Looking Ahead: The Outfield

To start things out this Monday morning -- things will be in somewhat of a lull for the next week or so as we get a mix of odd lineups for the Rangers -- I wanted to take some time for an exercise in statistics. Below, we have three unnamed players. For each, I'll list their season statistics, followed by their 2nd-half offensive numbers (it seems a bit hackneyed to look at anything but offensive statistics when taking into account recency).

  1. Player A: .299/.359/.438, .797 OPS, 110 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR, 3.5 bWAR
    2nd-half: .306/.374/.461, .836 OPS, 121 wRC +
     
  2. Player B- .221/.290/.361, .651 OPS, 75 wRC+, 0.3 fWAR, 0.3 bWAR
    2nd-half: .228/.303/.409, .712 OPS, 90 wRC+
     
  3. Player C- .285/.336/.451, .787 OPS, 107 wRC+, 3.4 fWAR, 2.7 bWAR
    2nd-half: .234/.281/.352, .633 OPS, 65 wRC+

At a quick glance, it's fairly easy to see that two of those players -- A and C -- have had above-average seasons, offensively speaking. That's discernible if, using nothing else, looking at wRC+, which attempts to capture offensive value on the whole and scaling it to league average, where 100 is average. Player A has been ten percent above league average at the plate, Player C, seven percent.

Player B has had what would appear to be a rough season. However, as a big believer in trends, especially as we head toward the postseason, I think that the more recent numbers could more accurately reflect something of the truest production level we can expect from these players going forward. And for that part, Player B has had the better second half than Player C.

If you haven't figured out by now, Player A is Elvis Andrus, Player B is Carlos Gomez, and Player C is Ian Desmond.

Obviously, Elvis isn't an outfielder, but for the purposes of this discussion, I wanted to throw his numbers in for comparison. For much of the season, we've been singing the praises of Ian Desmond, while Elvis's season, to my mind, has gone largely unnoticed. Beyond that, until I actually looked, I didn't realize just how bad Ian Desmond has been since the All-Star break.

Heading into the break, Ian Desmond was slashing .322/.375/.524 with an OPS of .899 and a wRC+ of 137. He was in the MVP conversation within some circles. And while a certain amount of regression was to be expected -- Ian has, throughout his career, been a streaky hitter -- the level of decline that has set in was completely unexpected.

As best I can tell, the downturn started around July 20 (arbitrary start-point alert). From July 20 through yesterday's game, Desmond has slashed .237/.282/.339, an OPS of .621 and wRC+ of 62. That's 38 percent below the league-average mark offensively for well over two months. Current trends haven't been kind to Ian.

While it's easy to look at the numbers of Carlos Gomez and say that, even in the second half, he's not been great, it's important to remember that only part of that has been with Texas. If we look at only his Rangers production, Gomez sports a .255/.342/.480 line (an OPS of .822), a wRC+ of 118, and an fWAR of 0.7 in only 111 plate appearances. Add to the mix that he's been fantastic in the outfield, and it's not exactly a stretch to say that Texas came out looking pretty good on this signing.

Long-term -- as in, after the postseason -- the Rangers will have some decisions to make. Re-signing Ian Desmond has been a hot topic for months, and will continue to be one until he's either back in a Texas uniform or, if things play out as such, in another team's uniform. Carlos Gomez will be a free agent as well. And depending on cost factors, there's a significant part of me that thinks Gomez might be the better signing for Texas going forward. I get that it won't be a popular opinion, but from a value standpoint, it makes sense, especially if Gomez is closer to his recent production -- and that of a significant portion of his career -- rather than the shell of a player he was in Houston.

And while that's a bit down the road, it's also rooted in the looming playoffs. With the impending return of Shin-Soo Choo to the lineup for the ALDS -- and perhaps sooner, according to Jared Sandler -- there's been much debate regarding what the outfield alignment will be.

Obviously, Carlos Beltran is your DH most days, so it's likely that Choo will return to right field. The assumption has long been that Nomar Mazara would head to the bench, Gomez would roam left field, and Ian Desmond remains in center field. And yet, the more I think about it, the less sense that makes.

Don't get me wrong, I love Ian Desmond the guy. Like Prince Fielder, I see the way he interacts with the team, and he's become a fan-favorite in his lone season in Texas. But if we're looking at trends in forecasting the best possible lineups, Nomar Mazara has been the better player.

Setting aside that his full-season numbers aren't quite as good as Desmond's, with a wRC+ of 98, his second half numbers tell a different story. His wRC+ of 100 is better than Desmond's 65 by a significant margin. Since the calendar flipped to September, Nomar has shown signs of once again adjusting to big league pitching with a wRC+ of 111.

While acknowledging that this probably won't happen, I'm not so sure that the best lineup in the outfield doesn't consist of Mazara in LF, Gomez in CF, and Choo/Beltran in RF. Having been a gold-glove caliber CF as 2013, you don't lose too much defensively in the outfield -- if anything at all -- by having Gomez in CF rather than in LF.

Obviously, I'm not the manager of the Texas Rangers. It's a decision Jeff Banister will have to make. And perhaps Ian Desmond can get things going just enough down the stretch to be a valuable playoff contributor. He simply hasn't been a very good hitter for over two months, and it's at least a little concerning. If we see the Rangers make it to, say, the ALCS, it wouldn't surprise me too terribly to see the lineup I just mentioned thrown out there if Desmond can't get his bat going again.

I just never thought, even a month ago, I'd be making any sort of case for Carlos Gomez over Ian Desmond. Isn't baseball crazy?