Editor's Note: We continue our spring training preview with 10 spring issues.
Today’s issue: Improving situational hitting.
As the Rangers went through their evaluation of the 2012 season, a number of issues popped up. They weren’t quite as aggressive on the bases as they would have liked. They seemed tired down the stretch. And they didn’t deliver in the clutch as they had in previous years.
That last point was about situational hitting. Sure, the club scored a bunch of runs, as it always seems to. They led the majors with 808 runs, tied for the lead with 1,526 hits, and were second in total bases (2,493) and slugging percentage (.446).
But the Rangers didn't convert in key situations as consistently as necessary. The offense was great in April and May and then dipped in June and July. They scored the fewest runs in the AL in July and the most in August. But at the end of September, the offense went on a swoon again. Texas averaged just 4.3 runs per game in the final nine games and hit .241 as a team, going 2-7. The Rangers were just 12-for-48 (.250) with runners in scoring position in that span.
Situational hitting isn’t just batting average with runners in scoring position. It’s how well the club moves runners over and scores a runner from third with less than two outs. In fact, the Rangers were 16th in that category in 2012, showing you there’s plenty of room for improvement. They converted 51 percent of those chances. The AL average was 52 percent. The hitters know they can do better. And nearly everyone is to blame.
The up-and-down nature of the offense last season is a big reason that Dave Magadan was brought in as the hitting coach. His job is to make this club more consistent in those situational at-bats. That doesn’t mean just getting a hit. It means doing what the game asks, something manager Ron Washington constantly preaches. Hit a ground ball to the right side to move a runner. Hit a ball hard to the outfield to score one from third.
"In those situations, you’ve got to know if the infield is in, then you have to get something you can drive to the outfield," Magadan said earlier this offseason. "But what I’ve seen, and it’s not only with Texas but it’s throughout baseball, not understanding that the team is giving you an RBI.
"When the infield is back and you got a guy on third with one out, they’re giving you the RBI. You don’t have to do anything special except hit a groundball the other way. Certainly, you’re going up there looking for something to drive, but understand that a ground ball to second is going to get me an RBI and it’s going to get us a run. A lot of that happens early in the game that can set the tone on your way to score six or seven runs."
That tone must be set in spring training and carry over into the regular season. Magadan will be preaching it throughout the club’s stay in Arizona.
General manager Jon Daniels talked about the situational hitting and doing more on the bases in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.
“Wash and I have talked about that some, just the idea of getting back to that aggressive approach," Daniels said. "That’s a mental thing but it’s also the way we play the game. It’s about making the opponent react to what we’re doing which was something that was a huge part of our game. It was still last year, but I think to a lesser degree. I think personnel-wise with some of the athletes and the versatility and the young players we’ve got in camp, there’s a real opportunity to get back to what Wash and the staff is great at, and that’s teaching. I do think that’s something we’re going to talk about and you’re going to see."