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This Year's Rangers In The Context Of Sample Size

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A look at the Rangers hitting and pitching performances to date and which we can consider reliable.

We're now a third of the way through the season (a little more at the time of this writing, actually), and a little more than a week past the fabled Memorial Day Deadline. "Small sample size" is a term you hear a lot in baseball, and it tends to be used this late in the season mostly just to suit ones purposes. If the guy you love is struggling, then there's a whole third of the season left! If it's the guy you hate, then it's already been more than two months!

In reality, it all depends on what we're looking at. This deep in the season, many performances -- particular from pitchers -- are more likely to regress towards a players' past performances than they are to continue, there's just not enough evidence yet to support what we've seen so far. At this point, though, we've seen enough to be confident in many performances to continue.

Fortunately for us, there are smart people out there doing baseball research for us. Pizza Cutter (no, I don't know his real name, yes, I've always thought that was weird) did the research on when sample sizes become reliable, and you can see the rules of thumb his results bear out here. I thought I'd take a look at some changes from recent seasons some of our Rangers have shown and how we should look at them at this point.

Also, a quick warning: this is a long piece. I didn't want to leave much out, and I still probably left out more than I wanted to. In any case, if you read everything, good on you, but feel absolutely free to ctrl+f to whichever players you're most interested in seeing.

All hitting stats are prior to the 6/8 game, but a handful of PAs should make little difference.

Hitters

Most Rangers every day players have topped 150 plate appearances, at which point we can look at swing, contact, strike out, line drive and pitches-per-plate appearances rates as stable. A few have passed 200 PAs, at where walk and ground ball rates tend to stabilize. A handful have also approached the 250 PA point where fly ball rates tend to stabilize. In other words, at this point in the year, if something is wrong with a hitter you have a pretty good idea of what it is and whether or not there's much hope for improvement.

Elvis Andrus (245 PA)

 

Swing%

K%

P/PA

BB%

HR/FB

BABIP

ISO

2009

40.1%

16.0%

3.79%

7.4%

6.7%

.305

.106

2010

36.8%

19.3%

4.21%

12.2%

0.0%

.377

.053

Elvis and his increased patience has to be the story of the young season. Adam Morris talked about this a couple times, but it's simply amazing to me that a 21-year old with a history of swinging away just decided "I'm gonna work on my OBP" and did it. He's seeing the 19th most pitches in baseball, and he's using that patience to put up nearly a .400 OBP and one of the best line drive rates (23%) in the game. The power is down from even last season's meager output, but, as you'll see, isolated power takes a long time to stabilize. The home run rate is pretty close to being what we should expect the rest of this year, but the increased on-base skills make up for that, and is much more promising for his future than hitting the ball out now and then would be. The BABIP last year was probably a little unlucky, and this year is a little lucky, but he's an elite fielding shortstop with a .345 wOBA; even some drop off from that is still an incredible talent at a very young age. This is incredible, and, as Beyond the Boxscore stated, it's a sign of a very, very bright future.

More players after the jump.

Michael Young (259 PA)

 

LD%

GB%

HR/FB

BABIP

2009

22.4%

45.1%

14.9%

.351

2010

20.2%

48.8%

7.9%

.358

Career

24.6%

45.4%

9.6%

.338

Really not much to say about Michael Young. For the most part, he is what he has been in recent years. The power is down this season, and not likely to return to last year's rates, and the ball is on the ground a little more often. The balls in play average is also probably a little fluky so far, so it's probably not a great bet for him to keep up a .360 wOBA, but it probably won't be to far from his career .348 when all is said and done, and while that's not the amazing age-defying talent he was last season, it's still a good player, even with the atrocious defense.

Josh Hamilton (220 PA)

 

HR/FB

BABIP

ISO

2008

19.2%

.333

.226

2009

9.2%

.319

.158

2010

17.2%

.348

.232

I was actually surprised by how many of Hamilton's peripherals were right in line with last season with his increased performance, and how they weren't too much worse than 2008. The big change is his power returning, which suggests to me that his health last year destroyed his ability to hurt the ball. There's still time for that power to go down, but he has been a very productive hitter thus far and each day it makes last season look more like an unfortunate fluke.

Vladimir Guerrero (229 PA)

 

K%

BB%

HR/FB

2009

9.4%

4.7%

11.5%

2010

14.6%

3.9%

15.6%

Career

12.3%

8.6%

17.0%

I'm a little concerned by Vlad's career-low walk rate, but the strike outs are also down, so maybe it's nothing to worry about. I do find it interesting, though. Vlad is just another case like Hamilton: at this point, it seems pretty clear he's back to what he was before after an injured year sapped his strength. Most everything else of what he's doing right now is right in line with what he's done his whole career, meaning a guy with close to a career .400 wOBA is probably going to be hitting just like that as our DH. I know you've already thought this, but think once more about how awesome that is.

Julio Borbon (167 PA)

 

Swing%

LD%

BB%

BABIP

2009

40.6%

18.6%

8.4%

.360

2010

50.0%

12.8%

1.2%

.301

Again, what I'm looking at here is notable performances that are fairly different. If things haven't changed, I'm mostly leaving them off these charts. Borbon is a weird case, as he's approaching his PA total from last season, but looks like a completely different player. He hacks a lot more, and that results in him walking a lot less, and he hits a whole lot fewer line drives. And there's nothing suggesting he's been unlucky at this point, he's just been bad. While he's heated up lately and that gives you some hope, it's more likely just a hot streak and what you're seeing in terms of plate discipline from him is going to continue. With his good natural contact skills that will give him some good streaks, but, more than likely, he's a bad hitter for the rest of 2010. I'm just angry he put up the act of improved plate discipline for so long before becoming what I was always afraid of this year. That's not to say he doesn't have a chance of being a mediocre player in the future, just that 2010 is probably a lost cause.

Justin Smoak (158 PA)

 

Swing%

O-Swng%

LD%

BB%

BABIP

wOBA

2010

40.4%

23.4%

24.8%

15.2%

.222

.317

Average

44.9%

28.0%

N/A

9.0%

.298

.326

You're probably familiar with the refrain that Smoak hasn't been bad this year, he's been unlucky. Here's your evidence. He's been been as patient as advertised, resulting in fantastic walk and line-drive rates. He's been comfortably better than the average player at looking at what to swing at and producing quality contact when he does swing, and yet the production has been below average. Why? Because the balls he puts in play are being caught at an extremely high rate, something that isn't up to Smoak's skill. With a line-drive rate like that, his BABIP should be more in the neighborhood of .360. That's just bad luck, and an excellent example of why you don't make rash judgements in small sample sizes. You give things time to work themselves towards your best prior estimate, and Smoak has already regressed that way. He's shown more power than I expected, as well, but that has time to regress the other way.

Ian Kinsler (154 PA)

 

O-Swng%

LD%

K%

BB%

GB%

HR/FB

ISO

2009

22.5%

15.9%

13.6%

9.2%

30.1%

11.8%

.235

2010

25.0%

18.7%

17.7%

13.6%

40.2%

2.3%

.085

Career

22.3%

19.9%

14.8%

9.4%

33.3%

10.0%

.191

This is concerning to me. Kinsler's lowered swing rate I found nice this year, until I noticed at this moment that he's swinging more often out of the zone. With his normal contact rate, hitting pitches that aren't very workable more often might explain some of the loss of power. And make no mistake, there is a serious drop in power going on, and it's well to the point that becomes alarming. The lowered strike out rate is nice, but it's not resulting in more production. The increased walk rate is good, but this seemingly changed approach is resulting on the ball hitting the ground way more often. He was better when he was getting it in the air, and, frankly, a lot of last season's "poor" results were somewhat based on bad in-play luck (something we can't blame this season on). How much of the power loss is on the bad ankle I don't know. Hopefully a lot, because that means there's more hope for him to climb out of this, but it's getting to the point that Kinsler's 2010 is likely going to be a fairly disciplined but very weak offensive year, with currently the lowest wOBA he's ever put up by far. Keep in mind a .323 wOBA is pretty close to average, and that's very good from a second baseman -- particularly one who's played it as well as Kinsler has the last couple years, but for someone who's shown flashes of being the best player in the league the last few seasons, it's hard to digest.

Matt Treanor (135 PA)

 

wOBA

BABIP

2010

.318

.233

Career

.289

.278

Not much to say on Mr. May, since he's mostly performing right in line with his career, save for an up-tick in power that I'm guessing is due to the Ballpark in Arlington. I would submit, though, that he should probably not be a whipping boy. Despite a VERY low BABIP, he's put up respectable offense for a catcher, and most of what he's doing appears sustainable. Maybe he would be better as a back-up, but he'd be a heckuva back-up, and after how the season once seemed to be headed at catcher, I feel we should appreciate getting a solidly better-than-replacement performance.

Nelson Cruz (126 PA)

 

O-Swng%

Contact%

LD%

BABIP

wOBA

2010

23.4%

72.5%

24.7%

.352

.470

Average

28.0%

81.1%

N/A

.298

.326

This has been discussed before, but if you've never noticed, I think Nelson Cruz's skill set is interesting. He swings at a normal rate, but he swings out of the zone less than most players in baseball. Meanwhile, he has some of the worst contact skills in baseball. Cruz seems to have a poor ability to connect with the ball, but he's made up for it by forcing pitchers to throw it in the zone to get him to swing. That selectivity has helped he and his immense power crush balls when he actually connects. That adaptation might explain some of his late-blooming. Unfortunately, Nellie has missed so much time it's hard to gauge which parts of his unreal season are just unsustainable small sample size stuff, but he's had enough time to make that unreal line-drive rate believable, as well as the unique plate discipline, and the BABIP is right around where you'd usually expect with that LD%. If he comes back as the same player, the power numbers will probably go down, but Nelson Cruz in 2010 could have, if he missed no time, been the best player in the league even after suffering a dramatic loss in power. His performance has just been that phenomenal. He's easily an All-Star talent even with two separate DL stints. Let's hope he comes back and continues to kill (and catch) the ball so dominantly.

PITCHERS

Pitchers are a different animal from hitters. They live in such a world of small sample sizes that what you see early in the season can very easily be a mirage. Especially with relievers. As you'll notice, many things do not tend to stabilize even in an entire season for pitchers, and most relievers don't tend to even get to the stabilizing point of K/BB or pop up rates in a year. Still, here's a quick glimpse at some of the Texas pitching so far. In case you've forgotten because you're somehow reading this entire thing, or in case you never clicked the link, the Rangers have had several players reach or approach 150 BF (BF is Batters Faced), the stabilizing point for K%, GB% and LD%. A few have also reached the 300 BF point where FB% and FB/GB rates become reliable. In short, since balls in play tend to be pretty close to average and walk and home run rates tend to be very unstable for just about the entire season, at this point in the year, probably the biggest thing to look at when trying to find positives and negatives is a pitchers' strike out rate.

Scott Feldman (323 BF)

 

K%

GB%

LD%

FB%

FIP

BABIP

ERA

2009

14.2%

46.8%

20.5%

32.7%

4.31

.275

4.08

2010

12.1%

41.3%

19.8%

38.9%

4.76

.336

5.73

Career

12.9%

47.1%

19.8%

33.1%

4.76

.292

4.74

As you'll notice from this chart, Feldman pretty much is what he always has been with little change, just not as good as he was last season. The only changes are his batting average on balls in play, something he has very little control over, and his ERA, which was mostly a result of the balls in play differences. Feldman isn't pitching as well as he did last season, but not a whole lot worse. Last season he was probably a little lucky, and this season he's probably a lot unlucky. If you were basing your expectations in 2010 off of W-L record and ERA, you probably needed to curb your enthusiasm a little bit, but, by the same token, you probably need to back off on the hatred this year. Feldman is what he is, a useful back-of-the-rotation piece. There's nothing wrong with that.

Colby Lewis (318 BF)

 

K/9

GB%

LD%

FB%

2010

8.33

39.7%

17.7%

42.6%

AL Rank

11th

16th

22nd

45th

Just a brief glance at what's been good about Colbyashi that you can probably continue to depend on. And this is in a pitchers' park. That FB% is near the bottom, however, which is very dangerous in Arlington. He's managed to keep an average HR/FB rate, though, so he's probably not going to start giving up a lot more home runs. As far as pitchers go, expecting Lewis to continue his 4.02 FIP ways -- just about All-Star caliber from a pitcher with his innings and definitely in the range of a #1 -- is probably about as good as you'll get. A very good find for the Rangers.

C.J. Wilson (295 BF)

 

K%

GB%

LD%

FB%

BABIP

FIP

2009

26.0%

55.4%

20.0%

24.6%

.337

2.89

2010

17.6%

53.7%

15.8%

30.5%

.276

3.82

Career

20.5%

53.1%

19.5%

27.4%

.304

4.06

In case you've forgotten, C.J. use to be a reliever; some decline in rates when going to starter should be expected. But the K rate hasn't dropped much and the walk rate is right about where it has been last season and for his career. As much evidence as there is that pitchers over a large sample have little influence (relative to one another) in influencing balls in play, it's deep enough that Wilson's ground ball, line drive and fly ball rates are reliable, and he's among the best in baseball at every category. If there's a pitcher right now who's going to keep his balls in play average low, it's been Wilson. The HR/FB rate is well below MLB average and his career average, so it's likely more balls will be going over the fence this year, so that FIP may climb a bit, but Wilson looks confidently to be not only a success as a staring pitcher but, at least for this year, an All-Star caliber success. Something I absolutely did not expect, but I'm happy to be wrong. Wilson's tERA, by the way, is almost exactly the same as his FIP, which is just slightly higher than his ERA. Not much in the way of smoke and mirrors here.

Rich Harden (277 BF)

 

K%

GB%

LD%

FB%

HR/FB

BB%

FIP

2009

28.1%

37.8%

18.4%

43.8%

15.1%

11.0%

4.35

2010

19.9%

32.0%

13.7%

54.3%

10.5%

14.4%

5.73

Career

24.6%

39.8%

20.4%

41.7%

9.4%

10.8%

3.74

Just like that, all the excitement over C.J. Wilson is gone. Harden appears to have just fallen apart. The strike out rate, his most important skill, has just gone in to a free fall, and at this point it's a lot to expect improvement. He's also letting the ball get in to the air a lot more in a terrible park for that to be happening. If his home run rate on fly balls regresses towards last season, this could get ugly. Oh, sure, the walk rate is likely to actually get better, and it has been getting better, but that's little help. Rich Harden right now is roughly a replacement level player and there's not much hope for that to change this year other than the fact that he was once better. Very disappointing.

Dustin Nippert (130 BF)

 

K%

HR/FB

BB%

FIP

2009

14.5%

8.1%

9.2

4.27

2010

20.0%

13.8%

16.2%

5.36

Career

17.8%

11.2%

11.3%

4.88

There's a little bit of evidence that Dustin Nipper should be better going forward. He has a rather serious up-tick in his K rate, which is awesome. Other than that, he's mostly the same pitcher this year that he's always been, with the exception of the rate of fly balls leaving the park and walks issued, both areas of concern far more likely to regress to his norms than the strikeout rate at this point. If he can keep up the strikeouts and get everything else back to normal, he could be even better than he has been in the past. That would be a very good long man to have. I'm not ready to give up on Nippert.

Darren Oliver (107 BF)

 

K%

2008

16.5%

2009

23.6%

2010

30.8%

Darren Oliver has been so good. Without losing much else, he's managed to steadily increase his strike out rate the last three years to his current ridiculous level. He's used that to become the third best reliever by WAR in the American League this season. I hated this signing. Much like Wilson, I'm glad to be wrong.

Neftali Feliz (105 BF)

 

K%

LD%

FIP

2009

33.3%

4.6%

2.48

2010

26.7%

19.4%

3.11

Feliz has now faced almost as many hitters as he did last year. He's still been extremely good, but hitters are squaring up on his pitches better and he's not striking as many out. This is pretty well known, but here's a visual representation for you. Go ahead and talk about why that is.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.