Something dawned on me today, while I was sifting through the statistical wreckage of the godawful 2007 Rangers season...
The hot meme is that the Rangers have been terrible in every aspect of the game, don't hit, don't field, don't come through in the clutch, don't pitch...
But that's not the reality. That's not why the Rangers are in last place.
A small part of it is just bad luck...the Rangers' Pythagorean W/L record is 21-26, and while they are 5 games back of the Mariners, the M's are out-performing their Pythagorean projection...basically, the Rangers and Mariners have been equally bad this year.
But 21-26 is still not good, so the bigger question is, what is wrong with this team?
Remarkably, given how bad the season started, it isn't the offense at this point. The Rangers offense is not the problem. The Rangers have a .260 EQA on the season, 11th in the majors and 5th in the A.L. EQA is park-adjusted, of course, so that means that the Ranger offense has been a little above-average this year.
This is despite a team OPS+ of 98, which is a little below average. I think this mainly owes to the fact that the team has been very successful on the basepaths (stealing at an 81% rate while running more often than most A.L. teams) and at avoiding GIDPs (they have just 34, 5 below what the average A.L. team has).
Based on EQA, the Rangers would have been expected to have scored 229 runs, but have actually scored 235 runs. This is most likely due to the fact that they've hit well in the clutch...the Rangers are 3rd in the A.L. in OPS with RISP, compared to 9th in the A.L. in OPS with no one on base.
So the offense isn't the reason the Rangers have sucked this year.
What about defense? Well, in terms of errors, the team has been awful...the Rangers have the 2nd most errors in the A.L., and are next-to-last in fielding percentage.
However, they are 13th in the majors, and 6th in the A.L., in DER...the percentage of balls in play that they convert into outs. To put this in perspective, in the 21st century, the Rangers have been in the top 20 in DER only once...in 2004, when they were 19th in the majors.
So while they are booting too many balls, they are also making plays on more balls than Rangers teams have in the past, and overall, have been a better fielding team than we've had since the Rangers were making the playoffs. The errors have hurt, but overall, the fielding is not the problem.
Pitching? Well, the bullpen has been a strength of this team. The pen has the 5th best ERA in the A.L., despite pitching the most innings. Taking park effects into account, it looks like only Boston has had a better bullpen than the Rangers this year. The Ranger bullpen has been the best part of the club this year.
So, what is the problem?
Although it sounds like a cliche, the problem, once again, has been the starting pitching. The ERA for the starters has been 6.12, worst in the A.L. The Mariners, who are 13th in the A.L. in starter ERA, are a half-run better than the Rangers. Only Seattle and Tampa Bay have ERAs from their rotation worse than 5.00 in the A.L.
A 6.12 ERA is the equivalent of around a 72 ERA+. It would be a historically bad level of performance. And the rotation bears sole responsibility for the team's record right now.
An ERA from the rotation of 5.12 instead of 6.12 -- still bad, but just not quite so awful -- in the same amount of innings would mean that the Ranger rotation would have allowed 27 fewer runs than they actually have allowed.
Remarkably (and I promise, I didn't realize this until I just ran the numbers), if the rotation posts a 5.12 ERA in those innings, and allows 27 fewer runs, then the Rangers would have allowed 235 runs so far this season.
In other words, they would have allowed exactly the same number of runs as they have scored this season.
When you hear the rantings of how this team is bad across the board, has performed poorly in every aspect of the game, and that's why they are 18-29 right now...
Realize, that's simply not true. The offense has been okay. The defense has been okay. The bullpen has been great.
The reason why this isn't even a .500 team is because the starting rotation has been an unmitigated disaster.
The rotation -- an area I honestly believed could be a strength for this team this year -- has sunk this team.