Breaking Down the Rangers: The Defense
By Ben Perry
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
The following is a position by position look at the Rangers defense this year.
Catcher: Here, following JP Arencibia’s rough (and elongated) start out of the gate, the Rangers have settled in with the tandem of Chris Gimenez and Robinson Chirinos behind the plate, the latter of which has received the slight majority of playing time. Chirinos has been terrific behind the plate. To date, he owns a 1.0 dWAR and has just two errors producing a .995 fielding percentage. What is probably most impressive though is that Chirinos has caught 22 of the 48 attempting basestealers this year, good for a 46% caught stealing rate, well above the league average of 28%. Given, this and his relative punch in the lineup, Robinson has been a big bright spot this year.
Gimenez, on the other hand, has been largely playing replacement level defense. Given the injury to Geovany Soto and JP Arencibia’s struggles though, this has been more than serviceable. Gimenez has just one error and a .994 fielding percentage. Ten runners have ran on Gimenez and the two he has caught leaves him with a 20% CS rate, below league average but in a small sample size.
First Base: multiple bodies have occupied First base this year in Texas. Injuries have sidelined both Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland, though they owned -0.4 and -0.2 dWAR respectively at first suggesting they weren’t a huge help on defense. Moreland had 2 errors in 22 games on first and Fielder had 4 errors in 39 games, roughly an error for every ten games between them, which isn’t going to make for terrific defense.
Carlos Pena now has been brought on to cover first and hopefully provide some pop. After all, Donnie Murphy doesn’t really fit the traditional first baseman mold. Pena, though his sample size at first this year is too small to really break down, figures to be an improvement defensively at first, but not one of any huge proportions. Pena has accumulated -7.7 dWAR in fourteen seasons on first with a lifetime .994 fielding percentage (for reference, Fielder and Moreland had a .989 fielding percentage this season). I think slightly below average defense is a decent bet for Pena.
Second Base: Following Jurickson Profar’s injury woes and the Josh Wilson/Donnie Murphy experiment at first, the Rangers have redirected the second base role to more of their young talent. Luis Sardinas and Rougned Odor made major league debuts close to one another with Odor expected to play more often than not. As of today, Sardinas has been rerouted to AAA and Odor appears to be holding his own, for the time being, at the major league level.
Odor’s fielding percentage at second is .984 (just .002 below league average of .986) but he has a positive 0.5 dWAR too suggesting he is showing some range and executing. With just 3 errors to date at second, Odor appears to be handling the pressure of his promotion exceedingly well for someone his age and helping the Rangers provide solid defense up the middle.
Third Base: Per usual, Adrian Beltre has logged just about all of the time at third this year and has been doing a solid job in his age 35 season. Beltre’s dWAR is 0.3 and he owns a .951 fielding percentage (league average is .955). These numbers are indeed solid but are not quite up to par with what Ranger fans might expect of Beltre. Through today, Adrian has 9 errors leaving him roughly on pace for 17 or 18, which would be the highest total he has had as a Ranger (he averaged 11 in his last three years). Regardless of this half seasons defensive regression, Adrian remains capable of making spectacular plays and streaking defensively to augment his dWAR through the end of the season.
Short-Stop: Elvis Andrus, like Beltre, has become a fixture on the left side of the Rangers infield and provided impressive defense for several years now. But, again like Beltre, Andrus appears to be having a slightly tougher time this year. His dWAR of -0.1 is, by definition, just about completely average and he is, with 10 errors to date, on pace for more errors than he has totaled in each of his last two years. Elvis’ .970 fielding percentage is just below league average .972 though and you can bet that he has better range than the majority of other MLB shortstops. I would expect Elvis to settle down through the rest of the summer and cut down on his second half error total.
Right Field: Alex Rios has established himself in the Rangers lineup and been a consistent presence in the lineup over the past year only just recently getting his first day off as a Ranger. Rios’ defense this year in right has been slightly below average though: Rios has a .980 fielding percentage down from his .987 career average and four errors. His dWAR is currently -0.6 which isn’t awful, especially by the Rangers recent standards (Nelson Cruz accumulated a -4.8 dWAR in right from 2009-2013). Rios has a proven track record though, his defense should get slightly better and regardless he doesn’t represent a huge liability in right anyway.
Center Field: Leonys Martin leads the Rangers in dWAR with a total of 1.2 due to his impressive range and arm. Martin has actually made five errors though this year giving him a below league average fielding percentage (.977 opposed to the average .986) but made up for that and then some with his proclivity for outstanding plays. Martin has five assists this year (to lead Ranger outfielders) but had 14 last year; this decline shouldn’t be surprising as the league is simply catching on to Martin’s powerful arm. Martin’s speed and ability to hold runners makes him a valuable centerfielder.
Left Field: Left Field has easily been the Rangers Achilles heel this year defensively. Shin-Soo Choo has a -1.3 dWAR in limited time there due to his ankle and oft-replacement Michael Choice has a nearly identical -1.2 dWAR. Choo sports a .969 fielding percentage and Choice has a .965 percentage in left, both far below league average .986. But their arms have helps mollify their bad fielding, Choice has 4 outfield assists in left and Choo has three of his own, giving the Rangers seven assists from their primary left fielders, more than Martin has from center. Choice, though, was recently sent down and hopefully will regain some confidence while working in AAA.
The Bottom Line:
The Rangers have some athletic players capable of great defense. Andrus and Beltre are having uncharacteristically mediocre years but are still very valuable defenders who should regress upward toward their career norms. Chirinos, Odor, and Martin help the Rangers have solid, if not great, defense all the way up the middle. Choo and Fielder have big contracts and are here to stay, meaning the Rangers will probably suffer in both Left and on First for the foreseeable future, but theoretically those players bats will more than make up for their defensive short comings. On the coaching end, Ron Washington (for the infield), Gary Pettis (for the outfielers), and Tim Bogar (with defensive alignments) should be a good team to maximize the returns in the field too.