So Dude, Like, What Happened?

While it is disappointing that the Texas Rangers didn’t get past the Wild Card round of the playoffs, smarter heads like the front office prevail over the fans when it comes to breaking down the season. If we just took the pulse of “message board” fans, you would think Texas won only 65 games all year. In fact, they still managed 93 wins and were a very good team overall. They just weren’t a very good team over the last 14 games.

The question is, what went wrong? The front office will be addressing that over the next few weeks and make changes accordingly. To help them out, I’ve compiled this nifty little summary, compiled in the order I think is the most important to the eventual success level of the team.

INJURIES TO THE STARTING PITCHING STAFF: In 2011, the Rangers were the most blessed team in baseball. The starting five started all but five or six games the entire season. After converting from closer to starter, Neftali Feliz lasted only eight games, seven of them starts. His last start was May 18th before he was lost for the rest of 2012 and the first half of next season as well to Tommy John surgery. Two months to the day later, Colby Lewis went down with an elbow issue, never heard from for the rest of the season.

Jon Daniels gets a lot of credit for making the moves that built the Rangers into a winner, but not every move works every time. When Feliz went down, Texas signed Roy Oswalt. It was considered a brilliant move at the time, but Oswalt was rushed back to the big leagues a week or two too early and flopped as a starter, finishing the season in the Rangers bullpen as the middle reliever.

After Oswalt came Scott Feldman, who was as streaky as they come. Feldman started out 0-6, then won his next six decisions. Unfortunately, Scooter ended up dropping his last five decisions to end at 6-11 with a 5.09 ERA. At the trade deadline, JD acquired Ryan Dempster from the Cubs after failing to land Zack Greinke from the Brewers. To be fair, Dempster did compile a winning ledger with Texas. The problem was, he only beat teams with losing records. He lost every game he pitched against fellow playoff contenders.

Also getting a few spot starts for Texas were rookies Justin Grimm and Martin Perez. Both had one good start but also combined for four poor ones.

BULLPEN INJURIES: Coming into the season, the Texas bullpen was among the strongest in the majors. By mid-season, the pen had become an issue. There was a revolving door in middle relief. After Feliz went down and Oswalt struggled, Alexi Ogando made a spot start and promptly pulled a hamstring early after just three innings of work, losing a month of playing time. Koji Uehara, who ended the season as perhaps the Rangers most effective reliever, went down just the day before Ogando, losing six weeks of time to the DL. Mark Lowe also found his way to the injured list. During the Rangers down month of July they were relying on relievers like Michael Kirkman, Yoshinori Tateyama and rookie Tanner Scheppers. Not a great recipe.

Josh Hamilton, ROLLER COASTER: While “Message Board Fans” put the entire blame on the 2012 season on Michael Young‘s poor offensive showing and Ron Washington’s habit of never giving Young a day off, Josh Hamilton’s June and July swoon had even more to do with it. Potent as the Rangers line-up can be, it is Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre who pace the offense. Hamilton was the AL’s Player of the Month for both April and May, but fell off the face of the Earth in June and July, batting a paltry .208 and striking out on three pitches more than any player has a right to. Hamilton compiled a 4.7 WAR for the season according to Fangraphs.com, but that’s deceiving. By the end of May, Josh was at a 3.3 WAR already and pacing towards almost a 10 WAR for the season. While a drop-off from those lofty heights could be expected, it’s still pretty reasonable to assume he should have given the Rangers 6-7 WAR production for the season. In other words, Hamilton probably cost the Rangers more games from June to October than Michael Young did all season on the basis of WAR.

TOO MANY PLAYERS WITH DOWN YEARS: Much has been written about Michael Young’s off year. Not as much was said about the down years of Mike Napoli and Ian Kinsler. Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon called 2011 the Year of the Napoli. There was no better hitter in baseball over the second half of 2011. This season wasn’t nearly as kind. Napoli fell from a .320/.414/.631 with 30 HR and 75 RBI to .227/.343/.469 with 25 HR and 56 RBI. Kinsler had essentially the same batting average in 2012, but his power numbers were down, his walks were down and his strikeouts were up. He also regressed defensively, leading all AL second basemen in errors. Nobody, though, sunk as much as Michael Young. Young’s batting average went from .338 to .277, his RBI from 106 to 67 and from 58 extra base hits, he sank down to 38 in 2012. By the WAR stat, only Jeff Francouer had a poorer year.

DEPRECIATION OF THE RUNNING GAME: In their presser, Ron Washington called a question about the fall-off in the Rangers running attack “nitpicking”. I’m a Wash fan, but the question wasn’t nitpicking. As pointed out in a previous post, the fall-off from 2011 to 2012 was precipitous. Stolen bases were down from 143 to 91 while getting caught one less time in 2012 than they did in 2011. They were also picked off seven more times in 2012 compared to 2011. Conversely, opposing teams stole 106 bases on Texas in 2012 compared to 85 in 2011. Overall, that’s a difference of 73 bases from a year ago. By season’s end, the Rangers had virtually stopped running. Over the last 30 days of the season, Texas had only three steals and were caught stealing four times. Sorry Wash, that’s not a little thing.

WHEN BEING HEALTHY HURTS: Much has already been made of the Rangers offensive malaise over the last week and a half of the season. Wash has already said maybe he didn’t rest his regulars enough. In a couple of cases, there could very well be something to that. Take the case of Nelson Cruz. On one hand, Cruz set personal highs in RBI with 90 and runs scored with 86. On the other, Cruz only topped last year’s RBI total by three while playing in 35 more games. His home runs were down to 24 after hitting 29 a year ago. In 2011 his OPS was .821, in 2012 it was .779. Before this season, Cruz had five different stints on the disabled list over the previous two seasons. While his bat was missed, it could be surmised he had the advantage of being fresher when he returned from those DL trips. The same could be said of Ian Kinsler. 2011 was the first year in a while that Kins was healthy enough to play virtually the entire season. Playing over 150 games two years in a row, for someone with an injury history, could take its toll more than other players. Multitudes of articles have been written about innings counts for young pitchers and pitchers coming off injuries, but but hardly about game counts for young position players or position players coming off injuries. It may very well have had some effect on certain players.

THE MYSTERIOUS STOMACH VIRUS: This came early in the season, but who knows if it had an ultimate impact on the Rangers’ lack of energy at season’s end. In the month of May, Mike Napoli came down with a stomach virus. It spread through the clubhouse quickly. Ian Kinsler got it. Josh Hamilton got it. A host of Rangers players missed a game or two because of it. Nobody was affected more than Derek Holland. The virus caused Dutch to lose 20 pounds. At the end of May while battling the virus, Dutch didn;t make it out of the second inning, giving up 8 runs to the Mariners. Five days later, Holland’s fastball velocity was down so sharply he was pulled after 5 1/3 gritty innings. He would miss the next month getting his weight back up and back into playing shape. Whether this had anything to do with Holland’s dismal 4.67 ERA on the season is uncertain. Stories have come out in the last couple of seasons about players taking a long time to get their strength back after contracting Desert Fever and recovering from appendectomies. There’s always the chance the stomach virus had more of an impact than just the two-week span it was spreading in the clubhouse.

On the positive side, all these things happened to the Rangers in 2012 and they still managed to get to 93 wins on the season and a berth in the Wild Card playoff. This is still a team with a lot of potential.

Next Up: Looking ahead to potential off-season moves.

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