Note: This week, we're running a series titled "Ranger Resolutions" as we look at some things the club hopes to do better in 2014.
Today's resolution: Better clutch hitting (and a more disciplined approach at the plate)
The Rangers offense scored 730 runs in 2013, a total that was good enough for seventh in the league. But for a team that is used to depth throughout the lineup and the ability to drive in runs when needed, finishing middle-of-the-pack was a disappointment.
But it goes deeper than that. It's difficult at times to quantify hitting in the clutch. But if you look at how the team did with runners in scoring position -- when the opportunity is there to drive in runs -- you see a drop-off from previous seasons. Texas hit just .249 with runners in scoring position in 2013, which was 12th in the AL. Only the Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners and Minnesota Twins, three teams that weren't even close to the postseason, were worse. Texas was third in the AL in batting average with runners in scoring position in 2012 at .275 and first in 2011 at .285. So it's a big difference.
In fairness, it's a bit misleading to simply look at batting average. The Rangers were sixth in the AL in RBIs with runners in scoring position, which means they did drive in some runs when needed, even without a hit. But to put that in context, Texas was first in the AL in 2012 in that category and third in 2011. However you attempt to quantify how they did in key run-scoring situations, it wasn't nearly as good as the previous few seasons. And when the club's overall on-base percentage is also middle-of-the-pack, getting those hits with runners in scoring position when you aren't getting as many of those chances as you'd like is critical.
There can be, of course, lots of reasons for that. It didn't help to have the club's top run producer, Nelson Cruz, out for 50 games because of a suspension. Injuries at various times can also contribute to the number. But the bottom line is that, even when healthy, this team just didn't respond as well to those at-bats. They weren't as good with a runner at third and less than two outs. They had more issues on the bases than they have in previous seasons (that's a resolution we'll get to later this week).
One other possible contributor: They weren't particularly disciplined or patient at the plate on a consistent basis. Hitting coach Dave Magadan likes to preach patience. That doesn't mean you walk to the plate and tell yourself you're taking the first pitch no matter what or that you have to see a certain number of pitches. No, patience comes with discipline. You pick out an area that you're looking for and if the pitch is there, you whack it. If not, you wait to see if you get one you can hit.
Texas was eighth in the AL in pitches per plate appearance, just one indicator of a club's patience. But the Rangers' offseason has brought them two players who have the kind of approach Magadan hopes to employ. Shin-Soo Choo, the team's new leadoff hitter, was second in the NL with 4.23 pitches per plate appearance in 2013. He gets on base a ton, as evidenced by his stout .423 on-base percentage last year, second only to Joey Votto in the NL. Choo setting the table for this offense should immediately make them more patient and disciplined and the Rangers hope it has a trickle-down effect to the rest of the lineup.
Prince Fielder, acquired in a trade for Ian Kinsler in November, has always been known as a smart, patient hitter. He sees lots of pitches, takes plenty of walks and scouts rave about his "zone awareness." Can those two players alone alter how the lineup works? Maybe. Those are two key hitters added to the offense and both have a disciplined approach. Players will see that and can utilize it.
But "discipline" and "patience" don't necessarily add up to production. The Rangers must resolve to be a better situational offense, doing the little things necessary to score runs more consistently when given the opportunity. The front office and ownership has shown they understand the importance of this with the expenditures this winter.