It’s May … the lusty month of May. April has come and passed, the preseason hype can never last. The Texas Rangers find themselves in a familiar albeit undesirable place 23 games into the season: a 9-14 record, last in the American League West and 25th place amongst the 30 teams of the MLB. Last spring, 23 games into the season, the Rangers were also 9-14. Given the preseason hullabaloo surrounding the Rangers half-billion-dollar splurge on Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to help turn things around, Rangers fans can only wonder, in the words of the late, great Marvin Gaye: “What’s going on?”
At the time of writing, the Rangers are in between games vs Bryce Harper and a bunch of other guys in Philadelphia, and are in the midst of a three-game winning streak (knocks on wood). Their series record for April (including one game on May 1 for completeness and omitting the incomplete series against the Phillies) stands as follows: 1-2 @ Toronto Blue Jays, 0-2 vs Colorado Rockies, 1-3 vs Los Angeles Angels, 1-2 @ Seattle Mariners, 2-1 @ Oakland Athletics, 1-3 vs Houston Astros, 2-1 vs Atlanta Braves. The Rangers’ two series victories so far are quite surprising, as they came against the unexpectedly good rebuilding Athletics team and the defending world champion Braves team.
Here are a few of our observations and musings for the Rangers’ first month of the 2022 season.
The Curious Case of Jonah HeimOf all the returning players from the 2021 season, switch-hitting catcher Jonah Heim has unquestionably made the biggest improvement (*clears throat* as we predicted. He’s batting .364, with an on-base percentage of .475, with 3 homers and 10 RBIs. Pretty…pretty great.
Heim definitely earned his nickname “The Buffalo Bomber” against the Angels on April 14 when he hit his first-ever career grand slam, off Shohei Ohtani of all people, who had previously never given up a grand slam.
Purely statistically speaking, Heim is technically the best-performing Ranger as of right now, but he has only played in 11 of the 23 games this season. That’s fewer than any other Ranger on the 28-man roster at the start of the season. As a result, his stats are not represented on most baseball websites’ comparisons of the best players in the game at the moment. If you ask Siri “Which Texas Ranger has the highest batting average?” She will answer with: “Nathaniel Lowe leads the Rangers with a batting average of .299 this season.”
Now, it must be stated that Heim is technically the backup catcher to Mitch Garver, who was brought over from the Minnesota Twins in a trade that sent beloved infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa to the Yankees.
So, the question is: Why is manager Chris Woodward giving so much preference to Mitch Garver? Mind you, Garver is good (13 hits, 3 homers, 8 RBIs, yet a batting average of only .179), but any casual baseball fan can look at the numbers and see Heim’s productivity has been much better this season than Garver’s.
That’s not even the opinion of a baseball fan, those are statistics. Heim’s OPS (on-base plus slugging) is a staggering 1.172 – higher than Manny Machado, Aaron Judge, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bryce Harper, teammate Corey Seager or Mike Trout. Garver’s OPS is half that at .581. Heim currently leads the Rangers with a 1.0 WAR (wins above replacement) and, five games ago, led the team in RBIs (along with Nathaniel Lowe) with nine until Seager, Adolis Garcia and Brad Miller surpassed them at the end of April. However, Seager, Garcia, and Miller have played in those last five games – Heim has only played in one – and in that one game, he gained an RBI.
It’s understandable that Woody is reluctant to put Heim and Garver in together – one catching and one DH’ing — as the risk of injury to one or the other increases. But the obvious preference that Woody is giving to Garver as a hitter is a little eyebrow-raising. Garver has DH’d in five games in which Heim is behind the plate. Heim has yet to DH in games with Garver behind the plate. Admittedly, Heim’s batting stats are skewed a bit toward left-handed pitchers where he’s batting .750 against lefties (!!), but also hitting .269 against righties, with 5 of his 10 RBIs and one of his three homers coming off righties as well.
Perhaps Woody is attempting to justify the trade that sent away Kiner-Falefa, but if productivity at the plate is what he wants, Woody may want to consider alternating Garver and Heim a little more often or at least consider putting Heim in to DH when Garver is catching. Either way, Heim needs to play more.
Is Marcus Semien the New Joey Gallo?I mean that as a compliment. Gallo was off to a slow start last season and suddenly found his rhythm at the end of May. Semien, who signed a seven-year, $175 million contract with the Rangers just prior to the lockout in December, has struggled mightily at the plate, hitting just .163 and an OPS of .450. Still, Semien’s positive impact on the team has been felt, as he’s responsible for 8 RBIs and 15 hits. Credit where credit is due.
Clearly, it’s more likely that the short stop's struggles at the plate are ephemeral, as his 2021 season in Toronto was obviously out-of-this-world with 45 home runs, 15 stolen bases, an .873 OPS, and a .265 batting average. It’s unlikely that a season like that would be a fluke, so being patient with Semien is the best option for the team and fanbase.
He’s been a solid producer of singles and doubles, but has also generated the second most strikeouts of any Ranger with 19, and has yet to homer in a Texas uniform. Obviously, he is going to have to perform a little better to justify his $25 million-a-year salary or else risk facing the ire of fans and management. Hopefully Semien doesn’t get traded to the Yankees for an Applebees gift card and an autographed copy of Lou Reed’s Transformer, only for Semien to start cranking out hits for them a la Giancarlo Stanton. That’s the worst-case scenario, and if something like that happens, it would say more about the Rangers clubhouse than it would Semien.
Bull(pen) On Parade
At the start of the season, all apprehension about the new-look Rangers team was concerned with their lackluster pitching rotation and bullpen. The Rangers have had a pitching problem for years, and for the most part, those fears were confirmed for the first half of April when, in the first 11 games of the season, the Rangers’ starters’ ERA was 6.97, with the bullpen’s ERA at an MLB-worst 5.43 for a team 2-9 record. Thankfully, in the last 12 games, the starters’ ERA went down to 3.79 with the bullpen’s ERA coming down to a fantastic 2.06 for a team 7-5 record. As Tim Allen would say, “arrrugh?”
Reliever Matt Moore has been the brightest spot in the bullpen, with a 0.084 ERA, and was one strike away from an immaculate inning on April 27. Fellow reliever Brock Burke has also shined brightly, leading the bullpen with 14 innings pitched and a 1.93 ERA.
Fingers crossed, knock-knock-knock on wood, and candles are being lit that the Rangers keep it up, especially heading into The Bronx this weekend against a Yankees team featuring three former Rangers that has won 11 games in a row. The Rangers have something to prove and are finally in a position to prove it.
Will Jonah Heim get more playing time, and will his potential All-Star-caliber numbers remain the same?
Will the Rangers’ pitching continue to not suck?
Will the beast reawaken in Marcus Semien for him to start sending balls into orbit once again?
Find out next week! On Gunsmoke.