Thursday, August 26, 2010
Greatest Rangers Team Ever?
The Metroplex hasn't had Rangers Fever like this in more than a decade. In fact, in their almost 40 years in North Texas, the Rangers have fielded few teams with this much potential. If this current team stays on course for the next month, then we'll all be wondering if it might not be the greatest Rangers team ever.
I did this a few months ago when we all had Mavs Fever after the big trade with the Wizards. I took the current team and matched them up with the two best teams from two different eras from the franchise's past. So, let's do that with the Rangers, and hope for a better postseason result from our baseball team than we got from our basketball team.
The other candidates? I've chosen the 1999 Rangers, who won the AL West (for the third time in four seasons) with a club record 95 wins. The 1996 Rangers were also considered to represent this era, but most feel the '99 version was better. There were really no teams from the 80's worthy of being included in this experiment (save for maybe '86), but from the 70's there were three: 1974, 1977, and 1978. The '77 team won 90 games and were led by Gaylord Perry and Bert Blyleven on the mound. The '78 team featured newcomers Al Oliver, Richie Zisk and Jon Matlack, and won 87 games. But I'm going with the '74 squad, led by Billy Martin--they won just 84 games, but finished only 6 back of the World Champion Oakland A's in the AL West.
Let's go position by position and see what happens.
2010 Bengie Molina/Matt Treanor
1999 Pudge Rodriguez
1974 Jim Sundberg
Clear advantage to the '99 squad. Pudge was the AL MVP in '99, and when you talk about the greatest catchers of all-time, he's right there with Bench and Berra and whoever else you want to consider. Sundberg was a tremendous defensive backstop, but falls way short of Pudge at the plate. The Molina/Treanor tandem does not figure into the mix here.
2010 Mitch Moreland/Chris Davis/Justin Smoak
1999 Lee Stevens
1974 Mike Hargrove
Hargrove hit .323 and was AL Rookie of the Year, never struck out, had a high on base percentage, and fielded the ball well. Big Lee Stevens out homered Hargrove 24-4, out RBI'd him 84-66, and had a higher slugging percentage. Again, the 2010 Rangers don't compete here. Tough call, but I'm going with Hargrove, who I think was simply a better all-around player than Stevens. But it's very close considering the two seasons involved. Advantage 1974.
2010 Ian Kinsler
1999 Mark McLemore
1974 Dave Nelson
Kinsler, despite his constant injury issues, wins here. When healthy, he one of the most prolific offensive second basemen of his generation. He's also turned into an outstanding fielder, having dropped the error bug of his youth. McLemore was steady, but not spectacular. Nelson could field and run, but he carried a very light bat. Advantage 2010.
2010 Elvis Andrus
1999 Royce Clayton
1974 Toby Harrah
Harrah was an All-Star three times for the Rangers in the 70's. He hit 21 homers in '74, stole 15 bases, but hit just .260. Harrah was always among the league leaders in errors, too. Clayton hit .288 with 14 HR's in '99, and was solid. But Elvis might be the best defensive shortstop in baseball--at age 21. Like Ozzie Smith, anything you get at the plate with Elvis is icing on the cake--and his .280 average is pretty sweet icing. Advantage 2010.
2010 Michael Young
1999 Todd Zeile
1974 Lenny Randle
Young is one of the best hitters of his era, but struggles in the field at third. Zeile went 24-89-.293 in '99--pretty solid--yet, he also led AL 3rd basemen in errors that season. Lenny Randle once punched manager Frank Lucchesi, so he doesn't enter the mix here. Nice year by Zeile, but Young is starting to put together the type of resume that, if he plays long enough, will encourage Hall of Fame consideration. And, Young's numbers by the end of the year should trump Zeile's from '99. Advantage 2010.
2010 Josh Hamilton
1999 Rusty Greer
1974 Alex Johnson
Johnson was a good hitter--once won a batting title with the Angels. Greer was a fan favorite who played a great left, and went 20-101-.300 in '99--very impressive. But as good as Johnson and Greer were, Hamilton is on another planet. He's putting together possible the greatest individual season in Rangers history. He should win the batting title--easily--and his power numbers are huge. Hamilton runs and fields very well, and is turning into a real leader on the team. Advantage 2010.
2010 Julio Borbon
1999 Tom Goodwin
1974 Joe Lovitto
None of the three put up any offensive numbers worth discussing, other than Goodwin's 39 stolen bases. Goodwin could also cover a lot of ground in center--he's the best defensive player of the three. Advantage 1999.
2010 Nelson Cruz
1999 Juan Gonzales
1974 Jeff Burroughs
Now we've got some offensive numbers to talk about. Burroughs won the AL MVP award in '74 (25-118-.301). Gonzales did not have his best year in '99, but was still a force at the plate (39-128-.326). Cruz has been great, but has missed too much time due to injuries. Close call, but Juando wins over Burroughs. Advantage 1999.
2010 Vlad Guerrero
1999 Raffy Palmeiro
1974 Jim Spencer
Despite the fact that he may have been on roids, Raffy wins. His 47-148-.324 season might almost make Josh Hamilton blush. Vlad has been nice, but his numbers aren't anywhere near Raffy's. Spencer was just 7-44-.278 as part-time DH/1B. Advantage 1999.
2010 Lee, Lewis, Wilson, Hunter
1999 Helling, Sele, Burkett, Morgan
1974 Jenkins, Bibby, Brown, Hargan
Is this the area that gives Rangers fans so much hope for this season? Those four names have all been good to great. The '99 starters had a combined ERA in the 5.00's (different era, I know, but still...). The '74 staff was top heavy, with Jenkins winning 25 games and posting an ERA of 2.82--the best pitching season in club history. Bibby won 19 for the '74 squad, Brown and Hargan won 13 and 12 with ERA's in the 3.00's. That '74 staff was damn good, and I would take Fergie over any one of today's Rangers, including Lee. Very, very close call. But, based on wins, strikeouts, shutouts (different eras, I know) and ERA of the four names in each group, I have to go advantage 1974. Fergie might have been the tiebreaker.
2010 Feliz (cl), Francisco, Oliver, O'Day
1999 Wetteland (cl), Zimmerman, Venafro, Crabtree
1974 Foucalt (cl), Merritt, Stanhouse, Broberg
Wetteland was huge with 43 saves, and his setup crew was good. Foucalt had just 12 saves, but when Jenkins and Bibby are finishing damn near every game, you don't have many chances. Feliz has been incredible--a Mariano Rivera in the making. By season's end he may have more than 43 saves. The 2010 middle relief has been incredible--if there was a tie here, they break it. Advantage 2010.
2010 Ron Washington
1999 Johnny Oates
1974 Billy Martin
I'm not a huge Wash fan, but he's doing something right. I think he's more a product of some genius work by Ryan and Daniels, and perfect timing. Oates was a manager's manager, and is the most successful manager in club history. Billy Martin, however, wins here. Martin was volatile, but a genius. Advantage 1974.
The Final Score
It's official--this year's Rangers squad is the best in club history. It was actually a close race between the three eras, but the current day team wins out. The pitching, both starting and bullpen, has been great. The defense is much improved. Yes, they are benefiting from a weak division (what might that '74 team have done without the A's in their way?), but they are making the most of it.
Keep in mind, these results are as of 8/26/10. If the bottom falls out and this team stinks it's way through September and October, then we'll re-think things. But I don't see that happening--do you?