Last Updated: 2018-02-27
The Texas Rangers have only finished last in the American League West Division once since 2008. In that span, they have five playoff appearances, including two World Series losses, and four division titles. It has been one of baseball’s less heralded runs of this decade. Maybe because those World Series appearances feel so far away, but the Rangers had one off year in 2014 and were a consistent threat for the majority of those years.
It looks like that window is now shut. The Rangers lost the AL West by 23 games last season. That wasn’t entirely their fault, since they finished 78-84, but Texas gave up over 800 runs for the first time since 2008. Take a look at the team’s makeup on Roster Resource and things don’t look very promising. As the rest of the division builds up, the Rangers have had a very marginal offseason and look like a team that may be trying to gear up for next year’s impressive free agent class.
It wasn’t a bad run of injuries or anything last season that hurt the Rangers. They used 51 players and 31 pitchers. They’ve used 31 pitchers each of the last three seasons. Back in 2014, when the team lost 95 games, 64 total players were needed, including 40 pitchers. That was the outlier in a run of division crowns and second-place finishes. It feels like things are changing down in Arlington.
On one hand, this isn’t a bad time to retool. The Astros are head, shoulders, knees, and toes ahead of everybody else in the division, but the Angels, Mariners, and Athletics have all built up pretty decent offenses. For the Rangers, contention would be difficult in any context right now, so it isn’t a bad time to re-assess the team’s identity and direction. With a payroll around $130 million, this is the lowest that the Rangers have been in a while and they only have $72.5 million and change committed for next season with arguably the best FA class we’ve ever seen.
On the other hand, that is a tough sell for a fan base that has been spoiled this decade. It is a tough sell for Nolan Ryan and the rest of the team’s leadership, as the Rangers have consistently been a buyer in hopes of keeping this run going.
The Rangers were actually a game better than their 78-84 mark per Pythagorean Win-Loss at 79-83 with a -17 run differential. Per BaseRuns, the Rangers were a 78-84 team. We’re not talking about any big outliers, which is good. This is just a pure handicap of the team moving forward.
Season Win Total Odds:
5Dimes: 76.5 (-110/-110)
BetOnline: 77 (-110/-110)
Bovada: 77.5 (125/-155)
Additions: Juan Centeno, Carlos Tocci, Matt Moore, Mike Minor, Doug Fister, Tim Lincecum, Bartolo Colon, Chris Martin, Curt Casali, Michael Ohlman, Darwin Barney, Trevor Plouffe, Brett Eibner, Destin Hood, Edinson Volquez, Ronald Herrera, Jon Niese, Erik Goeddel, Kevin Jepsen, Deolis Guerra, Steve Delabar, Shawn Tolleson
Losses: Tanner Scheppers, Preston Claiborne, Will Middlebrooks, Andrew Cashner, Carlos Gomez, Miguel Gonzalez, Jason Grilli, Dario Alvarez, Mike Napoli, AJ Griffin, Nick Martinez
Meh. Mike Minor is the only real standout acquisition, despite our unbridled love for Big Sexy Bartolo Colon. The Rangers intend to use Minor as a starting pitcher despite his overwhelming success as a reliever for the Royals last season. Minor hasn’t been an effective starter since 2013.
The Rangers brought in a bunch of journeymen and guys that they can use and abuse in what is likely a down year. They’re going to be looking to plug-and-play depth on the bench and in spot start roles. Edinson Volquez is actually out for all of the 2018 season, so that is a move for next season when the Rangers expect to need his services in the rotation.
The Rangers are gambling on Tim Lincecum, who could very well step in and be the closer on Opening Day.
Why bet the over?
Well, the Rangers should still have a pretty productive offense. Five players return from last year’s team that posted a wRC+ of 107 or higher. Keep in mind that Globe Life Park is a very good spot for hitters, but wRC+ does adjust for park factor, so these numbers have been adjusted based on the run environment in the Lone Star State.
Adrian Beltre’s name was atop that list. The ageless wonder did miss some time with injuries this past season, but still managed to slash .312/.383/.532 in his 389 plate appearances. He posted a .384 wOBA and a 138 wRC+. The 38-year-old missed a significant number of games for the first time since 2011, so there is no reason to expect any lingering concerns, outside of the normal effects of aging. His K% did climb a bit last season, which merits watching, but he also posted a career-best 10 percent BB%. That led to a sizable bump in his on-base percentage, which led to his best offensive season since 2012 by wOBA. He’s still an above average defender at the hot corner as well. Beltre is a surefire Hall of Famer for me and hopefully many others. He needs 38 homers to get to 500. It won’t happen this year, but it should happen next year and cement his place in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. He’s a player that should provide some surplus value after missing about 40 percent of last season.
As long as you are willing to take Joey Gallo for what he is, you’re going to come away impressed. Gallo strikes out a ton. He also walks a lot and has prodigious power. That high walk rate allowed Gallo to post a .333 OBP, which was above league average, despite a strikeout in 36.8 percent of his plate appearances and not a ton of great contact quality outside of the 41 home runs he hit. Gallo had a .537 SLG, which led the team, and posted a .364 wOBA with a 123 wRC+. He hits for power, draws, walks, and plays in the Juiced Ball Era, so we’re looking at a pretty high floor. Gallo was also thrust into third base duty with Beltre out. He played admirably at third, but he’ll be less hurtful at first base this season.
There were some glaring questions about Elvis Andrus’s 2016 breakout. Was it sustainable? Andrus posted a .344 wOBA with a 112 wRC+ in 2016. His previous career highs in those departments came in 2012 with a 97 wRC+ and a .322 wOBA. I’m not entirely sure I want to buy in just yet, but Andrus did hit 20 home runs after hitting 25 over the previous eight seasons combined, including a 2010 season with zero dingers in 674 plate appearances. The power spike covered the gap of his 25-point drop in OBP, so he posted a similar offensive season to 2016. He also took some positive strides defensively. The end result was a four-win player at a position where offense is pretty scarce.
Shin-Soo Choo continued to be a solid hitter last season with a .261/.356/.423 slash. His 12.1 percent walk rate has become a staple in this lineup and he improved the quality of his contact last year. Mix in a little bit of Robinson Chirinos, who had a career-best 127 wRC+ and .369 wOBA, and back-to-back 20-homer seasons from Nomar Mazara and you have a pretty deep lineup capable of getting a lot of traffic on the bases and hitting home runs.
We’ll see if we can get some value offensively from Willie Calhoun. Calhoun hit 31 homers between Triple-A Oklahoma City and Triple-A Round Rock last season. He added his first big league blast in 37 plate appearances at the MLB level. Calhoun is only 23 and has raked at every stop in the minors. Baseball Prospectus named him Texas’s second-best prospect, while Baseball America gave him organizational honors.
On the pitching side of the ledger, Cole Hamels will be looking for a bounce back effort. The 34-year-old really fell off the map last season with a 4.20 ERA, a 4.62 FIP, and a 4.83 xFIP in his 148 innings of work. His strikeout rate took an enormous tumble, but he was spared of an even worse season by a .251 BABIP against. Hamels’s 17.1 percent K% was the lowest of his career at any level except for his opening stint in A-ball back in 2006. That was one start. We typically see pitchers gradually fall off instead of tumble with reckless abandon. Hamels still knows how to pitch, as evidenced by all the weak contact he induced, so there’s hope for a bounce back.
Matt Moore is only one season removed from a 2.3-win season with a 4.08 ERA, a 4.17 FIP, and a 4.56 xFIP. He has been a reliable innings eater over the last two season and the Rangers really don’t need much more than that with the upside of the offense.
Sometimes starting pitchers can find some things working out of the bullpen. Carlos Carrasco’s breakout for the Indians came after pitching exclusively from the stretch in the bullpen, which is something he has carried over to being a starter. Pitchers are forced to simply and streamline their arsenals in order to develop their best pitches and enhance their fastball command. In 77.2 innings, Mike Minor had a 2.55 ERA with a 2.62 FIP and a 3.59 xFIP. He struck out 28.7 percent of opposing batters and developed tremendous feel for his slider. Previously a pitch that he threw about 14 percent of the time, Minor’s 35.3 percent slider usage was a huge boost to him. That pitch was 11.7 runs above average per Baseball Info Solutions and 12.6 runs above average per PITCHf/x. Minor’s fastball command also got back to his pre-injury levels.
Doug Fister is a pretty reliable arm. Moving Matt Bush into a starting capacity is rather interesting after some of his successes as a reliever, but the Rangers are starved for starting depth. That’s why Big Sexy Bartolo Colon is in camp.
The bullpen has some upside. Tim Lincecum is a big gamble, but his workout at Driveline Baseball just outside Seattle drew a big crowd and he had a lot of suitors. Keone Kela missed the second half with injury and he is a power arm with potential. Alex Claudio fared well in the closer’s role last season. Jake Diekman, who missed the first half tending to a personal health matter, had a strong 2016 with a 3.40 ERA, a 3.54 FIP, and a 3.91 xFIP. If everybody stays healthy, this has potential to be an average bullpen.
Why bet the under?
There are a ton of reasons here. Let’s start with the starting rotation. Maybe Cole Hamels can reverse course, but I don’t see a whole lot in the profile that inspires me. His precipitous strikeout drop is cause for serious concern. This was not a byproduct of coincidence. Hamels’s swinging strike rate fell to 9.7 percent, which marked the first season in which he fell short of double digits. His O-Swing% (chase rate), fell to a career-worst 29.2 percent. He actually threw more pitches in the strike zone than the previous year, but his arsenal just didn’t have much bite. By the end of the season, Hamels’s changeup wound up being a plus pitch, but we’re looking at two straight years of decline with it. Over the last two years, Hamels’s changeup has been 8.9 runs above average. That is lower than each individual season from 2011-15. He allowed the highest hard contact rate of his career and had a 4.90 SIERA, which is a pretty good predictor of future performance. It was his first season with a SIERA over 4.00 in his career.
Maybe it’s unfair to assume that Hamels will be bad because this season is the outlier. On the other hand, he overachieved with a 4.20 ERA against a 4.62 FIP and a 4.83 xFIP. He’s thrown well over 2,300 innings in his career and we do tend to see pitchers start to fall off after 2,000 frames. Hamels was hurt last season, so that played a role. Even if he does return to being an above average pitcher, he is the de facto ace of a staff that has very little in the way of upside.
I’m not really sure what the Rangers are looking for out of Matt Moore. As mentioned, Moore was serviceable in 2016 with a 4.08 ERA, a 4.17 FIP, and a 4.56 xFIP, but he had a random strikeout boost going from the AL to the NL with his trade to San Francisco. Even in a wonderful pitcher’s park last season, Moore posted a 5.52 ERA with a 4.75 FIP and a 5.10 xFIP across 174.1 innings of work. He doesn’t miss enough bats to offset the above average walk rates. He’s allowed quite a bit of hard contact in his career, with a 2015 BABIP of .332 and a 2017 BABIP of .320. He’s also trended in a fly ball direction, which is a problem in today’s offensive landscape and it isn’t a particularly good thing going down to Texas. Steamer and Depth Charts both have him north of a 5.00 ERA and ZiPS is the most optimistic at 4.92. He’s just not a good bet to make in Texas.
I’m also not signing off on the Mike Minor bet. If the Rangers were going to use him as a reliever, I would upgrade their bullpen quite a bit. Because the intention is to start him, I’m selling Mike Minor. Minor missed all of 2015 and 2016 rehabbing various injuries. Coming back as a reliever made sense and he was able to use that 35 percent slider usage to his advantage. That was a significant weapon for him with 88 strikeouts in 77.2 innings of work. Only six starters sustained a 35 percent or higher slider usage last season. They were Chris Archer, Patrick Corbin, Clayton Kershaw, Ervin Santana, Jason Hammel, and Luis Severino. I can’t see Minor being part of that group. Minor’s fastball velocity also jumped from 90.3 in 2014 to 94.4 in 2017. Maybe that’s all about arm health and strength, but most of that is likely a byproduct of being a reliever.
Across the board, the arsenal might be deep enough to be a league average starter, but I have a lot of durability concerns with Minor. He probably won’t have the safety net of an 11.8 percent swinging strike rate. His chase rate was a career-best because of that heavy slider usage. I just don’t think last year’s usage translates very well to a starting capacity.
Matt Bush has been an effective reliever for two years. I’m not sure how that translates to starting, but maybe we’ll find out. Out of necessity, the Rangers seem interested in putting him in that role. My guess would be that it doesn’t translate overly well, especially as hitters had much higher contact quality off of him last season. Bartolo Colon has nothing left to give. The rest of the depth options are uninspiring. This isn’t the worst rotation in the American League, but it is clearly in the bottom five for me in a division with a lot of right-handed power.
I’m not sure about the sustainability of a reliever like Alex Claudio, who has a career K% of 17.7 percent. I know I’m all about contact management, but relievers still need to be able to throw it past dudes. Honestly, the bullpen is the least of my worries with this team, but it is still just a pretty average group. Keone Kela needs to stay healthy. Jake Diekman needs to stay healthy. Tim Lincecum is a big roll of the dice. There isn’t much in the way of depth with this group.
I really don’t love the upside of this offense. In fact, I’m not sure that there is a whole lot. Adrian Beltre will be fine. He always is. He’s one of the game’s most consistent players and a personal favorite of mine, which has no bearing on the win total, but I will go to bat for that dude for the HOF if need be.
Robinson Chirinos was second in wRC+ for the Rangers last season. You don’t see 33-year-olds having breakout offensive years all that often. His contact quality took a big spike, but he only lasted 309 plate appearances. His BABIP was up 27 points from the previous season. Chirinos was a massive outlier in xwOBA – wOBA, as he exceeded the Statcast Expected wOBA by 42 points. He is a big time regression candidate going into next season.
You know who else is a massive regression candidate? Elvis Andrus. Statcast’s xwOBA mark for Andrus from last season was .297. His actual wOBA, per Statcast, who does calculate the factors differently than Fangraphs, was .349. So he was an overachiever of 52 points. All of the sudden, Andrus has gone from .333 to .357 to .439 to .471 in the SLG department and it’s not like he’s hitting more fly balls. In fact, his FB% in last year’s 20-homer season was 31.5 percent, which was up from the early stages of his career, but nothing significant. He also went from a 6.3 percent HR/FB% to an 11.6 percent HR/FB%. I’m really not buying the power breakout. Furthermore, he sacrificed getting on base for power with the lowest BB% of his career at 5.5 percent. Unless the power sticks, we’re talking about another sub-100 wRC+ season for Andrus and that is honestly what I’m looking at. As a side note, Delino DeShields Jr. was another huge xwOBA – wOBA outlier with a .252 xwOBA and a .311 wOBA per Statcast.
Shin-Soo Choo isn’t a very good player anymore. He managed to stay healthy last year and post a decent stat line, but he is an awful outfielder. He is projected to be a DH most of the time this season, but his offensive profile continues to be pretty pedestrian. At least he was healthy last season, but this is a pretty marginal profile to be sitting at the top of the order with a 107 wRC+. Nomar Mazara is another question mark in the outfield with margin defense and a below average wRC+ in his two MLB seasons. Projection systems are fairly bullish on him, though, so we’ll see if he can live up to them.
Willie Calhoun has a good offensive profile, but he doesn’t really have a position, which is why the Dodgers made him available in the Yu Darvish deal. Delino DeShields Jr. doesn’t have a ton of contact authority. Joey Gallo has a high floor, but he’s going to strike out a lot in a lot of key situations.
Pick: Under 77 (-110, BetOnline)
Here we have it, ladies and gentlemen. To date, this is my favorite season win total bet and this is one that will make my card for the 2018 season. I see very few redeeming qualities with this team. The offense is due for significant regression and Cole Hamels might be the only above average starter in the rotation. It’s possible that Mike Minor found something in relief, but I have serious doubts he can stay together and contribute a whole lot to this rotation.
The bullpen isn’t nearly good enough to carry a high workload and I’m not sure it’s good enough to carry a low workload. The Rangers are clearly behind the Astros and the Angels in this division and I can make strong cases for the Mariners and Athletics to both be better teams.
This is my strongest bet thus far to take the Rangers under the total and, to be totally honest, 77 is about the ceiling for where I would put them, so I’m thinking we’ll have a little room to spare.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Oh, the Texas Rangers. Many of my friends and colleagues lost their shirts, pants, socks, and shoes looking to fade the Rangers last season. Everything in life has outliers. In the life of the 2016 baseball season, it was the Texas Rangers. The Rangers posted the best record in the American League and had a +8 run differential. They were 28 games over .500 winning by an average margin of 0.08 runs per game. Texas was outscored by 26 runs on the road and posted a 42-39 record away from home. They posted a .654 winning percentage at home despite a +34 run differential.
For those that don’t know the formula for Pythagorean Win-Loss, it is (Runs Scored) ^ 1.83 divided by (Runs Scored) ^ 1.83 plus (Runs Against) ^ 1.83. Per the formula, the Rangers should have been 44-37 at home. They were nine games better than that. They were four games better on the road than they were supposed to be. Add it all up and the Rangers were an 82-80 team by run differential. They were 41-31 in the second half of the season despite a -8 run differential. By BaseRuns, a context-neutral standings metric, the Rangers were also an 82-80 team.
How did this happen? The Rangers were 36-11 in one-run games, which was the best record ever in such matchups. They posted a .766 winning percentage in those games. The rest of the American League averaged a 22.42-23.42 record in one-run games. The Rangers were 60-31 against teams that were .500 or better and 35-36 against teams with losing records.
The incredible thing is that a season of overachieving came to a crashing halt in the ALDS with a sweep by the Toronto Blue Jays. Funny how that works out. With last year’s major anomaly out of the way, we’re now left to evaluate the upcoming season. Clearly oddsmakers have taken notice of Texas’s outliers and have set the number accordingly. Have they overcompensated? Texas was remarkably lucky in one-run games, but the Rangers were 27-11 against their biggest competition in the division. Could the Rangers actually have value?
Season Win Total Odds
BetDSI: 85.5 (100/-130)
BetOnline: 84.5 (-110/-120)
5Dimes: 85.5 (105/-135)
Additions: Mike Napoli, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, James Loney, Travis Snider, Dillon Gee, Allen Webster, Anthony Bass
Losses: Mitch Moreland, Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran, Derek Holland, Lucas Harrell, Shawn Tolleson
It wasn’t the type of offseason that we’ve come to expect from Jon Daniels. Daniels is a “shoot your shot” kind of guy and the Rangers didn’t shoot too many shots. They were deep in trade talks for Jose Quintana, but nothing has materialized to this point. In fact, the big moves for the Rangers were all gambles. The Party at Napoli’s became more of a casual get-together late in the season for the aging slugger. Andrew Cashner is a major roll of the dice. Tyson Ross had thoracic outlet surgery, so his prognosis is an unknown at this point.
Ian Desmond resurrected his career after turning down significant money from the Nationals and gambling on himself with a one-year deal. Mitch Moreland isn’t a very big loss. Derek Holland was often hurt and ineffective. Carlos Beltran was a rental.
All in all, the Rangers are bringing largely the same team to the table this year. Daniels has made two huge Trade Deadline deals over the last two seasons, so that’s something to watch later this year (Jose Quintana?).
Why bet the over?
As misleading as the final standings were, this is a Texas Rangers team with a significant amount of individual talent. Adrian Beltre is a Hall of Famer. Jonathan Lucroy is a top-five offensive catcher in the game. Nomar Mazara and Rougned Odor are quality young players. Shin-Soo Choo has been an OBP machine in his career. Cole Hamels has one of the game’s best changeups and overall arsenals. Yu Darvish is a special pitcher. Matt Bush has a very live arm. There are building blocks on this team.
We’ll start with the lineup and we’ll start with Adrian Beltre. Beltre will turn 38 just after Opening Day, but he just keeps on churning out elite seasons. He batted .300/.358/.521 in a bounce back season after his worst offensive year since 2009. Beltre raised his wRC+ 21 points and his wOBA 34 points. He also continued to play spectacular defense at the hot corner. Beltre has been battling a calf injury in Spring Training and I have concerns about his ability to replicate a .221 ISO and a 14.6 HR/FB%, which is his highest since 2012, but even with some mild regression, he’s a four-win player.
A full season of Jonathan Lucroy isn’t going to hurt. Lucroy batted .276/.345/.539 for the Rangers in 168 plate appearances and accumulated a quick 1.7 fWAR in his 47 games. Lucroy is a quality defensive catcher as well as one of the better hitting catchers in baseball. He had a down year in 2015 while dealing with some injuries, but came back healthy in 2016 and had an offensive year that was close to his 2014 season, but with more power. He’ll be an easy 3.5-win player, with room for more. It should also help Texas’s pitching staff to be throwing to him for a full season rather than shifting gears mid-season last year.
Rougned Odor showed some punch last season. He smoked Jose Bautista and also smoked 33 HR in his 632 PA. Odor’s inability to draw walks brought down his overall offensive profile, but he slugged .502 last season as a 22-year-old. Now 23, Odor is growing into his body and his power potential. He’ll need to carry a decent BABIP to have average/OBP value, but he’s got power and that’s a good start. Another emerging youngster, Nomar Mazara, hit 30 dingers and posted a .266/.320/.419 slash in his first taste of the big leagues. Project systems are high on the youngster, who walked more in the minor leagues and carried higher BABIPs. Gains in both areas could make him a two-win player.
Even when the power and the average sag, Shin-Soo Choo has potential to be an above average hitter. He posted a .357 OBP in 210 PA last season before succumbing to injuries. Choo walks a ton. He’ll hit at the top of the order and will hope to stay healthy. Had he been healthy, he’d have been around 20 HR with 10 steals. Add a .360 OBP to that and you’ve got quite a hitter. He’ll probably play less outfield this season and trade off some DL days with Mike Napoli. Speaking of Napoli, he’s coming off of a career year with 34 HR, but he really tailed off late in the season. He could carry some early-season offensive value that will help the Rangers get a head start on eclipsing their win total.
Buying into the Rangers means buying into the supporting cast. Jurickson Profar hasn’t been able to translate minor league success over into big league success. Will this be the year? Projections don’t think so, but he showed flashes at Triple-A last year. Carlos Gomez, on the other hand, showed a lot of flashes. Gomez batted .284/.362/.543 with the Rangers in 130 plate appearances last season. If that wasn’t just a flash in the pan, we could be talking about big things for the 31-year-old. His defense isn’t what it once was, but some gains with the bat would be huge. The bench has upside with platoon bat Ryan Rua and a skillful outfielder in Delino DeShields Jr.
The talent is rather top-heavy for the Rangers. That’s especially true of the starting rotation. Cole Hamels shouldered a lot of responsibility for last season’s team. The Rangers had a poor starting rotation until Yu Darvish came back, for Hamels held it all together. His walk rate was elevated in his first full season in the AL, but Hamels turned in a quality year with a 3.32 ERA, a 3.98 FIP, and a 3.85 xFIP. The BB spike and a HR spike hurt his FIP, which, in turn, hurt his fWAR since a big component of WAR for pitchers at Fangraphs is FIP. Hamels still recorded nearly a strikeout per inning and gave the Rangers 200 quality frames.
It seems like it was an afterthought while a lot of people were busy focusing on how the Rangers were supposed to collapse and never did, but Yu Darvish was exceptional. In his 17 starts coming back from Tommy John surgery, Darvish looked better than his former self. He posted a 3.41 ERA with a 3.09 FIP and a 3.19 xFIP. He posted a 31.7 percent K% and a 7.5 percent BB%. He missed half of the season for a team that won 95 games. If that doesn’t inspire some level of confidence in the over, I’m not sure what will. Darvish threw fewer sliders and cutters, but seemed to have improved fastball command and mixed in the curve a bit more. It cannot be stated how important it is for a player to train rather than rehab in the offseason. Darvish should comeback even stronger and more refined. For those that play fantasy, he’s a high pick in my mind.
The rest of the rotation is uninspiring. There’s some okay depth here with proven commodities like Martin Perez, Andrew Cashner, and AJ Griffin. There’s also a lot of injury history with those guys. Tyson Ross is clearly the upside guy of the bunch, but thoracic outlet surgery is no small procedure.
The bullpen suffered a big loss when Jake Diekman had to undergo surgery for his ulcerative colitis. He’s going to miss a significant portion of time and probably the entire 2017 season. Sam Dyson had 38 saves with a 2.43 ERA. He stranded over 85 percent of baserunners thanks to a 65.2 percent ground ball rate. Jeremy Jeffress and Matt Bush are the upside guys in the pen with good velocity and swing-and-miss stuff. Jeffress’s K% should bounce back after being a career-worst 17.4 percent last season. Bush sent over 25 percent of opposing hitters back to the dugout. Keone Kela has some upside in the bullpen as well.
Why bet the under?
I don’t like betting on teams that don’t have depth. In looking up and down the organization, I don’t see much depth, but I see injury risk. Let’s start with the pitchers. Cole Hamels has worked seven straight 200-inning seasons, which is incredible. He’s also battled shoulder problems off and on across most of those years. If you remember the write-up about Seattle, I talked about Felix Hernandez and the 2000-inning threshold for pitchers. Hamels now has 2,214 innings under his belt. Last season, his command and control both started to waver. He set a career high in BB% above nine percent and a career high in HR/FB% at 14 percent. That may have simple been the league change, as he had pitched predominantly in the NL. I’m not so sure that I want to chalk it up simply to that. I think this is a trend that we need to watch with a 33-year-old that has a lot of mileage on his arm.
Yu Darvish missed the 2015 season with Tommy John. Martin Perez missed most of 2014 and 2015 with Tommy John. He’s also not good after posting a 4.39 ERA with a 4.50 FIP and a 4.77 xFIP last season. Andrew Cashner is always dealing with something. He has one season over 180 innings. Tyson Ross is coming back from thoracic outlet surgery and is a heavy slider usage pitcher that has had elbow problems in the past. He made exactly one MLB start last season. AJ Griffin missed all of 2014 and most of 2015 with Tommy John.
Realistically speaking, Darvish and Ross are the only guys with upside here and who know when Ross will actually pitch. The depth in this starting rotation is basically non-existent. There are names that people know and guys that were highly-touted prospects, but there’s really not much else. The rest of the organization features guys like Nick Martinez and Chi Chi Gonzalez. Color me unimpressed. I have serious concerns about where innings are going to come from in this starting rotation. The Rangers have a prospect coming in Yohander Mendez, who is the top prospect per Baseball Prospectus, but he has 31.1 career innings at Triple-A, so he needs some more seasoning time.
The best reliever in the bullpen is Jake Diekman and he’s out for the year. Another thing to keep in mind about this team is that the roster is built on ground ball guys and the defense isn’t built for that. Adrian Beltre is elite at third base, but we’re also assuming the aging curve doesn’t start to tap into his skill set. Both Rougned Odor and Elvis Andrus were below average defensively last season. Mike Napoli’s defensive metrics dropped off in Cleveland last year. Carlos Santana was better than him at first base. The Rangers were 19th as a team in LOB% while being 29th in K/9. I think there’s some regression coming there and that could be a really big problem.
The Rangers won 95 games and had the third-highest FIP as a pitching staff in all of baseball. Baltimore was the only other team in the bottom 12 in FIP to post a winning record. Seattle was the only other team in the bottom half of the league in FIP to post a winning record. People may scoff at the Pythagorean W-L record or the BaseRuns record and play the old “BASEBALL ISN”T PLAYED ON SPREADSHEETS, NERD” card, but these numbers are there for a reason and they serve a purpose. The Rangers got remarkably lucky last season for having what basically amounted to a league average offense with a well below average pitching staff.
The question becomes, how far will the drop-off be? The Rangers were 36-11 in one-run games. If we assume they fall in the usual range of +5 to -5 on either side, that automatically shaves off 10 wins with a 26-21 mark. Coincidentally, that’s right around where their win total is. Factor in all of these risk factors in the starting staff and the fact that the lineup really isn’t as good as it is perceived to be. The Rangers hit for power, but posted a 98 wRC+ because there aren’t a whole lot of guys that walk. Add in an improved American League West, at least on the surface, with a better Astros team, a Mariners team that is probably about the same, an improved Athletics team, and an improved Angels team.
I think you see where I’m going with this.
Season Win Total Pick: Under 85.5 (-130; BetDSI)
It isn’t a coincidence that most people in the analytics community think the 2016 Texas Rangers were a fraud. With basically the same team, just with Beltre and Hamels a year older and with minimal upgrades, the Rangers make the cut as an under play. As I mentioned, just simple regression to a reasonable record in one-run games puts the Rangers at 85 wins. With a bullpen like theirs, it’s entirely possible that they regress even more than that.
I don’t like the depth. The farm system has lost a lot of its high-upside talent with Joey Gallo’s inability to develop and big trades for Cole Hamels and Jonathan Lucroy. The one concern I do have is that Jon Daniels is very active with a contending team, so a package for Jose Quintana might come together at some point, but I’m not even sure the Rangers will be in contention.
The Rangers are a top-heavy team and a team loaded with injury risks. Neither of those things sits well with me for a six-month investment.
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