With the 2022 regular season almost over, it is that time for us to go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this season.
Today, we look at second baseman Marcus Semien.
Here are the top five seasons (bWAR) for a second baseman in Texas Rangers history:
2011 Ian Kinsler — 7.0
1990 Julio Franco — 6.8
1991 Julio Franco — 6.2
2009 Ian Kinsler — 6.0
2022 Marcus Semien — 5.7
Here are the top seven seasons (bWAR) for a position player in the Jon Daniels Era (2006-2022):
2010 Josh Hamilton — 8.7
2012 Adrian Beltre — 7.2
2011 Ian Kinsler — 7.0
2016 Adrian Beltre — 6.7
2014 Adrian Beltre — 6.2
2009 Ian Kinsler — 6.0
2022 Marcus Semien — 5.7
Didn’t see that coming, did you?
The signing of Marcus Semien to a 7 year, $175 million deal after the 2021 season was met with a good deal of skepticism from a number of quarters. Semien, it was said, only had had two good seasons in his career. Once Corey Seager was signed, soon after Semien was inked, Semien became a second baseman, a position of strength in the team’s minor league system. The Rangers lost 102 games in 2021 and weren’t likely to contend, even with Seager and Semien, in 2022, and Semien was already in his 30s, so the timing was off.
That skepticism shifted to condemnation once the season started. Semien didn’t just stumble out of the gate — he did a faceplant. Historically a slow starter over the course of his career — Semien’s 702 OPS for his career in April is his lowest in any month — Semien was awful early on, slashing .157/.226/.217 in April, then starting May even worse, putting up a .159/.196/.205 line through May 15.
Brutal. Those who criticized the signing had a field day. Those who questioned the deal sighed and shook their head, saying, “I was afraid of that.” And even those who were on board with the signing had reason to be concerned.
A segue...the events of the past few years have complicated efforts to get a handle on what is going on with players. 2020 was, of course, the COVID year, and everything was crazy. In 2021, there was a full 162 game season again, but there were still the COVID protocols being followed, there was the impact of the shortened season the year before on players, and things weren’t really, fully back to normal. And then in 2022, we had the lockout, the shortened spring training, the delayed opening of the season. All those things potentially impact players, some more than others, and it can be difficult to sort through to what extent difficulties or struggles a player is referable to these sorts of extraordinary events, and to what extent its something inherent in the player, and would be experienced regardless of these externalities.
Sandwiched between two MVP-caliber seasons in 2019 and 2021, Semien had an awful 2020 season, and of course, 2020 was a 60 game season played after going through most of spring training, then having a several month layoff, followed by the abbreviated summer camp. Semien got off to a poor start in 2021, slashing .211/.290/.368 in April for the Blue Jays, before rebounding to tear it up the rest of the way.
And it is worth noting that Semien was part of the eight member MLBPA Executive Committee that was actively involved in the negotiations with ownership during the lockout. In late January, throughout February, into early March, Semien was actively involved in the process of negotiating of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
So maybe the awful start shouldn’t have been as shocking as it was. Maybe Marcus Semien deserved to be cut some slack when it took him a while to get it going to start the 2022 season.
But when you are joining a new team, when fans don’t have the familiarity and history with you that they do with someone who has been with the club in previous years, everything is new, is being experienced for the first time. When Rangers fans see Marcus Semien sporting an OPS barely above 400 in mid-May, they haven’t lived through other Semien slow starts, haven’t experienced first-hand the greatness that he has exhibited. Yes, we can look at the past results and understand what he has done previously, but that’s not the same as watching it first hand, living it as a fan.
Marcus Semien did, of course, get things figured out. He did produce as the season went on. He did end up giving the Rangers the type of season that warrants the contract he received.
But he did it in such a way that he largely flew under the radar. Which seems like it would be next to impossible for a big name free agent who just received $175 million in the offseason to do. And yet, it happened.
Semien’s final offensive numbers do not, at first glance, jump off the paper at you. He slashed .248/.304/.429 for the season, which, yeah, its fine, but for $25M per year for 7 years it seems rather underwhelming, even disappointing, at first glance.
That slash line was good for a 108 OPS+ and 107 wRC+, though — a good reminder that we aren’t in the same offensive era we were a few years ago, and the Rangers don’t play in Globe Life Park anymore. Ian Kinsler’s 2009 season referenced above, when he had a 6.0 bWAR? He slashed .253/.327/.488, giving him an OPS 81 points higher than Semien had in 2022. Kinsler’s OPS+ was 107 that year, however, and his wRC+ was 105.
Semien also graded out very well as a baserunner and as a defender. He stole 25 bases — and was a 25/25 guy, having also clubbed 26 home runs on the year — in 33 attempts. Fangraphs’ BsR — their baserunning metric — had Semien ranked third in MLB in baserunning in 2022, behind Tommy Edman and Myles Straw. Defensively, meanwhile, Semien was third in both DRS and UZR among all second basemen, and was tied for fifth in OAA.
The end result was a season where Semien was 7th in the American League among position players in bWAR. If you prefer Fangraphs’ version of WAR, Semien ended the year at 4.2, “only” 17th among American League position players. Either way, Marcus Semien was, quietly, very good in 2022, even if it largely went unnoticed.
Its no secret that a big part of the reason that the Texas Rangers wanted Marcus Semien has to do with that championship culture that Chris Young has talked about wanting to create. There’s a reason he was voted to the MLBPA executive committee, that he earned praise for his leadership with a young Toronto Blue Jays team that exceeded expectations in 2021, that Chris Bassitt singled Semien out as the leader of an A’s club that made the playoffs in each of Semien’s final three years with the club:
“Marcus, I think has set the tone and built the culture here,” A’s starter Chris Bassitt told reporters during his postgame availability. “Obviously I think [Matt] Chapman and [Matt] Olson and those guys have caught on to just the work ethic that Semien brings every single day.”
Semien was sought after by the Rangers, not only because of his performance, but because he’s a high makeup guy. As the Rangers see their window opening, and the introduction of a number of young players onto the roster as part of that process, they see Semien as a team leader, the guy who is going to set the tone in the clubhouse and set the example of what a major leaguer should be.
That’s an important part of the Rangers returning to the playoffs. But also important is Semien performing at a high level on the field.
Whether anyone on the outside noticed or not, Marcus Semien did that in 2022.