One of the problems about writing about the 2020 MLB season — or at least, me writing about the 2020 MLB season — is one of sample size. I tend to be statistically oriented, and a lot of what I do, and enjoy doing, is diving into the numbers and figuring out what they mean, what they say about what has happened, and what they indicate about what will happen going forward.
Its one of the things that has always made writing about the Rangers in the first month or so of the season particularly challenging — what happens over the first few weeks of the season isn’t going to be especially meaningful, given how small a sample size it covers. While we can talk about what players have done early on, and who is doing well and poorly, it isn’t until mid- to late-May that I think it is all that useful to start diving into the numbers.
And of course, in 2020, there is only a 60 game season. And it is a 60 game season in an especially unusual set of circumstances, with an abbreviated training camp before the season, changes in how players can conduct their routines, playing only a handful of different teams, seven inning doubleheaders and the wacky extra innings rules...the combination means that the statistical data for 2020 is going to have a lot of potential outside factors contributing to performance deviating from true talent level in what will be a much more limited data set than usual. And that means everything that happens in 2020 has to be taken with a particularly large grain of salt.
That being said, I think would be worthwhile, on this offday, to see where Rangers hitters stand in regards to their current xwOBAs. For those who are not familiar, wOBA is a measure of total offensive performance, unweighted by park factors or what defensive position the hitter in question plays, with .320 generally being average. xwOBA, meanwhile, is a measure of what the e(x)pected wOBA for a player would be, given their walks/HBPs, strikeouts, and quality of contact, based on the exit velocity and launch angle of each fair ball they hit. It is done on a plate appearance by plate appearance basis, rather than an average of all results, so a 100 mph EV, +25 launch angle ball in play followed by a 50 mph, -25 launch angle ball in play is going to have a different xwOBA than two 75 mph EV, 0 launch angle balls in play.
As for why I’m using xwOBA, I think that, particularly for small sample sizes, it does a better job of identifying who is having good plate appearances and making good contact than the actual results, which are going to be subject to fluctuations due to chance.
The xwOBA numbers thusfar for 2020 for the Rangers (which you can see in more detail here):
Dietrich — .719
Tejeda — .422
Choo — .413
Gallo — .397
Frazier — .365
Solak — .357
Kiner-Falefa — .331
Mathis — .314
Trevino — .306
Elvis — .290
Heineman — .271
Calhoun — .263
Chirinos — .256
Refsnyder — .253
Odor — .237
Guzman — .232
Santana — .156
Garcia — .115
A few general notes — the Rangers as a whole have an xwOBA of .318, which is 19th in the majors. However, they have a wOBA of .279 — 28th in the majors. Their actual results are trailing their expected results by .039, which is the third largest spread in the majors right now — the Pittsburgh Pirates have a .322 xwOBA compared to a .261 wOBA, and the Los Angeles Dodgers have a .356 xwOBA compared to a .314 wOBA. The league as a whole right now has a .325 xwOBA, compared to a wOBA of .310.
Its also worth noting that we don’t know, at this point, how Globe Life Field plays, although the very early opinions are that it seems to be a pitcher’s park. Globe Life Park was a very hitter-friendly park, as we all know, which the new park does not appear to be, so we need to keep in mind that hitters numbers will be worse, and pitchers numbers better, than we would expect them to be if they were at the old park.
As far as the individual Rangers’ players go...I don’t think there are any real surprises at the top of the list. Choo and Gallo are guys you’d expect to hit well, although their pull tendencies, and with Choo, his lack of speed, are going to make it more likely they would trail their expected numbers. Choo’s actual wOBA is .311, 102 points under his expected numbers, and a .219 BABIP would explain a lot of that. Gallo, meanwhile, has a .352 wOBA.
Someone watching the Rangers the past couple of weeks would say that Todd Frazier and Nick Solak are both hitting well...and they are both hitting well. Solak’s actual wOBA is .310, which is well below his xwOBA, but I think the xwOBA is consistent with where we would expect him to be going forward.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s xwOBA is a little lower than his actual wOBA — .331 compared to .350 — but the .331 xwOBA still exceeds what he has done in past years, and is a level of performance I think everyone would be quite happy with from him. We have talked at length about the reports of Kiner-Falefa’s improved bat from both this spring and from summer camp, and the Rangers making him their starting third baseman as a result. If IKF’s changes have made him a true talent .330 wOBA hitter, he’s an average to above-average starter.
Elvis Andrus has an awful .213 wOBA on the season, and while his xwOBA of .290 indicates that his contact is better than the raw numbers suggest, its still not good enough.
Willie Calhoun, Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor are all putting up xwOBAs that are 55-60 points better than their actual wOBAs. However, their xwOBAs are still terrible. Its less of an issue for Chirinos, who is a catcher, but Calhoun and Odor are off to very disappointing starts to the season, and in the case of Odor, may mean that he’s going to be sitting a lot more.
Finally, there is Danny Santana. He was awful offensively to start the season, and while he also has the second-highest negative spread between wOBA and xwOBA on the team, behind Shin-Soo Choo, his xwOBA of .156 is still exceptionally bad. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Santana, currently on the injured list, ends up with a bench role when he returns, given how Solak has performed in center field in his absence.