What a strange season it was for the Texas Rangers. They won the American League West despite a 36-40 record in divisional play. Only Toronto had a better record against teams with winning records in the American League. The Rangers, thought to be a bit of a long shot, became Trade Deadline buyers and finally pulled the trigger on a Cole Hamels deal. Rookie skipper Jeff Bannister’s team was just a few outs away from a berth in the ALCS.
It all came one year after the Rangers, decimated by injuries, had to use 64 different batters and 40 different pitchers. They won 67 games that season. The Rangers went from 31 games out of first place to winning the AL West in the span of one season. Things looked grim at the All-Star Break, but the Rangers started their climb out of a 7-14 April hole to get within four games of .500 at the break and went 46-28 over the final 74 games to outlast the Astros and the Angels for the AL West crown, their third in six seasons.
Statistically, there are some anomalies. The Rangers got hot at the right time and played well when the pressure mounted. Texas was 13-6 against Houston, so that certainly helped in locking down the division. They were 27-22 in one-run games, a number that could come down a little bit this season. Pythagorean win-loss had the Rangers at 83-79, with BaseRuns at 81-81.
This is a very interesting team for 2016, mostly because there are a wide range of possible outcomes. They could win the division again, especially if Yu Darvish comes back healthy sooner rather than later. On the other hand, they could run into a lot of injuries again and finish near the bottom of the American League. It was a quiet offseason and people tend to shy away from teams that are banking on similar outcomes to the previous season without upgrading the ballclub. To be fair, the Hamels deal updated the ballclub for this season, but projections and prognostications already took him into account.
Teams like this are tough to handicap. When the floor is low and the ceiling is high, luck and variance play a big role. Health may play the biggest role. You’re likely to see the Rangers as one of the most polarizing teams in all of the season predictions and that’s simply because they are a hard team to gauge. Truthfully, the season win total number for Texas illustrates this attitude. Oddsmakers are content to let the betting market bat the number around a little bit to see what perception is. Personally, I think action will be balanced or people will stay off altogether.
Season win total odds:
BetOnline: 83.5 (-115/-115)
5Dimes: 83.5 (-115/-115)
Bovada: 84.5 (100/-130)
Key additions: Ike Davis, Jeremy Guthrie, James Jones, Tom Wilhelmsen, Justin Ruggiano
Key losses: Mike Napoli, Yovani Gallardo, Leonys Martin
It was a really quiet offseason for Texas. There weren’t a lot of moves to be made, with a lot of money tied up in the current payroll and some astronomical free agent prices. Big trades were out of the question with a significant dent made in the farm system in the Cole Hamels trade. The Rangers played the role of a small-market team this offseason, gambling on some damaged goods and platoon bats, while letting aging veterans go to free agency.
The one noteworthy trade sent Leonys Martin to the Mariners and Leonys Martin-lite, James Jones, back to the Rangers. Jones is nowhere near the center fielder that Martin is, but he’s got really good speed. Losing Gallardo’s innings shouldn’t be a big deal with Derek Holland, Martin Perez, and, eventually, Yu Darvish as healthy as they can be.
Why bet the over?
When Yu Darvish returns, there aren’t many 1-2 punches better than Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. The current timetable is that Darvish will return in mid-May, but he hasn’t pitched since August 9, 2014. When he is out there, he is an elite arm with a deep arsenal and a lot of swing-and-miss stuff. Even if he only makes 20 starts, there’s three-win upside.
The same can be said about Cole Hamels, who is consistently a four-win pitcher now at this stage of his career. His changeup will impregnate half the state of Texas over the course of a full season and he should make adjustments to the American League in short order. Hamels has also worked seven 200+ inning seasons over the last eight, so he’s durable, dependable, and excellent. The move to Globe Life Park for a full season won’t bother him, as Citizens Bank Park wasn’t bad for hitters. Mostly, however, that’s because his stuff is really good and he can thrive anywhere.
Derek Holland is the guy to watch this season. Injuries derailed him after a really strong 2013 season and a lot of people are wondering what he can do this season. His 10 starts in 2015 didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but, as I’ve talked about in past articles, there’s upside in a player that can train over the offseason rather than rest and rehab. Holland is that guy for the first time in a couple of years. If the command returns, he has a middle of the rotation ceiling.
Speaking of which, that’s about the same scouting report for Martin Perez. Perez is more of a ground ball specialist than Holland, but he’s also a guy training for the season as opposed to rehabbing. It does make a big difference. Good command led to good peripherals, but a terrible strand rate hurt the ERA. Perez’s left on base percentage was 62.8 percent. League average is around 72 percent. It’ll always be lower for a guy that doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, but it shouldn’t be that much lower. Positive regression is a possibility here.
The heart and soul of this Rangers team is Adrian Beltre. A sure-fire Hall of Famer in my mind, Beltre is baseball’s equivalent of the finest wine. In his Rangers seasons, Beltre, who turns 37 right after Opening Day, has been worth 5.5, 6.5, 5.0, 5.7, and 4.6 fWAR. His worst offensive season in a very long time came last season and he was still eight percent above league average. The defense is still very strong at the hot corner. The power expectations need to be re-evaluated because the bat speed is slowly starting to go, but he’s still a tremendous hitter with great contact skills.
A healthy Prince Fielder means so much to this lineup. It’s rare to get a guy with a swing this big that has such great plate discipline, but Fielder puts a ton of balls in play and sees a lot of pitches. His 124 wRC+ last season was right in line with his final season in Detroit, so there were no lasting effects of his neck injury in 2014. He’s not a good defender, but the Rangers have the luxury of using him as a designated hitter, so he won’t kill them in the field very often. He should be counted on for another fine offensive campaign, especially in a good hitter’s park.
Projections are extremely bullish on Rougned Odor, who hit 16 home runs in jus 470 plate appearances last season. Odor has power and speed, which means that he can put up a reasonable average as an early-count hitter to help mask a low OBP. Defensive metrics varied on Odor, with a poor DRS score, but a league average UZR. It was also his age-21 season. If he takes some steps forward, he can be a three-win player and really lengthens this lineup since he hits near the bottom.
Overall, this is a good lineup. Shin-Soo Choo is kind of an afterthought, even though he is one of the league’s most patient hitters and has a smooth line drive stroke that can generate some power. Choo’s down year in 2014 came while trying to live up to a big contract while playing through injury. With the pressure off in 2015, Choo hit .276/.375/.465, right in line with most of his career averages.
It was also a good time for Mitch Moreland to post a career year with a .278/.330/.482 slash. He’s a good platoon bat on the right side of the platoon, so he’ll carry offensive value and he’s not going to kill the Rangers defensively. With Choo, Fielder, Odor, and Beltre, there’s a good core here. Supplemental pieces, like Delino DeShields, who had an excellent walk rate last season with 25 steals, and a catcher with some power in Robinson Chirinos, this is a solid group if it can stay healthy.
Perceived as a weakness, especially by me last season, the Rangers bullpen wound up being really effective. Jeff Bannister did an excellent job with this group and most of it returns in tact. Shawn Tolleson was good in the closer’s role by mixing pitches and not walking guys. Sam Dyson is an extreme ground ball guy with an above average strikeout rate. Keone Kela could be a closer-in-waiting, so there are some really good right-handed arms out here. Power lefty Jake Diekman, acquired in the Hamels deal, is a solid late-inning option that misses bats.
Why bet the under?
The wide range of potential outcomes for the Rangers is directly tied to the team’s injury risk. If they’re healthy, they can contend. If they’re not, they won’t. Josh Hamilton is basically a shell of himself at this point with injuries. The Rangers will give him every chance to play, but there’s no reason to expect a whole lot from him. With Justin Ruggiano’s platoon splits residing on the thin side of the split, this could really make things tough for the Rangers outfield. Joey Gallo may see significant playing time out there. While he has immense raw power, he also strikes out a ton and he’ll have to walk at a very high rate and hit a lot of home runs to create positive value. This is a position where the Rangers could be underwater most of the season.
Gradually, Adrian Beltre’s aging curve is coming. He spent the winter rehabbing a torn thumb ligament and his big BABIP drop could be a sign of declining contact quality as the bat speed drops off. It could also have been the thumb, but an over-35 third baseman always comes with risk. The floor seems high for Beltre, but other injury risks around the field increase his importance in a big way. The Rangers can ill afford to lose him for any significant length of time.
Shin-Soo Choo turns 34 this summer and plays a really horrible outfield. An injury-plagued 2014 turned him into a 0.1 fWAR player. He bounced back very nicely, but it is fair to wonder about his .335 BABIP and his power spike. He tied a career-high in home runs during his age-33 season. That generally doesn’t happen. With a small margin for error offensively because of the rotation questions, a drop-off from Choo, coupled with drop-offs in CF and LF, are really going to hurt the bottom line.
Elvis Andrus continued to have a below average bat, an average glove, and one of the worst contracts in baseball last season. Add in Prince Fielder’s missed season in 2014 and the questions just keep mounting for this team offensively.
Of course, those questions pale in comparison to the starting rotation. Cole Hamels will be fine. Other than him, there’s no telling what will happen. Yu Darvish is slated for a mid-May return after being sidelined for almost 20 months. He already had varying control issues, so those could be very evident in his return from major elbow surgery. If his command wavers, Globe Life Park is not a good venue. Darvish had some command bumps in 2013, with 26 home runs allowed in 209.2 innings and a 14.4 percent HR/FB%. They could be worse this time around.
If you’re buying into the Rangers, you’re buying into their rotation health. That includes Derek Holland and Martin Perez. Holland gives up quite a bit of hard contact. His 2013 season is the clear outlier in his career, so that should be viewed as the ceiling and not the expectation. The expectation probably lies somewhere around a 4.00 ERA with a slightly worse xFIP and a lot of replacement-level work. Throughout his career, he hasn’t missed enough bats and his breaking stuff isn’t particularly sharp. He has flaws, but he’s better than what the Rangers have in reserve. And that, my friends, is where the biggest problems lie.
Like Holland, Martin Perez is a guy that could be in line for a rough ride. He is a past Tommy John recipient and threw just over 100 innings last season, 51.1 the season before, and under 170 across three levels the season before that. He should see some negative regression in his home run rate and the fact that he misses very few bats is going to mean multiple-run long balls. His ground ball stylings are great, especially with an average walk rate, but he’s very clearly a #5 starter type forced into a mid-rotation role because of injuries and a lack of depth.
Colby Lewis is replacement-level, to put it nicely. His chief selling point from last season is that he worked 204.2 innings, though most of them were well below average. He, like everybody but Hamels, has a checkered injury past that included flexor tendon surgery and more. He’s a fly ball guy in a bad park to be that kind of pitcher and his home run rate from last season should climb this season. His 4.62 xFIP almost mirrored his 4.66 ERA, so don’t expect any big gains. He had a low walk rate and a decent FIP, which is why he had a passable fWAR, but this is not a pitcher that you want to rely on. The Rangers are relying on him.
Jeremy Guthrie was lol signed lol by the Texas lol Rangers to lol provide starting lol pitching depth. So there’s that. If Chi Chi Gonzalez can’t beat us this collection of guys, even with minor league options and development left, I’d be worried about his future potential. Like many of the depth options, he doesn’t miss many bats. Maybe his offspeed stuff gets refined and maybe he can surprise if given the opportunity due to injury, but he’s another in a line of replacement-level starting pitching.
The bullpen is okay. It walks too many guys and there are some command problems with some of the relievers, but it’s serviceable. For me, that’s not enough with this starting rotation. It was in the middle of the pack most of last year, except for September/October, when an 85.3 percent strand rate hid some of its flaws. The 2.52 ERA came with a 3.82 FIP and a 3.59 xFIP. That was easily the peak of this group’s potential, so expect an average bullpen with potential to be slightly above or below. It’s definitely not enough to swing the balance one way or another.
The Rangers were right around average defensively, but Leonys Martin made up a big chunk of that. Martin saved 15 runs defensively last season and had a strong UZR/150. In terms of defensive performance in center field, Delino Deshields Jr. was -10 defensive runs saved and below average in UZR. That’s coupled with Shin-Soo Choo, who is an awful defender in right field. These are the types of things that season win totals bettors need to be looking for. This is a significant downgrade. Now, Deshields could show big strides in his first full season in CF, but I’d be skeptical.
Pick: Texas Rangers Under 84.5 (-130 – Bovada)
I’ll pay 15 cents for the extra win on the under here because I think that makes more sense than some of the other line discrepancies. To be honest, I don’t hate the Rangers. I like the offense and I think the rotation can be pretty decent. Unfortunately, there are so many injury concerns and there are other teams in this division that I like a lot more than Texas. I think they overachieved in a big way last season and I’m not ready to pay the price.
Like-minded (sabermetric) friends I talk to expected this number to open three wins lower and I’m inclined to agree. At around .500, I would have strongly considered the over. At this number, there’s only one consideration for me. Like I said in the open, this is a team with a pretty wide range of outcomes. If things go right, a repeat of last season is possible. If things don’t, a repeat of 2014 is possible. Odds are, this season falls somewhere in between. Between 67 and 88 is somewhere around .500 and that’s what I’m expecting here.
-END OF 2016 PREVIEW-
The first thing I have to say about the Texas Rangers win total is that the number left me stunned. The Rangers are coming off of their worst season since 1985 when they lost 99 games. Their 67-95 record was the worst in the American League by three full games over the Minnesota Twins. The hits came early and often for the Rangers, who were without Derek Holland most of the season, Martin Perez after eight starts, and Shin-Soo Choo played hurt most of the season until he finally called it a year. Yu Darvish only made 22 starts and the second-highest pitcher in fWAR for the Rangers was Joakim Soria, who made 33 appearances.
Truthfully, I expected the Rangers number to come out in the low 70s. Something that gave me value on playing the over. I fully anticipated a number that would be way too low in light of the injuries and the possibly for the Rangers to bounce back and I got anything but that. It really makes me wonder what the outlook should be for the Rangers because they are clearly in the running for last place with the Houston Astros. Yet, the Astros were lined higher than I expected as well. Something seems really off about both win totals, and Texas’s especially.
The Rangers bottomed out in a big way last season. Only three players had more than 530 plate appearances and nobody made more than 30 starts. Ron Washington was fired, not for the team’s performance, but for his off-the-field conduct. To put into perspective just how bad the Rangers offense was, it was the fewest runs they had scored in a season since 1994. If you’ll recall, 1994 was the year that baseball went on strike. The season was limited to 114 games. The Rangers scored 637 runs in 2015. They scored 613 runs in 1994. The Rangers won 87 or more games from 2009-13, so this was an enormous drop-off.
Injuries were clearly going to play a role in this season’s win total number because the Rangers can’t be as bad as they were if they stay healthy. However, this is not a very good team top to bottom. Regardless, oddsmakers at BetOnline came out with a line of 77.5. Westgate Superbook was at 78.5 and Atlantis was at 76.5. 5Dimes is currently at 78, with Bovada at 77.5. This is a very interesting number and it should merit a lot of consideration and discussion because it doesn’t look as easy as it seems.
Key additions: Yovani Gallardo, Ross Detwiler, Jamey Wright, Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Ludwick, Juan Carlos Oviedo
Key losses: Alex Rios, Alexi Ogando, Neal Cotts
The Texas Rangers certainly cornered the market on minor league free agent deals, which is probably not a good sign for the team. CJ Nitkowski, former Major League reliever, wrote up an article on Monday for Just A Bit Outside, the FOX Sports MLB blog, regarding minor league deals. It was a great look into the world of being a “tweener” on the free agent market. One of the points that Nitkowski brought up is that players signing minor league deals need to consider places where they have a high likelihood of getting playing time. That appears to be Texas this time of year.
Yovani Gallardo will slot very nicely into this rotation, since he’s using to pitching in a hitter’s park and adjusting to the conditions. Ross Detwiler adds some good starting pitching depth for a team that desperately needs it. Jamey Wright and Juan Carlos Oviedo have a great chance to make a bullpen that is lacking experienced arms.
Nate Schierholtz was one of the better platoon bats available on the market and Ryan Ludwick is trying to resurrect his career after a series of injuries. Texas is probably a great fit for Ludwick’s hitting style.
The Rangers jettisoned Alex Rios, whose career is starting to decline, and also sent away oft-injured reliever Alexi Ogando. All in all, it was a pretty quiet offseason for the Rangers as they sit in baseball purgatory. They’re not good enough to win, but don’t have enough tradable assets to rebuild. It’s a hard place to be in.
Why bet the over?
From an obvious point of view, the Rangers have to stay healthier this season. In total, Rangers injuries added up to 2,116 days worth of time on the disabled list. This includes long-term injuries to Jurickson Profar, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, and Prince Fielder, as well as 56 days without Yu Darvish and 36 days without Shin-Soo Choo. Eighteen different Rangers had over 100 plate appearances and only five players had more than 500. On the pitching side, 40 different pitchers made at least one appearance and 14 of them made at least 20 appearances. Of course the Rangers lost 95 games last season. That’s an incredible string of bad luck.
The lone constant last season for the Rangers was Adrian Beltre. Beltre, in my humble opinion, is a Hall of Famer and one of the best third basemen to play the game. His power production finally dropped off a little bit last season, but he still posted a .324/.388/.492 slash line with a .380 wOBA and a 141 wRC. He remains a terrific defensive third baseman, even though he will turn 36 in April, and he can be penciled in for five wins above replacement player as long as he stays healthy. He’s a tremendous player and hopefully gets a place in Cooperstown one day. He will cross the 400 HR plateau this season.
After playing at least 144 games for five straight seasons, Shin-Soo Choo’s body failed him and he spent the season playing with an ankle injury before a bone spur in his elbow finally made him call it a season. Choo continued to be a great on-base threat with an 11 percent walk rate. His strikeout total climbed and his power went away, but the injuries had a lot to do with that. Choo drove the ball far less than anticipated last season and in a hitter’s park like Arlington, he should return to being a .275-20-85 type of player this season.
The Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler trade completely blew up in Jon Daniels’s face because of the season-ending neck injury for Fielder. How he comes back is anybody’s guess, but he is reportedly healthy and ready to go. Fielder is a rare breed in that he is a power hitter with a great walk rate that also makes a ton of contact. He’s a major defensive liability, so his value would be increased by DHing more often than not, but he’s a productive hitter and that should be the case in a hitter-friendly park like Arlington. Lefties have a lot of success because the ball carries well to right and right center, so Fielder should be tentatively penciled in for 25+ HR and an on-base percentage in the .370 range. That’s a lot of offensive value and he should be a key cog in the middle of this lineup.
Leonys Martin is the type of player that gets overlooked in these types of things, but he shouldn’t be. Martin swiped 30 bags and saved 15 runs in center field, which is why he was worth 3.5 wins above replacement player. His slash line won’t be anybody hot under the collar with a .274/.325/.364 output last season, but he is still a young player with less than 1,200 plate appearances under his belt. His value is in his defense and baserunning and a healthier lineup won’t force him to be something he’s not. If he’s more of a table-setter for guys like Choo and Fielder, that could be something valuable.
The Rangers have some interesting youngsters in Jurickson Profar and Rougned Odor. Odor flashed some decent power at the Major League level last season after injuries pushed him to The Show a little bit quicker than the Rangers would have liked. Profar missed the entire season with a torn shoulder muscle. Odor held his own with just 282 career Double-A plate appearances under his belt and Profar struggled in his first extended playing time in 2013 at the Major League level. There’s some good potential here. Odor may go to the minors to get back on his development path, but he’ll be an impact player at some point this season.
Yu Darvish is still an excellent pitcher and there seem to be no lingering concerns about the soreness that shut him down last season. Darvish was on pace for the best season of his career after lowering his walk rate to lead to a 2.84 FIP, but he only made 22 starts. Darvish was still worth more than four wins over his 22 starts and flashed no-hit type stuff on multiple occasions. He improved his walk rate and struck out over 30 percent of the batters that he faced.
This is where extended research helps. Darvish saw an increase in fly balls last season, but he also changed his repertoire significantly in light of the arm discomfort. After throwing a slider over 37 percent of the time by PITCHf/x data in 2013, Darvish only went to the slider 25.5 percent of the time in 2014. That means that Darvish threw more fastballs. Fastballs are, obviously, easier to hit and easier to elevate than sliders. Any time a pitcher abandons a pitch as deadly as Darvish’s slider, there’s something more to it. It’s not a stretch to say that Darvish is in line for a career year. The walk rate may climb back up with more breaking stuff, but the K rate should also go up and his .334 BABIP against should go down with weaker contact.
The Rangers season could best be summed up by what happened to Derek Holland. Holland was injured while playing with his dog and needed microfracture surgery in January of 2014. Holland’s biggest achievement in 2014 was appearing in Dumb and Dumber To, as one of the patients in the mental hospital at the beginning of the movie. He was a pretty solid pitcher in 2013 with 213 strong innings with a 3.42 ERA and a 3.44 FIP. While that may be not in the cards after essentially a full year off, he has good middle of the rotation upside, with a ceiling as a solid #2 behind Darvish.
Yovani Gallardo is a great fit for this rotation because he has changed as a pitcher. Gallardo used to be a high strikeout, mediocre control kind of guy, but his velocity started to disappear. From 2009-12, Gallardo basically averaged a strikeout per inning. Now, he’s a ground ball pitcher with a home run problem. He posted a 3.51 ERA and a 3.94 FIP last season, but his 3.64 xFIP assuming a league average HR/FB% was pretty decent. Gallardo is durable, with at least 180 innings in each of the last six seasons and 30 starts every season.
Ross Detwiler and Colby Lewis will likely bring up the rear of this rotation. Detwiler is a crafty southpaw formerly with the Washington Nationals and Lewis is a guy capable of providing innings. Lewis missed all of 2013 but has two 200-inning seasons on his resume. His biggest issue is that he’s a fly ball pitcher in a bad place to be a fly ball pitcher. These two are roughly league average, so they shouldn’t cripple the Rangers too badly.
Why bet the under?
You’re probably wondering why no case was made for the bullpen as to why to bet the over and that’s because there really is no case to make for the bullpen. It’s going to be bad, possibly the worst in the American League. Neftali Feliz is expected to be the closer, with 13 saves and a 1.99 ERA, but his 4.90 FIP and 4.60 xFIP suggest that his small sample size included a ton of luck. Tanner Scheppers moves back from the rotation to the bullpen and he may wind up closing games. There’s very little to like about the bullpen as it’s currently constructed.
While I’m clearly high on Adrian Beltre, the skill set has to start declining. Beltre turns 36 in April and the power is already starting to go. If the defensive value is next, Beltre winds up being a good offensive player with marginal value because his defense at a very tough position will eat away at his WAR. Texas’s infield is one of the fastest in the league in the summer months because it gets baked under the hot sun all day. That makes Beltre’s defensive stats with the Rangers that much more impressive, but his best days are behind him.
Will Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo stay healthy? If you’re buying on the Rangers over, it’s because you think they bounce back offensively. Nobody is rushing to put big money on this pitching staff. The Rangers will win, as they always have, by hitting the ball. Fielder missed essentially an entire year and Choo is on the wrong side of 30 as a bad outfielder with leg problems. There’s a lot of risk in backing those two players to bounce back.
Unfortunately, it looks like we won't see Jurickson Profar again anytime soon. After having shoulder surgery last season to wipe out the entire 2014 campaign, Profar is being cut open again and no timetable has been announced for his return. Doctors won't know until they get in and see the extent of the problem. Injuries crippled the Rangers last season and this is not a good start to 2015.
Speaking of the rotation, Darvish is great, but does he truly have a clean bill of health? If he doesn’t, this rotation goes from slightly below average to really awful. Darvish is that good. As evidenced by the big gap between Darvish and the next starting pitcher in fWAR.
Gallardo has declining skills and no longer having a tremendous defense like Milwaukee’s behind him could make that ERA go up even more. The home run problem is likely to be exacerbated by being in the AL and pitching in Texas. Holland basically missed a full year and the success rate of microfracture surgery is still undetermined. It’s especially concerning. A bad back leg will eliminate velocity and that’s the uncertain future that Holland faces. Lewis is replacement-level and Detwiler, while a possible sleeper, pitches to contact. Contact is bad in Arlington.
The Rangers enter the season without a clear left fielder as small sample size darling Jeff Smolinski fights with Nate Schierholtz, a minor league free agent, for the job. Schierholtz and Smolinski may end up platooning with Alex Rios out of the picture, but it’s hard to see them combining to form a league average outfielder.
Pick: Under 78
I really wanted a 71 or 72 to go over the total with Texas, but oddsmakers were quick to realize how much the Rangers lost to injuries. Instead, I’ll look at the under for this one in a division that I’m not as high on as other people. In fact, Oakland is the only team that I’ve picked to go over. Of course, a big reason for that is because Anaheim and Seattle have extremely high win totals. To me, the AL West looks like a division where everybody beats each other and the AL East and AL Central do some damage when they play those teams.
I can’t take this rotation and this bullpen to win 78 games. The offense is going to be a lot better, but the Rangers really lack depth on the pitching staff. As you’ve noticed throughout these write-ups, depth is a big deal to me. The Rangers have very little of it. After seeing what injuries did to them last season, I have a pretty good idea of what their ceiling is and what they can become with a lot of man games lost. Unless the Rangers post a clean bill of health most of the season, I think they come in under this total, though not very far under it. Maybe somewhere in the 75 or 76 range because there’s talent here and all it takes is Derek Holland to return to form for the rotation to border on league average.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
The offseason started pretty well for the Texas Rangers as they acquired Prince Fielder from the Detroit Tigers and signed Shin-Soo Choo to bolster the outfield. Just a few days before the start of the regular season, things look drastically different as injuries to the starting rotation have completely decimated the Rangers pitching staff and have left the team wondering what 2014 will actually hold.
The Rangers fell one game short of the playoffs last season because they lost the second wild card spot tiebreaker game against the Tampa Bay Rays. What the Rangers accomplished was rather impressive because the 730 runs that they scored was the team’s lowest total since the strike-shortened year of 1995. Not only that, but it was the lowest in that span by over 50 runs. The pitching staff was the difference as the Rangers allowed just 636 runs, the fewest they’ve allowed since 1983.
As such, the Rangers made moves in the offseason to attempt to strengthen the offense, figuring that the team’s pitching performance last season would be enough to push them to the next level. The Rangers allowed four or fewer runs in 111 of their 163 games last season and were 74-29 in those games. Of course, it also means that the Rangers were 17-43 when allowing more than four runs. Most teams have problems when allowing more than four runs, but Rangers Ballpark in Arlington tends to be a good hitter’s park, so the Rangers wanted to strengthen their offense. Forty-eight of the team’s 72 losses came in games where they scored two runs or less.
Texas was downright dominant in the American League West with a 53-23 mark. They were 32-6 against the Angels and Astros. Only the Athletics played more teams with a record below .500. The Rangers were 53-31 in those games. By Pythagorean Win-Loss, the Rangers should have ended the break at 50-45, but they were 54-41. Regression hit a little bit in the second half and the Rangers had losing months in July and September and were just six games over .500 despite a +71 run differential. Their Pythagorean Win-Loss should have been 42-26, but it was just 37-31 and wound up being the difference between a playoff berth and losing Game 163.
Yu Darvish's MRI came back pretty clean, so oddsmakers still have a rather bullish take on the Rangers. All three of BetDSI.eu, 5Dimes.eu, and BetOnline.ag have the Rangers at 87 wins with varying juice, as low as -102 on the under at DSI to as high as +100 on the over at 5Dimes. Bovada.lv has the lowest number at 86.5 with -115 on both sides.
Key additions: Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Scott Baker, Joe Saunders, JP Arencibia, Geovany Soto
Key losses: Ian Kinsler, Joe Nathan, Craig Gentry, Lance Berkman, Nelson Cruz, Matt Garza, AJ Pierzynski, David Murphy
Talent in and talent out for the high-priced Rangers. The move that got the most attention was likely the Price Fielder-Ian Kinsler swap with the Detroit Tigers. In Prince, the Rangers get a big-time power threat that has stayed healthy despite his hefty frame and they also trade away Kinsler, who wasn’t particularly happy in the organization. Shin-Soo Choo adds a dynamic that the Rangers lacked as a guy with an extremely high on-base percentage. The Rangers hit for a good average, but they had one of the AL’s lowest walk rates and Choo fills a need in that regard. Also in Fielder and Choo, the Rangers replace Lance Berkman and Nelson Cruz with more valuable players.
The Rangers had to scramble to find some pitching depth with the additions of Tommy Hanson and Joe Saunders in light of Matt Harrison’s recurring injuries and Derek Holland’s microfracture knee surgery following an injury suffered while playing with his dog.
The loss of AJ Pierzynski prompted the Rangers to try and go with a combination of JP Arencibia and Geovany Soto at catcher. Soto, like seemingly everybody for the Rangers, is hurt, so the Rangers will rely heavily on Arencibia and recently-signed veteran Chris Snyder, as well as organizational player Robinson Chirinos.
The loss of Craig Gentry is an underrated development for the Rangers. Gentry is one of the game’s better defensive players and he puts the bat on the ball and walks. He was second in fWAR for the Rangers last season and was a better offensive player than Leonys Martin, his likely replacement in center field.
David Murphy moved on to the Indians after a terrible season with the Rangers. He’s largely a platoon bat against righties and the Rangers already have a guy with sharp splits, but top-five performance against righties in Shin-Soo Choo. Matt Garza also left after underwhelming the team during last year’s stretch run.
Why bet the over?
The Rangers offense should be a legitimate group capable of scoring runs in bunches. What’s interesting about last season for the Rangers is that three of the top four position players in fWAR accumulated most of their value defensively. Craig Gentry, Elvis Andrus, and Leonys Martin were second, third, and fourth in fWAR for the Rangers, a sign of how much the team struggled offensively.
Upgrades Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo will be huge for the Rangers offense. The leaders in home runs for the Rangers were Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz, both right-handed hitters. The ball carries extremely well for lefties at Rangers Ballpark, so Fielder and Choo, both guys with some power, should see a spike in their numbers. In terms of the American League, Rangers Ballpark has the third-highest home run park factor for lefties. Of the 176 home runs the Rangers hit, only 63 of them came with runners on base. Expect that number to go up with those two key cogs near the top of the order.
For as talented as the Rangers offense is with a friendly park to hit in, they ranked 12th in wOBA against right-handed pitching last season at .319 and were just 59-53 against right-handed starters. In their careers, Fielder and Choo have posted OPS rates of .971 and .932, respectively, against righties. Since teams face a right-handed starter around 75 percent of the time on average, the Rangers will be a lot more productive against righties and that should lead to a lot more offensive success.
Is there a more underrated player in baseball than Adrian Beltre? Beltre should have no problem reaching 400 career home runs this season and has performed well in both hitter-friendly and pitcher-friendly parks. Up until last season, Beltre was also an elite defender at his position. In his 15 full seasons at the Major League level, beginning at age 20, Beltre has averaged just shy of 147 games played per season. Last season, at age 34, Beltre played 161 of the team’s 163 games. The incredible thing is that Beltre shows no signs of slowing down. All of his peripheral stats stayed high last season and the expectation should be another .300-25-90 season from the hot corner.
Once he is healthy, Jurickson Profar will join Elvis Andrus to form one of the stronger keystone combinations defensively. Profar has more offensive upside than Andrus because of his ability to hit for power, but Andrus has the more consistent performance in batting average and stolen bases. Either way, these two will have value defensively and any offense the Rangers get is a bonus. The same can be said of Leonys Martin, who has great speed and good fielding chops. Martin has some untapped offensive potential with a bit of power and some speed, but sharp platoon splits against lefties hold him back.
The Rangers bullpen will be a strength this season, even without their closer from last season, Joe Nathan. Joakim Soria enters the season as the favorite to close now that Tommy John surgery is over two years behind him. He made 26 appearances last season in his return and fought with his control, but the velocity was there and so were the strikeouts. He had three dominant seasons as the Royals closer from 2008-10 and the same could happen here.
Behind Soria, the Rangers bullpen features a collection of guys that can miss bats and that’s always good for a bullpen. Neal Cotts was one of the league’s top matchup lefties. Jason Frasor will probably be the primary setup man since Neftali Feliz was sent to Triple-A to continue his rehab and return from Tommy John surgery. Alexi Ogando’s career path has sent him back to the bullpen, which could be a blessing as he has had more success in a relief role. With Robbie Ross pushed into the rotation, a spot could open up for Shawn Tolleson, a former Dodgers prospect, who has had very impressive minor league strikeout totals.
The rotation is a bit of a concern, but there’s still talent here. Martin Perez and Tanner Scheppers will be at the top until Yu Darvish’s neck and back discomfort is taken care of. Perez pitched well in a 20-start sample last season with a 3.62 ERA. Perez is a pitch-to-contact guy and ground balls hit at this infield when it’s at full strength with Profar in the mix should yield positive results. He’s a standard lefty with a four-pitch mix and average control.
In Scheppers, the Rangers have a guy who could be the surprise of the season. Scheppers relied on his fastball 81 percent of the time last season, so he’ll need to mix it up a bit more as a starter, but above average strikeout and ground ball rates are a definite possibility. Behind Scheppers will be Robbie Ross. Ross had success as a starter in the minor leagues before a transition to the bullpen in 2012. Like Scheppers, Ross is a sinker/slider guy, so a lot of ground balls will come from this Texas rotation. Keeping the ball down will be essential. Joe Saunders and Nick Martinez are at the back of the rotation.
When Darvish does come back, and the Rangers don’t expect his injury to be that serious, he is a bona fide, elite starter. In terms of the depth of his pitching arsenal, there may not be a better pitcher than Darvish, who has a mid-90s fastball, a couple slider variations, a devastating splitter, and a ridiculous curveball. If the other guys can hold down the fort until Darvish and Holland return, that will be an enormous boost to the team. Holland is aiming for a June return from a pretty serious knee procedure, but he’s an above average starter.
All in all, the Rangers are in a much better position offensively and starting rotation injuries have cast a rather dark outlook on their season. If the Darvish injury is minor and he only misses a week or two, the rotation can more than get by.
Why bet the under?
The Rangers rotation has two guys who should be relievers in Ross and Scheppers, a very average pitcher in Perez, and a serious lack of depth until Derek Holland and Matt Harrison (thoracic outlet syndrome surgery) can return. The problem with pitchers like Ross and Scheppers is that they lack a third pitch to neutralize left-handed hitters. Without a usable change-up or curveball, their platoon splits are going to be ugly. Since the ball already carries well to right field in Arlington, this is a very scary proposition.
Perez posted a 3.62 ERA but a 4.23 FIP and a 4.14 SIERA. Perez may be one guy that outpitches these metrics, and he is just in his second season at the MLB level, but there are certainly reasons to be concerned about him, especially to view him as a #2 or #3 starter when he’s more of a back-end guy. That’s not Perez’s fault by any means, but speaks to a serious lack of depth.
The loss of Profar is a big deal for the Rangers because they traded Kinsler with the expectation of Profar in that role. He’ll be back by late May, but the Rangers could be well off of their win total pace by that time. With top prospect Rougned Odor starting the season in the minors, Adam Rosales will likely be the worst second baseman in the league on an everyday basis.
The catching spot is a disaster for the Rangers. JP Arencibia’s power may play up in Texas, which is about the only area he has value, but Arencibia posted an OPS below .600 last season despite hitting 21 home runs. Some would have thought that to be mathematically impossible, but, damnit, Arencibia did it. Geovany Soto is on the disabled list and there will be a lot of reliance on the catchers to navigate the rather young, rather flawed starting rotation through the early part of the season. That may not happen.
Pick: Under 87 (-102, BetDSI.eu)
This play isn’t so much a knock on the Rangers as it is a serious concern that they will be so far off of this pace by the time they get healthy that a good enough run in the improved AL West will be too hard to do. The offense is clearly top-five material with more balance and the bullpen should be a strength, but the starting rotation is so mediocre, even with Darvish, that it’s really hard to ask this team to win a lot of games in a division projected to have three teams in the upper 80s by the oddsmakers.
It seems pretty unlikely for the Rangers to dominate the Angels the way they did last season and a more even season series would pretty much eliminate the gap between last season’s record and the posted win total. The Rangers struggled outside of the AL West and against quality teams last season. The likelihood of some of last season’s positive trends continuing is rather slim.
While there’s a lot of talent here and the Rangers could easily put it together, win over 90, and take the AL West, their rotation is just too much to overlook right now.