What Now? In Which We Ponder a World Where the Loss of Milton Bradley Has a Potentially De-Stabilizing Effect
Since Jon Daniels was named Texas Rangers GM in October of 2005, the team has amassed a record of 236-245. His past trades with other Major League teams have netted the Rangers big club such luminaries as Brad Wilkerson, Terrmel Sledge, Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka, John Koronka, Ron Mahay, David Murphy and Kason Gabbard. In fairness, he did trade for a couple of months of Carlos Lee and Josh Hamilton has turned into a star since becoming a Ranger. Meanwhile, he has traded away Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Francisco Cordero, Chris Young, Adrian Gonzalez, John Danks and Edinson Volquez. His free agent signings, outside of a one-year flier he took on Milton Bradley, have ranged from nondescript to failures.
The Rangers were a 76-win pythag team in 2008 and featured one of the worst pitching staffs in recent memory. It is also a staff that is not in any way shaping up to compete in 2009, either. Still, you might expect some improvement if for no other reason other than that they have nowhere to go but up. This would be fine and maybe they would have a shot in a weak AL West but their offense that was so good a year ago has taken a major hit. Here is how good Bradley was in 2008 (h/t B-Ref):
Adjusted Batting Runs
Here is Sean Forman of Baseball Reference on what the latter three categories are:
Adjusted Batting Runs - This is the linear weights method pioneered by Pete Palmer. It is a bit more accurate than Runs Created and also handles differing offensive environments more easily. It is adjusted to the park and league the player played in. It is also relative to league average, so negative values mean they were below average for the league. In my calculations, I consider league average without pitchers included. See the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia for a full description.
Batting Wins - Another Pete Palmer tool, this measures the number of wins a player added relative to the league average hitter. See the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia for a full description.
Offensive Winning Percentage - This is an estimate of the winning percentage an average defense with nine of this player batting would have. As was pointed out to me, the standard formula using the league's runs scored doesn't work well for 19th century players because so many of their runs were unearned and they took lots of extra bases and the like. I'm of two minds on how to handle this. One approach is to tweak the runs created formula. Another would be to use the league runs created rather than league runs. I have done the latter, so now we use the sum of the league's runs created to calculate offensive winning percentage.
You get the point. Bradley was absolutely terrific last season and will not be a part of the 2008 squad. The news is not all bad for the Rangers offense, however. Taylor Teagarden, Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis are all set for their first full seasons of Big League ball. Here is how the trio fared for Texas in 2008, with their Minor League numbers included.
2008 PA MLB MiLB
Teagarden 53 .319/.396/.809 .267/.390/.509
Cruz 133 .330/.421/.609 .298/.367/.539
Davis 317 .285/.331/.549 .302/.357/.595
The rest of the Rangers position players look strong at the plate, too.
Pos. 2008 OPS+
Kinsler 2B 134
Blalock 3B 121
Young SS 96
Murphy LF 106
Hamilton CF 136
With Frank Catalanotto or Jarrod Saltalamacchia ready to fill the position that Bradley vacates, designated hitter, the Rangers should have some concerns there. Recent rumblings indicate that Texas might make a play for Bobby Abreu or even Manny Ramirez, which would improve this offense but probably not get it all that close to where it was in 2008. The Rangers MLB-leading .329 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) portends regression whether they can somehow replicate Bradley's productivity or not.
But the offense wasn't the problem. The starters ERA in 2008 was 5.51, the relievers 5.15 and the team road ERA (lest you think that Arlington was the problem) was 5.26. Meanwhile, Daniels has done very little to address his team's pitching woes. This gets me back to the beginning of the article. Fairly or not, Daniels has to be on a short leash. Nolan Ryan, who I am going to assume is both something of a purist and deferential to a roster that does not feature the very worst pitching staff in baseball, is Daniels' boss.
So what can Daniels do? He needs to make the case that the Rangers are well-positioned for the future, make a good trade (probably with the Red Sox) for Saltalamacchia or Teagarden and hope that his youngsters at the Major League level affirm the notion that the Rangers future is bright. Because at the Minor League level, there can be no disputing this. In Neftali Feliz, Justin Smoak and Elvis Andrus, Texas boasts three of baseball's best prospects. And the Rangers system is not top-heavy by any means. Here is John Sickels:
The Rangers have three of the best prospects in baseball, several others who project as major league regulars, and a whole bevy of Grade C+ type guys, some of them breakout candidates for higher grades next year. I love the way they have run this farm system in recent years: they have mixed raw and polished talent in the draft, and have made a big push in Latin America. The Rangers are looking at every source of talent: college, high school, other countries, guys with tools, guys with skills. The result is a system with both depth and breadth, and the future of this organization is quite bright.
And that's the thing I (intentionally) omitted in the first paragraph. For all of Daniels failure in wheeling and dealing at the Major League level, he has managed to draft very well, bolster his organization's presence in Latin America and stockpile young talent when dealing established Major Leaguers. He netted Andrus, Engel Beltre, Saltalamacchia, Cruz and other promising assets in deadline deals.
With an unexpectedly large bounce in their pitching performance in 2009, the Rangers may have an outside shot at competing in a weak division this season. But in all likelihood this will be a lost season. If Nolan Ryan can hang in there with Daniels, see how his youngsters perform in 2009, monitor his trade decisions and trust he has learned from past mistakes, it may turn out that he would be best served standing up to external pressures to let Daniels go.