A Week After the Rangers' Demise, Some Thoughts on What Went Wrong (And Right)
We asked former Ticket board op and master nicknamer Michael "Grubes" Gruber to autopsy the Rangers so we can throw their cadaver into our winter fire and focus on football. Here's his hot-but-not-tremendously-hot sports take:
This was a weird season for your Texas Rangers. For all intents and purposes, they:
- Never had two of their top starting pitchers (Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison).
- Lost their top slugger, Nelson Cruz, for the last 50 games of the season.
- Tried to overcome the losses of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli (God love him, but Michael Young was not a loss) by signing Lake Dad Lance Berkman and playing David Murphy every day.
Yet they somehow won 91 games, topping 90 wins for the fourth straight year, a feat only the Tampa Bay Rays have matched. And while it sucked to miss the playoffs, the Rangers still played one more game than all but nine teams.
When you've been a fan of this team since pre-2010, you have a much greater appreciation for how good we've had it lately. I want a World Series title more than anything, but I'd rather have my heart ripped out after the last regular season game than watch John Rheinecker and Brad Wilkerson spare us to death on the way to third- and fourth-place finishes. And though the Rangers could have been a better and more consistent team in 2013, I'm happy with Ron Washington as manager. He makes the decisions he considers the best for the team, and his players clearly still have a lot of love and respect for him.
But if I have issues, that's where they start. Giving players the green light to run and bunt as they please, and playing David Murphy every damn day, takes loyalty a little far. My loyalties to the immortal Kitten Face, Craig Gentry, are well established. I'm convinced that if he and Jeff Baker had played half of the 128 games Murphy did in left field, this team would have improved by a few wins. Watching Murphy slap yet another weak grounder to second and flailing his lunch pail arms because he's hustling so hard was just maddening to see every day. Murphy was worth 0.2 WAR (Wins Against Replacement) while Kitten Face was worth 3.6. Baker, despite playing 68 fewer games and being hurt for a good portion of the year, was still worth half a win more than Murphy. Again, maddening.
The bunting was out of control, too. Elvis Andrus had 16 sacrifice bunts and Leonys Martin had 12. For some perspective, consider this list of the six players with the most sacrifice bunts this season:
1. (tie) Bronson Arroyo and Elvis Andrus, 16
2. (tie) Zack Cozart and Cole Hamels, 13
3. Leonys Martin and Kyle Lohse, 12
Four of those six are pitchers, who bunt mostly so they don't hurt themselves swinging, and one of them is Zack Cozart. The other two are your Texas Rangers two-hole hitter (Andrus) and a guy who batted leadoff until he ran into a slump and Wash immediately placed Kinsler back into the slot. I know Wash didn't call for every one of those sacrifice bunts, but he's got to teach Andrus and Martin when to bunt. I'm not anti-bunt, but I am in most situations: Suicide squeezes and attempting to bunt for a hit with no outs? Fine, go for it. Otherwise, I prefer a hitter to actually, you know, hit.
The bullpen usage was all over the place, too. Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers were used a ton in April/May and understandably so -- to a point. They were dominant. But they wore off in June and July due to that overuse so early in the season, before thankfully returning to form in August and September. Wash nearly killed them.
Jason Frasor was solid all year, but it was only the final months that Wash really showed any faith in him and allowed him to pitch in higher-leverage situations. Thankfully the bullpen was solid enough to overcome the odd deployment.
In the end, the pitching was solid, despite the injuries that befell the rotation. This time around, the offense was the issue. Jon Daniels is an amazing general manager, and I'm glad that Josh Hamilton and Michael Young are playing for other teams (though I wish Mike Napoli was still here). Daniels still gave Wash enough to put out a solid (and fast!) lineup every day. This wasn't a "wait for the three-run homer" offense, but it wasn't Punch and Judy, either. There was more than enough extra-base pop and speed to score runs.
Wash also tended to give the green light to players to run on their own. That can be a great thing, as we saw when Martin, Andrus and Kinsler (and later, Alex Rios) caused havoc on the base paths. But the players also ran and bunted into too many outs. If that can be cleared up next season, I'll feel good about this team.