Midnight Player of the Week, 9/23 – 9/29: Craig Gentry, Rangers OF

Last Week: 9 for 23, 2 BB, 7 R, 3 RBI, 6 SB (0 CS), .391/.462/.435

The end of September is obnoxious, in that it claims to be more important than the rest of the season. Craig Gentry could have started seven games in June, with the same results for both him and his team, and few would mention his performance that week as a key factor behind the Rangers still having a chance at the World Series. Few would even remember that specific week, because the middle months of baseball bleed into each other, until BAM!, the losses are no longer droplets of blood, they are gashes in the torso. The atmosphere changes because we change. September, a month like any other, tricks us anew each year. The fans, the media, the players and the coaches all see the end on the horizon and create the heightened pressure of September from fear of meeting that end. What’s more, and what’s truly remarkable about baseball in September, is that millions of people before us experienced the exact same thing, unintentionally building the mythology, just as we unintentionally perpetuate it.

A few weeks ago, the Rangers were suffering a lot of gashes. Seven in a row, at one point. They ceded the second Wild Card to the Indians after spending most of the season contending with the A’s for the division. Ron Washington felt the situation was dire, I’d imagine. His team’s trajectory was unmistakably downward and there wasn’t much time to change it. Perhaps these things went through his head when he decided to make a change.

Historically, Craig Gentry has been a bench player. So far this season he’s had 284 plate appearances, the most in his five-year career, playing left and center field behind David Murphy and Leonys Martin, respectively. In these last 10 games, however, Gentry has played every inning. The Rangers went 8-2 in those games, and 7-0 this week, erasing what was, as of last Monday, a two-game deficit on the Rays. You know and I know that the Rangers’ turnaround is not necessarily dependent on Gentry’s “promotion.” At least, there’s no way I can prove it. Still, Gentry’s performance is more than a neat coincidence.

Take yesterday’s game. The Rays and Indians had already won, so the Rangers needed a win against the Angels to keep their season alive. Gentry went 2 for 3 with a walk, a run scored and two batted in. No one in the game, on either side, affected the outcome as much as he did. I’m measuring that by Win-Probability Added. You will see that Gentry is credited with .257 WPA, which simply means that his actions increased the Rangers’ chance of winning by 25.7 percent. The big play was this two-run single in the bottom of the fifth against Jason Vargas; Texas went from 55 to 70 percent likely to win with that swing of the bat. Of his two stolen bases later in the game, the second resulted in a score. In fact, that stolen base neutralized somewhat Ron Washington’s frustrating decision to bunt Gentry over. Washington would have been content to bunt Gentry to second; instead, after the stolen base, he bunted Gentry to third, a much better place to be with one out.

***

His biggest game came yesterday, but Gentry’s weeklong performance (e.g. this run-saving throw) earned this recognition. And it shoudn’t be a surprise. Ron Washington is a frustratingly conventional manager who needed to face dire circumstances before he put a speed guy in left field. David Murphy is not a bad fielder, but I believe the reason Washington stuck with him in left for so long is his power–though it may be middling, it is still greater than Gentry’s, and left field is supposed to be a slugger’s position. I can understand Washington’s reasoning there even if I don’t agree with it, but I don’t understand why Leonys Martin has been the starter in center all season. Martin and Gentry are the same type of player, reliant on speed and contact. Look at the stats, blindly.

A: .262/.314/.388, .322 BABIP, 5.5% BB%, 20.6% K%, 11.2 UZR/150

B: .280/.374/.387, .335 BABIP, 10.2% BB, 15.8% K%, 32.1 UZR/150

By now you get what I’m saying, so you know that Gentry is player B. Gentry outclasses Martin in every respect, yet Martin has gotten 505 plate appearances to Gentry’s 284. Gentry was injured, but only for a month, so only a fraction of the disparity can be explained by that. The BABIPs are similar enough, and Gentry’s career UZR/150 is 29.3 (over 1700+ innings), so the difference between the two players can’t be attributed to random chance, either on offense or defense.

Gentry sat behind two players for most of the season, even though his WAR (3.4) is almost identical to theirs combined (Murphy 0.7, Martin 2.8). Had Ron Washington assessed the talent on his roster better, earlier in the season, the Rangers might not have needed such a long winning streak just to squeak into a play-in for a play-in. Lucky for them, the man they shafted helped mightily in bailing them out.

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