The SANDbox: Rangers Have Three All-Stars For The First Time Since 2013

Jared Sandler
July 01, 2019 - 10:10 am
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For the first time since 2013, the Rangers have three All-Star representatives: Hunter Pence (starting), Joey Gallo, and Mike Minor.

No matter the player, an All-Star nod is an honor and meaningful. For these three Rangers, I imagine the honor might be a little more special than usual. All three represent some sort of underdog/redemption/told-you-so story…

For Hunter Pence, a four-time All-Star and first-time starter, he was written off by almost all Major League front offices. Just about everyone thought he was done (more on this in the “Anecdote of the Week”) and due to retire as 2018 wound down. He didn’t get a single Big League deal and less than a handful of Big League invites. Barely anyone wanted Pence and now he’s an All-Star.

For Joey Gallo, earning his first All-Star berth, he was written off by many as a one-dimensional player never to be an important part of a team. Those labels were foolish since even without a jump in average his defense and baserunning made him more than just one-dimensional, but he’s not only improved in 2019, he’s established himself as an MVP candidate. Previously compared to his two other more accomplished Vegas brethren—Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant—Gallo was dubbed as someone not in the same class, but Gallo, perhaps a late bloomer, is having a better year than both of them and can smile at those who gave up on him far too early.

For Mike Minor, also his first All-Star honor, he was written off by many as someone who could still develop in a good starter. Phst. Forget “good,” the former seventh overall pick considered to not have lived up that billing, has skipped past good and elevated his play too great. Not just an All-Star, the A.L. ERA leader is in the thick of the Cy Young conversation. Minor missed two years due to injury. The comeback was hard and never guaranteed. He returned in 2017 as a reliever—and a really good one—but still few teams were willing to let him return to the rotation. In Spring Training, Minor expressed a drive to not just be good, but be an “Ace” and he’s done just that.

Congrats to these three.

LEADING OFF

Baserunning is a lost art, in some respects. I guess it makes sense. With the growing prominence of the three true outcomes, baserunning just doesn’t have as much opportunity to shine. Teams are increasingly risk-averse with big boppers littering their lineups. But baserunning still matters. A lot.  As a matter of fact, I’d say it matters even more now with this current climate of the game.

In recent years, the Rangers have been very home run reliant. There’s NOTHING wrong with hitting home runs. It’s the best single thing you can do as a hitter. But how are you scoring runs when the ball leaves the yard? With batting averages down that means there are less hits to move runners and with strikeouts up that means there are less overall balls in play to move runners. Baserunning helps you maximize your opportunities and the Rangers have done that about as well as anyone.

Joey Gallo missed 22 games. Without Gallo, the Rangers hit about half as many home runs/game than they did with him, yet they still produced about the same run output. Why? A few reasons, probably, but the one that sticks out the most to me is baserunning.

Baserunning is about way more than just stealing bases. The reality is that the bulk of baserunning is not found in box scores. It’s simply about taking the extra base. Fangraphs has a metric, UBR, that is the baserunning component of WAR. UBR essentially takes the run expectancy of the advancement and credits that to the base runner depending the frequency with which the average runner advances in the same situation. The Rangers, with a 7.2 UBR, lead MLB in this by a long shot with the White Sox second checking in with a 4.0 and the Cardinals third with a 3.9.

That’s a great stat, but let’s dig into how the Rangers are so far ahead of everyone else.

First of all, Baseball-Reference has a statistic, simply called “Extra Bases Taken %” which presents the percentage of time a team takes an extra base when given the opportunity. The Rangers 46% rate ranks 3rd in MLB and best in the AL.

When the ball is in play, there are a few keys scenarios that help define a team’s baserunning ability: going first-to-third on singles, going first-to-home on extra base hits, and going second-to-home on singles. The Rangers rank in the top 8 in MLB in their frequency and success rate in doing so for each of those three scenarios. 

Speed obviously helps you achieve this, but so does attention to detail and anticipation. The willingness to commit yourself everyday pitch to getting a quality lead and secondary lead gives you an edge when the ball is in play. Watch the Rangers and they almost always carry out this easy-to-forget fundamental.

It isn’t just advancing the extra base on base hits. What about advancing on wild pitches and passed balls? The Rangers excel there, too. Anyone can advance on a ball that gets to the backstop, but what separates teams is the ability to advance on balls on which most wouldn’t dare attempt.

At the bottom of the post is an example of Elvis Andrus scoring on a ball in the dirt that barely got away from the catcher.

Or how about this example of taking an extra base?

It isn’t just the fact that Calhoun tagged from second to score, which in and of itself is rare and impressive, but that he had the mindset to aggressively push for a two-base tag up. Had he just assumed he’d get to third and stop there like most players would have, there’s no chance he is able to then turn on the jets and score, but he pushed for two bases from the start.

Major League Field Coordinator Jayce Tingler spends a lot of time on baserunning. He shared his thoughts on what this team does so well in the video at the top of the post. 

And what about stolen bases? When it comes to baserunning, base-stealing gets the most attention, even though it is a dying art. The league is on pace to steal around 2300 bases, which would be the fewest since 1994. Against that trend, the Rangers are on pace to steal 127 bases, the 8th highest total in franchise history. Compared to the rest of the league, the Rangers rank second with 65 stolen bases

At the end of the day, it’s all about runs, right? So far this year the Rangers score 36% of their baserunners, second best in MLB and best in AL. Despite a recent offensive downtick, the Rangers still rank 5th in MLB in runs/game at 5.34.

(ST)RANGER THINGS

*Joey Gallo is the first Rangers' drafted-and-developed All-Star since Ian Kinsler in 2012.

*Gallo indicated he was not among the initial group of players invited to participate in the Home Run Derby. Now that he’s healthy again, hopefully he gets an invite if openings still exist. The fans deserve him.

*Pence will begin a rehab assignment tonight with Frisco. The expectation is he’ll be back for the Twins series, if not sooner.

*Mike Minor is putting together one of the best single seasons in Rangers’ franchise history for a pitcher. I’ll save the full analysis for later in the year but Mike Minor has already amassed a 5.7 bWAR. The single-season record for a Rangers pitcher is 7.7 set by Fergie Jenkins in 1974.

*Which off-season acquisition has been most important to the Rangers? Your options: Lance Lynn, Jesse Chavez, Danny Santana, Shawn Kelley, and Hunter Pence. At various points we’ve identified each one of those guys as essential to the club. Logan Forysthe wouldn’t win the debate, but he’s been pretty good, too. Great job by the front office and coaching staff of identifying value and capitalizing on it.

*It is waaaaay too early to definitively peg Willie Calhoun as a player but it certainly seems like the Rangers might have known what they were doing when they acquired him in 2017 from the Dodgers in the Yu Darvish deal. Willie has developed an impressive work ethic and is demonstrating those advanced hitting abilities we heard about upon the consummation of the deal. He’s slashing .318/.357/.576 (.933). It’s early, sure, but Willie is definitely showing exciting promise.

*Danny Santana is an interesting case. Some believe he is due for a regression with his high K-rate, high chase rate, and swing rate, among other measurables. Others point to his high hard hit rate as evidence that he’ll remain a player with everyday-type production the rest of the year. It certainly will be fun to follow.

*Chris Woodward credited Joey Gallo’s hard work while on the injured list as a reason he has been able to contribute immediately since coming back from his oblique strain.

*After Brett Martin allowed five runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Astros on May 12, he had a 9.00 ERA registered just 5.25 K/9 in his rookie season and opponents were batting .306 against him. Yet, the lefty demonstrated great poise in wake of the struggles. Poise alone doesn’t get outs, but it doesn’t hurt. Since? Martin has a 0.57 ERA over 15.2 IP with 9.19 K/9 and opponents batting .237 against him.

*The Rangers have re-signed Austin Bibens-Dirx. The RHP started over the weekend for Triple-A Nashville.

*The Rangers acquired 27-year old LHP Jesse Biddle off of waivers from the Mariners. To clear space on the 40-man roster they placed LHP Jeffrey Springs on the 60-day IL. The Rangers will have to clear space on the 25-man when they activate him later today. Biddle was having a rough year split between Atlanta and Seattle (combined 7.54 ERA) but in his debut season in 2018, Biddle posted a 3.11 ERA over 63.2 IP with 67 K and 31 BB. Biddle is a reverse splits guy so he’s more effective versus RHB than LHB.

STRATEGY NOTE OF THE WEEK

After the Rangers beat the White Sox on Sunday, June 23, they optioned Kyle Bird back to Triple-A Nashville without making a corresponding move until Tuesday, when they activated Joey Gallo from the IL.

Why didn’t they wait to send down Bird? First of all, it gives him the ability to play for Triple-A Nashville on Monday, but more significantly, it starts his clock of ineligibility for the big league roster.

When a player gets optioned he can’t get recalled for ten days unless a roster spot is created because of an IL move. So, while it might not make a big difference, by optioning Bird on Sunday, he’s eligible to return July 3 instead of July 4.

MAILBAG

@zakzak13: Someone texted me saying the Rangers are considering Mazara for Stroman trade. Any word on that?

Not sure from where that came but I don’t think there is much to that. It wouldn’t make sense for the Rangers to part with Mazara, who is having the best year of his career, for someone under control for just a year-and-a-half more. It wouldn’t make sense for Blue Jays, it seems, as they aren’t in any need of an outfielder.

@ChickDill: Who would be your top 5 FA targets going into 2020??

I’m not sure about Top 5 now that the class is so diluted but my top two, in this order, are Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon. Excitingly, I think the Rangers will be players for both of them. I don’t think they land both—and they might not land any—but I think they’ll aggressively be in the mix for both guys.

@FakeJ00712: What would be the most and least shocking thing for the Rangers to do at the Trade Deadline to you?

Most shocking: Pay a somewhat steep price for a rental.

Least shocking: Add bullpen help if they are still in the mix for a playoff spot.

@DaBills29: Do the Rangers make a play for a legit shutdown closer type or do they still see Leclerc as the future?

My gut tells me they’re more inclined to invest (way less) in a shutdown reliever whose speciality is before the ninth inning. I feel that way because I think they’d much rather spend their financial resources on adding a stud middle-of-the-order hitter and a stud top-of-the-rotation pitcher.

@Call4Rod: With Forsythe & Santana in the infield, besides the obvious Odor problem, do you think Cabrera gets full-time play at 3rd when he returns?

I think he still gets a bulk of the playing time for the near future. It’s a fair question because he isn’t a part of the future and is on a cheap one-year deal without a ton of production, but I don’t think the Rangers view Santana as a legitimate option at third base and thus don’t feel like they have a backup third baseman at this point if Cabrera is no longer around. That can all change, but so long as they’re in the mix for a playoff spot, that’s my hunch.

ANECDOTE OF THE WEEK

Hunter Pence ran off the field in a game against the Dodgers late last year. It was the last time those two teams would play in 2018. A guy in a Dodgers uniform went out of his way late in the game to catch Pence jogging into the dugout from the outfield to salute Pence and congratulate him on a great career…

As Hunter Pence struggled through 2018, his worst big league season from a production standpoint and one marred by injuries, many people believed it was the end of the road for the three-time All-Star and two-time World Series winner. Even the Giants thought that was the case, celebrating Pence as the season dwindled as if it was the end of the line, even reportedly showering him with retirement gifts.

…In response to the Dodger saluting Pence, Pence quickly responded that he wasn’t done and that he’d see him next year…

Pence knew if he wanted to keep playing, he needed to make a change. He worked with hitting guru Doug Latta extensively this off-season to rework his swing. Most surprisingly, Pence spent six weeks in the Dominican Winter League to gain familiarity with his new swing and to iron out the kinks. Guys with Major League experience who play in the Dominican Winter League are guys who typically and trying to stay above water and prove that they belong in the bigs, or maybe young guys trying to get more innings or more at-bats. It is incredibly rare to find someone anywhere remotely as accomplished as Pence giving up more than a month of his off-season in the Dominican.

Despite Pence’s hard work, there wasn’t a whole lot of interest. Earlier this season, Pence shared with me that at one point this off-season he got emotional when he found out that two teams were interested in signing him…to a minor league deal. That’s how bare it was. But Pence, who so desperately wanted to keep playing, was just excited a team or two were willing to give him a chance on any kind of a deal. As you can imagine, one of those teams was the Rangers.

…The guy in a Dodgers uniform was taken back and then impressed by Pence’s unrelenting response. He had a ton of respect for Pence so he didn’t want to doubt the outfielder’s unrelenting spirit.

Almost everyone thought Hunter Pence was done. Yet, here he is…an All-Star starter for the American League. His story is one of sacrifice and dedication as well as a passion for the game of baseball.

Pence came to Spring Training with a shot to make the team, but by no means a guarantee. His impact in the clubhouse was felt immediately and his teammates instantly fell in love with him, but he still needed to play. When I spoke with someone from the Rangers, he shared that he loved Pence was just hoped he could hit. Hit he certainly has and his hitting has been important for the Rangers.

I had a chance to catch up with that guy in a Dodgers uniform about Pence. As a matter of fact, I’ve had a chance to talk with him routinely over the last few months about Pence. That guy in a Dodgers uniform? Their third base coach from 2016-2018…and the manager of the Texas Rangers, Chris Woodward.

KT’S “HOLY WOW” GREAT PLAY OF THE WEEK

Triple-A Nashville’s Scott Heineman and Christian Lopes tag-team for a highlight reel catch against the Memphis Redbirds

KT’S “HOLY WOW” WTF PLAY OF THE WEEK

Gallo joined David Ortiz as the only players in Tropicana Field history to hit the “D-Ring,” the farthest of the four catwalks.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

“Based on those hits, I knew I had a chance to get out of it. But that was a good test for me, and it was a good test for the manager to trust me in that situation. Especially in my first traditional start that wasn’t an opener.” -Jesse Chavez on getting out of a jam in the 6th inning of his start Tuesday in Detroit.

“He just won’t play every single day. I just think that’s fair to Danny. This game is about production, and he’s being very, very productive, and I want to reward that.” -Woody on balancing playing time between Rougned Odor and Danny Santana

Hunter Pence after learning he was voted in as an All-Star starter:

STATS OF THE WEEK

*The Rangers have a 2.30 rotation ERA since June 20, best in MLB. Next best? The Pirates at 2.86.

*Joey Gallo is tied-15th in franchise history with 8 multi-home run games. Others with 8? Michael Young, Mike Napoli, Mickey Tettleton, Josh Hamilton, Toby Harrah, Hank Blalock, and Buddy Bell

*Danny Santana’s hitting streak ended this past week but it got up to nine games, the highest by a Ranger this season.

*Ronald Guzman set the franchise record for consecutive games with a sacrifice fly with 3.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

*If you’re interested in reading and learning more about the growing movement of data-driven player development, I can’t recommend enough The MVP Machine by Ben Lindberg and Travis Sawchik.

*Even though the London games were whacky offensive demonstrations, I’m glad MLB played those games and did so with flagship teams—the Red Sox and Yankees—and not struggling teams without the same sort of identity. I’m not sure what the future is for baseball in Europe, but I don’t think there is really a downside to showcasing a few games there each season. The Cardinals and Cubs will play in London next year.

*The Yankees have extended their MLB-record streak for consecutive games with a home run up to 31. They have 57 HR during that streak, almost all of which came without the help of Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton. Seven Yankees have 10+ HR this year and none of them are Judge, Stanton, or Didi Gregorius, who has three straight years of 20+. Wow.

*The Astros have really struggled of late, but I don’t know if it is really that much of a concern. They’re a beat up team getting healthier with plenty of ammo to make moves before July 31. Perhaps their struggles are well-timed if they illuminate holes that need filling. I do wonder, however, which roster will look stronger following the deadline: the Astros or the Yankees.

*The Atlanta Braves might have the brightest future of any team in baseball. Their big league roster is littered with 25-and-under studs with more on the way. I guess the question is how much the Braves will be willing to spend to keep these guys and add a big name or two to fortify their roster. A team like the Dodgers might not have as sexy a young core—though they aren’t too far behind—but have demonstrated a willingness to spend the big bucks to get the big names.

*Cardinals flame-throwing reliever Jordan Hicks needs TJ after tearing his UCL. He’s known for his ability to dial it up to 104 mph. He’ll miss the rest of this year and I imagine at least half of next year. I’m curious where his velocity is at when he gets back on the hill.

*LHP Brendan McKay made his MLB debut for the Rays on Saturday against the Rangers. The No. 23 prospect in baseball via MLB Pipeline was perfect through five before giving up a weak hit in the sixth. He ended his day after six shutout innings but was impressive in his introduction to the Major League world.

*Former Ranger Ross Detwiler returned to the big leagues with the White Sox on Friday. He started against the Twins and picked up the win after surrendering two runs over five innings. This was just Detwiler’s second big league appearance since 2016. I remember Detwiler was a big hockey fan and, as a Missouri native, was a big Blues fan, specifically.

*The Mets designated Carlos Gomez for assignment. Gomez was batting just .198 on the season.

MINOR LEAGUES

*Jon Daniels talked to Ben & Skin about Hans Crouse’s return from discomfort as a result of bone spurs in his elbow and what the long term plan is to treat that issue:

*Here’s my conversation with RHP Jason Bahr. We talk about his success this season, fueled in part by the addition of a split-change, and more.

*Sam Huff will represent the Rangers in the Futures Game, playing for the USA team.

*I got to see RHP Jonathan Hernandez in person on Thursday night when I called the Riders-Rock Hounds game for Fox Sports Southwest. It hasn’t been a great year for Hernandez which has people wondering whether his future is more as a reliever than a starter. That very well might be his best path, but seeing starts like what I saw Thursday remind you it is well worth giving him more chances as a starter. His sinking fastball was sharp and his slider got swings-and-misses. What stood out was that his changeup, his third pitch, was also highly effective and he used it confidently in a variety of counts.

*I also saw RHP Joe Barlow come out of the Frisco pen and deliver a dominant inning. Barlow started the year in High-A with the Wood Ducks and posted a cool 0.38 ERA with 44 K over 23.2 IP allowing just 10 hits. Since joining Frisco, he’s allowed 2 runs on 5 hits over 9.2 IP with 13 K. He pairs an overpowering fastball with high spin at 95-97 mph with a breaking ball around 80 mph that keeps hitters way off balance.

*Sherten Apostel, the 20-year old 6-4 infielder acquired from Pittsburgh along with Taylor Hearn in the Keone Kela deal, got off to a horrible start for Low-A Hickory. Since May 4, however, he’s been outstanding. Over Apostel’s last 44 games, he’s slashing .309/.386/.586 with 8 HR.

*RHP Cole Winn is coming off of the best start of his young career. He went 4.0 scoreless innings allowing just two hits while striking out three and walking one versus Hagerstown. Winn’s professional debut has been rocky, but he’s just 19-years old and the way he closes the year will be way more significant than the way he starts the year.

*Juremi Profar was promoted to Triple-A Nashville. He was hitting .290 with a .759 OPS in his 3rd season in Frisco.

*Ryan Dorow and Yonny Herandez, both infielders, have been promoted to Double-A Frisco

*2017 Rangers second rounder, RHP Alex Speas, working his way back from Tommy John surgery pitched tonight for the AZL Rangers. He went 1.0 IP and struck out 2.

*The Rangers released INF Nolan Fontana and RHP Josh Fields from Triple-A Nashville.

A/V DEPARTMENT

*Jon Daniels talked about Nomar Mazara’s impressive power and what it truly means:

*Joey Gallo joined Ben and Skin: