Rangers' aggressive moves for Semien, Seager paying off

June 9th, 2023

In a 24-hour span in November 2021, the Rangers made two moves that shocked the baseball world and changed the course of the franchise.

Two All-Star middle infielders. A combined $500 million in guaranteed money.

It was a huge risk at the time, the type of spending spree we’d typically see from a team either in contention for a World Series title or emerging from a rebuild with a core of MLB-ready young talent already in place.

The Rangers were neither of those in 2021.

However, and have given Texas exactly what it wanted: the best middle-infield duo in the game, and two foundational pieces to build around.

Texas also signed pitcher in November 2021 and continued its shopping this past offseason, signing , and and bringing back via the qualifying offer.

While the news that deGrom will need to undergo surgery to repair a torn UCL in his right elbow is a bummer, we shouldn’t expect that to derail this train.

(Note: all stats below are through Wednesday.)

The Rangers have MLB’s seventh-best run differential (+154) through 61 games since 1901 and have posted the second-best record (40-21) in the Majors behind the Rays, who will host Texas for a much anticipated weekend series at Tropicana Field starting Friday.

Texas’ offense has been a juggernaut, scoring 10+ runs 16 times and leading the Majors with 6.33 runs per game.

Although Seager missed 31 games with a left hamstring strain, the Semien-Seager tandem has been one of MLB's most productive double-play combos. In fact, no two middle-infield teammates (min. 50% of games played at either second base or shortstop) have recorded more combined WAR (per Baseball-Reference) than Semien and Seager.

Most combined bWAR for any two middle-infield teammates, 2023
Min. 50% of games played at either 2B or SS

  • 1. 4.7 WAR -- Marcus Semien (3.3) and Corey Seager (1.4), Rangers
  • 2-T. 4.5 WAR -- Marcus Semien (3.3) and Ezequiel Duran (1.2), Rangers
  • 2-T. 4.5 WAR -- Bo Bichette (3.3) and Whit Merrifield (1.2), Blue Jays
  • 2-T. 4.5 WAR -- Ha-Seong Kim (3.0) and Xander Bogaerts (1.5), Padres
  • 5. 4.4 WAR -- Dansby Swanson (2.7) and Nico Hoerner (1.7), Cubs

The Rangers’ success this season has validated the franchise’s decision to buck conventional wisdom and go all in on Semien and Seager despite being so early along in its rebuild.

In terms of bWAR, the Rangers’ five best returning players from 2021 were (3.7 bWAR in 2021), (2.3), (1.8), (1.1) and (1.0). Texas did have five players on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list prior to the 2022 campaign, but only two -- Duran and -- went on to make their MLB debuts last season.

In other words, Semien and Seager weren't joining a ready-made contender. And in Year 1, the results ... weren't great.

The Rangers went 68-94 -- their sixth consecutive losing season -- and finished fourth in the AL West. Manager Chris Woodward and president of baseball operations Jon Daniels were let go before the end of the campaign.

Pitching was Texas' most glaring issue, hence the focus on improving its rotation this past offseason. But its offense wasn’t that good, either, posting the 12th-lowest OPS (.696) in MLB.

Seager finished with 33 homers, but his .772 OPS (118 OPS+) was a step down from 2020-21 (145 OPS+). Semien (107 OPS+) also regressed after producing 45 homers with a 131 OPS+ for the Blue Jays in 2021, though he did recover nicely after hitting .197 with no homers and a .497 OPS over his first 43 games in a Rangers uniform.

Both have been much more productive in Year 2 with the Rangers.

Semien, who just had a 25-game hitting streak snapped on Wednesday, has slashed .299/.367/.496 (137 OPS+) with nine homers, 19 doubles, 50 RBIs, 55 runs and seven steals over 61 games this season, starting every game in the leadoff spot. The 32-year-old has shown improved plate discipline and is making better contact than he did a year ago.

  • Avg. exit velocity: Up 1.6 mph
  • Hard-hit rate: Up 7.4 points
  • Sweet-spot rate: Up 6.2 points
  • Chase rate: Down 3.7 points
  • Strikeout rate: Down 2.0 points
  • Walk rate: Up 2.5 points

Also factoring in his excellent defense at second base, Semien is tied for second in the Majors in bWAR with Bichette and , behind only  (3.8 WAR).

Then there’s Seager, who was expected to improve this season, if only because MLB’s new shift restrictions seemed likely to add quite a few more hits to his ledger. The 29-year-old has indeed gotten better, slashing .336/.393/.588 (168 OPS+) with six homers and 29 RBIs over 30 games, but it’s about so much more than the shift. Like Semien, Seager has improved his contact quality and plate discipline.

  • Avg. exit velocity: Up 3.8 mph
  • Hard-hit rate: Up 8.0 points
  • Sweet-spot rate: Up 5.0 points
  • Barrel rate: Up 6.7 points
  • Chase rate: Down 6.8 points

Seager's expected wOBA, a metric that tells a story of a player's season based on quality of contact (rather than actual results), plus strikeouts and walks, has him among the best hitters in baseball (.323 is the MLB average xwOBA in 2023).

Highest xwOBA, 2023
Among 260 qualifying batters

  • 1. Aaron Judge (NYY): .476
  • 2. Ronald Acuña Jr. (ATL): .451
  • 3. Freddie Freeman (LAD): .425
  • 4-T. Yordan Alvarez (HOU): .420
  • 4-T. Sean Murphy (ATL): .420 
  • 6. Corey Seager (TEX): .414

The Rangers managed to go 19-12 (.613 winning percentage) in the 31 games Seager missed, but they've been even better with the shortstop in the lineup, going 21-9 (.700 winning percentage), including 14-5 since he came off the IL.

Of course, Texas’ success this season goes beyond Semien and Seager. Six other Rangers have at least 125 plate appearances and an OPS+ of 116 or higher in 2023, including Duran (148), Jung (133) and García (130). Texas and Tampa Bay are tied for the MLB lead with eight such players, while no other team has more than six. Meanwhile, Eovaldi (2.24 ERA) and Gray (2.32 ERA) have been two of the best pitchers in MLB.

But the Rangers’ ambitious plan to build a contender -- and fast -- hinged on their two massive middle-infield signings. After some initial hiccups, both are paying off in a big way, putting Texas in position to contend for a championship much sooner than anyone expected.