102-loss team leads district for second year in a row? The secret to Texas’ different ‘nucleus’ is its hitters

[Sports Illustrated] The Texas Rangers are on a roll. They won Game 3 of their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates today, solidifying their hold on first place in the American League West. Houston is chasing hard, but Texas isn’t letting them catch up.안전놀이터

Texas: 31 wins, 18 losses / .633 winning percentage
Houston: 28 wins, 21 losses, .571 winning percentage

Just a year ago, the Texans were a team that couldn’t win more than five games (68 wins, 94 losses). In 2021, they lost 102 games, the third-most in single-season team history. This year’s showing is nothing short of a metamorphosis.

Last winter, Texas spent over $250 million on the mound alone. They brought in a starting trio of Jacob deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi, and Andrew Heaney to shore up a weakness that ranked 25th in starting ERA (4.63) last year. In fact, Texas ranks third overall with a 3.25 starting ERA. That’s thanks in large part to Iboldi, who picked up his second complete game of the season yesterday.

Iboldi’s last five starts

9.0 innings, 0 runs
8.0 innings, 0 runs
0 runs in 8.2 innings
7.0 innings, 3 runs
1 run in 9.0 innings

*4 wins, ERA 0.86 (4 runs in 41.2 innings)

But Texas’ high-flying offense isn’t just due to its starting pitching; its offense is exploding. They are the only team in the majors to average more than six runs per game. They’re averaging 6.33 runs in 49 games. Their 12 double-digit RBI games are also the most in the majors. This is a team where if the pitchers take away runs, the hitters take away more runs.

Texas is characterized by all of its hitters leading the offense. For starters, the “Half a Billion Dollar Duo” of Marcus Semien and Corey Seager are a formidable table-setter. Simeon leads the American League in wins above replacement (2.5) on FanGraphs.com. Seager, who returned from a hamstring injury last week, is third in OPS (1.009) among American League hitters with 70 or more plate appearances.

Center fielder Adolis Garcia leads the majors in RBIs, and Jonah Heim has grown from a defensive catcher to an offensive catcher (.273 with six homers). Rookie Josh Young is one of the favorites for American League Rookie of the Year (.273 with 11 home runs). Four of the top 10 players in the league in runs scored and four of the top 10 in RBIs are also Texans.

  1. Simeon: 45 runs scored
  2. Garcia: 41 runs scored
  3. Lowe: 37 RBI
  4. Young: 33 RBI
  5. Garcia: 49 RBI
  6. Simeon: 40 RBI
  7. Young: 34 RBI
  8. Haim: 33 RBI

Simeon and Seager are proven players. While their first year in Texas was disappointing, they are not players to worry about. “Last year, I felt a lot of pressure to step up and take on a leadership role,” Simeon said before the season.

The arrival of these two players added to the weight of the batting lineup. But it’s amazing how the quality of most of the players has increased. It’s a change that can only be seen with a broader view. In the meantime, Texas has not only changed its roster, but also its coaching staff.

Hitting coach Tim Heiers

In November 2021, Texas hired Tim Heiers as their new hitting coach. A former hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox, Heiers was known for his ability to find the right launch angle for hitters. The move from Boston to Texas wasn’t a result of poor performance either. In 2021, Boston averaged 5.12 runs per game (4th). Their team batting average (.261) and team OPS (.777) were third overall.

Hoyas helped hitters recognize pitches better. This greatly improved their ability to handle breaking balls. From 2018-21, when Hoyas was in Boston, the Rangers ranked first in the league in batting average against breaking balls at .242. Texas ranked just 26th in the same period. This year, in Hoyas’ second year in Texas, the Rangers ranked second in the league in batting average against breaking balls.

Team batting average against breaking balls

0.263 – Tampa Bay
0.262 – Texas
0.247 – Angels
0.236 – Dodgers

*Includes sliders & curves & sweepers

The player who has benefited the most is Garcia. His performance against breaking balls improved dramatically from last season. His batting average went from .201 to .271, and his on-base percentage jumped from .379 to .543. Garcia became an even more threatening hitter as he tolerated pitches out of the zone and only swung at pitches he should have swung at. The change in approach is evident in his chase rate, which dropped from 37.3% of pitches in the zone last year to 27.8% this year.

There’s one more leader who’s made an impact on hitters. Texas hired San Francisco Giants hitting coach Donnie Ecker as a bench coach shortly before hiring Hoyas. Ecker, who also serves as the hitting coordinator, is the man who, along with Hoyas, drew the blueprint for the Texas offense.

Ecker was elevated by San Francisco’s success in 2021. The Giants saw Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford rebound, and Donovan Solano, Ramonte Wade Jr. and Darin Ruff exceeded expectations. It was a similar situation with Texas this year.

That year, San Francisco took the unusual step of having three hitting coaches, each reinforcing a different area of expertise. Ecker was the one who stood out the most in this process. Baseball America named Ecker its 2021 Coach of the Year, recognizing the upward trend in San Francisco’s offense.

Ecker is now in charge of game management in Texas. He emphasizes the importance of having a good game-planning model. “As a coach, you have to play the game before you call the game,” he said in an interview with a media outlet. While Hoyers is in charge of hitting mechanics, Ecker helps ensure that the skills translate to the game. “If identifying a player’s strengths is step one, then step two is to see where that strength can improve the team. I once used the analogy that you can’t find a polar bear in Africa, no matter how good you are at what you do.”

Similarly, the improvement of the Texas offense this year is due to both the visible and the invisible.

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