The Tampa Bay Rays have just won the American League East for the second time in three seasons. This is quite the accomplishment, but as Maddon would say enjoy the celebration for 30 minutes and then lets get on with the task at hand. As writers, it is our duty to inundate the reader with all kinds of previews so that casual fans can be brought up to speed quickly and diehards can maybe find one little nugget that could be the difference between victory and defeat. Below, you will find my entry into this series. Specifically, I’ll be looking at the Rangers’ batters vs. what our pitchers have shown to be their main pitches. This means we’ll see how their batters have fared against left-handers that predominantly throw the fastball (four and two-seam), change, curve, and slider. If you didn’t know, those are the pitches at David Price’s disposal. The aim is to see where the strengths and weaknesses will reside for our pitchers against what is generally thought of as a pretty solid lineup.
The two evaluative tools that I will be focusing on our SLGCON (Slugging on Contact or TB/BIP) and SwStr% (Pitches missed out of all pitches thrown). I like these two tools in conjunction because most guys that hit for a lot of power are also going to whiff quite a bit so you get a chance to see different types of hitters and it can really be interesting at the margins. Let’s kick off by looking at the overall SLGCON and SwStr% vs. all pitchers and all pitch types:
Bear in mind that league average for each of these is around .500 and 8.5%, respectively. It’s no surprise that Josh Hamilton has been an absolute stud this year. He’s their best hitter and it’s not particularly close. Nelson Cruz has also had a very fine season when his legs have been able to support him. A name that maybe less familiar is Mitch Moreland. The rookie first sacker has helped Rangers fans get over losing an uber-prospect like Justin Smoak as the lefty has put up a .354 wOBA in close to 200 plate appearances. Don’t sleep on him as he does a good job of getting on base and his .195 Iso shows a guy that can get a hold of a pitch and take it a long way. Michael Young, David Murphy, and Vladdy Guerrero round out the above-average hitters. We’re left with a bunch of slap hitters at premium defensive positions (Andrus, Kinsler, Blanco, & Borbon), catchers (Molina & Treanor), and some corner guys that may make interesting platoon matchups (Francouer, Cantu, & Davis). To get a better view of this, let’s take a look at how these batters have done against lefties, through the lens of SLGCON and SwStr%:
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Since this kind of feels like an exercise in chasing your tail, let’s start with the last column that shows these numbers overall vs. lefties. We can see that this is where Nelson Cruz earns his bread and water. He seems to struggle mightily against the change, while crushing two-seamers and sliders and showing above-average ability against the curve ball and four-seamer. Mr. Price is really going to need his change against Nelly or this hoss could be one of the biggest reasons for a short outing. We can see that Hambone is also strong against lefties, but his weakness comes against the curve ball. Luckily, David has such a nice, nice curve that he may be able to completely neutralize one of their best bats. Unfortunately, Hamilton crushes fastballs of all kinds, which could neuter DP’s favorite pitch. Moreland shows up here as pretty good, but he’s only had 23 plate appearances against lefties during his short season, so I’m guessing they will platoon him a bit here. Mike Young profiles a lot like Hamilton, struggling against the curve ball and slider while getting pretty toasty against most other pitches. Vladdy seems to struggle against the heat from a lefty, but makes up for it by mashing sliders and changes. Velociraptor Jesus will have to pound fastballs with the occasional curve ball to have success.
Frenchy might look like toast against righties, but he fries lefties as long as it’s not a curve ball. Ian Kinsler is another guy that struggles against the curve from a lefty, but makes up for it by smacking sliders and two-seamers. Price should have a nice edge in this match up if he can keep the slider out of the zone. David Murphy is a good hitter of the curve, four-seamer, and slider, but seems to struggle against the change and then some against the two-seamer. Bengie Molina is fat. He also hits without much power, but good contact skills against most pitch types. He’s basically Dioner Navarro’s ceiling while packing a howitzer and calling a good game behind the plate. These are the top-9 guys by SLGCON, but we could also see Jorge Cantu in the starting lineup, maybe at 1B. Price should be able to keep him off balance with the four-seam, change, curve combo, and may tempt fate with the slider where Cantu swings and misses 1 out of 5 times, but can hit it well when he makes contact. Julio Borbon is basically what I expect Desmond Jennings to be next year (all-glove, not much stick with wheels) and Elvis Andrus can be had on just about everything except the slider.
At this point I think it’s time to get away from how Price needs to pitch and take a look at what our righties need to do to get out these quality bats. The chart below shows the exact same thing as the one above, except we’re looking at how they do against righties and have added in the Cutter (FC):
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We can see the same names at the top with a bit of flip-flop as Josh Hamilton is basically a Destroyer of Worlds (if that world was perfect and only contained righties). His “weakness” is the change up where he whiffs 21% of the time, but still mashes the ball when he does make contact. Nelly returns to merely superhuman when facing righties, though he really struggles with the change (Jamie, USE IT!!). You will notice that he has a higher propensity to power the lights with his mighty windmills against righties, but when he makes contact he’s going to crush. This is where Mitch Moreland checks in as a secret weapon. He can’t hit a slider or curve to save his life, but smashes four-seamers and changes without discrimination. Michael Young is a good hitter, but if Garza can manage his love-affair with the fastball then Young is a guy that is susceptible to his great slider/curve combo. Jamie should have a lot of trouble with Young as their skillsets are akin to a baby tied to some train tracks in a wolf preserve. Murphy isn’t fooled to often against righties, but he also doesn’t do the crazy mash against anything, but two-seamers. Vladdy may be showing his age as he also struggles against good heaters from righties, but seems to do a great job against all off-speed and breaking balls, tread lightly gents. I just got a call that RG&E up here wants to insert a bunch of Chris Davis’s along the Adirondack trail and personally I think it’s a good idea since I love clean energy. Don’t give him a curve, cutter, or four-seam and we should be good to go. The rest of these guys can be checked out similarly, but most struggle with the change, the curve, the slider and don’t do much against fastballs. These aren’t very good hitters against righties in the bottom of the order, but with the high wattage types at the top they must be kept off at all costs. You can pitch around the good guys if they bases are empty, but that becomes a losing proposition if you’re walking a good guy to face another with multiple bags occupied.
I hope this is a bit informative to fans of all types. We’ve seen the Rangers a few times, but it’s been awhile so I think most people could use the brush up. I think everyone can benefit from the quick SWOT analysis when it comes to pitch types by handedness, I just hope that our pitchers can pitch their game while exploiting the weaknesses of the Rangers. Don’t let Hamilton & Cruz beat us by themselves and we should be in pretty solid shape.