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Texas Rangers rumors: Carlos Peguero and the roster crunch

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Carlos Peguero has been producing since his promotion earlier this year, but will he be a casualty of a 25 man roster crunch next week?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Rangers rumors:  Carlos Peguero was called up by the Rangers in early April, after Ryan Rua went on the disabled list with a sprained ankle.  He's put up a .232/.371/.518 line so far this year, but with Mitch Moreland and Josh Hamilton due back soon, he could be in danger of losing his spot on the 25 man roster.  Since Peguero is out of options, he can't be sent down without clearing waivers.  Since Peguero has been outrighted before, even if he clears waivers, he has the right to reject an outright assignment and become a free agent.

So if you drop Peguero from the 25 man roster, you run the risk of losing him altogether.

On the one hand, you can respond to this with a yawn and a, "Who cares?"  Carlos Peguero is a 28 year old slugger with a track record of being a disappointment.  He has a career .204/.274/.407 line in the majors.  In AAA, he has a .279/.348/.530 career line in 1510 plate appearances, which is good, but not great, particularly for a corner outfielder.  His 878 career OPS at AAA is about the same as Joey Butler, who has a .305/.398/.473 career AAA line in 1763 plate appearances, good for an 871 OPS there.  In the hitter-friendly PCL, Peguero, like Butler, has performed like a AAAA player.  Jeff Sullivan wrote about when to give up on a Carlos Peguero-type, and said that "[t]he Peguero ship, specifically, is beginning to set sail" -- and this was almost 18 months ago, in January, 2014.

Carlos Peguero is not someone who a team treats as part of their long-term plans.  No, Carlos Peguero is the type of player you sign on a minor league deal as organizational depth, stash him in AAA, bring him up if someone gets hurt, and then designate for assignment when your good players get back, knowing that it doesn't make any difference if he gets claimed or refuses an outright assignment.

Except...what if he's not?

Peguero has always been an intriguing physical specimen.  He has big-time power, though that hasn't played at the higher levels because of his contact issues.  But there was buzz all spring that there was something different about this Peguero -- he was in better shape, had a better attitude, simply looked like a different player out there.  And Peguero has mashed since coming up -- he's leading the team in home runs, and he has an 889 OPS.  He can play all three outfield positions.  Isn't it possible he's just a late bloomer, like Nelson Cruz, a toolsy guy with a big swing and big-time power who just took a while longer to put everything together?

Except...if you're going to keep Peguero, how are you going to use him?

The starting outfield looks like it is going to be Josh Hamilton, Leonys Martin and Shin-Soo Choo.  Prince Fielder is the everyday DH, and Mitch Moreland will be at 1B.  All five of those players are lefthanded hitters.  Kyle Blanks (who is also hitting well) appears safe, because he's a righthanded hitting 1B who can platoon with Moreland, which leaves a choice between Delino DeShields, Jr., and Peguero for that final bench spot.  DeShields is a righthanded hitter who can pinch run, and gives you an option to rest one of the myriad of lefty hitters against a tough lefthanded pitcher.  Peguero swings from the same side as all the other outfielders, meaning that you can't utilize a platoon advantage with him.  So doesn't it make sense to cut him loose, since he doesn't really fit?

Except...if he's for real, isn't he a better choice for the long-term?

Kyle Blanks has one year of control left after this season, and then is a free agent.  Ditto for Mitch Moreland -- he's got one year of team control left, and then is a free agent after 2016.  Josh Hamilton is under contract through 2017, though its an open question as to whether he can stay healthy and productive that long.  Peguero, on the other hand, will have barely over two years of service time at the end of 2015, assuming he stays up the entire time.  Peguero won't even be eligible for arbitration until after 2016, and won't be eligible for free agency until after 2019.  This is a team that is likely not a contender in 2015, and is going to struggle to contend in 2016...its focus should be more on 2017 and beyond, when the next wave of young players will be, one would think, coming up and producing.  Does it really make sense to hang on to a Blanks or a Moreland at the expense of a Peguero, when Peguero is the only one still under team control when you expect the team to be a playoff contender again?

Except...is it reasonable to think that Peguero will keep producing, or even that he has a decent chance of continuing to produce?

Peguero's problems have historically stemmed from an inability to consistently make contact.  He has a 31.8% K rate in AAA.  Coming into 2015, Peguero's K rate in the majors has been 38.9%.  And for 2015?

In 2015, Peguero's K rate is exactly 40%.  He's struck out 28 times in 70 plate appearances.  That's simply not a level that a major league player can strike out at and be productive, offensively, over the long haul.

Now, Peguero has improved his walk rate dramatically -- he's drawn 12 walks in 70 plate appearances this year, compared to 11 in 229 plate appearances prior to 2015.  That, together with a .360 BABIP, is why he's put up an impressive .371 OBP, despite the paltry .232 batting average.  And the walk rate appears to be fueled by greater selectivity at the plate -- he's swinging at just 30.1% of balls outside of the strike zone, and just 57.5% of balls in the strike zone, for an overall 41.3% swing rate.  The 30.1% rate puts him right in the middle of the pack compared to those who have enough PAs to qualify (tying him with, among others, Bryce Harper), while his in-the-strike-zone swing rate has him in the bottom 10% in swing frequency, compared to all qualified hitters (tying him with Elvis Andrus).

The upshot of that is that he's looking at a lot of pitches -- that 41.3% swing rate would place him 150th out of 180 hitters if he had enough PAs to qualify, and has him at around the same swing rate as Elvis and Shin-Soo Choo, two Ranger hitters who are known for not swinging at a lot of pitches.  The problem is, if you're going to look at that many pitches, you have to make contact when you swing -- Choo has a 71% contact rate, while Elvis is at 89%.  Peguero's contact rate is just 66.4%, which would tie him with Chris Davis for 172nd out of 180 hitters, if he qualified.

So Peguero is being more patient at the plate, but still not making contact enough when he does swing.  He's made up for that somewhat by homering on 25% of his fly balls this season, but that's an extremely hard rate to sustain -- last year, only Jose Abreu and Giancarlo Stanton homered on at least 25% of fly balls, and only Chris Davis, Chris Carter, Matt Kemp and Nelson Cruz were at 20%.

Peguero is hitting just .232 on the season, and that's with a high BABIP, a 17.1% walk rate (which would be 7th in the majors), and a HR/FB% that would be among the best in the league over a full season.  If any of those rates drop significantly, Peguero's offensive numbers are going to plummet, at which point, he goes back to being someone who can be DFA'd without caring if someone else grabs him.

Peguero does have one of the highest rates of hard-hit balls in the majors this year, per the BIS data on FanGraphs, which would give you some hope that the BABIP and HR/FB% might not drop too much.  And the walk rate, while not sustainable, is at least consistent with him being more patient.

But at the end of the day, you can't get around the 40% K rate.  And the question on Peguero is, do you believe he can reduce his K rate going forward, without also having his BABIP, HR/FB% and walk rate decrease to the point that he's no longer productive?  If you could cut the K rate by a third while having those other rates drop some, but not a lot, you've got a player who has value going forward.  If not?  Well, if not, you're probably better off cutting Peguero loose when he cools down and moving on.

I don't have a good answer on Peguero.  My gut tells me that this his performance thusfar is a flash-in-the-pan, that he's not going to sustain this kind of slash line without cutting his K rate, and he's not likely to get his K rate enough under control for him to continue to be useful.  70 plate appearances isn't a big sample size.

But at the same time, the numbers are promising so far, and the scouting reports are positive.

I'm not sure whether the Rangers should commit to keeping him around or not.  Its a hard decision.  I guess that's why Jon Daniels makes the big bucks.

UPDATE -- Over at FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan also has a look at Peguero today, which includes a look at his spray chart, and some quotes from this spring about his changed approach.