There’s an insurance commercial that airs down in this part of the country that shows a guy driving an ice cream truck when it gets a flat tire. As he gets out and disgustedly looks at the tire, he hears a bell ring and realizes he’s broken down right in front of a school just as they’re dismissing for the day. The announcer then says, “Now THAT’s a pleasant surprise!”
That’s kind of the feeling as it applied to Leonys Martin for the Texas Rangers. No, he didn’t put up MVP type numbers, He didn’t lead the league in hitting. It was just a pleasant surprise that he was about the only Rangers regular who WASN’T injured in 2014.
As a result, the Cuban immigrant played in 155 of a possible 162 games and posted a .277/.325/.364 slash line with 7 home runs and 40 RBI. He added a team leading 31 steals, 17 bunt singles in 29 attempts and was second to Adrian Beltre in runs scored.
While it was a decent enough offensive year, defense is where Martin shines. Blessed with a cannon for an arm, Leonys got credit for 11 outfield assists and assisted on three double plays. He threw out eight runners at home. His arm was so respected that of the 22 times a fly ball was hit to him with a runner on third and less than two outs, the runner stayed on third 7 times. With a runner on second and less than two outs, the runners stayed put 22 out of 40 times. The American League is well aware of the strong, accurate arm of Leonys Martin. Thanks to that defense, Martin compiled a 4.6 WAR by Baseball-Reference, a 3.5 WAR by Fangraphs. Both were second among Rangers offensive players to Adrian Beltre.
So yes, 2014 was a pretty good year for the almost 27-year-old outfielder, especially considering he was also dealing with the trial of a man who essentially kidnapped him in Mexico after he defected from Cuba. This year, pretty good needs to be even better.
There’s a lot of pressure on Leonys, more pressure than he’s ever had. This year, he won’t bat near the bottom of the order as he has in the past. This year, Leonys Martin is the Rangers’ lead-off hitter.
To thrive in that role, Martin is going to have to do two things: improve his walk rate and cut down on his strikeout rate. A decent lead-off hitter should have an OBP of around .345. Martin a year ago was at .325. His walk percentage was 6.7% and he struck out 19.6% of the time. By contrast, Coco Crisp of the A’s walked 11.8% and struck out only 12.4% of the time. Better contact, better understanding of the strike zone, cut down on the caught stealing (he got nailed 12 times in 2014), all while continuing to play superior defense. That’s what the Rangers need Martin to accomplish this year.
GM Jon Daniels doesn’t believe Leonys has reached his ceiling yet as a player. I’m not convinced he’ll be able to top last year’s offensive output. Besides the walk and strikeout rates, he needs to improve his numbers against southpaws. While he hit a respectable enough .250 against lefties, his OBP was only .287 and his Slugging Percentage .294, compared to .337 and .388 respectively against righthanders.
If Martin maintains the same WAR in 2015 as he did in 2014, it’s a sign he and the team did okay in 2015.
I started this blog in 2010, the year the Rangers first went to the World Series. The original name of the blog was “The Futility Ends Here”. After about a week, I knew it wasn’t a very catchy title so I changed it to “World Series 40 Rangers Fan 0”. Much better. And it made it sweet when the season ended with the Rangers going to the World series for the first time in my then 40 years of Rangers fandom. For the Rangers, their marketing slogan for the 2010 season was, “It’s Time.” A more prophetic baseball slogan was never made.
Flash forward five years. Here at the All-Star break, the shell that remains of the Texas Rangers hobble into the break with baseball’s worst record. Where once I wrote of the exploits of Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz and even David Murphy, now all that remains is Beltre, Andrus, Rios, Choo and a bunch of young and/or underperforming offensive players. A pitching staff that once included Cliff Lee, CJ Wilson, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, a younger Colby Lewis and one of the top relief corps in baseball is now composed of Yu Darvish at the front end, Joakim Soria at the back-end and very little of consequence in between.
So bad the Rangers situation has become, they limp into the All-Star break losers of 19 of their last 22 games. Texas (and the Washington Senators that preceded them) has had some pretty bad teams in their 53 years of existence but NONE of them have been as bad as losing 19 of 22 games. Honestly, if I didn’t know it from reading the box scores every day (it’s become too painful to even watch more than a handful of games on TV), I wouldn’t believe it possible. After all, even without all the injured players, the Rangers still have talent on this team: Beltre, Andrus, Alex Rios, Shin Soo Choo, Leonys Martin, Darvish and Soria. There have been historically bad teams in baseball for whom you’d be hard-pressed to find even two names worthy of putting on the list of talented players. For example, can anyone name more than two Houston Astros from 2o12-2013 worth mentioning? Still, this is where the Rangers find themselves.
Having a bad team does not make it harder to write about a team. Sometimes it can lead to more story ideas than a winning team provides. Among the thoughts I’ve had in recent weeks: spinning an old Paul Simon tune into a treatise on 50 Ways To Lose A Ballgame (“Give up a slam, Sam, Walk in a run, Son…”), wonderful words about the defensive work of catcher Robinson Chirinos, asking if should Jon Daniels get the blame for 2014 or is this a fluke season, talking about the newest Ranger to make his big-league début, Jake Smolinski, riffing on how great the Rangers farm system has been record-wise in 2014, opining whether Ron Washington should pay the price for the poor season, talking up minor league prospect Joey Gallo (who made headlines at the All-Star Futures game), scattershooting trade possibilities at the July deadline, etc. See? No shortage of ideas here.
Instead, I’m going to borrow a phrase from that 2010 Rangers marketing campaign. It’s Time. Time to retire the blog that I’ve devoted so much time to for the past five seasons. It isn’t because the Rangers are losing now. It’s because coming up with 500+ words to say on a regular enough basis to keep readers coming back is getting more and more difficult to do. Life has a way of throwing things in the way of the things you like to do in your spare time and my spare time has had an “S” added to it: spare has become sparse. I’m in the process of relocating to a different part of the state (and job hunting is part of that process). The desire to write about the Rangers hasn’t abated. The time to do it has.
So, rather than put out a piece once every two or three weeks, I’m just going to shut it down for the rest of the season. Maybe I’ll have more time to devote to Rangers writing in 2015. My devotion to the team will not change, only the writing about it. You can still find me on Twitter (@Rangersblogger) where I’ll send out in-game comments when I can. This space, however, is going dark for the foreseeable future.
I thank everyone who has been a regular reader of this space, including The Angels Ace and This Is A Very Simple Game; The Wrigley Regular; all the Rangers fans who have followed me; and especially my son Erik, who has shared in my love for the Texas Rangers since childhood and it remains a constant source of conversation between us. To you and all the others I haven’t mentioned (and never got a chance to know), I’m grateful you took the time to read my sometimes meandering prose.
Post All-Star break will see the returns of Geovany Soto, Jim Adduci and Derek Holland. Hopefully that makes the season’s second half better than the first. Whether it does or not, I still say: GO RANGERS!!!
Every Monday, this space names the Texas Rangers Stars of the Week. These are the guys who went above and beyond during the previous week. Each week two position players and one pitcher get special mentions. For position players, there’s a Star of the Week for a full week’s performance and one recognizing an outstanding single game. The pitching Star of the Week could be either.
This is an important year for Leonys Martin. A few years ago, the Rangers spent a good deal of money on the Cuban import, although not as much as countrymen Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman, among others, received. Martin spent two seasons in the minors before breaking into the starting line-up in 2013. He went through one great hot streak in the middle of the season but overall hit a mild .260 with eight home runs and 36 stolen bases, but also over a hundred strikeouts. For the Rangers to compete for a pennant, Martin’s numbers must improve. So far, so good. Martin’s season has started at a .322/.385/.421 clip. His strikeout rate is about the same, but his walk rate has improved thus far from about once every 16 at bats to once every 9 at bats. In Friday’s 12-0 pasting of the Chicago White Sox, Martin fell a double short of the cycle, going 3 for 5 with a single, triple and home run, scoring twice and knocking in four runs. With Geovany Soto and Jurickson Profar out at least through May and the Rangers making do with Donnie Murphy, Josh Wilson, Robinson Chirinos and J.P. Arencibia, Martin’s production is even more vital at the bottom of the order. Thus far, he’s doing the job.
Prince Fielder is off to a slow start as a new member of the Rangers. While Prince hit his first two home runs in a Rangers uniform in the past week, his power numbers are NOT why he’s being honored as the full week Star of the Week. No, it’s his PERCEIVED power that brings him the award. For the week, Fielder hit a mild .273, albeit with two doubles and two home runs among his six hits on the week. What really pops out on the week is the seven walks compared to only four strikeouts. Of those seven walks, five of those were intentional walks. With Adrian Beltre on the shelf, Fielder has no real protection behind him in the line-up. Add to that the fact Fielder entered the week without a single home run on his ledger, you would think pitchers wouldn’t worry too much about pitching to him. Guess again. I could give the weekly award to Kevin Kouzmanoff, who made opposing pitchers pay for walking Fielder by knocking home eight runs on the week. He would deserve the award, but not more than Prince Fielder. After all, pitchers intentionally walking the big first baseman changed the complexion of the games played and were integral to the Rangers’ 5-game win streak from Tuesday through Saturday. Fielder also was, surprisingly, a fielder on the week, with several outstanding defensive plays at first base. Here’s Fielder’s first home run in a Rangers uniform:
Now for the first repeat winner of 2014. Thanks to the strong work of Martin Perez, Rangers fans haven’t been sweating as hard about the return of Matt Harrison to the rotation. Sure, Harry’s missed and is vital to Texas in 2014, but Perez has made Rangers fans realize he is a very good #2 to Yu Darvish. That will take a lot of stress off of Harrison’s back as he’ll only need to worry about being a decent #3. The 23-year-old Perez tossed his second complete game of his career and his first complete game shutout with a superb 3-hit shutout of the Chicago White Sox on Friday. Perez got staked to a quick lead and never let the pile-up of runs affect him on the mound. Many pitchers lose focus when staked to a big lead, but Perez went the full nine on an economical 109 pitches in securing the 12-0 win. Perez has now tossed 17 consecutive scoreless innings.
The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be
After going through a roller coaster of win, lose, win, lose, win, lose, the Rangers finally put together a string of wins. After dropping the opener of their series with the Mariners, Texas ripped off five wins in a row, all at home, with three coming against the Mariners and two versus the White Sox before falling to Chicago 16-2 in Sunday’s finale. With Kevin Kouzmanoff making teams regret intentionally walking Price Fielder and Robinson Chirinos staking a claim as more than just a platoon catcher, the Texas offense is starting to gel just a bit. Meanwhile, the pitching has been bi-polar. Most of the time it’s been very very good, but when it’s been bad, it’s been rotten. With this team, there aren’t a lot of 6-5 or 5-4 games. Either the pitching staff is throwing goose-eggs or they’re giving up runs in bunches.
Texas will be on the road the entire week and all six games will be against division rivals, starting tonight with a 3-game set in Oakland against the 2-time defending AL West champions. The Rangers send their two top pitchers, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez, against Oakland Monday and Wednesday. For the weekend series with the Mariners, the Rangers will welcome back Adrian Beltre, expected to get activated off the DL for Friday’s opener at Safeco Field. Matt Harrison could also return to the fold and start one of the games against the Mariners. Harry threw eight shutout frames of 3-hit baseball in his last rehab start for AA Frisco and is accompanying the team on the West Coast trip. The Rangers coaching staff will watch over his off-day bullpen session. If they like what they see, Harrison’s next start will be in a Rangers uniform this weekend. This team is coming close to resembling the Rangers team most folks were expecting at the start of the season.
Just when it looked like things were settling down for the Texas Rangers, Adrian Beltre shakes everything up again. As Michael Corleone famously said, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
Everything was going swimmingly well for the Rangers Tuesday night. The offense was churning out hits and scoring runs at will against the Red Sox, even with a different type of line-up for Ron Washington. Michael Choice got the start in center field, leaving Leonys Martin on the bench. Mitch Moreland also got the night off against the left-hander. Wash had both ends of the second base platoon, Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy, in the game and had Beltre occupy Moreland’s DH slot. So of course, on a night when he doesn’t have to play the field to save wear and tear on his body, one of Adrian’s quads tightens up and he pulled himself from the game in the fifth inning. Beltre won’t play today’s finale, either. He’s already jetted back to Texas to get examined by the Rangers’ team doctor.
I’d love to say this is a precautionary measure and Beltre will be back in the line-up Friday night when the Astros come to town. After all, he’s dealt with bad hamstrings the last two seasons and stayed on the field. Going back further, you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody tougher than Beltre, as described in a pre-season article on ESPN.com:
Years before Beltre headed north, Welke discovered how tough the slugger could be when he visited him in the Dominican Republic shortly after an offseason gone awry prior to the 2001 campaign.
“His appendix burst and he nearly died,” Welke said.
The wound from the surgery done in the Dominican Republic also didn’t heal properly. He had to have a second surgery during spring training that year to close it, and he lost about 30 pounds. Yet he was determined to return to the field as soon as possible.
“He tried to play games with a colostomy bag attached to him under his uniform,” Welke said. “Can you imagine? That’s how badly the guy wanted to play.”
That’s what makes this early departure troublesome. Maybe it is just one of those, “We’re just two weeks into the season, let’s make sure he’s ready for everything to come” type of deals. The pessimistic me says, “Nope. This is something more.” After all, Adrian Beltre wants to play baseball. He loves to play baseball. If Wash schedules him for a day off, the odds are better than 50-50 Adrian will talk him out of it and he’ll play. This time, however, he pulled himself from the line-up in the middle of the game and apparently agreed pretty quickly to go get it checked out in Texas. That tells me this is something Adrian is REALLY worried about.
If Beltre goes on the DL, there are no really good options for Texas. Kevin Kouzmanoff had a good spring and could be brought up to replace him but face it: Nobody can replace Beltre’s defense on the field and not many can provide his offense either. A Kouzmanoff MIGHT prove adequate for a 15-day DL stint but not much more than that. Without Beltre, there’s not a lot of protection for Prince Fielder in the line-up. I can see Alex Rios moving from fifth to fourth and that will help somewhat. It will also make the bottom half of the Rangers order even weaker.
Texas pitching is on a three-week trajectory to settling down. Colby Lewis returns Saturday, Matt Harrison is about three weeks away from a return himself. The last thing the Rangers need is troubles on the offense (and defense). Losing Adrian Beltre for any amount of time could be disastrous for the Rangers chances in 2014.
When the Texas Rangers take on the Philadelphia Phillies today in the season opener for both teams, the Rangers Opening Day 25-man roster includes 17 players who were NOT on the Rangers Opening Day roster just one year ago today. The only holdovers? Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Jason Frasor, Alexi Ogando, Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, Leonys Martin and Adrian Beltre.
Part of the turnover is due to the current length of the Rangers disabled list. Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Geovany Soto were all on the 2013 roster when the Rangers played the Astros on Sunday Night Baseball. Still, that’s a better than 50% turnover of the roster in just one year’s time.
Of the Rangers 2010 squad that appeared in the World Series for the first time, only Andrus, Moreland and Ogando are on the Opening Day roster in 2014.
From the 2011 World Series team, you can add Adrian Beltre to the list.
Even accounting for the players currently disabled and expected back this year (Harrison, Holland and Colby Lewis), the 2014 Rangers bear only the vaguest resemblance to the team that came within an eyelash of being the 2011 World Champions. Still, this is a team that has playoff aspirations. If the injury bug that him them in Spring Training gets fixed and remains fixed, maybe they can do it. We just don’t know. To borrow a cliché, that’s why they play the games.
#1 of 162 begins today. Time to find out what these 25 guys, including the 17 newcomers, have got.
Spring Training records mean nothing. Spring Training statistics mean nothin. I get that.
Still, I can’t help but feel a little disconcerted by the walking wounded and reclamation projects floating around Texas Rangers camp in Surprise this spring. Today brought two more entries to the list: Elvis Andrus will be out for at least a couple of days due to right arm soreness which he’s had throughout camp. Meanwhile, Mitch Moreland could find himself on the disabled list to start the regular season after suffering an oblique injury and getting pulled from a game after just one inning yesterday.
If these two were the only problems it would be OK with me, but this is the latest in a long line making its way through Rangers camp. Adrian Beltre is having problems with one of his quads and has been held out of the line-up for five days now. Jurickson Profar is just now starting in the field after having shoulder tendonitis at the start of camp. Geovany Soto is only three games into his spring after ankle surgery. Leonys Martin has had some nagging injuries that have him in and out of the line-up. Same with Alex Rios. And that’s just the offense.
Over in the pitching staff Matt Harrison had his injury comeback delayed by sleeping on a bad mattress and missing two and a half weeks with a bad back. It feels like half the pitching staff is trying to come back from injuries: Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria from Tommy John surgery, Colby Lewis from elbow problems and a hip replacement, Harrison from the back issues. At this point, there are only three starters established: Yu Darvish, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando. Only Darvish has had what would be considered a good spring. Perez has been inconsistent and Ogando more bad than good thus far (8.43 ERA). Battling for the final two spots, Lewis has yo-yo’d back and forth: one good outing, one putrid. Harrison won’t be ready for the start. Nick Tepesch (11.25 ERA) was so bad he’s been optioned already. Veterans Tommy Hanson (3.24 ERA) and Joe Saunders (6.43 ERA) haven’t outperformed anyone. The two best prospects for the back-end right now are Robbie Ross (2.08 ERA) and Tanner Scheppers (3.12 ERA), but if both earn rotation spots, that leaves two big holes in the bullpen, where Ross served in a set-up capacity and Scheppers was the 8th inning guy.
Back to the offense: the Rangers have hit 15 home runs this spring. Three have been hit by players who were playing Low-A ball in 2013 and have no hope of making the club this year. The power hitting part of the line-up: Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Alex Rios and Shin-Soo Choo have combined for only three of them. The biggest bright spot has been Michael Choice, obtained from the A’s in a trade for Craig Gentry. Choice is hitting .378 with three doubles, a triple and two home runs. With Moreland a likely DL candidate, Choice will likely be the starting DH for this year’s Rangers.
J.P. Arencibia has been so bad at the plate (.156 BA, the Rangers have put him in several minor league games to face easier pitching. He, along with two starters and the projected utility infielder are all hitting under .200.
Yeah, it’s only Spring Training. The stats and the records don’t mean anything. It does breed concern for the regular season.
I had modest hopes. To me, a World Series appearance wasn’t in the cards for the Texas Rangers in 2013, but entering the extended regular season finale, I had hopes my boys would be able to extend their winning streak to nine to get a shot at the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. David Price put in a gutty performance and the Tampa Bay Rays ended the Rangers’ season at 163 games.
Still, it was a helluva year. Who would have thought the Rangers would be capable of winning 91 games in a season where:
2) Berkman was a bust and the team’s best power hitter, Nelson Cruz, got suspended for the last 50 games of the year.
4) #2 starter Matt Harrison only managed two ineffective starts before going down to injury for the year.
6) The big pitching acquisition, Matt Garza, had many more poor performances than good ones.
The Rangers handled all this adversity and still won 91 games. They did it with a new infusion of youth that will only get better in the next few years, particularly Leonys Martin, Jurickson Profar and Martin Perez, who all showed signs of being major contributors.
Meanwhile, there are some players who won’t return for another round in 2014. David Murphy will most certainly be allowed to leave via free agency. Adam Rosales will also go. The pitching staff may say goodbye to Jason Frasor and even Joe Nathan leaving is a possibility.
Others are iffy. Nelson Cruz will be a free agent. He has stated often over the years he wants to stay in Texas, yet management never saw fit to make him an offer these past three years. Still, they may relent and bring him back as the team’s designated hitter because this team desperately needs some power. I’d love to see utility man Jeff Baker return. AJ Pierzynski could be gone as the Rangers keep getting linked to a free agency pursuit of Brian McCann. After his year ended so poorly, I can’t see Mitch Moreland as part of the plan for 2014. Whether that means Texas will ask Ian Kinsler to move to first (which also opens up second base for Jurickson Profar) or they pursue a free agent like James Loney remains to be seen. And, of course, there could be trades in the future that could see others leave the organization. Maybe the aforementioned David Price could come Texas’ way via trade.
This off-season I expect the Rangers to address their offensive needs as there are only a couple of modifications needed for the pitching staff. Four starters and at least five bullpen pieces are already set. Then I expect Texas will be a better team than they were in 2013. The window isn’t closed yet. It still has a few good years of being open left.