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Two Month Rangers, MLB Report Cards

Taking a look at what we know the Rangers are doing differently in 2011 by now.

Two months are now gone in the 2011 MLB season. With a third of the year just about gone, standings some teams start looking completely out of it, some teams start to look pretty confident, All-Star voting starts to become a major topic, and stats start to become more meaningful.

How meaningful the stat becomes depends on the stat itself. The excellent website FanGraphs has a nice glossary explaining at just what point many stats go from being a small sample to being likely for real. Using that information as well as their leaderboards, here is a quick run down on what we're seeing, statistically, from some of the Rangers position players so far.

Also, completely on whimsy, the AL and NL All-Star teams so far based on FanGraphs' player measure Wins Above Replacement can be found at the bottom.

All stats prior to Wednesday's games.

Ian Kinsler (238 PA)

Ian Kinsler's swing rates have dropped for the second straight season, which is something you can trust at around 50 plate appearances. He has gone from about a league-average swinger to one of the most selective players in baseball. More importantly, through May, his rate at swinging at balls out of the zone (20.8%) is way below average (29.1%). Likely not out of coincidence, his strikeout rate -- which takes around 150 PA to start trusting -- is at a career low 11.6%. That discipline is also coming with a tremendous contact rate (92.4%), one of the best in baseball. Even the rare pitches out of the zone he swings at are hit the vast majority of the time.

Unfortunately, he's not quite squaring up on the ball as much as he has in the past. Line drive rates tend to stabilize also at around 150 PAs, and his 15.5% rate is similar to what he put up in 2009, his previous career low. That may come from making contact more instead of waiting for pitches to drive. His ground ball rate -- 200 PAs needed -- sat at a career high 36.8% (though not far from his career average). He has not been more fly ball prone than he has looked over his career, though, and that's about to be stable. Further, his excellent 13% walk rate is likely believable at this point, and helped him put up a very good .356 OBP.

In short, Ian Kinsler has become a master of plate discipline. They have contributed to well above average offense, which should likely improve going forward as his .241 Batting Average on Balls In Play is well below his career .288 rate. Even without as many line drives as typical that should go way up. His 2.0 WAR through May far made him the Texas Rangers leader already thanks to his defense and the value of that offense from second base, and there are virtually only good signs from him so far. If he can stay healthy, he looks to be perhaps even an MVP candidate in any season that didn't have Jose Bautista doing what he's doing. As it is, he's a been a force for the Rangers.

Michael Young (233 PA)

Much like Kinsler, Michael Young has become more selective than he has ever been in his career previously (45.8% swing rate), and is swinging at balls out of the zone less often than he did last year (25.3%). He is also making contact more often (85%) than he ever has before, striking out less often (14.7%) than he has over his career (16.3%).

Also like Kinsler, he's hitting a few more ground balls, while his line drive rate has gone up just a tick (and remains one of the best in baseball). So Young is likely having a career year as far as plate discipline, and if he's hitting the ball as well as ever that might mean a career year at the plate. His 141 wRC+ through May is the best of his career thus far (that's a total offensive measure with park effects counted for, compared to a 100 league average). His .379 BABIP is very unlikely to stay that high (.338 for his career), but that won't stop him from still having a good year. Especially given his rate of home runs on fly balls is at a career low 6.3% (9.8%). There may actually be some loss of power, so regression may stop this from being Young's best season at the plate, but the added discipline is a good sign.

Adrian Beltre (230 PA)

Beltre looks to be having a career high in contact so far, connecting when he swings 86.1% of the time, as opposed to a 79.5% career rate. That's helped him have a career low 10% strikeout rate, but also a career low 15.7% line drive rate. That's resulting not in fly balls but in ground balls, though, as his fly ball rate is at a career high 47.1%, against a career low 37.2% ground ball rate.

Unsurprisingly, with similar career plate discipline has come similar career offense (107 wRC+ exactly matches his career). However, his .233 BABIP (career .292) is way lower than should be expected, as is the rate of home runs on those career high fly balls given he now plays in Arlington. As fewer line drives manage to get snagged and fewer fly balls end up just short, his offense should improve. Not necessarily to his awesome levels of last season, but an average hitting third baseman with Beltre's defense is a good player. If his poor luck improves, he should be more than just good.

Elvis Andrus (225 PA)

Elvis Andrus is swinging at a career high 44% of the pitches he sees -- still below average -- with a slight increase at swinging out of the zone. He is still a selective hitter, just not quite as selective as he was his first two seasons. Despite that, his strikeout rate is down a tad, from a little over 16% his first two years to just under 15% in 2011, but he's also walking way less often (4.9% compared to 7.4% and 9.5% his last two seasons). It appears Andrus is making more of an effort to put the ball in play in 2011, but that has resulted in a slightly improved line drive rate, his first two home runs, and better offensive production. He's still slightly below average, but that's a plus when you're a shortstop, and especially an elite fielding shortstop in your early 20s. The walks of 2010 were sexy, but if he wants to hit more balls in to play and improve his offense, ditching them might not be a bad idea. We'll have to see here.

David Murphy (184 PA)

David Murphy's offense has been a mess so far (66 wRC+), and that's at least partly due to a career low line drive rate (16.1%). He's also had a spike in ground ball rate to a staggering 56.2%, and while that takes 200 PAs to be considered stable, he's not far from that. The .248 BABIP suggests he's been largely unlucky, and most of his profile is similar, but if it's also deep in to a player's season to be hitting the ball this poorly and simply be called a slump. Murphy is likely going to be better going forward than he has been, but it might also be his worst season in Texas.

Mitch Moreland (181 PA)

Through May, Mitch Moreland's 144 wRC+ made him the 11th best offensive threat in the AL. He actually swings a little more often than average (46.1%), but a little less often out of the zone (29.1%). He's also above average in avoiding strikeouts (18.1%), which is no surprise given his scouting reports, though he's only been about average at hitting line drives (18.5%), and slightly above in working walks (9.9%). What he does do is avoid ground balls, with a decent 36.9% rate. While I just wrote that he was close to average for a lot of things, that does not mean he profiles as simply an average hitter who's getting lucky. His .328 BABIP is well above average, but not completely unbelievable. We'll see over time how good Moreland is at ball placement and power. His stats are helped most likely by facing lefties a little less often than he would as a full-time player, and probably that BABIP as well, but no one expected Moreland to be one of the best hitters in baseball. He has a long way he can regress before people should be disappointed.

Nelson Cruz (156)

Nelson Cruz has struck out more frequently this season than ever before, despite offering at fewer pitches, though his line drive rate has also gone up. While all these things stabilize at 150 PAs, Cruz's season has been broken up by a DL stint, and I would caution reading too much in to what he's done yet, even among peripherals.

Yorvit Torrealba (145)

There isn't much from Yorvit Torrealba right now that's to be believed that isn't right where it has been over his career so far, other than his strikeouts are down (16.1%) and his line drives are way up (25.2%). That line drive rate, in fact, is one of the best in baseball, right there with Michael Young. So, if he's the same hitter as ever other than hitting more ropes, why is his offense so down (56 wRC+ to 80 career)? Likely because, for most of a hitter's profile, 145 PAs is a small sample size, such as his abysmal .239 BABIP. Torrealba has done nothing this year to suggest something is different about him yet, statistically, and thus there's no reason to think he'll be any less than expected. He's never been that much of an offensive force, but he's been good enough to warrant regular time at catcher.

Mike Napoli (133 PA)

Mike Napoli's 154 wRC+ would rank seventh among AL qualifiers. He's swinging at a career low rate (37%), and striking out at a career low (23.1%). He's hitting a career low on line drives (9.5%, by a lot), which goes with a .203 BABIP, but he's also hitting an absurd number of home runs to help cause that (as they are not in play). So far, he's been a monster, thanks to improved plate discipline. He's likely to regress some, especially if he faces more righties than he has, but the offense he's put up already has made his trade -- and his contract -- a good one for the Rangers.

Julio Borbon (98 PA)

Prior to his injury, Julio Borbon was showing a career best 91% contact rate. That meant a career low 10.1% strikeout rate, and zame with a career high 23% line drive rate. While that line drive rate shouldn't be considered stable until 150 PAs, that's such a step up from his career rate (15.8%) that it's still a good sign. If Borbon is missing less while also squaring up plenty, he might yet be a solid every day player.

 

You can find the full leaderboard for the Rangers here and use that to find anything else you're curious about.

As one more point of reference for how the season is going so far, here are the All-Star teams for each league using actual rules and Wins Above Replacement. I wouldn't necessarily use this as an argument for who someone should vote for, but it might be a decent guide to start with if they're trying to be objective, and at the very least it might just help you notice someone who's been good that you never realized.

Note that while only three Rangers make it -- one under a position he has not been the starter at for most of the season -- they have someone just missing at every position.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

STARTERS
SP: Jered Weaver, LAA (2.7)
C: Russell Martin, NYY (1.8)
1B: Miguel Cabrera, DET (2.0)
2B: Howie Kendrick, LAA (2.9)
3B: Alex Rodriguez, NYY (2.1)
SS: Alexei Ramirez, CHW (2.6)
OF: Jose Bautista, TOR (4.9)
OF: Matt Joyce, TB (3.1)
OF: Curtis Granderson, NYY (3.0)
DH: David Ortiz, BOS (1.5)

BENCH
C: Mike Napoli, TEX (1.6)
C: Matt Wieters, BAL (1.4)
1B: Adrian Gonzalez, BOS (1.9)
1B: Mark Teixeira, NYY (1.8)
2B: Ben Zobrist, TB (2.2)
2B: Ian Kinsler, TEX (2.0)
3B: Evan Longoria, TB (1.8)
3B: Kevin Youkilis, BOS (1.7)
SS: Jhonny Peralta, DET (2.2)
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera, CLE (1.8)
OF: Denard Span, MIN (2.6)
OF: Alex Gordon, KC (2.0)
OF: Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS (1.9)
DH: Michael Young, TEX (1.5)

BULLPEN
SP: Dan Haren, LAA (2.6)
SP: CC Sabathia, NYY (2.2)
SP: Felix Hernandez, SEA (2.2)
SP: Josh Beckett, BOS (2.0)
SP: Brandon McCarthy, OAK (2.0)
SP: Justin Verlander, DET (1.8)
SP: David Price, TB (1.8)
SP: Michael Pineda, SEA (1.8)
RP: Jonathan Papelbon, BOS (1.0)
RP: Mariano Rivera, NYY (0.9)
RP: David Robertson, NYY (0.8)

NATIONAL LEAGUE

STARTERS
SP: Roy Halladay, PHI (3.3)
C: Chris Iannetta, COL (1.9)
1B: Joey Votto, CIN (2.8)
2B: Rickie Weeks, MIL (2.4)
3B: Placido Polanco, PHIL (2.0)
SS: Jose Reyes, NYM (2.9)
OF: Ryan Braun, MIL (2.7)
OF: Colby Rasmus, STL (2.4)
OF: Matt Holliday, STL (2.4)

BENCH
C: Buster Posey, SF (1.7)
1B: Gaby Sanchez, FLA (2.3)
2B: Danny Espinosa, WSN (1.8)
3B: Ryan Roberts, ARI (1.8)
SS: Troy Tulowitzki, COL (1.9)
OF: Lance Berkman, STL (2.3)
OF: Drew Stubbs, CIN (2.2)
OF: Matt Kemp, LAD (2.2)
OF: Hunter Pence, HOU (2.2)
OF: Andrew McCutchen, PIT (2.1)
OF: Cameron Maybin, SD (1.8)
OF: Jay Bruce, CIN (2.1)
OF: Shane Victorino, PHI (2.1)

BULLPEN
SP: Cole Hamels, PHI (2.4)
SP: Matt Garza, CHC (2.3)
SP: Daniel Hudson, ARI (2.2)
SP: Clayton Kershaw, LAD (2.1)
SP: Cliff Lee, PHI (2.1)
SP: Tim Lincecum, SF (2.1)
SP: Kyle Lohse, STL (1.9)
SP: Jaime Garcia, STL (1.8)
SP: Josh Johnson, FLA (1.8)
RP: Fernando Salas, STL (1.0)
RP: Craig Kimbrel, ATL (1.0)
RP: Jonny Venters, ATL (0.9)

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