This has been a surprising first quarter of the season for the Texas Rangers so far. The team is hovering around .500, they have found a couple of gems in Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, but have also seen struggles from others like Leclerc and Chavez.
We’re taking a look back and a look ahead with the guys that have a huge impact on the game, and hopefully, find a way that this team can fight for a playoff spot come August and September.
The good, actually great, has been Mike Minor, as he has firmly placed himself in a race for an All-Star spot for the American League this summer. The man is on fire, rolling through opposing lineups with a 1.04 WHIP (Walks/Hits per Inning Pitched) which is 13th in the MLB, and an ERA of 2.68 which is good for 11th in the majors. So Mike Minor is a top 15 pitcher in the pros right now and is holding a 2.6 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which is the best in the majors.
In his last start against the defending division champion Astros, he went 5 innings, giving up 3 earned runs and 7 hits. He was tagged with the loss but didn’t pitch bad. His fastball control has been decent all season, but when the opponent is looking for it, they have been able to hit it hard. His offspeed pitches have been the factor in his wins, as he has an 11% swinging strike rate this year, which is his highest since returning to the mound in 2017. Minor has been really good and deserves to be an All-Star, if not then he should at least be in consideration.
Lance Lynn has been another good pitcher, going 4-3 so far in 2019. Signed to a team friendly 3 year deal before the season, he has been nothing but solid for this rotation. He has only pitched less than 5 innings just once this season, given up more than 7 runs in a game just twice this year, filling in nicely as the Ranger’s number 2 starter behind Mike Minor.
In his last start, Lynn faced the Astros and gave up only 3 runs, but all three came on three separate home runs. Other than that, he had 8 strikeouts in 7 innings pitched, 5 of them were swinging strikeouts. He won’t blow you out of the water, but he’s a good innings eater that is effective so far for this team.
Joey. Gallo. Do we need to say more? Gallo has been the MVP for this team so far and it’s not even close. The improvement we have seen at the plate has been tremendous. He has 30 walks in 33 games played this season, averaging almost a walk per game at .9 BB/G, which is above his career average of .48 BB/G. He’s also having a career year at the plate with a .257 BA, an OBP of .410, and SLG at .637, all career highs so far.
His power is exceptional this year as well, averaging 421 feet per home run according to baseballsavant.mlb.com, with his farthest being 467 feet. But don’t discount his defense, as he already has 5 outfield assists on the season and it’s only the first quarter of the season. His career high came last season with 8, and the opportunities could become less frequent. Hehas two from center field and 3 from left field, one being a highlight reel throw at 97.3 MPH to home plate to throw out a runner against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 3rd, gunning out Freddy Galvis at the plate.
Now that the good has been mentioned, let’s talk about the bad, which has been a combination of Rougie Odor and his struggles, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Jeff Mathis struggling to make a positive impact, and Jose Leclerc losing every bit of confidence he once had, become the biggest liability in the bullpen.
Odor has had a career bad year, and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to pull out of his slump any time soon. One has to wonder why Rougie is still in the lineup day in and day out, and it has to do with one thing: money. Odor is signed through 2023, with the final year including a $3 million buyout in 2023. Right now he is having a career low year, hitting .132 at the plate with 37 strikeouts in 101 plate appearances, which is 36% of the time.
In 2018 after the All-Star break, Rougie hit .266 with 12 HR and 39 RBI, doubling his totals from the first half of the season where he had 6 HR and 24 RBI. He ended last season with a .253 batting average, so the ability to hit is still there, it’s just a matter him working through the slump. Danny Santana has been very good and productive so far this year, and he provides an element of utility use for manager Chris Woodward for lineups. Odor won’t be benched, but his leash is shorter than before. If it comes to August or September and he’s still struggling, and the Rangers are fighting for a playoff spot, Santana could take more time from Odor to provide production in the lineup. But until then, Rougie is the long term plan, as he’s still younger than Santana by 3 years.
Jose Leclerc. Sigh. Leclerc has the potential to be a top 10 closer in the majors, but at this point, his confidence is gone. Against the Astros in game one of the series on Friday, he walked the bases loaded, then proceeded to walk in a run late in the game. The look on his face said it all. He can’t shake the “what if” bug. As in, “what if I walk this guy, or what if he gets a hit, or what if I can’t throw a strike.”
Leclerc signed a $14 million contract before the season to be the closer, and he has failed to be that so far. The Rangers saw something in him and felt confident enough to lock him up. Last season, he had a sterling 1.56 ERA in 59 games, a WHIP of .850, and had given up just 10 earned runs for the season. This year, his ERA has ballooned to 6.91, a WHIP of 1.953, and has already given up 11 runs in 14.1 innings pitched. Shawn Kelly has filled in nicely as the closer for now, but Leclerc is the future the Rangers bet on, and Woodward will give him chances to work out of it.
The catcher position is probably the hardest position to play other than pitcher, with the physical and mental stress it can put on a single player. Jeff Mathis has been in the pros for a long time, and he was brought in to help Isiah Kiner-Falefa grow into a starting catcher for the team.
Kiner-Falefa has been decent behind the plate, but not good hitting wise. Behind the plate, he has thrown 3 of 9 runners out trying steal bases at a 33% rate. The league average is 27%, so he’s doing well even for a small sample size. Last season he had a 32% throw out rate, which was also above league average, so his ability to throw runners out is improved a bit. But at the plate, he’s hitting just .194, down from .261 last season which was his rookie season. Strictly playing catcher, the stress can be a bit much on the body, so that can play a factor into why he’s struggling.
Jeff Mathis is also struggling at the plate, and he’s hitting .148 for the season with 1 home run in 61 at bats. Behind the plate, he has thrown out 3 of 16 runners this year for a 19% throw out rate, which is way below average. Right now IKF is the better defensive option behind the plate, but the fact that Mathis has experience in calling games will see him continue getting his starts and teaching IKF the game.
THE TEXAS RANGERS
Well, through almost the first quarter of the season, there have been some good surprises and some bad ones. The season is young, and with the team’s record just below .500.
The Rangers are never out of the conversation until the team makes a decision to sell off and trade players.
Featured photo: Smiley N. Pool/ Photographer/SportsDay.dallasnews.com