Monday, January 30, 2012

Rangers' Infield - Three Beemers and a Dodge

These new Texas Rangers have been an amazing story the past two years. Most baseball fans through the years remember how the Rangers were always a one-dimensional team. They could always pound the ball, but they could never pitch. From 1997 through 2008 (a twelve year stretch), the Rangers gave up an average of 883 runs per game. In seven of those seasons, the pitching staff gave up more runs than the batters plated. Obviously, that's not a winning formula. The last two seasons, the Rangers have allowed only 687 and 677 runs while scoring 787 and 855 runs respectively. That's as good a reason as any for two straight World Series appearances in a row. But as we all should now know, defense plays a key role in preventing runs and few teams do it better than the Rangers. A big part of that defense is the infield, which boasts three Beemers and a Dodge.

Perhaps it is unfair to pick on Dodge. From their television commercials, they are trying hard to change their brand/quality image. The Yugo has all but disappeared, so that analogy is too obscure. But anyway, you get the idea. The Rangers boast three sparkling defenders and then there is first base. Adrian Beltre at third? One of the best ever. Elvis Andrus? The reason Michael Young is a DH. Ian Kinsler? One of the most underrated, all around players in the game. And then there is the first base gaggle of Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli (when he isn't catching) and Michael Young. The Rangers are one cog away from a beautiful wheel.

Elvis Andrus hasn't developed as expected as a hitter, but his defense more than justifies his existence. It is not mere coincidence that the Rangers started pitching better once he became the shortstop. He was the fifth (or sixth depending on which site you believe) best fielding shortstop in baseball last season. No offense to Michael Young, but once Elvis took over, the difference was night and day.

Ian Kinsler was the third best fielding second baseman in baseball last season. He wasn't rated as highly in 2010, but injuries can explain a lot of that story. But his defense in 2011 was even better than his stellar defensive season of 2009. We can safely state that if Kinsler is healthy, then he's one of the best at his position in baseball.

We all know about Adrian Beltre. The guy is a flat out magician over at third base. Despite ups and downs with his health, Beltre (according to Fangraphs) has been 152.8 runs better than average for his career. If he can continue his pace, he won't catch Brooks Robinson in that category, but he will finish a solid second. He is the best fielding third baseman of his generation.

And then you get to first base. Mitch Moreland got the bulk of the time there. He played first for 99 games and spent another 34 games in right field (due to injuries to Nelson Cruz). Baseball-reference.com gives Moreland a -1 runs lost below average, which isn't terrible. Fangraphs has him at league average for his 99 games at first. Mike Napoli played 35 games at first. B-R has him 2 runs better than average, Fangraphs at -1.5. Michael Young played 36 games at first and B-R gives him -2 runs below average and Fangraphs, -2.1. The obvious statement is that first base fielding at first base does not match the high rent district found elsewhere around the diamond.

Despite endless Google searches, "scoop" data could not be found for an individual seasons like 2011. Tango Tiger and others have done superb studies on such data for a large number of years. Basically, these studies show how many errors are saved by first basemen. But suspicions are at least aroused by the fact that Ian Kinsler made only two throwing errors in all of 2009 and none in 2010 and yet that figure jumped to six in 2011. It's possible that he air-balled all six of those throws and without the data, who knows. But let's call it suspicious.

The bottom line here is that the Rangers are one positional fielder away from having the best infield in baseball. It's a shame that Justin Smoak needed to be traded away to obtain Cliff Lee. Smoak has all the makings of a good fielding first baseman (though his numbers there went south some in 2011). While Prince Fielder may have made the Rangers' line up invincible, he wouldn't have helped in the field. So at least that's a positive. But with Mitch Moreland penciled in as the starting first baseman and Young and Napoli continuing to take their turns over there, the Rangers' infield will continue to contain three Beemers and a Dodge...or a Kia...or..oh you get the idea.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have the Rangers shown any interest in Derrek Lee?

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Haven't heard any rumors that effect...

Anonymous said...

Just your opinion.