The Texas Rangers used 127 different lineups in 2015.
Fourteen players batted in the No. 6 spot. Fifteen times that No. 6 hitter was named either Carlos Peguero or Adam Rosales.
Who? Exactly my point.
As soon as he gets the defensive green light, newly acquired Ian Desmond will man left field and likely will be penciled in sixth on manager Jeff Banister’s nightly lineup card.
This will be an upgrade.
Desmond has a career batting average of .264, an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .736 and has hit 110 home runs.
Interestingly, that’s about what the combined 14 No. 6 hitters produced a year ago, when the Rangers finished third in the American League in runs scored.
Desmond’s presence in that spot, however, will likely drop Elvis Andrus or Rougned Odor into the bottom third of the everyday lineup.
Andrus batted sixth a team-leading 62 times last season. He hit into 14 double plays and owned the regular lineup’s lowest OPS (.667).
That’s not meant to be a knock on Elvis, but evidence that he was miscast having to hit that high in the batting order.
Andrus only hit seven home runs. In the second half of the 2015 Washington Nationals season, Desmond hit 12 of his 19 homers and had an OPS nearly 200 points higher than his first half’s.
Desmond’s right-handed power also now gives Banister the luxury of righty-lefty balance throughout the lineup. The manager appears to be excited about the possibilities.
“The potential with the lineup,” Banister said, “depending on either left on left matchups or left on right matchups, is that now we can make it really challenging for pitchers to try to maneuver around the lineup with Desmond in there.”
In last year’s most frequently used lineups, Banister was forced to cluster five left-handed hitters. In late innings, when other managers would start mixing and matching their bullpen choices, the Rangers became vulnerable to tough lefty relievers.
“It’s a matter of regaining that power threat,” Banister said. “I think that Ian offers stability and consistency all the way down the lineup, as opposed to having one group of hitters. This will balance the lineup all the way down.”
There should be no easy grouping, in other words, for opposing pitchers to relax. Another upgrade.
Andrus probably will be dropped to the No. 8 spot, where he can play to his strengths as a run-creator, rather than a run-producer.
Desmond’s left-right splits are mostly equal. But first baseman Mitch Moreland’s remain not.
Left-handed batting Moreland hit .294 against righties last season with a solid .876 OPS. But he was penciled in for 75 games against lefties and he batted only .245 with an OPS nearly 200 points lower than against the other side. It’s been that way throughout Moreland’s career.
The answer should be obvious — find a right-handed hitting first baseman to platoon with Moreland.
Ryan Rua, Justin Ruggiano and Patrick Kivlehan — once all thought to be starting left field candidates — will now become platoon first base candidates.
“I think it’s necessary to have a right-handed threat in that lineup,” Banister said, “and I think that we’ve either got to continue to progress with our left-on-left matchups, or we’ve got to have an at-bat from a right-hander that continues to push the line along.”
Banister hopes that there, too, with the power-hitting Desmond in the middle of his lineup, the balance will stem the late-inning chess game that he couldn’t often match last season.
If he finds a platoon partner for Moreland, that’s an upgrade.
Desmond, signed Monday, is entering his eighth major league season. He’s been a National League All-Star and won three Silver Slugger awards as a shortstop.
None of the previous three would-be left field candidates, none of the prospects destined to begin the season in Triple A and none of the other available names, familiar and unfamiliar, could bring those credentials to the Rangers’ lineup.
He’s an upgrade.
With Desmond, the lineup has a contender’s look.
CF Delino DeShields
RF Shin-Shoo Choo
DH Prince Fielder
3B Adrian Beltre
1B Mitch Moreland
LF Ian Desmond
2B Rougned Odor
SS Elvis Andrus
C Robinson Chirinos