On the morning of May 3, 2017, the Texas Rangers find themselves with a record of 11-16. Last place in the AL West and seven games back of the Houston Astros. If you're one to look for coorelations, it's the same exact record Texas started with in 2015.
And if you're one to look for hope, there's always the fact that the 2015 iteration of the Rangers didn't have Yu Darvish or -- at least until late in the season -- Cole Hamels. Just how long Hamels will remain out remains to be seen, but he's on the roster, nonetheless.
That 2015 club was awaiting the returns of Martin Perez, Derek Holland, and to a lesser extent, Matt Harrison. The club ended up using the likes of Wandy Rodriguez, Phil Klein, Ross Detwiler, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Nick Martinz, and Anthony Ranaudo to start games. 57 of them, to be exact. So if you're looking for a silver lining, things don't appear to be *that* bad. Yet.
Yet, it's not 2015. It's 2017, and the Astros are a better team than in 2015. Texas wouldn't appear to be primed to go snag a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher at the trade deadline. And on top of it all, April was supposed to be the easiest month of the schedule for the Rangers. That's now in the rear view mirror.
There are things to like about what Texas has done thus far. They've scored 123 runs, which is in the top-ten in MLB. Unfortunately, they've also allowed 120, which leaves very little room for error only a season removed from a club that seemingly managed to keep up that high-wire act through the conclusion of the regular season.
It goes without saying that you have to score more runs than you allow on a consistent basis to be good at baseball. It's why the Washington Nationals, who have given up 128 runs of their own, still sport the National League's best record at 17-9: They've also scored 173 runs.
When it comes to pitching, Texas has what it has. At this point, you're going to have Yu Darvish doing underappreciated Darvish things at the top, hopefully flashes of brilliance from Cole Hamels and, to a lesser extent, Martin Perez, and A.J. Griffin perhaps being an innings-eater. Beyond that, you can pick your own poison for that fifth rotation spot; I'm not so sure it really matters.
The point is, this team was always built to score runs. A lot of them. And a top-ten offense simply isn't going to cut it if Texas hopes to cut into the deficit in the division as we head into the summer months.
Collectively, Texas has put up a wRC+ of 90 on the season. That is, they're ten percent worse than league average. That comes despite having hit the fifth-most home runs in baseball with 40.
With a home run total like that, you'd expect an offense that has a flair for power. You'd likely be wrong. Team slugging sits at .403, which is exactly middle-of-the-pack in baseball. That is, Texas is hitting home runs, and combined with the sixth-worst on-base percentage of .297, they're not doing a whole heck of a lot else.
In other words, the Texas Rangers offense would seem to have a problem with making contact. Indeed, a 75.4% contact rate is the fifth-worst in baseball, and with a team that is swinging at pitches outside of the zone at a higher rate (31.7%) than all but two other teams... there's very little plate discipline happening within the Rangers batting order.
As much as fans love to hate on Shin-Soo Choo because of his contract and Carlos Gomez because he looks so awful when he strikes out, those two guys have actually been fine with wRC+ figures of 116 and 106, respectively. They're both above league-average hitters.
Perhaps most concerning is that of the 226 plate appearances taken from the fourth and fifth spots in the lineup this season, 217 of them have been some combination of Rougned Odor and Mike Napoli.
Odor sports a .568 OPS and a wRC+ of 47 in 111 plate appearances.
Napoli sports a .536 OPS and a wRC+ of 37 in 107 plate appearances.
There's still time, but it's at least concerning.
For Odor, the concern is the same as it always has been. He's a free-swinging hitter, doesn't take walks very often, and there's really no reason for a pitcher to ever throw him a strike. Through the course of a plate appearance, the likelihood of Rougie laying off of four pitches is much less likely than him swinging through three of them.
I'm not sure what the issue is there, but would guess that as a younger player, Rougie gets caught in the moment. It's a lot easier to feel like you're helping your team win when you come through with big hits rather than standing at the plate with the bat on your shoulder. I might be wrong on this, but I'm probably not.
At best, Rougned Odor is mildly overrated. At worst, pitchers are going to continue exploiting his biggest flaw and he'll continue looking helpless. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. With his new contract, he's not going anywhere anytime soon, so it's mostly a moot point. Other than moving him down in the lineup, there's not just a whole lot the Rangers can do.
Napoli, on the other hand, is much more troublesome, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him run out of chances soon. At 35 years old, he's not the same player he once was, and even his vaunted on-base skills of the past are mostly negated by the fact that he appears to have lost his bat speed.
Below, you'll see heat maps of Napoli's swing rate and contact rate for various parts inside and outside of the strike zone.
As you can see, Napoli is swinging at pitches in the upper half of the strike zone, but he's... not exactly making a whole lot of contact.
More troublesome is that two areas where he's making the most contact are way inside and way outside of the strike zone.
I'm no scout, but one area of concern for me regarding bat speed would be a hitter that is swinging through fastballs in the zone and guessing incorrectly on pitches out of the zone. Especially when that player, as recently as last season, put up an on-base percentage of .335 and hasn't had a walk rate of less than 12.1% since prior to the 2011 season. His walk rate this season? 5.6%.
Diving into the plate discipline numbers, Napoli is swinging at pitches outside of the zone at the highest rate of his career at 29.1%. On those pitches, he's making the least contact since his rookie season with a contact rate on pitches out of the zone of 45.7%. Combined with the highest swing percentage of his career of 44.8%, Mike Napoli seems totally lost at the plate.
Is it the hip finally giving out? A severe slump to start the season? Or are we looking at a player that realizes he needs to decide to swing earlier, and is thus guessing? It's probably still too early to say for certain, but the numbers are at least troubling.
Should Napoli continue to struggle, it won't surprise me to see Ryan Rua take over the bulk of the playing time at first base. He's another player fans love to hate, and he hasn't been very good in 43 plate appearances this season, but at a certain point, Jeff Banister simply can't keep rolling out the same hitters in the fourth and fifth spots of the lineup with the hope that things will just fix themselves.
Of course, much of this can be negated if Adrian Beltre can come back healthy and productive. That likely gives Texas the flexibility to slide Joey Gallo over to first base and/or left field while occasionally playing third when Beltre needs a DH day or a day off.
At the very least, the offense needs to be better than it has been. The pitching likely is what it is. The talent level on that end is, quite simply, limited. However, the plate discipline simply has to improve, otherwise the Texas Rangers will spend the later months of the summer trying to flip their assets for younger prospects.