The weeping and gnashing of teeth about the Rangers quiet winter is to be expected. The season ended on an emotional letdown, Josh Hamilton departed, and others key components on the AL champion squads also followed suit.
Our big names, and big producers, and heart-winners are gone. We will have to love other players- but we don't want to. Those were OUR guys, and they have unfinished business.
The Rangers had a nice hand last year, they had more than one or two good cards. They just came up shorter than they expected. Now here the Rangers are saddling up for another hand, what do they do? Swap all their cards for new ones? Beg for the old cards back (the ones they just lost with, by the way)? Or hold onto a few face cards and see what you get dealt?
As a unit Texas should be fine. Mike Napoli, Michael Young, and Josh Hamilton represented 2.4 wins against replacement in 2012. Their chief replacements at the moment appear to be AJ Pierzynski, Mike Olt, Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin. Pierzynski alone registered 2.6 WAR in 2012. I have the utmost confidence that Profar, Olt and Martin will increase that margin even further.
Texas will assuredly be a much more balanced offense than yesteryear. The annual blackholes on offense at DH and 1B will no longer be manned by replacement level (or below replacement level) players. Instead DH will be a conglomerate of everyday payers, and 1B might just be Ian Kinsler's new position as he makes way for Profar at 2B.
"I don't know how to tell you this, but the middle of the order left a few weeks ago"- Bob Sturm
This is true, 43 homers went right out the door, and into the arch-rivals'. This would really be a tough pill to swallow if the 162 game season was comprised of home-run derbies. Home runs aren't the most important piece to the baseball puzzle. All pieces are valuable- being deficient of one piece means you probably aren't going to finish the puzzle. Texas was not deficient in HRs.
Losing Hamilton is manageable because it's not like he was the only guy hitting home runs last year. In fact Texas was fifth in MLB in HRs and led MLB in runs. Another fact- the team that finished dead last in HRs was the World Series winning San Francisco Giants. Would you like another fact? The disparity in HRs between Texas and San Francisco was so great that you could subtract Hamilton's 43 HRs, give them to the Giants- and Texas still would have had 157 HRs and the Giants would still only have 146 HRs. The Rangers have HRs to spare.
Do you still think Texas needs a middle of the order threat?
When considering the ramifications of Hamilton's departure from the middle of the order, you must also remember how dreadful Michael Young was hitting from the fifth and sixth spots in the order 123 times. Whoever gets the lion’s share of his 651 plate appearances will not be as bad as he was- Ron Washington will not allow any other non-producing player to receive enough plate appearances to be as bad as Michael Young was in 2012.
The World Series winning Giants had two players slug over .450, Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera (who didn't even play in the playoffs). Texas in contrast had six guys slug over .450- Hamilton, Adrian Beltre,David Murphy, Mike Napoli, Mitch Moreland, and Nelson Cruz. Ian Kinlser missed the cut- but has a career .460 slugging percentage. Oh, and in case you were wondering- Young was last among Rangers regulars with a .370 slug, yes even lower than Elvis Andrus (378 slugging percentage). You cannot underestimate the toll the lineup took from Michael Young's 651 plate appearances last year.
So as a recap- Texas still has five guys they can expect to slug over .450 (Beltre, Kinsler, Murphy, Cruz and Moreland). Pierzynski slugged .501 last year (career .429). The 165 pound, 19 year-old, Jurickson Profar slugged exactly .450 in 304 minor league games. Mike Olt slugged .579 in AA Frisco in 2012. Leonys Martin slugged .610 at AAA Round Rock.
It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that Texas has a line-up featuring eight or nine guys who can slug better than .450. Texas may have an even better offense than last year.
Does having that feared hitter really align the line-up? I doubt it. Opposing pitchers probably feared Beltre's at-bats more than Hamilton's anyways. If you're into the whole fear-factor bit.
Who's going to hit third?
I would suggest Beltre to hit third, and let Cruz clean-up. The third hitter automatically gets to hit the first inning, and should be your best overall hitter for average and power. That would be Beltre. The Clean-up hitter should have the most power potential without completely forgetting about average- that would probably be Cruz.
The lead-off candidates should be: Kinlser, Martin, Gentry, Andrus, and Murphy. Andrus makes the most sense however, since he has little power to offer, but boasts excellent speed and on-base skills. Furthermore, Elvis is one of the most consistent hitters in baseball. His splits, home/away, left/right, first half/second half all vary very (vary very?) little. Consistency from the lead-off spot hampered the Rangers offense last year (looking at you, Ian).
The number two hitter should be a high AVG, high OBP guy- that would be Murphy who reached base at a .380 clip last year, which led all Rangers. To give the Rangers more veteran-power in the middle of the order, and given Andrus and Murphy's on- base tendencies it makes sense to drop Kinsler to fifth in the order.
So, in my opinion one-five should look like this:
That means that bottom of the line-up looks like this:
8 Profar, at the bottom because that's where the teenagers hit (note: Profar turns 20 in February)
9 Martin, at the bottom as an extra lead-off hitter
Obviously with platooning, Soto and Gentry mess this proposal of a line-up up. But for the most part, barring any major moves (wink, wink Justin Upton) (nudge, nudge Giancarlo Stanton) this is your line-up, your Rangers and your heroes to go to war with.
I am convinced that by not responding irrationally and emotionally to this winter's bitter reality, the Rangers have improved themselves by doing nothing but promoting from within. It's not a splash, it’s not sexy, it doesn't sell tickets and it’s not an exciting Twitter topic, but it’s the right way, the winning way, and the same model Texas has used during its emergence from the doldrums. Smart, not splashy.
Dan Allsup is a staff writer for Shutdown Inning. You can reach him on Twitter @DanAllsup.