Welcome to SportDFW‘s first inaugural Texas Rangers roundtable. Here we have gathered a group of Rangers writers to discuss and provide different viewpoints on several hot topics regarding the Texas Rangers and their 2011 season.
The purpose of this roundtable is to provide a range of perspectives and find out where there are disagreements and agreements on the Rangers hot button issues. The Rangers sit at ten games over .500 at the break, and they hold a slim one game lead over the LA Angels. The Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners have recently fallen off the pace.
So let’s get to it on part 1 of 2 of this roundtable. The first topic that we discussed was:
1. Alexi Ogando is an All-Star and 9-3. I think most Rangers fans would agree that he has been the biggest surprise thus far this season. Besides Ogando, what has been the biggest surprise to you about the Rangers through the first half of the season?
Tyler Paslick: I think it’s got to be Mitch Moreland. Only 2 years removed from the whole Chris Davis Justin Smoak saga where both of them had the potential but never lived up to it, the Rangers have truly found a solid first baseman that can both field and bat in just the fashion they need him too. A fielding average of .99 while splitting time in the outfield and at first base all while being on the worst defensive team is a testament to his abilities in the field. In his first full season in the majors, he is carrying a .275 batting average and gets on base pretty effectively for a bottom of the lineup hitter. The Rangers didn’t need a superstar at first base, they just needed someone to be solid day in and day out and that could play every day. Mitch Moreland has given them that.
JD Moore: I’m going to cheat on this one. While plenty could be said about the Rangers themselves, I’m stunned with the fact that the Oakland Athletics have failed to give any kind of competition to the Rangers in the AL West. In spring training, almost every pundit predicted that the A’s would have the better rotation and win the West. Instead, the A’s are heading into the break 14 games under .500 and are 12 games behind the first-place Rangers.
Ryan Osborne: Gotta go with C.J. Wilson. Not too surprised he’s pitching like he is (9-3, 3.20 ERA) but pretty impressed that he’s held up physically as well as he has in his second year as a starter after making the jump from 73.2 innings as a reliever in 2009 to 204 innings last year. He’ll easily eclipse that number this year, having already logged 132 innings before the All-Star Break without even a hint of fatigue or soreness. Most impressive Wilson stat and a telling sign he’s Texas’ true ace: Of his 19 starts this year, the lefty has pitched into the seventh inning in all but two of them.
Alex Apple: I am most surprised with the way Derek Holland has performed. Just when I get ready to write something good about him after a solid start of 8ip and 0 ER, he comes back the next start and cannot get through the 5th inning. He has been erratic and has not had back to back quality starts since 2010. What is most surprising about that statistic is that Holland has made no obvious moves to buck that trend and find some consistency. He sits at a mediocre 4.68 ERA currently, but if he does not show a more consistent hand, he may get bucked for another starter down the road. I am just surprised at how disappointing Holland has been.
Nathan DeWitt: Aside from Alexi Ogando, the Rangers haven’t had an overflow of surprises this season. The offense as a whole has done as expected for the most part, and the pitching has been solid enough to keep the Rangers at the top of the AL West at the mid-way point. If there is one other guy who has surprised, though, it has to be SP Matt Harrison. Although Harrison’s 7-7 record doesn’t show it, he has quietly pitched very well in 2011. His 3.04 ERA this season is a grand 1.61 points lower than his career ERA, he has a good K/BB ratio of 66/37, by far the best of his young career, and he has held opponents to a .249 BA, also a personal best. Harrison’s WHIP is also down from a year ago, and that stat alone probably shows Ron Washington what he wants to see-his young, developing lefty allowing less walks and hits. Pretty simple. As for his record, well, Harrison was 9-3 in 2008 with an ERA in the mid 5’s. Enough said about that. If Harrison can keep up the good work, he could become a big staple in the rotation for a number of years.
So on to question #2:
2. On the other side of the coin, what has been the biggest disappointment so far this season for the Rangers?
Ryan Osborne: The bullpen. Granted, in 2010, Texas had a shut-down setup man in Ogando and an experienced reliever in Frank Francisco so naturally, with their absences, the bullpen was expected to drop off a bit. Still, though, the Ranger relievers have largely been mediocre thus far. Darren Oliver has 10 holds and a 2.45 ERA but is 2-5. Neftali Feliz, last year’s AL Rookie of the Year has 18 saves but has also blown four opportunities and has seen his ERA balloon up to 3.18, too high for a closer of his caliber. Too bad those two have been the most effective coming out of the ‘pen. Guys like Arthur Rhodes, Darren O’Day, Pedro Strop, and Mark Lowe all have ERAs above 3.70. Texas needs to fix what they have or find what they need because, looking at the bleak starting pitching trade market, they won’t have the luxury of picking up a Cliff Lee before the July 31st deadline.
Tyler Paslick: The biggest disappointment has got be Julio Borbon. Only 25 years old, Borbon had the opportunity to be the every day center fielder for the Rangers and in some people’s minds a top of the order hitter. How quickly things changed. It has been nearly 2 months since Borbon played due to many different reasons. He was battling a hamstring injury for a lot of the time that caused him to be put on the DL. Just not very good at the plate. Having an OBP of barely over 300 and barely hitting anything besides a single will not help a team win. Thirdly, Endy Chavez has been a pleasant surprise. Playing a great centerfield and hitting .330 so far this year Chavez has deservedly replaced Borbon and has caused him to be sent down to AAA.
JD Moore: It was obviously the disappointment to come, but for me, it’s Brandon Webb. I remember back in the Rangers FanFest when Ron Washington bragged that he had a healthy and excited pitcher ready to play in spring training. It’s now July, Webb has had to continuously post-pone rehab starts and still hasn’t pitched a game in the bigs this season.
Alex Apple: The biggest disappointment to me has been the very unfortunate event that took place with Josh Hamilton throwing the ball into the stands. Fans falling over the railing could happen at almost any stadium, and in fact, a fan almost had another tragic fall last night at the Home Run Derby in Arizona at Chase Field. What is even more unfortunate is that Josh Hamilton was the one that threw the ball that led to the fan’s death. I feel terribly for Josh because after all he has been through and put himself through, trouble still seems to be following him.
Nathan DeWitt: Like I said, the Rangers have done what I think most people expected them to in the first half, so there aren’t many shockers from their season so far aside from Ogando. David Murphy has been a bit of a disappointment, considering his slugging percentage is lowest among players who have played in 50 or more games. Murphy’s .247 BA is below his career mark and is below what he hit in 2010. Murphy was a key component to the Rangers World Series run last fall, and they will need him to step it up in the second half and down the stretch. Murphy was more than a luxury last year-he was a necessity.
From #2 to #3 we head….
3. Ian Kinsler is batting just .251 but has a .367 OBP. Meanwhile Elvis Andrus is batting .283 with just a .332 OBP. How should a successful leadoff hitter be measured? Kinsler can start the game off and put the Rangers up 1-0 but Andrus is more likely to put the ball in play. Who should leadoff the rest of the season?
Nathan DeWitt: A leadoff hitter in baseball is one of the most difficult things to find. Most teams do not have a prototypical leadoff guy, and neither do the Rangers. Neither Kinsler nor Andrus should be hitting leadoff, but you’ve got to put someone there. The stats show that Kinsler gets on base more often, but Andrus has 7 more stolen bases and is near the top of the league in that category. But is Andrus that guy who absolutely brings fear to the opposing pitcher and catcher and totally gets them off their game? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know the stats for which has done what in what position in the order, but as far as the better fit for leadoff the rest of the season, it is Andrus.
Alex Apple: Ian Kinsler strikes out too much to be a leadoff hitter. The Rangers went to the World Series last year with Andrus as their leadoff hitter, so it caught me a little off guard that Washington went with Ian Kinsler as the leadoff man to start the season. That being said, I like that Kinsler can start off the game with a home run and put the Rangers up 1-0 after one batter, but I think Andrus should be the leadoff hitter. He has a higher average and puts the ball in play consistently.
Ryan Osborne: Ian Kinsler led off in 2009. Result? The second baseman hit 30 home runs, batted .253 and Texas missed the playoffs, finishing 10 games out of first place Los Angeles. Elvis Andrus led off in 2010. Result? The shortstop hit 0 home runs, batted .265 and Texas made the playoffs, finishing nine games ahead of second place Oakland. Now, how, you ask, did the Rangers make the playoffs without the boomstick of one Ian Kinsler? Simple. Leadoff power is underrated. Ok, so Kinsler can occasionally (we’ll just say eight times in a season) give Texas a 1-0 lead in the first inning. But what about the other 154 first innings? Is his ability to sometimes hit a home run in the first inning any use then? Point is, you don’t need a power hitting batting leadoff. You need a leadoff hitter batting leadoff. Andrus is that guy. He doesn’t hit for power but his average is decent, he’s fast and finds his way on base where he has an uncanny ability to make things happen and force runs (i.e. last postseason). Would the difference between having either Kinsler or Andrus at leadoff be all too great? Probably not. But having Andrus, who’s built for the leadoff position, batting first and Kinsler hitting lower in the lineup, say fifth or sixth where his power would be more effective, would, and did in 2010, make a difference.
Tyler Paslick: I think you have to go Kinsler 1 and Andrus 2. Out of the lead off guy you want the guy that can get on base most effectively no matter how he needs to do it. A lot of people will say that Andrus should be there because he is faster. It’s 26 vs 19 steals not that big of a difference. Kinsler has the best steals percentage in rangers history and is the rangers career leader in lead off home runs. Another reason to go Andrus 2 is that he is the guy that can put the ball in play and get Kinsler over to let the heart of the order do its work. Also I know if it was me and I saw that the 8-9-1 was coming up in the bottom of the 9th with us down 1, I would sure hope that Kinsler would be that 1!
JD Moore: While on-base percentage is a major part of being a successful leadoff hitter, speed kills. For that, I like Andrus in the leadoff spot. While he doesn’t get on base as often as Kinsler, he’s the team speed demon. He leads the team with 26 steals and can rip around the bases faster than Kinsler. Additionally, Andrus is a singles-hitter. Kinsler, on the other hand, is third on the team in doubles (21) and tied for second in triples (3). If Andrus is on first, Kinsler can easily hit a double off the wall and score Andrus. It’s not likely to happen the other way around. When also considered that Kinsler has far more homers than Andrus does, I like Andrus in the leadoff spot, setting up a spot for Kinsler.
In the interest of making reading this forum more manageable, we will make question #3 the end of Part one of the roundtable discussion. Questions 4 and 5 will be coming soon in part two.
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