It’s about the be the early morning of January 14th, still an excruciatingly long way from Spring Training, so I understand this isn’t the best time to fill out next year’s lineup card. But I don’t care. I like getting ahead of myself from time to time, especially when nothing is going on. It’s natural. One of my favorite songwriters, John Lennon, probably said it best: Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.
Well, I feel you John, but luckily, if pondering the reality of what Texas’ starting lineup looks like next year is on the forefront of my mind, then life is going pretty goddamn well.
To construct this starting 9, I first had to operate under three assumptions:
(3) Ron Washington will not stray too far from his zone of comfortability.
I find these to be three overly reasonable assumptions, but only based on the information I’ve been fed through the media. There’s still a long time between now and the start of the regular season. Keep that in mind.
The stigma from the 2012 Rangers offense — which, yes, did include a 40+ home run season from Josh Hamilton, an MVP-like campaign by Adrian Beltre, and the career year David Murphy put forth — is that, as a whole, it grossly underachieved. Michael Young and Ian Kinsler had the worst years of their careers, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli did virtually nothing — at least consistently — and Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, and Craig Gentry, pretty much are what they are. (Not very impressive offensive players.)
The team went from a 112 wRC+ in their 2011 World Series runner-up season to a mere 104 in 2012. I know an 8-point disparity doesn’t seem like much, especially given that the Rangers led the Majors in runs scored, but it is quite substantial. Texas plays half their games in one of the two or three most liberal offensive parks in baseball, so even an average year, which it essentially was, places them up at the top of the league in total runs.
To that end, the offense was an enigma in 2012.
2013 will feature an array of new and exciting concepts as they relate to the team. For one, there will be a hell of a lot more speed. Platooning Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin in CF could produce upwards of 50 stolen bases next year. Ian Kinsler says his ankle is healthy (again), so we should expect him to swipe his typical 25-30 bags. You can say the same for Elvis Andrus, and, if Jurickson Profar is up in any kind of starting capacity, he will be a threat as well.
The second bonus on next year’s team is the addition of Lance Berkman. I know, I know, he’s not Josh Hamilton. Now would be a good time to get over it. Berkman is an elite batsman at the plate, not necessarily in the prodigious power sense, but in getting on base. The more bases you accumulate, the better opportunity in plating runs. His career on base percentage is .409, a ridiculous figure, and his lifetime walk rate stands at 15.5%.
If you hated watching Josh Hamilton flail and bail in 2012, you should be equally satisfied at the art of the walk that Berkman totes with him.
The Rangers, despite pretty solid team speed last year, did not steal very many bases. That’s gonna change in 2013, if only for the simple reason that it has to change if they expect to be in the upper-tier amongst the league in runs scored. The philosophy has changed, because we can’t expect 3-run homers all the time. The name of the game will be getting on base, stealing bases, and manufacturing runs. I know that doesn’t sound sexy, and it won’t draw the mass media to the Rangers, but the formula has been proven. It’s evident.
Here’s the projected starting 9, according to me:
1. Kinsler – 2B
2. Andrus – SS
3. Berkman – DH
4. Beltre – 3B
5. Cruz – RF
6. Murphy – LF
7. Pierzynski – C
8. Moreland – 1B
9. Martin – CF
Before you get all hot and bothered about 4 lefties inhabiting the 6-9 holes, let’s keep one thing in mind: 3 out of every 4 plate appearances occur with a right-handed pitcher on the mound. Your first logical question might be, “But what about late in the game when the bottom of the order is coming up and the other team decides to bring in a LOOGY (Lefty One Out Guy)?”
Well, the answer is: That’s what the bench is for, if you need it.
There’s a reason platoons exist. Craig Gentry will be there to spell Leonys Martin. A guy like Brandon Snyder will be there to relieve Mitch Moreland. David Murphy and A.J. Pierzynski will probably stand on their own most of the time.
I’ll be giving my WAR projections at some point in March when the roster is officially being set, but this is a rough blueprint of what to expect as of about a month and change before pitchers and catchers start reporting to Surprise, Arizona.