The Rangers have added significant pieces this year, most notably Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, but they also have significant losses. It seems clear that Fielder and Choo are better players than Kinsler, Cruz and Pierzynski but the way to measure improvement is not by comparing the additions to losses but to compare how much production the additions bring to the team over the players that would have played to how much production is lost from the subtractions over the players that will play in their place.
For example, let us consider the acquisition of Fielder and subtraction of Ian Kinsler. Had Kinsler not been traded away Kinsler would man second and Mitch Moreland would play firstbase. Notice we will assume that Texas makes no alternative moves in the counterfactual. After the Fielder trade, Jurickson Profar is playing second and Prince Fielder will play first base. The Texas Rangers likely get better with this trade. Kinsler is better than Profar, but the gap between Fielder and Moreland may well be bigger than that between Kinsler and Profar. This means Texas improves even with the probable decline in production at second base.
The above is merely conjecture, as the rest of this article will be, but to make it interesting we should put some numbers to it. We can take each position’s production from last year, examine the additions and subtractions, and then project the lineup. This article will examine only the offensive production. We can leave the defense to another day. The three part series begins today with catcher, first and second.
26 Homeruns; 94 wRC+; 2.5 WAR
A.J. Pierzynski took most of the plate appearances in Texas last year and was a below average hitter with a 90 wRC+. Geovany Soto produced a nice 114 over 184 plate appearances. Pierzynski grabbed 524 plate appearances. Those plate appearances will now be split between Soto and J.P. Arencibia. Arencibia scuffled badly last year. He produced 57 wRC+ last year, despite 21 homeruns. Arencibia received 497 plate appearances as the Blue Jays’ primary catcher. Arencibia is not likely to receive that many plate appearances in Arlington, none the less, it is hard to expect that he will not bring down catching production.
Some will argue that Soto’s production comes, at least partly, from proper platooning. The evidence does not support that. Only 66 of Soto’s plate appearances came against lefties and he produced only 75 wRC+. Soto terrorized right handed pitching over 118 plate appearances with a 136 wRC+. That is a non-trivial sample. This is likely why Texas was willing to slot Soto in as potentially the starting catcher. Recall that Soto was supposed to be a big time hitter as he developed. I will not be predicting that Soto finally recovers his offensive groove from his rookie year, but it appears Soto has a chance to be an average hitter at least.
Rangers catching is likely to remain mostly unchanged. Soto and Arencibia should be able to produce 90-95 wRC+ in 2014. Look for potential upside from Soto.
35 Homeruns; 97 wRC+; 0.4 WAR
Mitch Moreland and Jeff Baker gobbled up most of the 2013 first base plate appearances. Moreland was roughly average at 95 wRC+ over his 518 plate appearances. Jeff Baker’s 146 wRC+ is nice but came mostly against lefties. Texas added Prince Fielder to the fold this offseason. Fielder took 712 plate appearances with the Tigers last year so even though Texas retains Moreland it seems unlikely that he will take many plate appearances from Fielder in 2014. Fielder’s 2013 wRC+ of 125 is a huge upgrade over Texas’s 97 wRC+, but it is also essentially Fielder’s floor. 2013 was a down year for Fielder; his worst since 2008 when he also had 125 wRC+. Fielder has easily eclipsed 150 wRC+ in the past. Fielder has superstar upside. He is only 29 and there is no reason to think Fielder’s down year is an indication that he is on the decline.
A bounce back year for Fielder would be nice but even another 125 wRC+ year would improve Texas dramatically.
19 Homeruns; 90 wRC+; 1.6 WAR
In 2013 Ian Kinsler took 614 plate appearances and Jurickson Profar took 324. Kinsler chipped in 105 wRC+ in 2013. Profar struggled, getting only 75 wRC+ out of 2013. This year Profar will have second base all to himself. This is an impossible projection for a non-scout like me. The Rangers believe that eventually Profar will be better than Kinsler. Kinsler has been an above average to well above average player over his career. The Rangers expect the Profar can be a better producer than Kinsler was: a 133 wRC+ at his peak in 2008. Is this the year that will happen? No, but perhaps Profar can be an average player like Kinsler was in 2013.
Expecting Profar to be MLB average is a stretch. A reasonable expectation of a player as young and inexperienced as Profar is for him to improve on 75 wRC+ but likely not to get Kinsler’s 105. Splitting the difference, 90 wRC+, is a reasonable estimate and an amount of production Texas would be pleased with in 2014.
The series continues tomorrow with shortstop, thirdbase, and right field.