Texas Rangers off to another bad start


Add this to the things that have gone against the Rangers in the first 11 games of the season: Luck.

In the parlance of modern baseball, or at least this Rangers team, that qualifies as good news.
 
History suggests, rather strongly, that some of the results that have worked against Rangers are best left up to no other explanation besides “luck.” In particular, some significant metrics used to predict trends and eventual regression to the mean indicate hitters can’t sustain the success they’ve had against Rangers pitchers.

That said: Results still matter. And Wednesday offered no significant change for the Rangers in 4-2 loss to Seattle.

Opponents were batting .331 on balls in play – BABIP – through 10 games. It was the third highest in the majors. The stat eliminates the “true” outcomes of homers, walks and strikeouts to give an idea of how a team is performing again and it can be used to provide context on performance. The league average usually runs between .290 and .300.

“On the pitching side, there are some there’s some outliers, things that we know regress,” manager Chris Woodward said. “That’s astronomically high. Part of that’s lack of execution. And sometimes you can have good execution and its just bad luck. So that’s got to change a little bit. But, overall, we’ve still just got to execute better.

According to Fangraphs definition of BABIP, luck factors in because: “Batters and pitchers do not have complete control over where a ball lands so even high quality contact can turn into outs and low quality contact can turn into hits. In the long run, this will even out but it takes a pretty significant sample of balls in play to do so.”

To that end: Maybe there was a hint the Rangers started to see a turn in the “luck” category Wednesday. Starter Dane Dunning, who had allowed four runs in the first inning of his first two starts, escaped more first inning trouble when Seattle lined into the seventh triple play in Rangers history.

With runners on first and second and nobody out, Nathaniel Lowe grabbed Jesse Winker’s shoe-top liner, sprinted to first for the second out and then threw to second to get the third out. Adam Frazier, the runner at second, had been going on the play and never vacated third. There is no triple play defense. It just kind of happens.

Then again: Lowe fumbled a similar sinking liner two innings later that allowed Seattle’s first run to score. The Mariners scored three more in the fifth against Dunning and reliever John King.

The predictors aren’t limited to the pitching staff’s poor results. On offense, the Rangers entered the day ranked 10th in the majors in exit velocity (89.7 mph), but 19th in BABIP (.267). The takeaway: They’ve struck the ball well but haven’t found nearly as many holes. Consider: The Rangers hit three balls at 100 mph or harder in the first four innings. Two of them ended up as inning-ending outs with runners on base, a hard grounder by Mitch Garver in the first and a lineout by Adolis GarcĂ­a in the fourth.

In the 8-3 loss to Los Angeles Sunday, the Rangers had 12 of the 20 hardest-hit balls. On Tuesday, they had 11 of 20. It suggests they are making hard contact; if they continue the results will improve dramatically. Because … “luck.”

Though that is not the way the team wants to look it.

“In general, we’re not concerned with hot or cold streaks,” said offensive coordinator/bench coach Donnie Ecker. “We are concerned with having a very consistent process in how we take at-bats. I think we are trying to do the same thing every time up, take the pitches we want and hit the balls we can hard in the air. We want hits, but we don’t want to chase them. Our job is to create a good process.”

That is perhaps put to the test best in the case of Willie Calhoun. Calhoun and Mitch Garver entered Wednesday each with eight balls that left the bat at 99 mph or harder. They are each 2 for 8. Calhoun entered the game hitting just .136 on the young season, but the Rangers have been pleased with his approach.

“I’m trying to stay with it,” Calhoun said. “If you get two hits the wrong way and you start thinking that’s right, it leads to bad habits. I know I’m hitting the ball hard and right. They are good swings. I don’t need to change something to chase a couple of hits.”

Said Woodward: “He’s handled it really, really well, far more mature than I think in the past where he might get a little bit emotional about it and come back and you can just hear him say ‘What are we going to do?’ And then the next at-bat would be awful. He’s been one of our best at following a game plan and sticking to it.”

All of which suggests, it’s just been bad luck and things are about to change, right, Chris?

Well, not exactly.

“We believe you create your own luck,” Woodward said. “Nobody in that room should be happy. We should be better, but not full panic mode. No. We’ve come too far to have that mentality.”

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