Coming into the season, one of the things that I think most folks agreed about was that the success of the Rangers offense would depend in large part on how Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, and Chris Davis bounced back from bad 2009 seasons.
Thusfar, the results have been mixed. Chris Davis hasn't hit. Josh Hamilton has hit okay. Vlad Guerrero has been kind of mediocre.
I'm not really worried about Davis at this point, because I figure that, if he doesn't hit, he'll get sent down and Justin Smoak will come up.
I'm a little worried about Hamilton, but probably not as much as I should be because of the home run he hit yesterday. That sort of blow makes me think he may be getting back to where he needs to be.
No, what I'm worried about is Vlad Guerrero. Part of this is because I think the Rangers are stuck with him...as they showed with Sammy Sosa a few years ago, if they have a big name veteran in the lineup, they're going to be very reluctant to make a move to replace him, even if he isn't hitting, and even if there's no reason to keep him in the lineup. You can send Davis down or reduce his at bats, but I don't know that, even if Guerrero is posting a 750 OPS in July and someone like Adam Dunn is available (and the Rangers are in contention, which of course is another big question right now), the Ranger organization is going to be willing to bite the bullet and bench Guerrero.
Because the problem at this point is that Guerrero isn't really doing much to help the team at this point. He's certainly not providing the type of middle-of-the-order power the Rangers were hoping he'd provide from the cleanup spot...he has one homer all year, in the second game of the season. In his last 50 ABs, he has 0 homers and 2 doubles.
And after his fast start, when he and Nelson Cruz were carrying the team, he's tailed off. Since April 10 against Seattle, Vlad has a .225/.273/.250 line in 44 plate appearances.
Now, most of that stretch has been during the Rangers' lengthy road trip, and we've talked before about how well Vlad hits at home, so it may be that we'll see better production when the Rangers get back to TBIA. But even if that's the case, his road line of .194/.257/.226 is still problematic.
Looking at Guerrero's batted ball data from this year and 2009, compared to prior years, making solid contact (at least in 2010) doesn't appear to be an issue right now. Guerrero has a 23.1% line drive rate in 2010, which is extremely good (a definite improvement over 2009), and is fueling Guerrero's .327 batting average this year.
However, Guerrero's value historically has been driven largely by his ability to hit for power, and that's dried up the past two seasons. Vlad's career ISO is .246, but that dropped to .164 last year and just .091 so far in 2010. Similarly, while Vlad's career HR/FB% is 16.9%, it was only 11.5% last year, and 5.0% this year.
Guerrero had leg issues last season that hampered him, and had scouts saying he looked like he was done. Leg problems are going to sap a hitter's ability to hit for power, and the data seems to suggest that he just doesn't have that lower body strength he once had...and thus, while Guerrero may still have the hand-eye coordination and bat speed to hit line drives and put up a .300 batting average, it could well be an empty .300.
And if that's the case, the Rangers are going to have a problem at the DH spot.
The other thing that I wonder about is if Ron Washington could help Guerrero by resting him more. Guerrero's strong second half of last season was after he had missed significant time on the disabled list, which allowed him the opportunity to rejuvenate. Vlad has started every game so far this year, and has played every inning of every game except the season opener, when he was lifted for a pinch runner.
I have to wonder if, given Vlad's age and his recent performance, it wouldn't make more sense to utilize David Murphy as the DH against righthanded pitchers from time to time...particularly since, before Vlad was signed, there was some thought that Murphy would be DHing regularly against righthanders anyway. It seems like the Rangers would be better able to maximize the offense production from Guerrero and Murphy by spotting Murphy at the DH spot from time to time, and putting Vlad on a pace to play 130 games, rather than 162.