA is .358. If you're keeping track at home, that's still cumulatively better -- even with some slowdown after a torrid start in May -- than Fielder's best month to date.
Defensively, Profar has jumped around at every infield spot thus far, and in doing so, has been about average. Mostly what you'd expect from a young player without a defined position. Oh, did I mention he missed two seasons?
So while Profar should certainly be seen as a player that will trend upward, Fielder has nowhere to go but down.
"But Brandon, they're paying Prince Fielder all that money. Shouldn't they at least play him?"
Look, I get that most teams will operate that way. And yet, just because "that's how it's done" doesn't make it the best way to do it.
I don't know what the solution is. What I do know is that, on Saturday, Jeff Banister had Prince Fielder sitting on his bench as possibility to pinch-hit for Shawn Tolleson. Despite having a well-rested bullpen coming out of the break, Banister chose instead to have Tolleson hit for himself. That's how much faith the Rangers manager had in his well-paid DH.
And it's ironic, really. Prior to 2014, Ian Kinsler was traded for Fielder to make room for Profar to play. Two years and change later, it's Fielder who is now seen as blocking Profar from significant playing time. And we've reached a point where each excuse for him not being in the lineup is a poor one. There's a sample size there. The old Prince Fielder isn't coming back.
The second half of the season figures to be much more competitive than the first. The Rangers won't be able to get away with stashing one of baseball's worst players in the middle of their lineup for long. Should the trend of refusing to pencil in the best 9 players into the lineup continue, Jeff Banister's team could find themselves struggling to merely compete for a wild card spot come October.