Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Texas Rangers.
The Big Question: Can the Rangers overcome the loss of Josh Hamilton to free agency?
Hamilton was, by most accounts, the Rangers’ best hitter last season as the lefty finished the 2012 campaign with 43 home runs and 128 RBI, threatening to derail Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown campaign to the very end. The Rangers weren’t willing to commit to Hamilton long-term, which allowed him to sign with the L.A. Angels.
Hamilton spent most of his time in center field last season and will be replaced by Craig Gentry, a 29-year-old with 476 career plate appearances in the big leagues. He is matched by few defensively, but leaves a lot to be desired with the bat as he has no power and is heavily reliant on posting a high batting average (it was .304 last year in 269 PA).
The other big change the Rangers made was handing the everyday job at first base to Mitch Moreland after trading Michael Young to the Phillies. Young had started 40 games at first base while also taking on DH responsibilities. Moreland, 27 years old, hit 15 home runs in 327 plate appearances last year. Their hope is that Moreland is able to consistently hit for power (around 30 home runs in a full season) while continuing to improve his pitch selection, which would help his on-base percentage.
Otherwise, the Rangers are opening up 2013 with more or less the same crew that won 93 games last year.
What else is going on?
- Third baseman Adrian Beltre will attempt to defy the aging process once again in 2013. 34 years old in April, has posted an aggregate .912 OPS over the last three seasons. Only Miguel Cabrera (1.025) beats that mark, but only if you count him despite playing exclusively at first base in 2010-11. Beltre finished third in AL MVP voting last year.
- The Rangers have been linked to starter Kyle Lohse (yep, still a free agent) for a while, but nothing has happened yet. Colby Lewis (elbow) and prospect Martin Perez (forearm) are both on the disabled list, opening up the door for Robbie Ross, Justin Grimm, Randy Wells, or Nick Tepesch to win the #5 spot in the rotation.
- A.J. Pierzynski, coming off of the best offensive season of his career at the age of 35, is moving from one hitter-friendly park in the south side of Chicago to another one in Arlington. Pierzynski hit 27 home runs last year, joining Carlton Fisk (1983, ’85) as the only two catchers in baseball history to hit at least 25 home runs as a catcher at the age of 35 or older.
- Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar are two of the more highly-anticipated prospects in baseball, but both are road-blocked at the moment. Olt is waiting patiently behind Beltre at third base, while Profar is behind shortstop Elvis Andrus and second baseman Ian Kinsler. This has led to their inclusion in many trade rumors, but the Rangers have steadfastly chosen to hold onto their prized prospects.
Prediction: Second place, American League West.
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has not exactly been strikeout-averse over his five-year career, but he has been pretty good about not bunching them up. Entering Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, Harper had struck out three or more times in a game only 21 times in 533 games. He had registered two four-strikeout games, the last of which occurred on August 21, 2012 — his rookie season.
On Sunday, Harper struck out three times against Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez and once against reliever Seung Hwan Oh for the dreaded golden sombrero. The reigning NL MVP has now equaled his walk and strikeout totals at 17 apiece.
Despite the rough afternoon, Harper still owns a lusty .272/.390/.679 triple-slash line with nine home runs and 24 RBI.
Yankees third baseman Chase Headley finished April without registering an extra-base hit. Across 71 plate appearances, he registered only nine hits for an uninspiring .150/.268/.150 triple-slash line. Speaking to David Laurilia of FanGraphs, Headley said that Yankee Stadium isn’t as hitter-friendly as many people think it is, and added that the shift has helped to limit his offensive success.
“Everybody talks about how good of a ballpark Yankee Stadium is to hit in, but it’s pretty big with the exception of right field,” said Headley. “The rest of it plays as big, or bigger, than most yards. It’s maybe a better fit for guys who hit the ball high down the line than it for guys who hit the ball like I have for a lot of my career.”
“Because of the shifting that’s going on now, if you hit the ball on the ground, for the most part you’re out,” Headley told me. “I’m trying to get the ball elevated — I want to hit it hard in the air — and if I never hit another ball on the ground, I’ll be happy.”
According to StatCorner.com, Yankee Stadium is indeed better for left-handed hitters, and particularly so when it comes to extra-base hits. It lists park factors for handedness, setting 100 as average. A higher number means it’s more hitter-friendly. Here are the left-right numbers as of today’s writing:
- Singles: 101 for left-handed hitters, 102 for right-handed hitters
- Doubles and triples: 101 LH, 82 RH
- Home runs: 137 LH, 127 RH
Headley’s hypothesis seems to have some merit. But his claim that shifts have been hurting him doesn’t seem to hold up to the numbers.
Headley’s ground ball BABIP (batting average on balls in play) this season is only .022 behind his career average of .239. As he’s only hit 23 ground balls total this season, the difference between .239 and .217 is less than one hit.
Where Headley’s BABIP is notably lower is line drives. His career average line drive BABIP is .698, but it’s only .333 on nine line drives in 2016. This could be simple bad luck or it could mean Headley is making worse contact. FanGraphs’ batted ball data suggests Headley has been pulling significantly fewer balls (36 percent to his 45 percent career average), and he’s making “hard” contact less often (21 percent versus his 31 percent career average). Overall, there’s been very little change in his ground ball rate versus his fly ball rate.
Headley mentioned to Laurila that if he could, he would try to hit fly balls to the pull side more often. “I’m working on that,” he said.
Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez was given permission to leave the team on Friday in order to travel to Miami. Martinez was named in a lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed he knowingly trasmitted mutliple sexually trasmitted diseasese to her. She is seeking $1.5 million in damages for battery, negligent transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, fraud, and more, TMZ reported on Saturday.
Martinez rejoined the team and started on Sunday afternoon against the Nationals. His attorney called the allegations “100% false”.
The Cardinals are waiting for more information to find out if the league will investigate the matter under its domestic violence policy. Via Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, GM John Mozeliak said, “We wait. And once we learn more, then we’ll have more of an idea. These are things you just learn as you go.”
The Blue Jays had a comfortable 5-1 lead in the top of the ninth inning of Sunday afternoon’s game against the Rays, but one never knows when a base runner might be crucial. Kevin Pillar was on first base when reliever Ryan Webb threw over to first on a pickoff attempt and got him in a rundown.
First baseman Logan Morrison chased Pillar towards second base, lobbing the ball to shortstop Brad Miller. Miller sent Pillar back to first base, throwing to Webb covering the bag. Webb chased Pillar back towards second base and threw to second baseman Logan Forsythe. Forsythe chased Pillar back again, but Webb wasn’t able to get out of Pillar’s way. Second base umpire Mark Ripperger immediately signaled “no obstruction” and Pillar was easily tagged out after he was essentially bear hugged by Webb.
Here’s the MLB.com video.
Major League Baseball defines obstruction as “the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.” Webb had already thrown the ball and Forsythe was in possession of it, so he couldn’t have been considered “in the act of fielding.”
At any rate, the Jays still won 5-1, giving them the series win over the Rays.