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2006 Team Previews: Texas Rangers, Positional Players

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Personally, I've felt the Texas Rangers are wasting one of the best (if not the best) infield in the entire major leagues by failing to put quality pitching and a successful outfield corps onto the field alongside it. Some of this previously can be attributed to the contract Alex Rodriguez signed with the club back in 2001, as it was the largest in major league history (by a longshot). They signed Richard Hidalgo last winter, hoping he would provide them with an offensive boost, but he continued to fall apart offensively rather than bouncing back as they had hoped. Laynce Nix continues to disapoint offensively in the outfield. The acquisition of Brad Wilkerson helps to alleviate some of these outfield issues, but as Rob McMillin has pointed out here and elsewhere, R.A. Dickey is being considered as a member of the 2006 rotation. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but it sure isn't a positive feeling. Well, at least until his knuckler works, then I will be excited.

The 2005 squad was interesting, to say the least. They seemed to do very well for themselves until late, when the successful pitching duo from the first half (Kenny Rogers and Chris Young) seemingly fell apart. Alfonso Soriano was all kinds of awful on the road, and terrible defensively. Hank Blalock was disapointing, putting up road numbers that can only be made better by looking at Soriano's. I don't feel like that is a permanent trend, but it certainly hurt the team in 2005. Hidalgo's disapointing season didn't help either, although David Dellucci's time spent at designated hitter was extremely productive, and surprising in many ways.

The pitching was actually worse on the road in 2005 than it was at home. Take a look at this table.

2005 Home/Road Splits
home/road IP H R HR BB K RA K9 BB9 K/BB HR/9
2005 Home 737 811 424 80 248 466 5.18 5.69 3.03 1.88 0.977
2005 Road 703 778 434 79 274 466 5.56 5.97 3.51 1.7 1.011

I know what you are thinking. Marc actually took the time to create an HTML table, rather than just pasting an image from Excel. Well, you'd be wrong, because Jeff Sackmann shared his programming knowledge with me and sent me an HTML Table program. As far as I know, he used magic to make it, because I know squat about programming, but it works, and I can continue to be lazy without using up any additional image space on the website. Which in turn will make everything load faster, since there will be less to load image wise. Everyone wins (especially my Sidekick II). Many thanks to Jeff for his assistance.

The Rangers actually pitched better at home this year than on the road (a large part of that may be due to Kenny Rogers, and the fact that he was actually a much more effective pitcher in Arlington than out of it). This is not a consistent trend, according to the 2002-2004 split data:

2002-2004 Home/Road Splits
home/road IP H R HR BB K RA K9 BB9 K/BB HR/9
2002-2004 Home 2212.3 2458 1405 315 874 1567 5.72 6.37 3.56 1.79 1.281
2002-2004 Road 2100.7 2231 1240 269 945 1451 5.31 6.22 4.05 1.54 1.152

The splits are basically reversed in the older data. I think we need more to work with before identifying if there was any sort of shift, although I will continue to throw it out there that Kenny Rogers helped to mess up the splits considerably.

  • Acquired
  • Erubiel Durazo
  • Adam Hyzdu
  • Jamie Burke
  • Brad Wilkerson
  • Lost
  • Alfonso Soriano
  • Adrian Gonzalez
  • Sandy Alomar Jr.
  • Greg Colbrunn
  • Richard Hidalgo
I like the Durazo signing, and Brad Wilkerson over Alfonso Soriano...well, I still haven't figured out how Jon Daniels swung that one. I thought at first that he was this amazing negotiator, but then Kevin Towers got Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez out of him for a reliever with one good year and one average year as well as a disapointing starter. So now I've just realized that he made a deal with Jim Bowden, and we're back to square one on the Marc's Opinion of Jon Daniels Game. Which I just invented, right now, and will most likely never bring up again. How does everyone else feel about Daniels?

The rules are the same as last time. I'm using Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA Cards in order to assess the projected AVG/OBP/SLG of the new players. I am also calculating positionally adjusted Net Runs Above Average. If you've read any of the previous team reviews posted here, or already are full of wonderful NRAA (and pNRAA) knowledge, feel free to skip down to the section labeled Catcher

NRAA of course measures offensive and defensive value together in rate or cumulative form, depending on whether or not I leave it in per 100 game form, or if it is adjusted for games played. The idea behind pNRAA is -- you guessed it -- to adjust for positional differences. My favorite example so far is Darin Erstad. Using the raw figures for Net Runs Above Average, Erstad is an above average combination of offense and defense. In fact, he is considered to be worth 2.51 NRAA per 100 games (which from now on, will not have a per 100 games after it; NRAA is in the per 100 game form). Using the positional adjustment, Erstad's value drops all the way to -9.90; first base was the position with the most offensive contribution in 2005, and Erstad's adjusted numbers suffer for that. In fact, if Erstad was a league average defensive player rather than 9 runs above average per 100 games, his pNRAA would be -18.90, which is to say in my Boston speak, "wicked awful". With results like this for various players, I really enjoy what pNRAA brings to the table analysis wise.

AVG/OBP/SLG will be used along with pNRAA (remember, per 100 game form) and pNRAA/GP (Games Played).

Catcher
2005: Rod Barajas .254/.306/.466; +13.05 pNRAA; +15.66 pNRAA/GP
2005: Sandy Alomar Jr. .273/.306/.328; -22.06 pNRAA; -10.15 pNRAA/GP

2006: Rod Barajas .249/.293/.434; +5.84 pNRAA; +5.02 pNRAA/GP
2006: Gerald Laird .252/.308/.412; +8.74 pNRAA; +6.64 pNRAA/GP

It is amazing to me that with all the good work Barajas was able to do in 115.3 AdjG pNRAA wise, Texas let most of it slip away in 35.5 AdjG of Sandy Alomar. This year that won't be an issue, as Gerald Laird is the backup, and he is projected to have a better season than Barajas. Of course, that is with PECOTA assuming that Barajas doesn't have another excellent defensive season; if he is able to put together another one of those, you can expect his pNRAA to be roughly 5-7 runs higher than shown here.

It's quite possible that I'm the biggest Rod Barajas fan around. If anyone disputes that claim, feel free to let me know in the comments, and we can have a Barajas fan-off. He rarely walks, but he hits for power, and BP says he can field very well. David Gassko's Runs Above Average system, based off of batted-ball data, shows Barajas to be the seventh best defensive catcher in the game, which helps to back up the Rate conclusion.

First Base
2005: Mark Teixeira .301/.379/.575; +21.51 pNRAA; +34.85 pNRAA/GP

2006: Mark Teixeira .289/.371/.561; +20.26 pNRAA; +31.61 pNRAA/GP

Teixeira is a very good hitter, and well above average both offensively and defensively at his position. Says Rate anyways; Gassko's system has him below average, at -2.2 RAA per 150 games. But wait, there's more. David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range tells us that Teix was able to put up a Runs Saved per 27 Outs of 1.261, which is in the upper third of the first basemen listed.

Teixeira signed a contract that pays him $15.4 million over the next two seasons. He'll be 28 when the contract expires, and Scott Boras is his agent, which probably isn't lost on any Rangers fans patiently waiting for this team to succeed. PECOTA expects him to play basically the same from here through age 30, but I can't say much after that since it isn't available. Certainly something to keep an eye on though, as Teixeira will become a free agent at a dangerous transitional age (mid-peak), most likely searching for a six or seven year deal with Boras at the head of the negotiations. That will be sure to start some excellent debates and possibly even incite some rioting. Good times to be had by all. I know it is early to speculate, but it is an interesting issue. Do you give him another two-year deal (possibly three) so that when it is over he is still only 30, and therefore under Boras will most likely secure a five-year deal elsewhere for a considerable price? Do you re-sign him for five years yourself? Do you let him walk, or cave in for seven? My apologies if I just caused any panic attacks in Texas.

Second Base
2005: Alfonso Soriano .268/.309/.512; -11.26 pNRAA; -17.57 pNRAA/GP

2006: Ian Kinsler .270/.328/.451; +3.04 pNRAA; +3.53 pNRAA/GP

I'm not sure how Ian Kinsler looks to the Rangers fans, but he is a huge upgrade over Soriano. His EqA is not expected to be as high as Soriano's was last year, but his defense is only considered a run or two below average, rather than -21 FRAA in 152 games. And considering Soriano's home/road splits (.315/.355/.656 at home; .224/.265/.374 on the road in 2005), he's not really someone the Rangers should want to be paying $10 million to. So on the road, you basically have a second basemen hitting below replacement level 81 games a year (replacement level defined as -.035 below league average by Keith Woolner, which would be a line of .236/.288/.378 for AL second basemen in 2005). The Rangers only had one player with a pNRAA value as high as the upgrade they should get from Soriano to Kinsler, and that Mark Teixeira. A Teix sized upgrade at second base? I think the Rangers can handle that.

Third Base
2005: Hank Blalock .263/.318/.431; -11.85 pNRAA; -19.08 pNRAA/GP

2006: Hank Blalock .282/.348/.510; +13.07 pNRAA; +20.00 pNRAA/GP

PECOTA confuses me on occasion. In 2005 it projected Blalock to hit .290/.363/.508, which he obviously did not. PECOTA did recognize that his 2004 season was defensively out of line, but still overestimated the production there as well. His comment was spot on though, so kudos to whoever wrote the Rangers chapter for the 2005 annual:

Hank spent the first few weeks of the season channeling Will Clark's swing, and he got a ton of press during the year as a "breakout guy." The reality is that Blalock's 2004 wasn't really all that great, and there are lots of warning signs here. The first thing that leaps out at you are his home/road splits: At home, he hit .311/.386/.540, as opposed to a mere .239/.323/.460 on the road. After the All-Star break, Blalock hit only .240 with nine home runs. He did show some progress against lefties, but really, Blalock did a bunch of damage in interleague play in June, and was pretty much controllable outside of that stretch of games and April. He'll need to make some adjustments, and he will. But don't be surprised to see a down month or two in 2005.

Funny, in 2005, Blalock had issues with home and road splits. He hit .297/.361/.534 in Arlington and only .231/.276/.335 on the road. Once again his comment in this year's book warns against the projection in a way, as the last line states, "...until Blalock improves his glovework and turns his hitting around, all those Eric Chavez comparisons should stop." Chavez of course is #2 on Blalock's comparitive players list at the moment. The BP cover says "Don't Write Him Off" in regards to Blalock, and it would be silly for me to do so; I'll just say I have lowered expectations for young Hank. That +13.07 pNRAA may be a tad too optimistic for my taste.

Shortstop
2005: Michael Young .331/.385/.513; +7.20 pNRAA; +11.44 pNRAA/GP

2006: Michael Young .306/.355/.471; +8.33 pNRAA; +13.41 pNRAA/GP

Michael Young was very impressive in 2005; he hit essentially the same on the road and at home, (.331/.386/.527 at home, .330/.384/.500 on the road) which helped to give him his excellent line and a batting title. His extra slugging percentage at home actually came from having 4 triples (as opposed to a single road triple) rather than any additional doubles or homerun power. That said, PECOTA expects regression. Then again, PECOTA expected a huge decline in 2005 as well (.291/.334/.436), so I'll reserve judgement. On occasion, PECOTA seems to stick with certain types of projections for players, whether they beat it by a longshot or miss it by even more in a negative sense. Is PECOTA growing emotional properties as well as its mathematical ones, and now picking on poor Michael Young? Sounds like fighting words Mike, I say get out there and hit .330 again.

I admire Michael Young for volunteering to slide over from second base to the more difficult shortstop position when Alex Rodriguez left Texas. My only issue with him as a shortstop is that every defensive metric I look at tells me he is not any good defensively. It is possible that more time there will make him better, but again, I haven't picked up my copy of The Fielding Bible yet, so I don't know. Interestingly enough, Michael Young has picked up a copy of that particular book, and he was none too impressed with the particulars. Maybe he'll be motivated to work on his fielding this year, just like last year with his PECOTA projection. Kudos to Young for both picking up these books and working on making sure his projections don't come true.

By the way, I'm excited that Jon Daniels has a copy of The Fielding Bible. In fact, remember that game I was never going to mention again? Daniels just moved 10 spaces towards the positive opinion side of the board.

Left Field
2005: Kevin Mench .264/.328/.469; -4.32 pNRAA; -6.48 pNRAA/GP

2006: David Dellucci .261/.363/.495; +12.06 pNRAA; +10.85 pNRAA/GP

I need a more reliable depth chart to pull from, because MLB.com gives me some pretty crazy ones. I keep hearing that Wilkerson is starting in a corner, with Gary Matthews Jr. in centerfield, but MLB.com has Wilkerson in center with Matthews riding the bench, Dellucci in left and Nevin at DH. That is basically the worst thing I can think of doing outside of starting Barajas at short. Dellucci has injury issues that make him more useful as a DH (and healthier), Wilkerson is better defensively in the corners, Gary Matthews Jr. is considered the best defensive option on the team in center according to The Fielding Bible, and last time I checked, Phil Nevin is still Phil Nevin.

Anyways, Dellucci had some interesting splits in 2005. Take a look:

  • Home/Road
  • Home: 233 AB .240/.354/.485
  • Road: 202 AB .262/.382/.545
  • L/R
  • RHP: 402 AB .251/.369/.525
  • LHP: 33 AB .242/.342/.364
  • Pre/Post All-Star
  • Pre: 234 AB .265/.406/.534
  • Post: 201 AB .234/.317/.488
And just for kicks, he pummelled the hell out of Seattle in 45 at-bats, to the tune of .311/.446/.778. Mean anything? I don't think so, but isn't it fun to look at random lines like that? Looking at his career line against Seattle now: .288/.378/.528 in 125 at-bats...ok Marc, stay on target.

If Dellucci can stay at designated hitter most of the year, I think the Rangers will be a better team, because he will have more time to rest, and they can have a better defensive setup in the outfield. Good to see Dellucci hits well on the road and is not just a product of the Ballpark in Arlington though, because the Rangers certainly need to improve their road offense. Losing Soriano and keeping Dellucci in the lineup should certainly help that somewhat, although Dellucci appears to need a platoon partner. Insert Phil Nevin here (.286/.377/.547 against lefties since 2003). Well actually, I'm confused, because Phil Nevin hit .205/.292/.362 against southpaws in 2005, and .329/.436/.608 against them in 2004. And get this: .321/.377/.839 against them in 2003. Does anyone else feel like this is turning into a Jayson Stark article? By the way, I enjoy Stark and his blog a great deal; if you haven't given them a look, make sure to do so.

Center Field
2005: Gary Matthews Jr. .255/.320/.436; -3.70 pNRAA; -4.85 pNRAA/GP
2005: Laynce Nix .240/.267/.397; -17.18 pNRAA; -10.82 pNRAA/GP

2006: Brad Wilkerson .263/.362/.473; +14.12 pNRAA; +20.90 pNRAA/GP
2006: Gary Matthews Jr. .267/.329/.435; +0.96 pNRAA; +0.90 pNRAA/GP

Couple of things right off the bat. Rate says Gary Matthews Jr. is league average defensively, which certainly affects his pNRAA score a great deal. David Gassko's RAA system has Matthews as the ninth best centerfielder in the league, with +5 RAA per 150 games. David Pinto's PMR system has Matthews at sixth overall among centerfielders in Runs Saved/27 Outs, at 2.675. The Fielding Bible says Matthews is the best defensive option the team has in centerfield, which doesn't necessarily mean he is above average, but certainly reinforces the idea that it might be a good move to play him everyday. Bump his pNRAA up 5-6 runs or so.

Laynce Nix on the other hand is considered average by Rate and TFB, while Pinto has him ranked 20th out of 42 centerfielders. Considering he doesn't seem to be able to stay healthy and/or hit major league pitching effectively, I'm not sure what the Rangers should do with him.

I need to talk about Wilkerson somewhere, so here goes. His PECOTA projection is most likely set for Washington levels of play, so expect a better performance from him than the one listed here. Wilkerson has the bat to handle a corner spot (or first base even, not that Texas needs help there) and his glove is more valuable in a corner. The fact that the Rangers get to add his positive production at the same time they subtract Soriano's negative production is unfair on every level imaginable. The Rangers are going from a pNRAA of -11.26 with Soriano to +14.12 or higher with Wilkerson. That is a difference of +25.38, which if you've been reading the numbers, is higher than Mark Teixeira's pNRAA output. Throw in the fact that Kinsler won't hurt them at second (especially relative to 2005) and that Wilkerson is an improvement in the outfield over Richard Hidalgo, and they basically made the move of the offseason. Now I need to quantify it. Like I'm not late enough publishing this already.

Soriano had -11.26 pNRAA in 2005; Kinsler is expected to play at a rate of +3.04 pNRAA (a difference of +14.30). Wilkerson is expected to produce a pNRAA of +14.12; Hidalgo had -16.79 pNRAA/GP (he played in less than 100 games, work with me here) for an improvement of 30.91...now, normally I wouldn't add pNRAA up together, but oh well...the final improvement is roughly 45.21 pNRAA, or the equivalent of 2005 Derrek Lee. Jon Daniels moves another 3 spaces forward, passes Go, and collects my positive opinion.

Right Field
2005: Richard Hidalgo .221/.289/.416; -19.08 pNRAA; -16.79 pNRAA/GP
2005: Kevin Mench .264/.328/.469; -5.31 pNRAA; -7.96 pNRAA/GP

2006: Kevin Mench .278/.341/.480; +2.77 pNRAA; +3.54 pNRAA/GP

Mench is essentially just a small bit below league average defensively, but makes up for it by being average-to-above-average offensively at his position. Coming off Hidalgo's poor half season, Mench is certainly an improvement, and was when he took over last year as well. His projection seems right, but I can see him hitting the same as 2005 just as easily.

Designated Hitter
2005: David Dellucci .251/.367/.513; +5.28 pNRAA; +6.76 pNRAA/GP

2006: Phil Nevin .270/.325/.456; -3.71 pNRAA; -3.49 pNRAA/GP

If there were no other options for DH on the roster, I wouldn't be so upset with the idea of Nevin starting there, because he is only projected to be a few runs below average, and average players have a great deal of value. The thing is that there are other options, and they are better suited for the task. Should Nevin DH against lefties? Definitely, as outside of 2005, which could be a flukish occurence, he has absolutely destroyed lefties, to the point where I can picture Phil Nevin hitting a homerun off of a southpaw and then kicking sand in his face, followed by his hooking arms with the poor lefthanders girlfriend and skipping down the beach. I mean really, he slugged .839 against them in 2003. .839!!! 2005 was like that same lefthander went to the gym, came back and beat the crap out of Nevin a few years later, and then disdainfully ignored his former lover in favor of the new girl he met who inspired him to get revenge in the first place. I'm not sure where to go with this from here, but hopefully it involves Nevin putting up a good line against lefties in 2006 as a platoon DH.

One thing to remember is that I have only seen Nevin listed as the starting DH at the Rangers homepage on MLB.com, so hopefully I'm wrong. Until further notice, I will criticize the idea. Possibly even after further notice.

And now for the lineup projections. We'll use the Rangers projected lineup according to their homepage's depth chart, and then follow it up with my own projected lineup, which at this point has always been better than the projected one. The day it goes the other way is going to be very embarassing, but I'll post it anyways.

  1. Projected Lineup
  2. Dellucci
  3. Young
  4. Teixeira
  5. Blalock
  6. Wilkerson
  7. Mench
  8. Nevin
  9. Kinsler
  10. Barajas
That lineup is expected to score 5.530 runs per game, or 896 runs. Remember to temper your enthusiasm slightly, as they will play like a lineup capable of scoring 900 runs in 81 games, while on the road they may play like a team capable of scoring 800-820 runs in a season. Not to say either is bad, but just know thatthey may end up a few runs lower than this projection. By the way, I'm assuming Dellucci leads off; if it is Wilkerson instead, could someone let me know?
  1. Marc's Lineup
  2. Wilkerson
  3. Teixeira
  4. Young
  5. Blalock
  6. Dellucci
  7. Kinsler
  8. Mench
  9. Barajas
  10. Matthews
This lineup is expected to score 5.601 runs per game, or 907 on the season. That is not a significant difference like some of the other lineups we have done have been, but I think the fact that the defense is much improved with this setup also helps. Interstingly enough, this is the first lineup that matched up exactly with what the Lineup Analysis program was outputting as the best lineup, although I have this urge to swap Mench and Matthews, and I don't know why. I'll leave it as is.

Overall, the Rangers appear to have a stronger lineup with more depth than last year. If they maximize their roster's potential, they can put out a much improved defense as well as an improved lineup. If the starting pitching can surprise, this is a team that could finish in second place. I'm not sure how much faith I have in the starting pitching though, so I cannot predict with any amount of confidence whether the Angels or Rangers will finish in second.

David Pinto's Day by Day Database is probably my favorite tool on the whole Internet, and I use it constantly within these previews. There are only a few days left in his March Pledge Drive, so get those last minute donations in if you can!