ARLINGTON, Texas — Bruce Bochy watched Marcus Semien go down with his team in late August. The Rangers showed up at Citi Field having lost nine of 10 to fall to second place and Semien had hit a rather lifeless .225 average during that span.
The veteran manager also acknowledged that Semien’s wife was in the final stages of pregnancy and that there were already three children, so he met with his second baseman before the series. “I just told him we might be reaching a point of diminishing returns. I thought maybe he was mentally fried and told him, ‘It’s OK to take the day off.’
Semien said he would let Bochy know if he needed it that day. They never spoke of it again.
The Rangers played their 170th game of 2023 between the regular season and the playoffs on Wednesday night, as they hosted Game 3 of the ALCS against the Astros. And for the 170th time, Bochy wrote in Semien to be first and play second.
“It’s really a luxury to never think about who’s playing second base,” Bochy said. “That doesn’t happen often these days, in the age of load management.”
Yes, load management, a good idea gone crazy. It’s great that there are now measurables that allow organizations to know when a player might be at a deficit. But this has too regularly been taken to the obscene – a generation of gamers were raised being told that playing daily was exhausting, so, not shockingly, with that planted in their heads, they are exhausted. It has gone from a useful tool to a crutch.
One of the reasons for the Braves’ great success in the regular season this year is that they played their best players as often as possible. Availability is the sixth tool in the major leagues and the five standards matter a lot less if you don’t play. The best way to measure wins above replacement should not just be to calculate the player’s stats, but also to subtract if an inferior player should step in in their place.
The Rangers never had such issues with Semien. It’s one of the reasons why general manager Chris Young, shortly after taking office, signed Semien for seven years for $175 million after the 2021 season. He knew that Semien’s work ethic Semien would maximize his playing time. But Young also believed Semien would be a role model for younger players such as Josh Jung, Nathan Lowe and Leody Taveras.
“It sets a standard that this is what we do, and this is what’s expected and when you’re a young player and you think about coming in and you feel a little sore, a little tired or “mentally not there, and you look and you see a superstar player who is not afraid and who has every intention of going out there, posting, playing and winning, that has a big influence,” Young said. “We’ve seen it already with several guys where it’s changed their mentality in terms of how they take care of themselves, their routine, their focus and their willingness to post.”
Semien said he was heavily influenced by his White Sox farm manager, Buddy Bell, who was a highly sought-after third baseman in his day. And then when he got to Chicago, he admired players who believed in the importance of getting on the field every day, like first baseman Paul Konerko and shortstop Alexei Ramirez. Besides, he added, the last collective agreement included more mandatory days off than ever, so those are enough for him.
“My point of view is you can do something special any day, you don’t have to be 100 percent to give your team a chance to win,” Semien said. “I was never the most talented person who just felt like I could show up and hit a home run, so preparation is important to me and playing is important to me. I feel like when I play every day, I get better as the season goes on.
This is why he did not accept Bochy’s invitation to rest at the end of August: Semien’s mindset was that crises are part of a season and that getting through them on the pitch was vital. And he produced an .891 OPS after the invitational to help Texas clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2016.
It also extended his consecutive game streak to 294 — only Braves first baseman Matt Olson’s 458 games are currently longer. Over the past four full seasons, Semien has played in 161 games once and 162 games three times. Since 2018, Semien has played a record 7,517 ²/₃ innings in the field, a major league high. The second-highest number is first baseman Freddie Freeman’s 7,372. The next highest for someone playing in the middle of the frame is 6,928 ¹/₃ by Trea Turner.
There are so many decisions that have to be made game by game in the majors. Semien provided this comfort to the Rangers: They never need to know who the backup second baseman is.
“It’s a puzzle that you try to put together every day and having that piece every day that you know is going to be your second baseman in mind every day, it’s a great box to check because you get his performance with that,” Rangers associate manager Will Venable said. “It’s a really good way to start that process every day.”
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