Spring training has begun and it appears the Texas Rangers’ lineup is set. Most, if not all, of the starters are fairly certain. Much of the discussion around the Rangers’ lineup has been focused on how the revamped offense might perform in 2014 and rightly so. Jon Daniels made the Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder acquisitions to improve the offense. Frankly, neither one is a great defender. Of course, baseball is just as much about stopping your opponent from scoring as it is about scoring for your team.
So how will the Choo and Fielder additions change the Texas Rangers’ defensive outlook?
Below, I take a look at how the defense might look for each position in 2014.
Defensive sabermetrics have lagged behind offensive numbers for some time. The two most well developed defensive measures are Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). In this article I will rely on these two measures but also discuss the player’s reputation.
Before I start throwing around advanced defensive metrics they need to be defined. The measures are similar to each other, both attempt to measure the amount of balls put in play that on which a defender can make a play.
In DRS if a player makes a play that only 10% of players at his position make then he gets 0.90 points (1-0.1). If a player does not make a play that 80% of players make then a player loses 0.80 points. Every attempt a player gets counted one way or another and the total is a player’s DRS. A DRS of zero means a player is an average defender. UZR is similar, it also measures the number of plays a defender makes compared to other defenders but this time it assigns weights to the play based on the defenders position, the speed of the ball off the bat, and other things. These weights based on the characteristics of the play are used to determined the UZR also accumulates as DRS does so the two are similar in that respect. (Fangraphs)
Prince Fielder’s UZR is the sixth lowest among first basemen logging more than 250 innings at a disappointing -5.7 in 2013 (Fangraphs). Even worse is his DRS measure which shows he is the lowest rated first basemen with more 250 innings played at -13. Fielder’s defense has always been subpar. Texas is accustomed to better defense at first, Mitch Moreland sported a decent 3.6
UZR and a DRS of 1 in 2013. There is no reason to expect Fielder will improve his defense this coming season so Texas’s defense at first base does not have a high upside in 2014.
Jurickson Profar logged 268 innings at second base for the Texas Rangers in 2013 and defensive measurements are not kind to the kid. He ranks 36th out of 49 second basemen in baseball with a DRS of -4 and 34th with a UZR of -1.4. Profar is supposed to a strong defender but he was brought up through the Texas Rangers’ system as a shortstop. It may take time for him to settle in at second base but once he does he should show up as a superb defender rather than the subpar one he was last year.
Adrian Beltre has been a gold glove defender for years and won the gold glove as recently as 2012. This past season Beltre did not have his usual full range because of nagging injuries and it showed in his numbers. His UZR was down in 2013 from 2012. His UZR was -1.4 in 2013 after a top five UZR of 10 in 2012. Beltre was 34th of 46 thirdbase man in 2013 by DRS. Beltre should bounce back this season if he stays healthy and be a top defender again.
Elvis Andrus is a defensive wonder. It is clear when you watch him that he is a top flight defender and his 2013 statistics back that feeling up. Andrus’s 2013 DRS was 11 and tied for 3rd best among all shortstops who played 250 innings at shortstop. All shortstops lag behind Andrelton Simmons and his absurd 41 Defensive Runs Saved but Andrus is right at the top of all of the rest of the defenders. Andrus’s UZR is not quite as good ranking only 13th in 2013, none the less, Texas fans will enjoy watching Andrus defend short in 2014.
Alex Rios has always been an underrated outfielder and last year was no different. Rios had a 3.8 UZR which was good for 14th best among right fielders in 2013.
Oddly, Rios’s DRS was exceptionally poor at -5 which was 15th worst at right field. This is one of the few times I have seen DRS and UZR give such radically different results. I have predicted that Rios will have an incredible year defensively and as such, I predict that Rios will be a top five in UZR and DRS in 2014.
Leonys Martin has the most electric arm of any centerfielder in baseball and he covers tremendous ground. Martin was 5th among centerfielders in DRS and 7th in UZR for last season. Martin is a star caliber defender. If he improves this year he has a legitimate shot at a gold glove.
Shin-Soo Choo played centerfield for the Reds and the results were disastrous. Choo was the second worst centerfielder by both DRS and UZR. He was played out of position and it showed. However, Choo played right field in 2012 the results were only marginally better. His DRS in 2013 was -17 and his 2012 DRS was -12. Choo appears to be a far below average defender even when in the right position.
Geovany Soto and J.P. Arencibia both totaled 2 DRS in 2013 and were tied for 16th best among all catchers who caught more than 250 innings. This tandem looks like it will be an excellent combo defensively in 2014.
The team appears to be set defensively for 2014. Two of the weaker players statistically, Adrian Beltre and Jurickson Profar, are likely to improve dramatically in 2014. Beltre should bounce back if he can stay healthy. He has gold glove ability and in 2012 he showed that. Profar does not have the major league track record to show that he will play better defense this year but his defensive potential is high according to scouting reports. If these two step up, only the two newest Rangers acquisitions will be subpar defensively and they will play the two least important positions defensively. This team is loaded defensively and should be fun to watch.
Look out Arlington, this team is going to dazzle defensively in 2014.