Prince Fielder’s Impact on the Lineup

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May 12, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder (84) gets a hit during the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 Rangers mediocre offense should improve next year given the return of several key players. I figured those offensive totals were worth deeper inspection to better determine where exactly improvement might be expected. To do so, I will take a look at individual positions and various hitting situations that the Rangers might have excelled or performed poorly in. Using splits, it is pretty easy to see where the Rangers stand in multiple parts of their offensive game with respect to the rest of the league; here is what those splits told us.

First and foremost, the production the Rangers got from their first basemen was absolutely atrocious. Between the eleven men that handled that position last year, a collective .216/.292/.338/.630 slash line was the result. The Major League average for a first basemen’s OPS last year was .755, 125 points higher than Texas first basemen. All of last year, it was painfully evident the Rangers were searching for better production (hence the Mike Carp, Carlos Pena, and Brad Snyder experiments). But, in retrospect, the Rangers figure to get a huge boost next year considering their most blaring weakness should become a strength thanks to Prince Fielder. Should Prince even just match his career low in OPS (.819), he will give the Rangers nearly 200 points more production in OPS than what they got last year.

Next, the Rangers had another major soft spot in left field. To date, this issue has not been solved but the offseason is only just beginning and the Rangers will almost certainly be in a better place to patch up their outfield next year following several strong September showcases. In left, Rangers hit negligibly better than at first with a .217/.301/.331/.632 overall slash line. Shin-Soo Choo, despite his health woes, pulled this slash line up in 229 at bats while playing in the field. On the other hand, Michael Choices’ .561 OPS with 129 at bats really neutralized Choo’s impact. League average for left fielders was a .723 OPS; I expect the Rangers will be able to get that production next year given the in-house options that have made themselves part of the picture. Despite Choo sliding over to right, I would be astonished (even if the Rangers do not add a bat externally) if one of the treble consisting of Ryan Rua, Jake Smolinski, and Daniel Robertson couldn’t produce a .700+ OPS for the position.

Another part of the Rangers offense that suffered for the lack of depth was the DH spot. Together they slashed .235/.305/.396/.702 mostly behind Shin-Soo Choo and a plethora of other fill-ins. But designated hitters were tougher to find than one might expect; New York and Seattle both had lower average OPS’ from that position and they had respectable records; Oakland and Kansas City had worse too and both made the playoffs (Kansas City has hardly lost since). Really, after Boston (David Ortiz) and Detroit (Victor Martinez), most AL designated hitters’ production was widely pedestrian. Should Mitch Moreland finally put together a full healthy and productive season, he likely would be near the middle of the pack with plus power too.

The Rangers finished around the center of the pack for several other positions and their position there should remain relatively unchanged from last year to next.

  • They were slightly below average at Short Stop (but Elvis Andrus had arguably his worst season, theoretically leading to some bounce back)
  • Slightly above average at Second Base (Go Rougned; he might make second a plus position for the Rangers soon)
  • Slightly below average behind the plate (but Robinson Chirinos had a higher OPS at .705 than the leagues’ .687 average, and he is in line to get the lion’s share of playing time next year as it stands today).
  • About average production offensively from center field, but Leonys Martin might stil take a big step forward there and regardless, he led the AL in dWAR according to ESPN.
  • Alex Rios’ second half collapse led to the Rangers being below average in terms of right field production, but Shin-Soo Choo should make up for that discrepancy and then some.
  • The only position the Rangers really excelled at was (surprise, surprise) third base. Team leader Adrian Beltre has continued to do his best Superman impression and carry the offense.

Here are a few key situations the Rangers performed in with varying levels of success:

After seven innings, the Rangers owned a .660 OPS as a team, this number is below average, but not by a ton; league average for OPS after seven innings was .677. These numbers are not too surprising because, put simply, the Rangers would have won more games if they had hit better late considering Texas had a decent bullpen.

With Runners in Scoring Position: The Rangers hit well below average in these situations, managing just a .670 OPS opposed to the .717 league average. This is more worrisome than the production after seven innings because, to me, the Rangers should have been better with Dave Magadan in the fold, who supposedly carried a large emphasis on situational hitting. To their credit though, the Rangers did an above average job with runners in scoring position when there were two outs: in those situations they had a .694 OPS, 33 points better than league average.

RHP/LHP matchups: Put simply, the Rangers did a much better job in 2014 against left-handed pitchers. They ranked 26th in OPS against righties (.664) and 4th against southpaws (.755). These numbers might average out to around .700 if there were as many LHP’s as RHP’s but there simply isn’t. Because of the skewed ratio of pitchers the Rangers offense as a whole was sub-.700. This issue might be mollified in part when Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo are healthy; both are left handed and Prince Fielder’s number in particular are truly impressive against righties. He has had multiple season’s with a +1.000 OPS against them.

Lastly, I wondered how the Rangers fared throughout the heart of the order. Adrian Beltre has made the cleanup spot his home as that was where Ron Washington liked him most. To his credit, Beltre has done a good job over the last few years improving his BB:K ratio and becoming a more prototypical four hitter. Because of his constant presence in the four hole, the Rangers cleanup hitters had a .888 OPS, good for fourth best in Major league baseball. But, on the other hand, their three hole was exactly that… a hole. The Rangers third batters were dead last in Major League Baseball with a .593 OPS (not a typo: .593, from the three hitters). Major league average was more than 200 points higher at .800 even. Such a low OPS from what should be the most productive slot in a lineup is nearly inconceivable.

For the Rangers lineup to get to the next level, Prince Fielder will have to live up to his contract and kill three birds with one stone: make the Rangers better while playing first base, facing right handed pitchers, and hitting third. He has to, because a good fraction of the 2014 Rangers’ plight stemmed from a dearth of production in each of those three areas.

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