This article could conceivably be about how the Texas Rangers should be sellers at the trade deadline, trail in the West by a wide margin, and should reboot and try again next year. This team has some glaring problems on both sides of the ball right now; they have yet to get anything from Yu Darvish in his return from Tommy John Surgery, Adrian Beltre has missed time with injury, and Prince Fielder is quite literally the least productive player in baseball (with a -1.5 fWAR). Yet somehow, the Rangers are off to one of the franchise's best starts ever, they sit ten games ahead of the second place Astros, and Texas is tied for the MLB lead in wins. The question is, how have they done it?
My colleague Evan Davis examined Texas the other day, citing third-order wins and cluster luck as a key contributor to their torrid start. There's something to that no doubt, but General Manager Jon Daniels adopted a "try to be good everywhere and great nowhere" type of roster, which is paying dividends as the Rangers have been getting value from most positions, and their biggest holes are probably the easiest to fill not only from within, but via trades.
|Position||Total fWAR Value|
It still seems (as it has seemed forever) that the left side of the infield remains the heart of the Texas Rangers. It's true that Adrian Beltre is having another great defensive season complemented by double-digit home runs and a .285/.334/.456 slash line and remains a cornerstone for the franchise. Elvis Andrus is having kind of a rebound season, closer to the years that earned him the big contract extension than the years after he signed it.
The real prize, however, has been the reemergence of Ian Desmond. Desmond had a down year in his last season with the Nationals and posted only a 1.7 fWAR despite playing in 156 games. This season, he has already more than doubled that value and currently leads the Rangers in fWAR. He already has 14 home runs and has been superb in the outfield in Texas. He's on a one-year deal with the Rangers and seems to be resetting his value despite being in his age-30 season.
Now the not-so-good news: The first base and designated hitter spots have been gigantic wastelands for this team. The team has continued to roll out Mitch Moreland at first. So far Moreland has created 21 percent fewer runs than average (average of all hitters, not even first basemen only!) and has been a poor defender. Additionally, Moreland has struck out in a quarter of his plate appearances, making it even less conceivable that Joey Gallo continues to wait in the wings.
Speaking of the oft-K'ed Gallo, he could be a decent addition to the DH slot as well. The designated hitter in the Rangers lineup has been even more dire than first base. The aforementioned Fielder has played in 76 of the Rangers' 80 games and currently is hitting an abysmal .219/.292/.348. Fielder is very much a sunk cost at this stage, so even playing a 0-win player would conceivably increase the distance between the Rangers and the Astros. Upgrading the DH position is like adding an arm to a bullpen ---- you can generally make marginal upgrades at the deadline without giving up a ton of valuable farm assets (and they have a potential internal solution!).
On the pitching side, the Rangers have relied heavily on a collection of average-ish pitchers who can keep them in games and have amassed fWARs between .7 and 1.3. While none of their starters stands out as a ‘true ace' or top 15 MLB pitcher, Cole Hamels, Colby Lewis, A.J. Griffin, Martin Perez, and Derek Holland have been serviceable enough to propel the Rangers to a commanding first place lead. As a whole, the group has been 20 percent below league average in ERA (80 ERA-), though they are just around league average in FIP (103 FIP-).
With Yu Darvish potentially coming back, even if he were to contribute a quarter of what he did before his injury, he would add more firepower to the front of the Rangers rotation and ideally bring a fresh arm for the playoffs.
While the starting pitching lines may indicate some regression is inevitable, the Rangers have already posted 51 wins. This team will win 85 games if they merely go 34-48 (a .415 winning percentage) the rest of the way. If they go .500, they'll get to 92 wins. The wins are banked and the Rangers are well positioned to win the American League West. While it may have been some luck involved, most everyone on the team is contributing value, and at positions where players are not (1B and DH) there are both internal and external options for the team to deploy. The Rangers' winning is real and American League teams who have not shined above the rest (hint: all of them) should take note.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano