Team wOBA: .337. T-8th in MLB, T-6th in the AL.
The Rangers feature a good, but not great offensive team. Michael Young is mashing, leading all Ranger regulars with a .395 wOBA. Something really clicked for Young this season, as he’s on pace for career highs in home runs, slugging percentage, OPS, and wOBA. While he’s arguably the number one threat for Yankee pitchers, he’s far being the only run producer. Nelson Cruz has come out of nowhere to pop twenty-six home runs. He’s also a threat on the bases, having stolen seventeen times in twenty attempts. Ian Kinsler has slowed down since his torrid start, but he’s still been productive. He has as many homers as Cruz, and, like Cruz, is a threat on the bases. Josh Hamilton is in the midst of a down year, wOBAing (if that’s a word) of only .315. He’s battled some injuries and has looked totally lost at the plate lately; he has homered only twice since the Bombers visited Texas in late May. Yankee fans can hope that the short porch in right doesn’t awaken this sleeping giant.
Team UZR: 34.8. 5th in MLB, 3rd in the AL.
The turnaround of the Texas Rangers is almost entirely related to their defensive improvements. The Rangers, and in particular pitching coach Mike Maddux, have gotten a lot of credit for turning around their pitching. And though the staff has made some small strides, and brought up intriguing rookies, the pitching is looking better because of the defense. The Rangers are 5th in baseball in UZR right now after posting a distarous -54.7 UZR in 2008, dead last in the major leagues. Texas was able to improve by a combination of better play from incumbents, and an infusion of two key defensive players. Josh Hamilton has improved his UZR by twenty-five runs and Ian Kinsler improved his by fifteen. Meanwhile Hank Blalock has been an asset defensively at first base, Marlon Byrd likewise in the outfield. Elvis Andrus is a rookie, twenty-one years old and displaying fantastic range at short. Andrus is second on the team in UZR(7.7) to right fielder Nelson Cruz, who is posting an 11.2 runs above average ratio. Only Young is hurting the team, though his -7.7 UZR is less of a problem now that he’s at third instead of at shortstop.
4.55. 24th in MLB, 11th in the AL.
Kevin Millwood is one of those pitchers with a deceptive earned run average. His ERA is 3.48, good for 7th in the American League. His FIP though is 4.56, more than a full run higher than his earned run average. He’s only posting a 5.46 K/9 and has seen his BB/9 balloon to 3.13. Instead of getting punished, he’s riding a .279 BABIP and a very high strand rate of 79.8% to a fluky performance. That, the improvement of Kinsler, and the addition of Andrus have helped the aging groundballer post a decent earned run average. Rest assured, he’s not very good. He’s still giving up a lot of home runs, so the Yankee line up ought to be able to make quick work of Millwood. Derek Holland is a hard throwing twenty two year old rookie, and he’s got real promise. He’s allowing too many home runs right now, but if he can fix that he could develop into an ace. His FIP is 4.60, so he’s not there yet, but like Brett Anderson, he’s shown flashes of brilliance. His best start of the year was his three hit, eight strike out shut out against Los Angeles a few weeks ago. Dustin Nippert strikes out a good amount of hitters (7.25 career K/9) walks too many (4.38 BB/9) and in the end is a pretty average, boring pitcher.
The Ranger bullpen is quite a bit better than their starting rotation. Neftali Feliz, C.J. Wilson, and Frank Francisco all have K/9’s over nine, and Darren O’day isn’t far behind. Wilson is the primary lefty and he’s holding opposing lefties to a .159 BAA with no homers allowed. Francisco is currently the closer. Feliz could be this year’s version of what Tampa Bay had last year in David Price: a phenom starter that was inserted into the bullpen and could potentially close out meaningful games. He’s only appeared in eight games so far, but he’s struck out nineteen batters, walked only one, and given up a measly four hits.
The Bombers ought to kill Millwood and Nippert. They’re both right handed, and either walk a lot of people or give up too many big flies. Expect a good series from the Yankees left handed bats. Texas is fortunate to miss Sabathia, but they still are on the short end of every pitching match up. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yanks sweep, but at the least I’d expect New York to take two out of three.