Rangers Feel Right At Home

With Cliff Lee‘s struggles in Game 1 and the bullpen meltdown in Game 2, the focus of the World Series has been squarely on the Rangers’ pitching staff, and understandably so. However, overshadowed by their teammates’ more noticeable failure is the fact Texas’ offense hasn’t lived up to its end of the bargain yet, either.

As a team, the Rangers are hitting just .227/.293/.303 through the first two games of the Fall Classic. For comparison, that’s roughly the same offensive performance that Bobby Crosby had this year — you know, the guy who the worst team in baseball got rid of for not performing up to its standards. No matter how you look at it, the Rangers simply haven’t hit, and that will have to change tonight if they want to get back in this series.

There are a couple of reasons for optimism in Texas, however. As the series moves to Texas, the rules change, allowing the Rangers to put Vladimir Guerrero back in the lineup without subjecting him to the embarrassment of playing the field again. The return of the DH will be a welcome addition for Texas, and it comes at the perfect time in the series, as the Giants will be starting left-handed pitchers in both Games 3 and 4.

Like most right-handed hitters, Guerrero fares better against southpaws. In addition to hitting .338 against them this year, his walk rate was double that of his mark against right-handers. For his career, his walk rate against lefties is 60 percent higher than against right-handers. As an outfielder facing a right-handed pitcher in Game 1, Guerrero was a liability; as a designated hitter against left-handed pitchers each of the next two nights, he could be a big asset.

The other reason for hope in Texas is simply the shift in ballparks itself. As Ian Kinsler will tell you, even hitting a ball on the screws is no guarantee that it will get out of AT&T Park. The Giants’ home park is one of the toughest places to hit home runs, which is one of the main ways Texas puts numbers on the scoreboard. The Ballpark in Arlington, on the other hand, is one of the best places in baseball for home run hitters, and the Rangers have a roster built to take advantage of the park’s dimensions.

Below are the home and road splits for the Rangers’ expected Game 3 lineup, by weighted on base average (wOBA):

Player Home wOBA Road wOBA
Elvis Andrus .289 .307
Michael Young .373 .297
Josh Hamilton .506 .384
Vladimir Guerrero .375 .344
Nelson Cruz .467 .348
Ian Kinsler .395 .319
Jeff Francoeur Not enough ABs
Mitch Moreland .361 .355
Bengie Molina .283 .266

The disparity in performance for the middle of the Rangers’ lineup is staggering. Michael Young, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Kinsler, especially, did most of their heavy lifting in their home park, and were far more mortal outside of Texas. Most teams hit better at home than on the road, unless they play in a severe pitchers’ park, but the Rangers responded to home cooking like no other team in baseball.

In Texas, they hit .288/.352/.449, the fourth-best mark in the American League. On the road, they hit just .265/.324/.391, only the seventh-best mark in the AL and just a hair ahead of offensive behemoths like the Los Angeles Angels and the Kansas City Royals. Or, to put it another way, the Rangers hit only three more home runs on the road this year than the Seattle Mariners did.

The combination of natural home-field advantage and the hitter-friendly nature of the park allow the Rangers to rack up runs in a hurry. The Giants should not count on throwing any shutouts while on the road, as they’ll have to keep putting up big run totals to offset the offense that is likely to come from their opponents.

So, with the series shifting locales, expect the dynamic of the first two games to change dramatically. However, there is good news for the Giants — the Rangers can’t win this thing in Texas, and they will have to win a game in San Francisco before all is said and done. Given that the Rangers’ bats are likely to come alive in the next three games, there’s a good chance that San Francisco will have the opportunity to win the World Series on its home field.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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