Globe Life Park, formerly the mouthful of “Rangers Ballpark in Arlington,” has long held a reputation of being a normal hitter’s paradise and Kyle Seager’s Elysium. Once the (in)famous Texas summer comes out in full swing, balls routinely fly out of the park - so says conventional wisdom. But while the Rangers did hit a lot of home runs last year, placing third in MLB, their overall hitting took a step back from 2016, with their 94 wRC+ good for just 18th in baseball. Like the fellow division rival Oakland A’s, Texas boasts a lot of power and a lot of strikeouts, and their final slash lines looked remarkably similar, but as John noted yesterday, the bar for offensive production is set much higher in Arlington than it is in the cavernous O.co (is that still its name? That feels right) Coliseum.
Despite a minor flurry of moves to bolster the club’s pitching, general manager Jon Daniels has done very little tinkering with the bats this offseason. While Carlos Gomez and Mike Napoli won’t be returning, the Rangers in 2018 will likely roll out a lineup resembling their 2017 squad, although with the notable addition of top prospect Willie Calhoun. Like the A’s, this group of guys will provide good air conditioning on their whiffs sometimes, but other days can take you deep up and down the lineup.
2017 Production: 90 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR (15th in MLB)
2018 Projection: Robinson Chirinos: 94 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR; Juan Centeno: 70 wRC+, .1fWAR
If you forgot Jonathan Lucroy was a Texas Ranger, 1) you are forgiven and 2) Jonathan Lucroy is probably glad you did. Robinson Chirinos covered behind the dish ably, excepting this one really weird thing that happened with Yu Darvish on the mound and our own Danny Valencia up to bat, and actually posted the second-highest fWAR of his career thanks to a career-high 17 home runs, but he’ll be 34 this June and in his 13th year of pro ball. It’s a little surprising that the Astros are the Texas team connected to JT Realmuto talks.
2017 Production: 99 wRC+, 1.9 fWAR (20th in MLB)
2018 Projection: Joey Gallo: 119 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR; Ryan Rua: 74 wRC+, -.1 fWAR
Joey Gallo has run a consistently high walk rate throughout the minors, and last year showed he could bring that plate discipline to MLB, with a 14.1% BB. The other thing Joey Gallo does and has always done is strike out, which he did at a clip of about 37% last year--an improvement from the 46% rate he struck out at in his first go-round in MLB in 2015 (to say nothing of his 30-PA cup of coffee in 2016, where he struck out 19 times). The power in Gallo’s big, left-handed bat is catnip to those who prefer their players of the three-outcome variety, and if he can cut down the strikeouts even more while maintaining his 40-HR clip, a slash line of the “fuck him up, Socrates” tweet will guide Gallo to an All-Star berth.
2017 Production: 60 wRC+, -1.1 fWAR (30th in MLB)
2018 Projection: Rougned Odor: 99 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR; Darwin Barney: 68 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR
There is no way Rougned Odor can be as bad as he was in a historically bad performance last year. But he’s never been a player who’s walked a lot (4% career rate!) and his strikeouts have crept up as he’s sold out for power. The 33 dingers Odor hit in 2016 were more than he hit in his previous two seasons combined, but his 30 HRs in 2017 came at a cost of an almost 25% K-rate. (Rougie, didn’t anyone ever tell you all magic comes with a price?) He’ll have to get that number down in order to avoid a repeat of last year.
2017 Production: 108 wRC+, 4.0 fWAR (8th in MLB)
2018 Projection: Elvis Andrus: 95 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR; Drew Robinson: 96 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR
You’d be hard pressed to find somebody who benefited more greatly from the offensive environment that “mysteriously” appeared in 2017 than Elvis Andrus. After totaling 21 home runs over his last four seasons (620 games) he connected for 20 longballs last season alone. At least part of that can likely be attributed to a role change offensively, as he was moved frequently to the third spot in the order--55 of his 58 career games batting third came last season--, a spot where his team relied on him to drive on runs rather than set the table for others. The role changed showed up in Andrus’ walk rate, where he posted a career low for any level rate of 5.5%. Additionally, his 14.7% strikeout rate was his highest since 2008, when he was first promoted to Double-A as a 19-year-old. The slick-fielding Venezuelan’s newfound slugging ability could allow him to maintain some value throughout the remained of his extension, which carries him through his age 34 season, even if he ends being moved off the six hole.
Robinson, who made his major league debut last season at the age of 25, has showed off a little power in his left-handed swing, popping 37 home runs over the last two years split between Triple-A and the bigs. While he’s demonstrated a good eye at the plate, there’s some serious “three true outcomes” concerns surrounding his offensive game. Additionally, with just 350 innings at short throughout his entire professional career, it remains to be seen how often he’ll actually be deployed there by the Rangers.
2017 Production: 118 wRC+, 5.5 fWAR (6th in MLB)
2018 Projection: Adrian Beltre: 114 wRC+, 3.8 fWAR; Jurickson Profar: 93 wRC+, 0.3 fWAR
The ageless wonder that is Adrian Beltre has just been the gift that keeps on giving for Texas. Despite being hampered by injuries that limited him to just 94 games in 2017, the former-Mariner racked up enough value to be the fifth-most valuable third baseman in the AL last year. The question here is the same as it has been for the last several seasons: Is this the year Adrian Beltre finally regresses? I wouldn’t be shocked to see him worked in to the DH-slot a bit more this season to ease some of the wear and tear on his body if Shin-Soo Choo struggle to get the bat going. It’s a walk year for Beltre, and another strong season could net the soon-to-be 39-year-old one last nice payday.
2017 Production: 83 wRC+, -1.2 fWAR (9th in American League)
2018 Projection: Shin-Soo Choo: 109 wRC+, 1.3 fWAR
Like every other team in the American League who didn’t have Nelson Cruz or Edwin Encarnacion, the Rangers got pitiful production from their DHs. Shin-Soo Choo gathered a plurality of the DH plate appearances last year, and the 35 year-old is slated to do so again in 2018. That’s not a great sign for Texas, as Choo has struggled with health and production for the past two years, is unable to man the outfield dependably, and still has three more years and $62 million left on his contract. As such, Texas will have to fill this spot with Choo and roll the dice with the defensively ghastly pairing of Willie Calhoun and Nomar Mazara in the corner outfield spots. If Choo is healthy, he should be passable, but that’s a big if, and behind him is Ryan Rua and a whole lot of nothing.
The Rangers appear to have one backup role set with Drew Robinson’s defensive versatility and left-handed bat making him a likely candidate to fill a utility role. If Robinson proves passable at first this spring, that would open up the possibility for Texas to carry another utility infielder like Darwin Barney, Jurickson Profar, or perhaps even Dominican shortstop Hanser Alberto, all of which would provide significantly improved speed and athleticism over the likes of perennial forced-utilityman Ryan Rua. Behind the dish, the Rangers have their choice of 5’9” Juan Centeno, whom they claimed off waivers from the Astros back in November, or home-grown Brett Nicholas, both of whom bat left-handed. They also just recently brought in veteran backstop Curt Casali, who posted a 1.1 fWAR season in 2015 in just 38 games for the Rays, thanks to a averaging a home run every 11 at-bats.
2017 Production: 94 wRC+ (23rd in MLB), 5.0 fWAR (21st in MLB)
2018 Projections: Willie Calhoun, 109 wRC+/1.3 fWAR (Steamer), 112 wRC+/1.9 zWAR (ZiPS); Delino DeShields, 85 wRC+/1.5 fWAR (Steamer), 79 wRC+/0.4 zWAR (ZiPS); Nomar Mazara, 108 wRC+/2.1 fWAR (Steamer), 106 wRC+/1.6 zWAR (ZiPS)
Willie Calhoun was the centerpiece of the haul that Texas got from the Dodgers for Yu Darvish, placing 36th in Baseball America’s Top 100 prior to the 2017 season. While the 23-year-old posted just an 80 wRC+ in his first 37 big league plate appearances, he has done nothing but hit throughout his entire minor league career. With excellent plate discipline and a minor league ISO of .234, his bat should play anywhere. Although his glovework has drawn... less-than-stellar reviews, he likely won’t be a complete trainwreck in left, and if Texas can somehow get out of the Choo contract in the future, Calhoun could slide into the DH spot nicely if his defense never quite develops. In all, though, expect him to be a tough out at the plate and hope he gifts the Mariners a run or three over the course of the year.
Delino DeShields rebounded from a lost 2016 to contribute a career-best 2.3 fWAR last season. He’s never been much of a hitter with a career wRC+ of just 85, but he provides elite baserunning and very good defense in center field. His career stolen base percentage of 76.5% won’t wow anyone, but he excels at taking the extra base and has hit into just four double plays his whole career (although the fact that double plays are weighted that heavily into FanGraphs’ BsR metric has always felt a little screwy). Although DeShields strikes out just a little too much for someone with limited power, his walk rate bounced back to a solid 10% last year, just a bit under his 2015 mark of 10.8%. He should prove to be a pesky opponent, whether that’s hitting an obnoxious double or obnoxiously taking away a double.
Nomar Mazara is set to play his third full season in the bigs at just 22 years old, turning 23 at the end of April. Despite keeping a consistent, if slightly below league average bat with decent pop through his first two years, his glove took a big step back in 2017, which tanked his fWAR by almost a full win. DRS has never cared for him so far, but UZR and UZR/150 turned their backs on him last year, dropping from solid 5.9 and 5.7 marks, respectively, to -1.6 and -2.5. Mazara still retained a strong arm, though, racking up eight outfield assists in 2017, and teams should beware before attempting to run on him. For better or for worse, he figures to be a part of the Rangers’ core for the foreseeable future, and his age and relatively decent track record should bring improvement in the forthcoming years.