Nelson Cruz has been suspended for the remainder of the regular season. In the two games since the suspension the Rangers have gotten the job done against the lackluster Angels. Cruz has been huge to the Rangers, particularly the offense. His wRC+ is 124; third on the team. Of course wRC+ is not cumulative so Jeff Baker’s ridiculous 175 wRC+ is a function of his selective use. Cruz only trails Adrian Beltre among starters. His bat has provided a large chunk of the power threat on the team.
Since the team lost Nellie Ron Washington has tried a pair of configurations. Monday he ran out Engle Beltre in left, Leonys Martin in center, and David Murphy in right. After Murphy proved clueless right field Washington put Murphy in left, Martin in center and Beltre in right last night. I could not believe Murphy’s struggles in right. Can it really be that much harder to play right field than left field? I admit the first play up against the foul pole was not the easiest of play but it was a play a major leaguer should make. No one accuses Murphy of being anything more than an average defender. Murphy does not making many elite plays and occasionally makes an utterly boneheaded play. If you watched Monday’s game you saw this when he slid and managed to completely whiff on a ball.
With Nellie gone our outfield options are Leonys Martin, David Murphy, Engel Beltre, Craig Gentry, Jeff Baker and newly called up Joey Butler. I think it is clear that Leonys has earned his starting spot and perhaps even nailed down the leadoff role. He has a respectable .275 average with 6 home runs and 23 stolen bases. His wRC+ is 94 which indicates his hitting is pretty much average. We have seen excellent defense from him particularly with his electric throwing arm.
Every other potential outfielder is an uncertainty. Jeff Baker needs to play against lefties and Ron Washington is using him in that role appropriately. David Murphy has scuffled all year. Engle Beltre and Joey Butler are rookies. We have seen rookies like Leury Garcia, Robinson Chirinos, and Chris McGuiness get blown away in high leverage situations all year. I am not sure we can trust Beltre and Butler to deal in the high pressure situations. It is not fair to them either. All is not lost however, allow me to introduce Craig Gentry. We all know what Gentry is. He is an elite defender and base runner with sub-par production at the plate.
Here is why he should be our everyday center fielder for the remainder of the season, Leonys should play every day right field and Baker and Murphy should platoon left field. Gentry has an astounding 1.4 WAR compared to Martin at 1.4 and Cruz at 1.5. Recall that WAR is cumulative so a player with more games should have a higher WAR. This means in Gentry’s 62 games and 159 plate appearances he has generated as many wins as Martin has in 100 games and 325 plate appearances. He is also a mere 0.1 off the pace with Cruz and Cruz has 108 games and 452 plate appearances. Murphy and Baker have supplied 0.5 WAR each. Murphy has done so in 108 games. The reason is simple, WAR accounts for defense and base running both of which are Craig Gentry specialties. With Gentry in the lineup we will replace Nelson Cruz’s home runs and weak defense with superstar level defense and base running. It also does not hurt that his wRC+ is 84 while Murph’s is 75. Gentry is a better hitter this year in a non-trivial sample.
Consider last night’s 9th inning against the Angels. Gentry swipes second when everyone in the stadium knows he is going to. Yes, even the Angels’ fans knew. He then scores from second when Martin legs out a chopper to first. Martin then steals second and Andrus, who is finally showing signs of life at the plate, singles him in. The ninth inning was one of the most fun innings I can recall all year.
Last night’s game can be a template for the rest of the season. The Rangers made several dazzling defensive plays and stole six bases. Good starting pitching, great defense and lots and lots of speed. Gentry will make even more of these happen if he gets the playing time he deserves. We also would not have to suffer through David Murphy playing right.