Friday, October 3, 2014

2014 in review - Intro and Catchers.

Ok, here's the season review I've been working on. It's kept growing so I'm going to break it up into installments. Here's the first.

2014 was probably the most disappointing season the the history of the Texas Rangers franchise. Several off-season moves leading into the campaign seemed to set the stage for a return to serious contention and possibly even the top of the division. Injuries ensured that would not be the case.

At times the team looked more like a battalion fresh from the Western Front rather than a member of the American League West. The club used the Disabled List a Major League high 26 times en route to suiting up a MLB record-setting 64 players throughout the season. 23 of those players were rookies. 40 different pitchers took the hill for Texas during the campaign. 12 players ended the season on the 60-day DL. Additionally, the club also endured a sudden managerial change late in the year that took the players and front office by surprise.

No team can survive that kind of onslaught and be competitive in the least. The Rangers ended the season in AL West cellar with a 67-95 record. They just barely missed being the worst team in baseball. The much-heralded 2014 season completely imploded.

This is a look back at the 2014 season and a look forward to 2015. As odd as it may seem, there were some bright points amid the gloom and reasons to think next year will be better. Perhaps a position by position approach will be the best. If things aren't broken down somehow the carnage becomes overwhelming. Going to start at catcher and work our way around the starting position players before tackling the bloodbath on the pitching staff.

The Rangers announced during the off-season that Geovany Soto would be their first-string catcher for 2014. J.P. Arencibia, shown here on card 232 of the 2014 Topps Heritage set, came on board as a free agent signing in December of 2013 to serve as backup. That settled the catching duties for the year. The team didn't get out of Spring Training before things got unsettled. Soto ended up on the Disabled List for most of the season and got traded to Oakland after just ten games with Texas. The result was a three-way tussle for his job between Arencibia, Robinson Chirinos, and Chris Gimenez. Tomas Telis took Gimenez's spot in the fight after Chris was traded to the Indians. The season ended with Chirinos in the driver's seat and Telis getting some playing time as the second man. Arencibia lost out and got moved over to first to try and fill the gaping hole there.

Since Soto and Gimenez are gone, there's not much point in looking at their numbers.

Robinson Chirinos appeared in a career-high 93 games for the Rangers and made 338 trips to the plate. He managed a .239 batting average and a .290 on-base percentage. Those numbers aren't the best but Robinson was making progress as he got more playing time. His .415 slugging percentage with 15 doubles and 13 home runs looks more promising. It's a measure of the team's season that Chirinos tied for the second most long balls on the team. He needs plate discipline – 71 whiffs to 17 walks, but there seems to be offensive potential there. Defensively Robinson seemed to be getting better as the season went on. He ended the year with a .994 fielding percentage (about average for the league) in 784 innings caught. He also threw out 40% of runners trying to steal on him. That is an outstanding figure and second best in the American League. Robinson's biggest problem may be his age. At 30 he's about where you expect catchers to be established, not starting out.

Tomas Telis got a late August call up following the Soto and Gimenez trades. He didn't even get enough playing time to lose his rookie status. In 18 games Tomas made 71 plate appearances and put together a .250 batting average and a .271 on-base percentage. He didn't show a lot of power with just two doubles. He also needs plate discipline. His ten strikeouts and one walk make Chirinos look like an extremely disciplined hitter. Telis also had some difficulty with thieves – just a 6% caught stealing rate in the limited sample. Tomas' ability to switch hit does make most followers of the game want to see what he could do with some more time. At 23 years old he needs to make a go of it if he's going to.

J.P. Arencibia played the roles of starting catcher, backup, minor-leaguer, odd man out behind the plate, and emergency pitcher in 2014. He appeared in 63 games for Texas and made 222 trips to the plate. His .177 batting average and .239 on-base percentage are why he kept losing his spot. Even his 9 doubles and ten home runs couldn't overcome his 62 strikeouts (compared to ten walks) and general inability to get on base. J.P. caught 182.1 innings in the 22 games he appeared in as a catcher. His .988 fielding percentage was six points lower than Chirinos and five under the league average. He caught 25% of runners attempting to steal on him. Arencibia's got parts of five seasons in the Majors and his performance has been declining. At 28 years old it seems unlikely he'll make a resurgence.

I'm guessing the Rangers will try to move J.P. Arencibia. It looks like the starting catcher's job is Robinson Chirinos' to lose in 2015. If they can't move Arencibia they may use him as a backup to give Tomas Telis and prospect Jorge Alfaro some more seasoning in the minors. It's always a possibility the club just releases Arencibia and tries to sign somebody else to a one year deal. If that happens, Chirinos could find himself in a platoon unless he can really blow the doors off or the other half stumbles.

Long term I am a little more optimistic about the catching future than I was at the start of 2014. Alfaro is the big name in the system right now for backstops but I am always uneasy about putting all the eggs in one basket. 2014 showed there may be more than one basket available.

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