After an utterly tepid start to the 2016 season, the Texas Rangers are not only surging, they’re running away with the American League West.
With a 6-2 win Sunday over the Boston Red Sox, Texas is now 49-27 on the season, 10 games ahead of the Houston Astros. After starting the season 1-4, Texas is now tied for the most wins in baseball. Fangraphs projects the Rangers to win 92 games this season, tied for the fourth-most of any club and the fifth-most of any single season in franchise history.
One would expect Jeff Banister’s division-leading squad to rank higher in certain metrics; for example, the team touts a lineup and pitching staff that each rank outside of the top 10 in Wins Above Replacement. Ian Desmond has been one of the league’s most effective hitters at the plate this season, but there’s a significant drop-off between the Texas shortstop and the rest of the order. Similarly, the Rangers have precisely zero pitchers ranked in the top 50 in WAR this season.
So, what’s causing the surge in the standings? Call it a comeback.
“How we won some of those games were really most important, the comeback games,” Banister told Stefan Stevenson, of the Star-Telegram. “They were all tough and that builds up a bank of grit and resiliency.”
The Elias Sports Bureau reported on Tuesday that Texas has eight wins this season in which they trailed by three runs, two more than any other major league team. Banister’s club is 17-5 in one-run games, the second-most wins and best winning percentage of any team. Last season, Texas had six such wins.
Much of this has been a result of timely hitting. According to David Appelman’s clutch metric, which seeks to measure “how much better or worse a player does in high-leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment,” the Rangers lead the league in clutch batting and rank sixth in clutch pitching.
The metric isn’t meant to be predictive, but rather to evaluate the past. As you might expect, many of the teams that were ranked highly in the metric saw overwhelming success in recent years.
Consider that four of the last five World Series champions — Kansas City in 2015, San Francisco in 2014, San Francisco in 2012, St. Louis in 2011 — led the league in clutch hitting, and most of the winners ranked in the top half of the league in clutch pitching.
Last season, five playoff teams ranked in the top 15 in clutch hitting and the top three teams in clutch pitching qualified for the postseason.
No lead is safe against the Rangers, which bodes well for Banister’s group moving toward what appears to be an inevitable playoff berth.