Two recurring themes shadow the Texas Rangers as they begin the postseason.
Rangers fans have heard them, ad nauseam, all season.
Both premises, granted, are rooted in fact. Manager Jeff Banister’s team did win 36 of its 47 one-run decisions this season. And, true, over 162 games the Rangers outscored opponents by a mere eight runs.
Together, however, the two statistical oddities have fed the narrative among the national media that this 95-win Texas team was somehow more fortuitous than skillful.
A flawed storyline.
If you want to get to the heart and soul of the 2016 Texas Rangers, if you want to see how this team won more games than any other in the American League, you’re going to have to ignore the math.
When Banister was asked Tuesday at the ballpark about the national media’s casual dismissal of the Rangers’ one-run record, he had a profound and ready answer — as he should have, since he’s been asked about it so much before.
“Luck is a byproduct of skill,” Banister began. “Luck is also a product of solid preparation and opportunity.
“So if a team fails in those type of situations, are they unlucky — or just not a good team? I know it’s rhetorical, but that’s the way I look at it.
“They were presented with opportunities, and they were successful.”
There is little art in falling behind early in games. But there can be a plan, a strategy, in how a team comes back when the score turns upside down.
“I would look at it as a team that has great skill and talent and resilience,” Banister said. “I also believe the preparation that our coaches put in with these players allow them to be focused and confident in comeback wins, in comeback opportunities.
“We had a strict comeback plan, if you will, when we’re down.”
Banister didn’t talk about their plan, but it was based on how many runs the team was down and how many innings it had to catch up. The plan dictated which relievers Banister would use, and whether the inning’s offensive strategy was base runners or swinging for the big hit.
Having a deep, athletic lineup, of course, makes those strategies a lot easier. It also helps when, as this team did, it solves its bullpen closer problem in midseason. A team can’t come from behind if its bullpen is still leaking runs.
The discussion about run differential is the other statistical anomaly that wouldn’t go away. The new math Pythagorean numbers suggested that the Rangers were no better than an 82-80 team.
It’s wrong because the sample is tainted. The variables in MLB’s Pythagorean equation are flawed because the Rangers’ numbers include the likes of pitchers Cesar Ramos (32 earned runs in four starts), Shawn Tolleson (31 runs in 36 innings), Tom Wilhelmsen (10.55 ERA before being released) and a sprinkling of ghastly cameos by Lucas Harrell, Kyle Lohse, Anthony Ranaudo and Michael Roth.
None of these gentlemen will grace the 25-man ALDS roster that Banister will soon announce.
So here’s my suggested tweak to correctly adjust the Rangers’ Pythagorean won-loss record:
Subtract the runs that all those fill-ins gave up, since they include things like the 14-5 and 17-5 losses that Ramos endured. That pushes the Rangers’ runs allowed down to 552.
Now, take only the offensive runs produced by the likely 13 or 14 hitters who will make the postseason roster. That lowers that figure to 698.
Do the math. I’ll wait.
The Rangers that counted, you notice, produced a projected win total of 97 wins.
The best evidence of the prowess of Banister’s team can be found in the season’s numbers. It goes like this:
The Rangers posted a 60-31 record, a .659 winning percentage, against opponents that had a .500-or-better record.
That record against .500-or-better teams was the highest in the majors since the 2001 Seattle Mariners.
There’s your 2016 Texas Rangers storyline. Add it up.