Any way that you want to slice and dice the numbers, the Rangers’ starting pitching staff was a Texas-sized embarrassment in 2008. The club bashed its way to a major league-best .278 Equivalent Average, scoring a whopping 902 runs along the way. Unfortunately, as good as the offense was, the team’s run prevention was poor enough to nullify all of those crooked numbers posted by Hamilton, Kinsler et al.
Name a Texas pitcher that took the hill, and odds are that his ERA resembled something that you’d see on the side of a Boeing jet. As a team, the Rangers’ starters authored an abhorrent 5.51 ERA, tying the Baltimore Orioles for the highest mark in the bigs (if Texas and Baltimore switched staffs, would anyone notice?) Even using WPA/LI to adjust for the hitter-happy tendencies of Arlington, the Rangers ranked just 25th in the bigs. In a clear sign of the Apocalypse, Sidney Ponson (released in June) “led” the staff in WPA/LI at 0.23. When Sir Sidney leads your staff in anything but surliness, you have a problem.
So, the vast majority of Texas’ starters were crappy, regardless of dimensions of their home ballpark. That’s not breaking news. However, the Rangers’ fielders did those starters no favors in 2008. While Texas featured some heavy hitters, several prominent players were lethargic with the leather.
David Appelman recently added yet another great feature to this site: Ultimate Zone Rating. Using a fielding model developed by Mitchel Lichtman, UZR allows us to calculate how many runs above or below average a fielder is per 150 games played (for further details and discussion, look here). Perusing the Texas team page, it becomes apparent that while the Rangers’ offense is strong up the middle, some of those runs are punted back on defense (and, in Young’s case, on offense as well):
CF Hamilton: -12.6 UZR/150
2B Kinsler: -4.4 UZR/150
SS Young: -3.7 UZR/150
Ramon Vazquez’s work at third base was enough to make Brooks Robinson weep (-19.2 UZR/150), but the free agent is unlikely to return to Texas. UZR isn’t the only fielding system that disapproves of this troika either, as John Dewan’s Plus/Minus system had Kinsler (-15 plays) Hamilton (-13) and Young (-7) all in the red as well. That combined -35 showing translates to about 28 runs below average. Another slugger, Chris Davis, will likely see action at the hot corner next season. It’s too small of a sample to mean much, but the 6-4, 235 pounder was -3 plays in 404 innings at first base, -9 in 276 innings at third and comes with spotty defensive scouting reports.
You might be asking yourself, why does this matter? Texas’ starters are hazardous to being with, so who cares if the defense makes things worse? While it’s true that many of the club’s starters have been downright repugnant over the past few seasons, the Rangers do have a considerable wave of young arms emerging. Eric Hurley, Tommy Hunter and Matt Harrison have already made their debuts. Higher-tier hurlers like Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz reached AA in ’08, and are blazing a trail to the majors that could place them in Arlington sometime during the 2009 season.
While these prospects should still be kept on the radar screen, it is important to keep in mind the context in which they will be placed: pitching in a bandbox (Rangers Ballpark in Arlington increased run production by seven percent from 2006-2008) in front of iron-gloved defenders.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at email@example.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.