Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of entries about elements of the game that the Texas Rangers hope to improve upon heading into 2013. And since it's time for the new year, we call them our Rangers Resolutions.
Today's resolution: Better situational hitting
It may not seem like it based on how things ended, but 2012 was not a bad year for the Rangers offensively. They led the major leagues in runs with 808 and tied for the big-league lead with 1,526 hits. They were second in total bases (2,493) and slugging percentage (.446) and third in extra-base hits (535).
But that offense was not consistent. They dazzled in April and May but then struggled in parts of June and July. They scored the fewest runs in the AL in July, only to score the most in August. And with the season on the line in late September, the club averaged just 4.3 runs per game in the final nine contests, going 2-7. They hit just .241 in that stretch and left at least six men on base in six of those games. In the seven losses in that nine-game stretch, Texas was just 12-for-48 with runners in scoring position (.250).
The inconsistency helped lead to changes in the coaching staff. Dave Magadan is now the hitting coach, hoping to help that offense find a little more production on a more regular basis.
One of his main duties: Figuring out how to get the club to perform better with a runner at third and less than two outs. The Rangers converted on 51 percent of those chances. The AL average was 52 percent. But for a team that has prided itself on being above average in those kinds of situations the last few years, it's not up to their standards to fall below.
If there was a game or two that illustrated this problem best late in the season, it was in Seattle and at home against Oakland late in the season. The Rangers had three chances with a runner at third and less than two outs in a 3-2 win over Seattle on Sept. 23 and couldn't convert. Here's what then hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh said at the time:
"It's been a particular problem the last week. You have to simplify your approach and not try to do too much. They know that. It's something we talk about all the time. It's just one of those things that you have to slow yourself down and allow that to happen. If you notice, some of the outs we're making, we're making them real quick and early in the count. That shows we have to slow our minds down a little bit and not try to swing too hard and simplify. We're a good offensive team and we'll get them in. We just have to keep getting them out there. Tonight it hurt us."
Against the Oakland A's on Sept. 25 -- as the Rangers tried to hang on to the division lead -- Texas lost, 3-2, in extra innings in large part because they couldn't get that runner from third home. Josh Hamilton was at third base with no outs and the Nos. 4-6 hitters coming up in the first inning and none of them could get Hamilton home.
Magadan will preach the idea that it doesn't take a hit to execute in certain situations. A ground ball to the correct side of the infield or a fly ball can do the trick. Maybe a bunt is what's needed or a hit and run. Whatever it is, the Rangers need to get more consistent in that area of their offense to be a more complete hitting team.
"In those situations, you’ve got to know if the infield is in, then you have to get something you can drive to the outfield," Magadan said shortly after he was hired this offseason. "But what I’ve seen, and it’s not only with Texas but it’s throughout baseball, not understanding that the team is giving you an RBI.
"When the infield is back and you got a guy on third with one out, they’re giving you the RBI. You don’t have to do anything special except hit a groundball the other way. Certainly, you’re going up there looking for something to drive, but understand that a ground ball to second is going to get me an RBI and it’s going to get us a run. A lot of that happens early in the game that can set the tone on your way to score six or seven runs."
It's a Rangers resolution this year: Be a better situational hitting club.