Rangers have one of MLB's best lineups thanks to Hunter Pence and three other savvy veteran signings
The Rangers' offseason moves are working out... at least on offense
The Texas Rangers entered Thursday's contest against the Houston Astros with a 17-17 record, a half game behind the Seattle Mariners for second place in the American League West. Rookie manager Chris Woodward doesn't appear to have enough pitching to seriously compete for a playoff spot this year -- of the six pitchers with multiple starts for them, only Mike Minor has an ERA under 4.00 -- but he does have the benefit of one of the best lineups in baseball. Through 34 games, Texas ranked third in the majors in runs scored and eighth in adjusted weighted runs created, a measure that takes into account each team's ballpark.
The Rangers have received a lot of production from their usual mainstays: Joey Gallo has launched 12 home runs already, and has improved his approach at the plate; Shin-Soo Choo is having a year ripped from his prime; and Elvis Andrus could be in the midst of a career season. But the Rangers' offense is where it is in part because of how well a quartet of veteran signings -- Hunter Pence, Asdrubal Cabrera, Logan Forsythe, and Danny Santana -- has worked out through the first month-plus of the season. Let's take a look at their production:
Coming into Thursday, Gallo was the only Rangers hitter with a better OPS+ than Pence (171), who in 22 games has hit .344/.411/.656 with five home runs and nearly as many walks (eight) as strikeouts (12). When Pence signed a minor-league deal in February, it seemed unlikely he would even crack the Opening Day roster. After all, he was 35 years old and coming off a horrendous two-year stretch that saw him post a 78 OPS+. Yet Pence appears healthy for the first time in a while, and has thus far posted one of the game's highest average exit velocities.
Unlike Pence, Cabrera received a big-league contract when he signed -- he also received the burden of being known as the guy tasked with replacing Adrian Beltre. While Cabrera isn't Beltre, and has so far struggled to hit for average, he has compiled a 100 OPS+ by walking and bopping. He already has seven dingers, which is notable since he's only topped 20 in a season three times before -- most recently last year, when he jumped the fence 23 times. Cabrera has been at least a league-average hitter in each of the past four seasons and seems like a decent bet to make it five for his last five before the year is out.
Forsythe, meanwhile, is actually younger than Cabrera. A horrendous stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers left him on the outside looking in over the winter, and he didn't sign a minor-league pact with Texas until the final days of February. He saw a lot of action at first base during Ronald Guzman's absence, and showed more life with the bat than he had since 2016 by hitting .276/.385/.448. Always a disciplined hitter, he's taken that to new levels this year: He's swung at 30 percent of the pitches he's seen (league-average is closer to 47 percent), including less than 10 percent of the pitches he's seen outside of the zone (league-average is around 30 percent). With Guzman back in the fold, it's unclear how much playing time will go Forsythe's way -- but, whatever the amount is, expect him to maintain that patient, almost passive approach.
Finally, there's Santana. He too signed a minor-league pact over the winter, and he might be the most surprising performer of the bunch. After all, Pence, Cabrera, and Forsythe had put together more than one solid season in their careers. Santana? He'd hit .291/.256/.319 (55 OPS+) in more than 700 trips to the plate since his solid rookie year. This season, he's hitting .311/.358/.541 following some alterations to his swing. Santana has speed to burn and has experience on both the infield and in the outfield, making him a nifty super-utility candidate. The question is whether his gains are genuine or whether they'll be undone by his overly aggressive approach. Either way, the Rangers have already received more than anticipated from his bat.
Of course, just because these four have performed to date doesn't mean they'll continue to do so. Outside of Cabrera, each of the others appears to be a significant attrition risk due to age, injury history, or skill-set-related deficiencies. But sometimes it's nice to concern oneself only with the descriptive and not the predictive.
The Rangers can't be happy with how their pitching additions have worked out -- they can, nonetheless, take solace in knowing that at least for the time being they seemed to have gotten it right on the hitting end of things.
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