The SANDbox: Rangers Investment In Analytics Paying Off This Season

Jared Sandler
July 08, 2019 - 10:02 am
Danny Santana

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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TYLER SKAGGS

Here are various members of the Angels addressing the media for the first time since the passing of Tyler Skaggs

LEADING OFF

Analytics.

What a hot-button word in baseball these days, huh?

Analytics are essentially the identification, interpretation, and communication of data to influence or enhance strategic decisions. I love analytics, as you probably know, because I love the thirst for information and constant curiosity on how to make something or someone better.

Whether you like analytics or not, it’s implementation to drive player development is sweeping baseball. As shared before in this space, the new book MVP Machine by Travis Sawchik and Ben Lindbergh does an outstanding job explaining the genes of analytics in baseball and how it essentially built the Houston Astros on a team level and heavily influenced other emerging stars on an individual level.

One of the big points of emphasis for the Rangers this off-season was stepping their analytics game up so that they can improve their ability to develop players and maximize production. The Rangers invested in tech and people towards this goal with a commitment to joining teams like the Astros and Dodgers and Rays at the forefront of this movement.

Teams have all the same information, but where separation occurs is how that information leads to discovery and then how that is effectively communicated to players in a way they understand and can apply to build upon their abilities. Chris Woodward came from the Dodgers, a team that did this very effectively and I imagine Woody, in collaboration with a talented and deep roster of folks in the front office focusing on the research and development side, have helped the Rangers advance tremendously in this regard.

What stands out about some of the teams at the forefront of the analytics movement is their ability to get their guys to take major steps of growth or produce career years.

Let’s take the Astros, for example. They sign Charlie Morton and he becomes one of the best pitchers in baseball. Gerrit Cole was kind of unfulfilled talent until Houston helped turn him into one of baseball’s best pitchers. Justin Verlander rediscovered his dominance with the Astros. On the farm, the Astros have for a few years stockpiled one of the best minor league systems in baseball. Sure, acquisitions are a big part of that, but the development of those players into top-line prospects is just as big.

Look what the Dodgers did with Justin Turner and Chris Taylor and this year with Hyun-Jin Ryu. What about how Tyler Glasnow emerged once he got to the Rays? Examples abound and players talk. They know that going to certain teams will help them improve their value and their performance. So while adding a roof will help the Rangers in free agency, so will the reputation that by coming to Texas you will get better.

It’s tough to quantify how analytics have helped the 2019 Rangers team or helped individual players, I just can’t reconcile the long list of guys outperforming expectations as a mere coincidence, especially not in the first year that the application of analytics has been so highly emphasized. One to two guys? Sure. That happens. But it’s way more than that.

Mike Minor is pitching at a level of unchartered waters for him. Joey Gallo is showing not just a little, but tremendous growth. Hunter Pence’s career was thought to be over and now he’s an All-Star. Lance Lynn’s strikeout numbers are a career-best and Chris Martin has developed into an impact reliever. Logan Forsythe has bounced back after a rough couple of years and Danny Santana is everyone’s flavor of the season. What about Ariel Jurado? Last year he didn’t appear to belong as a big leaguer and now he’s a really solid starter. While Adrian Sampson didn’t have the same struggles as Jurado last year, I didn’t think he was a reliable starter, which is what he’s been in 2019. And how about Choo? This is his best year with the Rangers. Same with Mazara.

No, it doesn’t work for everyone. Rougie has struggled. But nothing is perfect. And, at the end of the day, more than anything else, it is up to the players. So when you think about the list of guys it has helped, credit the coaching staff and the analytics department for sure, but the biggest piece of the credit pie goes to the guys for demonstrating the ability to apply and execute the recommended changes or strategies.

Going into the 2019 season, we simply begged for development. We wanted to see guys like Gallo and Mazara and Odor take steps forward and witness a growth from the guys on the farm. What I guess we didn’t ask for was to see growth in the process and the systems in place to put these guys in the best position to succeed. We aren’t yet at the deadline and we’re still a few months from free agency, but I think the Rangers noticeable improvement in data-driven player development is the biggest acquisition this organization has made and one that will payoff for years to come.

(ST)RANGER THINGS

*Jeff Mathis was teammates with Nick Adenhart in 2009 and Jose Fernandez in 2016. He was never teammates with Skaggs, despite playing for both the Angels and D-Backs, but Monday’s tragic news hit Mathis hard

*Matt Bush was possibly days away from returning to the big leagues when he tore his UCL. Tough blow for a guy coming back from a separate elbow surgery this off-season. Bush will undergo Tommy John for the second time in his career—first time was more than  decade ago—and continue to pursue a return to the big leagues.

*Hunter Pence was replaced on the All-Star roster due to his groin injury. He’ll still be in Cleveland for the festivities. His perspective on the situation is awesome.

*Lance Lynn is a competitive badass. I love it.

*Willie Calhoun has been getting occasional pregame work at second but I’m not sure game action is imminent, if it happens at all.

*Over Rougie’s last 13 games, he’s slashing .295/.304/.705 (1.009( with 4 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, and 12 RBI. Will Rougie go on a run the rest of the year? I’m not going to say that with confidence. The problem with Rougie is that the consistency just isn’t there. He goes through stretches where he demonstrates plate discipline, then goes through stretches where that all washes away.

*The Rangers signed their top two overall picks: 3B Josh Jung and 3B Davis Wendzel.  Both guys will report to Arizona to start. My thought is Jung will soon after head to Hickory. With Wendzel, he’s nursing a bit of a mild thumb injury so getting him healthy is the first order of business. He’s expected to be good in a couple of weeks. Once they both get going, I’d imagine they’d alternate between third base and shortstop with Wendzel mixing in some second base. here’s some video on both of these guys in the “A/V Section.”

*The Rangers have signed 25 of 41 selected players and, in addition to Jung and Wendzel, locked up 6th round pick Cody Bradford, a LHP from Baylor.

*Ariel Jurado’s start vs. Jaime Barria on Wednesday marked the first ever starting matchup between two Panamanians in Major League history.

*Shelby Miller was designated for assignment last week. The organization expressed a desire and hope that they could keep him and have him continue to work in Triple-A, but likely as a reliever. My guess is Shelby would prefer to start. It is still possible, however, that they sign him back on a minor league deal.

INTERNATIONAL SIGNINGS

July 2nd marked the beginning of the international signing period. Anyone born before September 1, 2003 is eligible, but those amongst that group who are still 15 must wait until their 16th birthday to officially sign. The international signing system has changed a lot over the years from a financial standpoint, but the current rules produce a hard salary cap for teams to utilize for this particular pool of players. The Rangers have a bonus pool of $5,398,300.

The Rangers have always been very active and successful internationally, and they’ve signed a few players and linked to another thus far with their MLB.com International Free Agent class ranking

OF Bayron Lora (#3): They haven’t signed him yet, but are rumored to do so in the coming days, perhaps. The 16-year old is a corner outfielder who is said to have the most raw power of anyone in this class and excellent bat speed. Lora is also said to run well with strong athletic skills that translate well to strong defense from a corner spot.

SS Maximo Acosta (#17): Acosta is a 16-year shortstop who has drawn comparisons to Gleyber Torres. He grades out exceptionally with his instincts and tools and has demonstrated a great arm and outstanding speed. Offensively, he profiles as a gap-to-gap hitter with a skillset favorable to a high-average hitter.

SS/OF Zion Bannister: From the Bahamas, the 17-year old was considered by some as a pitcher but will proceed as a position player. He has a very strong arm and is a high-end athlete.

STRATEGY NOTE OF THE WEEK

The Rangers have an off day on the 15th and again on the 18th. If they want, they can roll with a four-man rotation until July 23rd, bump one of their starters—presumably Sampson—to the pen, and delay the need to make a decision on a position player.

MAILBAG

@JasonRyanRadio: What backpack are you rockin’ these days?

I’m going with Ninja Turtles. After Toy Story had a good run, I’ve been Ninja Turtling it since 2018. When I first moved back to Dallas I had a nice shoulder-strap bag thing that was a gift from the USC baseball program for all graduating seniors. I probably used it too much and it broke on my way to a game back in 2014. Without a bag, I ran into a nearby Walmart to get something and saw the Toy Story backpack for less than $5 and it just stuck. My nephews like that I have goofy backpacks so I just kind of keep using them. It also reminds me to smile and have some fun.

@BillySierra16: How do the Rangers plan to address their long-term and short-term outfield logjam? Or do they not see it as a logjam at all?

Great question. It is definitely a challenge for them. If no moves are made between now and the end of the season, the Rangers will enter the off-season with Gallo, Mazara, Choo, DeShields, and Calhoun all under contract. Delino is the only true centerfielder in the mix since they’ve shared they prefer not to make Gallo a permanent fixture there and he’s also the only right-handed hitter, so you could say that their logjam is more confined to corner outfielders and lefties. It’s possible they explore trade options for a few of those guys but I’m just not sure what the market will be and if it is worth them making a move because they don’t feel the need to give any of them away, it doesn’t seem.

MOMENT OF THE WEEK

ANECDOTE OF THE WEEK

Rangers players, led by Shin-Soo Choo, elected not to use walk-up music during Tuesday’s game as way to offer additional moments of silence in honor of Tyler Skaggs. Very thoughtful gesture.

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

Rougie’s second home run of the game on July 4 came against a 100.1 mph fastball. That was just the fourth home run this season against a pitch 100+ mph. Rougie joins Matt Adams, Justin Upton, and Juan Soto in that department.

KT’S “HOLY WOW” WTF PLAY OF THE WEEK

Ho. Lee. Wow.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK

"We lost a family member yesterday. He was a teammate, he was a brother, a friend, and most important of all he was a husband and a son. He was a young man with so much life to live. He lives on only now in our minds and our hearts. Our team will never be the same.” -Angels GM Billy Eppler on Tyler Skaggs

STATS OF THE WEEK

*The Rangers threw 249 pitches Tuesday night, a new club record for 9-inning game. Via Evan Grant (DMN), there have been only 5 MLB games since pitch counts were recorded of 9 innings games with a higher pitch count.

*Lance Lynn is tied with Lucas Giolito for the MLB-lead with 11 wins. His eight straight starts of 100+ pitches is the longest active streak in MLB and his 12 straight starts of 6.0+ innings pitched is third longest.

*Here's a fun list. Most multi-HR games by a Ranger since Rougie debuted in 2014

11-Rougie

8-Gallo, Beltre

5-Moreland, Chirinos

4-Mazara

3-Elvis

2-Napoli, Lucroy, Hamilton, Gomez, Prince

1-Rosales, Profar, Peguero, Do. Murphy, Guzman, Choo, Cabrera, Arencibia

*Shin-Soo Choo’s first-inning BA of .456 ranks best in MLB and his .532 OBP ranks 2nd.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

*It was really cool of Patrick Corbin, a former teammate of Tyler Skaggs and a close friend, to wear Tyler’s 45 on Tuesday when he started for the Nationals.

*Hey, remember how the Phillies were supposed to be offensive kings? Eh, not so much. They rank 17th in BA (.247), 15th in OBP (.325), and 19th in SLG (.424). Most significantly, they rank 15th in runs/game at 4.91. Bryce Harper has been good, but not amazing with a slash line of .253/.370/.470. J.T. Realmuto hasn’t been that great offensively either, posting an OPS of .767.

*The Red Sox announced that Nathan Eovaldi, when he returns from injured list shortly after the All-Star Break, will serve as the team’s closer. No AL team has blown more saves than Boston’s 18.

*I don’t think the Twins have what it takes on the mound to make hay in the playoffs, but boy do they have an impressive lineup. If I had to make a decision, I think I’d take the Yankees lineup but for right now I think I’d take the Twins lineup over the Astros group. But, I’d take the Astros as a team because of the differences on the mound.

*Quick…who is leading MLB in batting average? I’m stalling while writing gibberish so you can think so I’d advise you to put your thinking cap on blah blah blah do you have an answer yet because we are counting on you to answer corr—Jeff McNeil. The Mets second baseman is batting .349 with an OPS of .917.

*Not only will 20-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. participate in the Home Run Derby, so will 21-year-old Ronald Acuña Jr.. According to Sarah Langs, this will be the 1st HR Derby ever with MULTIPLE participants under the age of 22. Entering this year, there had been 3 participants under 22 ever. Youngest winner: 23 yr, 265 day old Juan Gonzalez in 1993

*This was super dumb of Jake Arrieta. He deserves to get fined for this comment.

*MLB announced that Phillies outfielder Odúbel Herrera accepted a suspension for the remainder of the 2019 season (including the Postseason) for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.  The suspension is unpaid.

MINOR LEAGUES

*Sam Huff, a catching prospect for the Rangers, was selected as the MVP of the Future’s Game after he hit a two-run home run in the contest.

*OF Scott Heineman has been activated from the 60-day injured list and optioned to Nashville. Roster is now at 40. Heineman had been on injury rehab assignment at Nashville. He’s hitting really well and, get this, he played first base on Sunday. Perhaps they’re trying to expand his versatility and maybe even consider him an option if Guzman’s struggles persist?

*Friday was an interesting night for Frisco. They beat Nick Margevicius (Padres), who started the season in the bigs, and got a nice night from a trio of exciting pitchers. Tyler Phillips allowed three runs over six innings and then Demarcus Evans and Emmanuel Clase combined for three scoreless innings. Evans was perfect in his two innings with five strikeouts.

*20-year old RHP Ricky Vanasco has gotten off to a nice start for Class A Short Season Spokane. The hard-throwing 15th round pick in 2017 delivered six scoreless innings with ten punch outs, two walks, and one hit on Friday. He’s made four starts and kept the opposition scoreless in three of them.

A/V DEPARTMENT

*Josh Jung discussed signing his first pro contract and getting to begin his professional career

*Davis Wendzel, who is not short of personality, on signing and his love of the state of Texas