The Texas Rangers have biw played 81 games, which means that they are officially halfway through the 2021 season. Since we are at the halfway mark, it seems like a good time to take a look at some stats for the Rangers players — and specifically, with this post, the Rangers hitters.
We have had nineteen position players appear in a game for the Texas Rangers this season — John Hicks become number nineteen yesterday when he made his Rangers debut. Let’s take a look at wOBA, xwOBA, and WAR for each of those nineteen players:
So a few things jump out here. There are three Rangers players who, in terms of WAR, have been really good this year. Joey Gallo’s recent hot streak has him at around 3 WAR using both methods, so on pace for a 6 WAR season. That’s comfortably in All Star territory, and on the fringe of MVP discussion.
Interestingly, Gallo’s xwOBA is barely above his wOBA. That’s surprising — he normally has a pretty decent spread there, given the way he pulls the ball and the way he tends to be shifted.
In addition, I’ve seen it suggested that Gallo might benefit more than the average player from the crackdown on sticky stuff by MLB, and it has not gone unremarked upon that his recent surge has coincided with that. I don’t know how much difference that is really making, and I am not going to suggest there is a strong link between the two. His recent tear started June 20 — the day before the crackdown started — and in this eleven game stretch, he has slashed .400/.533/1.171, which is pretty insane.
Adolis Garcia has also been comfortably above-average, particularly when taking into account he wasn’t on the active roster until mid-April. I have no idea whether he can keep this up going forward — he cooled off in June, slashing .242/.284/.432 for the month — but he’s a quality defensive outfielder who is hitting, and even if he doesn’t keep mashing at the level he has, he still provides value.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa is the third player who goes in the above-average category, though his bat has cooled down some, with his wOBA dipping below .300, and his wRC+ now sitting at 88. IKF had a pretty severe drop in June, slashing .257/.281/.330, dragging his overall offensive numbers down, and that’s something we will want to keep an eye on in the second half.
There’s obviously a big spread between bWAR and fWAR for IKF, which appears to largely be due to differences in how his defense is judged. B-R uses Defensive Runs Saved, which has IKF at +10 on the season, while fWAR using UZR, and UZR has IKF at just +1.8. I am guessing the remainder of the spread has to do largely with differences in calculating base running, though I’m not entirely clear on that.
Nate Lowe has been pretty much the definition of average this year. WAR is set up such that an average major league regular is around 2 WAR, Lowe is at 1.1 WAR, so, you know, he’s been fine. Acceptable.
Where the Rangers are falling short right now, at least on the position-player side, is the unsatisfactory performances they are getting from the other positions. Nick Solak is on pace for around a 1 win season at second base, due to a combination of mediocredefense and mediocre hitting. Solak is supposed to be a bat-first guy, and he’s disappointed in that regard this year.
At third base, Charlie Culberson has been surprisingly productive from a WAR perspective in a part-time role, while Brock Holt has not. That said, neither of them is hitting much — Culberson is over-performing his xwOBA, Holt is underperforming his — and both are essentially placeholders right now.
The catchers have not hit much at all this year, even for catchers. Fangraphs has their overall performance as not that bad, because Fangraphs incorporates framing metrics in their WAR calculations, and Jose Trevino and Jonah Heim have been elite this year in that regard, but in the non-framing measurables, each of them has been no better than replacement level. Jonah Heim has shown signs of life lately offensively — since a disastrous April, he has slashed .273/.317/.429 in 83 plate appearances, and I think we’ll all take that from the catching position — while Jose Trevino has gone backwards, posting a .630 OPS in April, a 528 OPS in May, and a 463 OPS in June. The .292 xwOBA from Trevino is fine for a quality defensive catcher, and if he performs like that going forward you can live with that, but the catching position overall has been a weakness this year, at least in regards to those aspects you can measure.
This leaves us with left field and DH, the two positions that have been an unmitigated disaster this year, and we can kind of expand this category to refer to all the non-Gallo/Garcia OF/DH types. Willie Calhoun wasn’t hitting enough for a DH before he went on the injured list. Andy Ibanez has not hit enough for a DH — or a major leaguer, for that matter — since coming up, though his xwOBA is much more respectable than his wOBA. David Dahl was brutal before landing on the injured list. Khris Davis didn’t hit before he was released. Eli White was miserable before he was sent down in April, and while he has been much better since returning, that has just managed to get his overall performance up to replacement level. Leody Taveras provided the Rangers with as much negative value as David Dahl has, but in a third of the plate appearances.
So what has been the Rangers’ big problem as far as the position players go this year? Left field, DH, and outfield depth. They have three position players who have been clearly above-average this year, though one may reasonably wonder the extent to which the Rangers can count on them continuing that going forward (or continuing it going forward in a Ranger uniform, in Gallo’s case). They have Nate Lowe, who has been fine, average, okay. They have the second base and third base positions, which haven’t been good. They have the catcher position, which is its own beast. And then they have LF/DH/4OF, which has been 2-2.5 runs below replacement so far this year.
I will say that the most surprising thing in going through this exercise is that there wasn’t really anything surprising that came out of it. We all know that the LF/DH spots have been brutal. No surprise there.
It is worth noting, however, one thing. The Rangers are 32-49 this year. Their Pythag won/loss has them at 35-46, though. If the Rangers had league average guys at LF and DH, they’d be expected to be 4-5 games better overall. That would mean this is a 36 or 37 win team right now, with a Pythag. expected won/loss record close to .500. Things would feel very different.
Which just goes to show how a couple of disastrous positions can mess up a season.