Monday, July 21, 2014

Why the Perennially Contending Texas Rangers are Baseball's Worst Team

Injuries to star first baseman Prince Fielder and others haven't helped, but the Texas Rangers' problems go deeper than that.
By Adam Lowenstein (@StatsAdam)

After spending 11 years in Washington, the Senators moved to Arlington and became the Texas Rangers.

While the franchise was in the nation’s capital, it spent the bulk of its time in the basement of the American League, including five seasons with sub-.400 winning percentages. Since moving to Texas, the Rangers have finished with sub-.400 records only four times in the 42 years that they have played before 2014.

However, after enjoying great success over the last half decade (four straight 90+ win seasons and two World Series appearances), Ron Washington’s club has fallen on hard times. The Rangers are the league’s worst team, and the club’s eight consecutive losses before the All-Star break doubled the number of the second-longest active losing streak at the time. Buck Showalter managed the team the last time they lost that many games in a row, and the Rangers have currently lost 10 of their last 11.

Texas and its horrendous pitching is three games into a seven-game road trip and losers of 16 of their last 18 games and 24 of their last 28. The only team that has given up more runs per game this season is the Colorado Rockies with their hitters' park in Coors Field. Back in the mid-1980’s, the struggling Rangers had poor pitching, but nothing close to this frustrating season, which is on pace for the team’s worst winning percentage since 1985.

The likes of Mike Mason, Dave Stewart, Dickie Noles and Bobby Witt made for some frustrating times for Rangers pitching a generation ago. In today’s league, which is teeming with dominant pitchers, Texas has only one starter with an ERA below 4.00. Yu Darvish remains among the best aces in baseball, but the next best active Ranger with at least one start has been Nick Tepesch with a 4.31 ERA.

While the Rangers own a league average offense, it does not seem that they will be rising up those rankings this season. With Prince Fielder most likely out the rest of the way after undergoing neck surgery in late May, the Rangers may be wishing they had not acquired him and cash in exchange for Ian Kinsler last offseason.

In their second World Series run, Kinsler was the team’s best player in terms of Wins Above Replacement, and is currently performing at an All Star level for Detroit.

Texas also parted ways with another one of its stars of the recent years. Josh Hamilton was granted free agency after the 2012 season, even after being a part of the first set of Rangers teams to make it to three straight postseasons in franchise history. Although his production dropped off in 2013, the Rangers’ lineup has been devoid of power this season. They do have three players with at least 20 doubles in 2014, but they only have one man on the entire team – Adrian Beltre – with double-digit home runs.

While Hamilton's numbers have been far from impressive for the Angels, Kinsler's 11 home runs and 53 RBI on a .295 batting average would certainly inject some pop into the current Ranger lineup.

While the Rangers have not been very successful on the field this season, they had some bright spots during the All-Star break. In the All-Star Game, Darvish threw a scoreless inning, while Beltre drew a walk in his only plate appearance.

In addition, 20-year-old Rangers prospect Joey Gallo was named the Most Valuable Player of the Futures Game. His two-run, 419-foot home run broke a car windshield and led Team USA to a 3-2 victory.

Unfortunately, Gallo will not be contributing to the Rangers offense in any important games soon, but they have what hopes to be help on the way. On Thursday, Texas called up J.P. Arencibia from the minors and activated Geovany Soto from the disabled list. They ended the lengthy losing streak in Toronto Friday, but gave up 13 runs in their next two games against the Blue Jays.

Things will likely get worse before they get better, as a four-game series against the Yankees in the Bronx looms early this week, followed by a weekend home series with baseball’s best team, the Oakland Athletics.

For more MLB coverage, follow Adam Lowenstein on Twitter at @StatsAdam.

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