From a per-dollar-spent standpoint, the Rangers get a healthy bang for their buck when it comes to their pitching staff. According to FanGraphs, the Texas bullpen is slated to earn just $9 million in 2014, while its rotation is set to earn a mere $27 million. That’s roughly the average annual value of Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, and Clayton Kershaw makes more than that. That $27 million includes Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Martín Perez — 80% of Texas’s rotation — all who are signed for at least the next three seasons. Of a $131 million total team payroll heading into 2014, only $36 million of that (27.5%) is tied up in the pitching staff.
Essentially, the Rangers have a bargain stable of arms. So that’s good.
But with the Derek Holland injury, Matt Harrison being a slight question mark, and Colby Lewis attempting to return from almost two full seasons off, this bargain doesn’t necessarily correlate to a winning pitching staff. So let’s evaluate some of the rotation options…
Guaranteed, if healthy, members of the Texas Ranger rotation in ’14
1) Yu Darvish: Not a whole lot needs to be said here. He’s the best pitcher on the team, one of the few best pitchers in baseball. He is a legitimate #1 starter.
2) Derek Holland: Supposedly he will be out until about the All Star Break; once he is healthy — or if he gets healthy this season — he will be the team’s 2nd-most valuable arm. For the time being, though, he does not factor into the immediate rotation.
3) Matt Harrison: After missing all but two starts in 2013, and after some cryptic back stiffness at the outset of spring training, Harry appears to be on track to only miss a start or two in April. Which is encouraging.
4) Martín Perez: With the Holland injury, and the Harrison limbo, it’s sort of strange to think Perez will break in as the de facto #2 starter when the regular season begins. Still only in his age-23 year, it’s entirely possible that Martín could generate more FIP-wins (fWAR for pitchers) in 2014 than anyone on the Rangers not named Yu Darvish.
In-house, out-of-house rotation candidates
1) Colby Lewis: He was the anchor of back-to-back World Series rotations; he produced +7.6 fWAR in just north of 500.0 IP with Texas from 2010-’12; observations have been optimistic so far this spring, as Lewis’s fastball has been clocked between 87-89 miles an hour, which is basically where he was during his prime 2010 and ’11 seasons. He will make $2 million if he makes the club out of spring and, my guess is, if he’s healthy he has a spot in the rotation, too. How long he stays there is unknown, but if he’s physically capable there aren’t many players in the game I root for to succeed as much as Colby.
2) Alexi Ogando: Ideally, Alexi — a one-pitch pitcher — is maximizing his fastball over 1-2 inning stints as a reliever two or three times a week. That is, frankly, where he is at his best. To this point, his only real struggle as a member of the starting rotation has been staying healthy; his stuff has more or less always been effective. Unironically, though, the injury to Derek Holland makes it a foregone conclusion that he will start the season in the starting five. I hope that changes by October, but while he’s in the rotation I hope he kills it.
3) Tommy Hanson: I expect very little, so any positive production he provides is a bonus.
4) Joe Saunders: I expect even less, so the same philosophy applies. Joe is also a fellow Hokie, so I have to show love.
5) Robbie Ross: I’ve never particularly been a fan of Robbie Ross. The idea of making him a starter seems a little farfetched, what with him only being able to command a fastball and slider (which more realistically is just a cutter) and nothing else. If he ever developed a change up, he’d be a guy to keep an eye on as a potential #4-#5 starter, but as it stands he’s more valuable as a member of the bullpen.
6) Nick Tepesch: Not a terrible option, but with the other arms in camp his best bet is starting the season at Round Rock.
7) Tanner Scheppers: I’m not a Scheppers guy. Based on his 6.93 K/9 and 2.82 BB/9 ratios in 2013, it’s a small miracle he ended up with such a low ERA (1.88), while his xFIP (3.88) and SIERA (3.47) suggested it should have been a couple runs higher.
But with that said, what is the real harm of trying to turn him into a starter? I’m in the minority with this opinion, because the more logical among you would point out that Tanner Scheppers is the dictionary definition of an injury waiting to happen, which is where I say: “Yo, if he’s injury-prone he’s just injury prone. If he’s susceptible to injury it doesn’t matter if he’s starting or in middle relief.”
So, as a capitalist pig, I say the Rangers should extract the most value out of him like they did with C.J., and like they are doing with Alexi Ogando, by making Tanner Scheppers the team’s 5th starter going into 2014. He has the raw stuff to succeed over 4-5 innings every 5th day, something I can’t say about Robbie Ross, and am not comfortable saying for either Tommy Hanson or Joe Saunders.
It’s (a) not like Scheppers will be there forever, because Matt Harrison is scheduled to be back mid-April, and it’s (b) not as if the bullpen will miss him. Not while they have Soria, Cotts, Ross, Feliz and Frasor waiting in the wings.
Maybe I’m getting carried away, but the Rangers could do a lot worse than starting the year with Darvish, Perez, Ogando, Lewis and Scheppers in their rotation.
As it stands, I’d assume Saunders gets the 5th spot, and is promptly released when Matt Harrison comes back.