Comparing the 2014 Rangers Lineup to the 2011 World Series Team Lineup
The Texas Rangers' last World Series appearance came in 2011—just three years ago. But for many Rangers fans, the end of that magical two-year postseason ride seems much further removed than three years.
The additions of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo this offseason made the Rangers' offense World Series-caliber once again in 2014.
If anything, when healthy, this year's pitching staff is deeper and more talented than that of 2011. Yu Darvish is an established ace who might have been able to win the starts that CJ Wilson lost in that Fall Classic to the St. Louis Cardinals. Martin Perez is another young gun that the 2011 rotation did not have in the postseason.
Matt Harrison and Derek Holland have both matured noticeably since their starts in that World Series.
But since the Rangers spent the majority of their offseason trying to retool their lineup, I'm going to focus on the how the offense has changed since the last World Series run.
Here's a comparison of the current Ranger lineup to the 2011 team's lineup. Since both squads feature several interchangeable parts, I'll reconstruct the 2011 lineup in its best state. I would do the same for this year's team, but since Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto haven't played a game this season, it would be of no use to compare them to 2011 standards.
I will include Adrian Beltre in the comparison since he has played a few games this season.
For clarity, the order of the lineup will be listed by field position number rather than actual batting order. For instance, I will not be comparing Ian Kinsler to Choo, but rather Kinsler to Donnie Murphy/Josh Wilson.
**All stats courtesy of Baseball-reference.com
2011: Yorvit Torrealba/Mike Napoli
2014: Robinson Chirinos/JP Arencibia
The 2011 Rangers team was definitely better off at backstop than this year's team. The Rangers acquired Napoli from the Toronto Blue Jays for the small price of Frank Fransisco, and it turned out to be a steal for Texas. Napoli finished the regular season with career highs in batting average (.320) and home runs (30).
Over the course of the entire 2011 postseason—sorry Nellie Cruz—Napoli turned into Texas' best hitter. In 17 postseason games that year, he hit .333 with three homers and 15 RBI. Two of those homers and 10 of those RBI came against the Cards in the World Series.
Texas didn't have a catcher with that much offensive ability arguably since Pudge Rodriguez. The position has been a revolving door since Rodriguez left, and the Rangers could have really used Napoli's bat back in the lineup again this season.
Torrealba wasn't nearly as productive, but he usually provided tough at bats and a few clutch hits.
Now the duties behind the dish are handled by a platoon of Chirinos and Arencibia. Statistically that's a huge drop-off from the 2011 squad. Chirinos has a line of just .211/.268/.395 with two long balls and five driven in. He's serviceable at best. He doesn't do anything noticeably poorly, but he also doesn't really excel at any facet of the game.
Arencibia has been downright atrocious. He's hitting .067, with a only a pair of hits in 32 plate appearances. On the bright side, he has only struck out five times out of those 32 at-bats.
But overall, catcher is an area of major weakness for the Rangers right now. Once Soto returns, the Rangers should have a guy that can be relied upon to hit at least .250 with power.
Edge: 2011 team
3. First Base
2011: Mitch Moreland/Mike Napoli
2014: Prince Fielder
So far the Fielder-for-Kinsler trade hasn't gone the Rangers' way. The big guy is starting to pick up his average a bit, but he is still hitting .205 in 88 trips to the plate. He's getting on base at a .341 clip, in large part by being walked intentionally nine times in 20 games. But hey, whatever works.
Moreland had a solid season at first for the 2011 Rangers. He hit 16 balls out of the yard and drove in 51 RBI, while playing solid defense. He was nonexistent in the postseason that year, however, which explains why he only played in nine of the Rangers' October games in that run.
Meanwhile, as mentioned, Napoli was phenomenal wherever and whenever he played.
Now Fielder is the everyday first baseman, while Moreland is the primary DH. Over the life of this season the 2014 Rangers will have the edge at first. Fielder will pick it up and start to regain his status as a true force in the middle of the order.
He may not have that 40-homer season that many Rangers fans seemed to be hoping for. But 30 or more is a sure bet. He'll come around. His defense has actually been alright on the whole as well.
Edge: 2014 team
4. Second Base
2011: Ian Kinsler
2014: Donnie Murphy/Josh Wilson
It's a no-brainer that the 2011 team had a stronger second-sacker here. Kinsler had a 30-30 year in 2011, hitting 32 homers and stealing 30 bags while knocking in 77 runs. Getting into the 30-30 club is an elusive achievement, and Kinsler has been invited twice in his career.
The defense was spotty sometimes, but I don't think there's a Rangers fan out there who would prefer to have the Murphy/Wilson platoon right now.
But such is the price of a hitter like Fielder. And once Jurickson Profar went down for 10-12 weeks in spring training, the Murphy/Wilson duo was forced into action. Overall, that pair has been decent—nothing spectacular, but they are getting the job done while the team awaits Profar's return.
Together, the two are hitting .227 and have a couple of homers and nine RBI. They are playing at a replacement level right now, but that's all they were expected to do.
It's no question that the Rangers would love to have Kinsler's production at second. But once Profar returns and re-establishes himself as the everyday man at second, the Fielder trade will really begin to work out like it was supposed to.
Edge: 2011 team—until we know more about how Profar will handle playing the position every day.
5. Third Base
2011: Adrian Beltre
2014: Adrian Beltre/Kevin Kouzmanoff
2011 was Beltre's first season in a Rangers uniform. As a Scott Boras client, Texas paid a hefty five-year, $80 million price with an option for a sixth year to stretch the deal to $96 million. But Beltre was worth every penny in 2011, and has been ever since.
Beltre brought a thunderous bat along with sparkling defense to the hot corner in Arlington. He seemed to make play after play in eye-popping fashion. With the lumber in his hands, he finished his first season in Texas with a line of .296/.331/.561 with 32 homers and 105 RBI. He was an AL All-Star that season as well.
Not much has changed since 2011. Even now at 35, Beltre is still arguably the best overall third baseman in the league. He's currently on the 15-day DL with a grade-two quad strain, and he's only played in eight contests so far in 2014. But Kevin Kouzmanoff has been a superb replacement at third.
Kouzmanoff his currently hitting .370 and is getting on base at a .408 clip. He has two homers and 10 runs driven in to his credit and is playing solid defense. The important thing with Kouzmanoff: He isn't cooling down after a certain number of at-bats. A lot of backups get hot, but not many stay hot.
Between Kouzmanoff's excellent play and Beltre's consistent production when he returns, the Rangers are fine at third base. Right now, it sure seems as if either player can step in and perform well. Still, you'd rather have Beltre full-time, even if Kouzmanoff is exceeding expectations.
Edge: Push. Because Kouzmanoff is doing much more than enough while Beltre is out.
2011: Elvis Andrus
2014: Elvis Andrus
At age 22, Andrus' 2011 campaign was a huge step forward. He hit .279 with five homers and 60 RBI, while collecting 27 doubles and swiping 37 bases. More importantly, he was making his second consecutive appearance as a starting shortstop in the World Series. That experience, whatever the result of the series, is priceless.
If you just look at the numbers, it's easy to say that Andrus hasn't really improved much since 2011. His batting average and OBP have been both up and down from his 2011 marks, and his power numbers have been about the same.
But 2014 is Andrus' sixth season in the majors. He has matured by leaps and bounds since 2009 and really even since 2011. His standard offensive numbers might not show it, but he is a far more disciplined, situationally adept hitter. He's become a skilled and reliable bunter who can move Choo over to second consistently and pass the torch to the middle of the order.
He has a much better grasp of how to approach an at-bat depending on the situation in the game. One number that does stand out immediately in 2014 is his stolen-base total. Andrus has nine swipes in just 20 games and is on pace to smash his career high of 42 set last season.
He has a new leadership role that he didn't fully have in 2011. One can make the argument that this 2014 club is Andrus' team. He also has the Abe Lincoln beard. Whatever he does, he needs to keep that thing growing, because it seems to be helping his play.
Edge: 2014 team
7. Left Field
2011: David Murphy
2014: Shin-Soo Choo
Murphy had a decent year at the plate in 2011, but he played above-average defense in left field. He endeared himself to Rangers fans for his nonstop motor and hustle on every single play. He had a pure desire to win and one of the best attitudes I've ever seen in a Ranger.
He finished the 2011 season with 11 homers and 46 RBI while hitting .275. In the 2011 postseason, he had strong series against the Tampa Bay Rays and the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS and ALCS, respectively. He combined to hit .372 in those series, but his production fell off a cliff in the World Series. He is remembered for making the last out in Game 7 of that series.
Still—and I think I can speak for most Rangers fans here—it was a sad day when Murphy left this past offseason. His work ethic was remarkable, and I know he is greatly missed around the Rangers clubhouse.
The 2014 left field is now patrolled by Choo, who signed a seven-year, $130 million deal with Texas in December. So far, he's been worth it. He's got a white-hot line of .314/.432/.500 with two long balls and seven RBI. He's doing what he was paid to do: get on base.
The only black mark on Choo's resume so far his that he's striking out at a 21 percent rate. That's a bit high, but he is still getting on base at that lights-out .432 clip. Otherwise, he is playing as advertised and figures to be one of the premier leadoff men in the AL, if not the entire league.
Choo's power and run production will continue to come around, and his value will be maximized when Fielder picks things up at the plate and when Beltre is healthy and hitting.
Edge: 2014 team
8. Center Field
2011: Josh Hamiton
2014: Leonys Martin
This comparison is a classic dichotomy. Hamilton was clearly the superior offensive player, while Martin is clearly better defensively.
2011 actually might have been Hamilton's second-worst year as a Ranger. By no means is a .298 season with 25 homers and 94 RBI a poor year, but that's how good Hamilton was in 2008, 2010 and 2012. He always had a monster bat and arm in the field, but he had a hard time staying healthy.
The most memorable moment I have of Hamilton is when he hit the two-run go-ahead homer against the Cardinals in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
The rest was history.
But outside of that clutch moment, Hamilton largely struggled throughout the 2011 postseason. His cold bat put a ton of pressure on Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli to produce against a very good St. Louis rotation and an excellent Cardinals bullpen.
Martin is the man in center now for Texas. Overall, he is a net improvement defensively and had been a noticeable step back offensively—until this season.
The 26-year-old has exploded in the first 20 games. He's got a .323/.391/.452 line with nine RBI and two triples. He hasn't quite initiated his lethal running game, but you have to figure that's coming soon.
Martin won't be able to keep up this pace all year, but there's no doubt that not having to lead off has done him wonders. He's really helping to turn this lineup around back to Choo, while having speed on the bases at the same time.
This is very close. Different players with different styles of production.
Edge: 2011 team. Only because we've yet to see a full season of solid production from Martin. Hamilton had a very strong track record with the Rangers even in a relatively "down" year in 2011 by his Texas standards. Martin must prove he can produce at a comparable level, even if he does so in different ways.
9. Right Field
2011: Nelson Cruz
2014: Alex Rios
Cruz had an ALCS for the ages against the Tigers in 2011. In that series, he hit .364 with six homers and 13 RBI. He handled pretty much every Detroit pitcher that he faced in those six games. It was a memorable sight. His performance earned him a two-year, $16 million extension through the 2013 season.
Cruz was an effective bat in the lineup for years and always had the strongest throwing arm on the team behind Hamilton. He made several key defensive plays during his Rangers tenure, but he is most notoriously remembered for his missed flyball in Game 6 of the World Series, as well as his 50-game PED suspension in 2013. So Cruz is somewhat of a sweet-and-sour story with the Rangers.
Meanwhile, Rios is simply a more athletic version of Cruz, who has slightly less power but a better ability to hit for contact. His throwing arm is every bit as potent and he is superior defensively.
Rios was solid in 47 games for Texas last season after his trade from the Chicago White Sox. So far in 2014, he's hitting .325 with a homer and 10 RBI. Although he only has four steals in 20 games, he brings much more of a running game to the table than Cruz did. He stole 42 bags last season between Chicago and Texas.
He has a team option for 2015, which the Rangers may or may not pick up. That likely depends on whether or not Michael Choice is ready for full time outfield duties by next season. But while he's been here, Rios has been an A-plus acquisition, especially for the meager price of utility infielder Leury Garcia.
Edge: 2014 team
2011: Michael Young
2014: Mitch Moreland/Michael Choice
Young, who had been the face of the Rangers franchise for nearly a decade, had perhaps the best season of his career in 2011. He was an AL All-Star and finished eighth in AL MVP voting.
He finished that season with a .338/.380/.474 line with 11 homers and 106 driven in. He was so valuable because of his ability—and willingness, more importantly—to play any position that he was asked to.
For his efforts, I thought he should have earned a few more MVP votes. Eighth just seemed a bit too low for that level of production. Young had an unmatched focus and determination to do whatever was necessary for his team to be successful. His trade to the Philadelphia Phillies early in the 2013 season was a blow to the clubhouse, but it was a necessary transition for the franchise.
Moreland and Choice now form a lefty-righty DH platoon that has great potential but has yet to truly materialize. I still believe Choice should be playing full time in Triple-A if he isn't going to get regular at-bats with the Rangers. Moreland is having a bit of a slow start to the 2014 season, but he's a power threat at the plate who can tee off at any time.
Right now, these two don't come close to what Young did for the Rangers in 2011.
Edge: 2011 team
Overall, the 2011 Rangers lineup was a stronger one. But if you were to match up the 2014 lineup at full strength, you'd be splitting hairs. I would still probably give the 2011 lineup the slight edge because it was a little deeper and had more power and run production across the board.
Fielder and Choo are immediate improvements. But you have to consider all that has been lost since that last World Series run: Hamilton, Young (at his apex), Cruz, Napoli (at his apex), Murphy and others. That's quite a bit.
Ultimately the difference between the two teams is pitching. This year's starting staff is much stronger when at full strength. I've heard many Rangers fans say that they think the team will never have a better shot at winning it all than it did with two strikes in the ninth inning of Game 6 in 2011.
But if this 2014 squad can finally get healthy and put it all together, I think you may just come to believe that it might have every bit if not a greater chance to bring Texas its first ever World Series title.