Texas is 8-5 so far this season, one game back of the A's in the A.L. West. Texas also has the second-best record in the A.L. right now, behind Oakland. On the heels of last season's epic late-season collapse, and after an offseason that was considered by many to be a major disappointment, we definitely wanted to see a strong start the the 2013 season from the Texas Rangers. And thusfar, the team has delivered.
That said, one of the big questions out there from this offseason was, where is the offense going to come from? Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli were high-profile departures from the team, and while I thought that the combination of A.J. Pierzynski, Lance Berkman and Leonys Martin could at least come close to replacing what the Rangers lost with Hamilton, Napoli and Michael Young leaving (and acknowledging that subtracting 2012 Young should be a net gain for the offense), this was still an offense that did not necessarily have the big threats in the middle of the lineup as it has in years past.
We are just two weeks into the season, and the Rangers have played just 13 games, so it is too early to start making definition declarations. However, it is worth noting that, after two weeks, the Rangers' offense looks to be much more of the Thrift Shop variety that the upper-end luxury offense that we've grown used to the past three seasons.
Texas is 9th in the A.L. in runs scored, 9th in batting average, 8th in OBP, 10th in slugging, 8th in homers, and dead last in doubles. The Rangers' team OPS+ is just 89, well below what even the most pessimistic Ranger fan would expect this team to put up.
For the most part, there's been little middle-of-the-road performance from the Rangers' hitters. Only Nelson Cruz has an OPS that falls in the 700-900 range that we expect regulars to generally be in, putting up a .300/.340/.440 line through 53 plate appearances.
In the Neiman-Marcus category of high-end 900+ OPS performance, there are only four Rangers -- Lance Berkman (.389/.500/.611, 1.111), Leury Garcia (.333/.429/.667, 1.095 in 8 plate appearanecs), A.J. Pierzynski (.342/.366/.553, .918 OPS), and Ian Kinsler (.292/.370/.542, .912 OPS). Garcia has two games worth of PAs, and none of the other three are performing at a level that is sustainable, although you'd like to think Berkman and Kinsler might not fall off too dramatically from their current levels.
Meanwhile, we have seven Rangers (or eight, if you include Julio Borbon and his one AB) who are hanging out in the bargain bin. Craig Gentry is at .211/.318/.368 in just 23 plate appearances, while Jeff Baker is 1 for 5 with a pair of walks and a 629 OPS in 7 plate appearances. Three regulars -- Mitch Moreland, Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus -- are all within 8 points of OPS of each other, putting up a 612, 610 and 604 OPS, respecitvely. Geovany Soto has a lowly 500 OPS in just 11 plate appearances.
And finally, David Murphy and Leonys Martin are at the "R. Kelly's sheets" level of performance. Murphy is hitting .160/208/.280, for a .488 OPS and a 27 OPS+, while Leonys Martin is putting up a .174/.269/.174 line, good for a .443 OPS and a 21 OPS+.
Murphy is playing against lefthanded pitchers regularly for the first time in his career,* and that isn't helping his cause, as he's got a .143/.200/.143 slash line against them so far. However, Murphy is also putting up a ./167/.211/.333 line against righthanders, so it isn't as if the problem is just that he isn't being platooned. His walk rate is down this season, and he has swung at 48.3% of the pitches he's seen this season, compared to his 42.2% career rate. Murphy's BABIP is just .171, although his line drive rate is normal, so you'd like to think a lot of his struggles are just bad luck, although the elevated swing rate and drop in walk rate are something to watch.
* For those of you who are about to say that Murphy played regularly against LHPs last season, and that's why he did so well against them, because he got regular time, that's not true...Murphy got 84 plate appearances against lefties in 2012, the fewest he's had since 2007. He only started 12 games against a lefthander.
And then there is Leonys. Those of us who felt that the departure of Josh Hamilton wouldn't result in a huge hit to the team based our confidence primarily on the idea that a Leonys/Gentry platoon could provide better defense than Hamilton in center field, while being productive enough offensively that there wouldn't be a huge hit in the run scoring department (particularly with Lance Berkman coming on board). Leonys has been the equivalent of a broken keyboard this season, putting up a miserable line while being platooned - he has just 4 plate appearances and no starts against lefthanded pitchers, so unlike Murphy, his putrid line isn't being dragged down by more ABs than usual against lefties. He is now sitting at .195/.259/.325 for his career in 86 plate appearances, and while his minor league track record suggests that he will hit -- he's a career .323/.388/.503 hitter in 603 plate appearances in the minors -- he is a 25 year old (we think) who had questions about his hit tool when he came to America. Its early, it is a small sample size, and I'm not saying "be concerned," but I this is something to keep an eye on as we go forward.
Of the others struggling right now, I am not overly concerned with either Elvis Andrus or Adrian Beltre. Elvis's walk rate is actually higher than his career average, and his K-rate is lower than his career average. His line drive rate is almost 33% and no infield flies this season, and yet he has a BABIP of .256. The stats bear out what comes across having watched him this season -- he's hitting the ball well, but balls aren't falling in. He will be fine.
Similarly, Adrian Beltre's walk rate, K rate, line drive rate and infield fly rate and are in the normal range, for him. He's being victimized by a .233 BABIP, as well as a 5.6% HR/FB rate, which is a third of his HR/FB rate from the last two years. I'm a little more concerned about Beltre than I am about Elvis, mainly because he's 34 and righthanded hitting high power/low walk players often fall off the cliff around this time, but Beltre should be fine.
That leaves Mitch Moreland. Many were predicting a breakout year for Moreland in 2013, and to date, that hasn't happened. However, it looks like part of the problem may be usage-related.
Coming into this season, Moreland generally played only against righthanders, and he has a career .270/.333/.468 line against righthanders -- not great, but serviceable as part of a platoon. This season, against righthanders, he is hitting .241/.267/.483 -- the walk rate is down, and he's having some bad BABIP luck, but this is well within the range of what you'd expect from someone like Moreland in a two week sample against RHPs.
However, Ron Washington has been adamant that he's not platooning Moreland. Before this season, 18.8% of Moreland's plate appearances came against lefties, and he put up just a .221/.289/.311 line against them. As a result of Wash's declaration that Moreland is now an everyday player, Moreland has had 17 of his 47 plate appearances, or 36%, against lefties this season. Moreland has a .077/.235/.077 line and 5 strikeouts in those 17 plate appearances, dragging his overall line for the season well below his career averages. So the problem with Moreland so far this season may be more about how he's being used than with Moreland himself...his Goodwill level performance in 2013 is more about dumpster-diving hitting against lefties than any real regression against the righthanders he's historically been asked to face.
Again, it is early in the season, and too soon to make any definitive declarations. But after the offseason where the Rangers ended up looking to fill out their lineup with some secondhand items and what they were hoping were some hidden treasures inside in the system, the offense right now looks like it was built on the cheap. And if we don't see an increase in production -- particularly from Murphy, Moreland, and the CF platoon -- the Rangers may have to go shopping again in July in the trade market, where everyone has to pay retail.