Kirby Puckett

Kirby Puckett

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ron Washington, the Texas Rangers and the Season from Hell

     Right now the Rangers are 54-89. Last year they were 91-72. Here's what happened.
     We'll start by going back to November 20th, 2013. That day the Rangers pulled the trigger on the biggest trade of the offseason by sending longtime Ranger and fan favorite Ian Kinsler to Detroit for Prince Fielder. Fielder was coming off of a disappointing season by his standards, but he was moving from one of the least hitter-friendly parks to one of the most, and Kinsler had been an average player the last few years. They also signed on base machine Shin-Soo Choo from the Reds to play left field and help set the table for Fielder and third baseman Adrian Beltre. Lots of people (including me) had them making the playoffs this year. The reason that isn't happening, in a nutshell is that everything that possibly could went wrong.
     Choo sprained his ankle about three weeks into the season and wasn't the same the rest of the season, hitting .242/.340/.374 before being shut down a few weeks ago with a bone spur in his elbow. Making it even worse, the man he replaced, Nelson Cruz is currently leading the league in homers at 39. Of course, Choo did a lot better than Fielder, who played just 42 games, hitting .247 with three homers before being shelved for the season in May. By then, the Rangers' once imposing lineup had been gutted, leaving Beltre and center fielder Leonys Martin as the only players with one base percentages over the league average of .315.
     In injuries didn't stop at the offense. Yu Darvish had a good year but injuries cut his season short as well. Derek Holland had to have knee surgery after injuring it in the offseason while playing with his dog. Another starter, Colby Lewis was hampered by injuries in 2013 and hasn't been the same player this year. However, his problems aren't just injuries.
     In telling if a pitcher is lucky or unlucky, a good barometer is his opponent batting average on balls in play. If it's significantly higher in one season than it is the rest of his career, there's a decent chance he got unlucky, and more hitters were blooping balls in or hitting seeing eye singles. This year Lewis's ERA ballooned from 3.43 in 2012 to 5.29. Sure enough, his opponent BABIP is .348, astronomical compared to his career average of .303.
     Another difference between Lewis of 2012 and 2014 is that he doesn't mix up his pitches as often. At the beginning of his career he relied on his fastball a lot, throwing it around 60-65 percent of the time. After a stint in Japan, he came back to the Rangers and began dialing back the heat. His percentage of fastballs dipped into the low 50s while his curveball, slider and changeup went up. Now he's back to where he was before. His fastball percentage is up over 7% from last year, going from 54.6 to 61.8. He needs to get back to what made him so successful before.
     Another problem: An extreme lack of power. Beltre leads the team in homers with 18, followed by Choo with 13, then Robinson Churinos with 11. They're also 22nd in the league in slugging percentage at .372.
     Finally, just a few weeks ago, when things couldn't get any worse, manager since 2007 Ron Washington resigned, jumping off the ship just before it sank. The only way this season could have been any worse for Texas would be if one of their top prospects got injured again to make it 1 1/2 years of not developing. Oh, wait, never mind.

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