Rangers don’t feel like a playoff team in 2015

All winter long I’ve maintained a confidence I can’t quite explain in the 2015 Texas Rangers; for whatever reason — mostly optimism for better health — I believed bounce-backs from Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus were totally reasonable expectations and that their production alone could carry the Rangers at least into a wild card game.

Now that I’m here, still over a month from spring training, I’m starting to doubt myself.

Yes, as a Rangers fan I want to have faith in Fielder and Choo and Andrus, and it’s sensible, I think, to expect better production from them in 2015 — ideally a ten-win increase from their composite +1.2 fWAR production in ’14. More realistically closer to six or seven wins.

Even at that, Texas was a 67-win team in 2014. Its pitching staff produced +12.8 fWAR, while the lineup generated +11.8. Combined that’s +24.1 fWAR, which, added to the 47-win replacement-level team, means they should have won 71 games, in theory. Even if we add 10 wins next from the aforementioned troika, that still leaves the Rangers around a .500 ball club by WAR theory.

I have a feeling there will be a shitload of parity in the American League in 2015. For the Rangers to get into the 87-plus win territory — in contention for a playoff berth — a few things need to happen in their favor. Even at that they might need a little bit of luck to top it off.

Offense

There is every chance for the Rangers to have a lineup in the top half or so in baseball next season. If last September was any primer, Leonys Martin (.274/.325/.364, +3.5 fWAR in ’14) will be the team’s leadoff hitter, likely followed by Andrus, Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Choo.

I’m more hopeful than most that Elvis can return to his .283/.348/.370 (95 wRC+) peak between 2011-’12 — where he produced +8.2 fWAR — on his way to a 4-win season. The Rangers can survive without his bat, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be going anywhere. (He also isn’t the ideal candidate to bat second, but that’s a tired topic for another time.)

The middle of the order is what butters this team’s bread. I’m sure there are better ways to put that, but I’m hungry right now, so my bad. Adrian Beltre is about as sure of a bet as there is to put up another four-win season, while Fielder and Choo are what the team really relies on. Prince doesn’t have to be peak-Prince, but he needs to be on the field and doing something. Choo, meanwhile, was really good in the first month and a half before he got injured last year; given a full year of health I still think he’s a four-win outfielder if he can hide himself well enough on defense.

The bottom of the Rangers order figures to be pretty insignificant. People have been swearing on Roughned Odor (and don’t get me wrong, I loved following his minor league career and adore him as a second base prospect), but in reality we can’t hope for much more than replacement-level production in ’15. Two or three seasons from now he might be the premier offensive 2B in MLB, but in the right now he’s still a young cat (he’ll be 21 in February) and shouldn’t be expected to carry any sort of load.

Robinson Chirinos and Carlos Corporan will handle the bulk of the first-half catching duties and give little offensive support. Chirinos is a solid but raw defensive catcher with a powerful and accurate arm, while Corporan is more of a finesse backstop, solid-average at pitch framing and offering the occasional long ball on offense. On the whole, this is a tandem that should figure be worth a couple wins.

The rest of the lineup is an average compendium of meh and more meh. Mitch Moreland will be back to platoon DH and give some emergency outfield relief, Kyle Blanks will be in camp with the inside track of securing the other half of that platoon, and Ryan Rua is a strong candidate to be the opening day left fielder. It would be *nice* to get 3-4 wins from that unit, but there is every chance that the LF and DH spots will be a revolving door of AAAA players this year.

The one lottery ticket Texas has in its back pocket is Jurickson Profar, the oft-injured former top prospect in baseball. He began to throw on Wednesday, is on schedule to be in Surprise for spring training, and should begin the season at Triple-A Round Rock making up for lost time. There are a few scenarios in place for Profar, depending both on his success and that of the Rangers:

1) If, for whatever reason, after the first couple months Odor is struggling and Profar is playing well, Jon Daniels can swap out the infielders;

2) Maybe Odor and Profar are playing well, and they just bring Jurickson up for the fuck of it. You want your best 25 players on the big league roster;

3) Maybe they both play like shit and the season and future begin their rapid decent into hell. JD then gets fired, and ownership bring back Nolan Ryan to run Baseball Ops. IT’S THE WORST CASE SCENARIO.

Here is my loose and somewhat lazy best-case scenario for the offense in 2015:

1. Martin, CF (+3.0)

2. Andrus, SS (+4.4)

3. Fielder, 1B (+2.6)

4. Beltre, 3B (+5.2)

5. Choo, RF (+4.2)

6. Moreland/Blanks (+1.6)

7. Rua/other (+0.5)

8. Chirinos/Corporan (+2.8)

9. Odor (+1.3)

Total: +24.3

That’s a lot of things happening right. Bounce-backs from Andrus, Choo, Fielder, consistency from Beltre, as well as a solid output from Martin. This Rangers lineup isn’t a bad one, but even as optimistic as I’m being it’s still a ways from being a juggernaut offensively. Aside Beltre at 3B, the lineup consists mostly of players whose value ties more into their defense than with the bat; unless players like Ryan Rua and Rougned Odor magically bust out and become impacts at the plate, the only real slug comes from the 3-4-5 hitters.

Starting Pitching 

Yu Darvish and Derek Holland are one of the better 1-2 pitching combinations in the American League. On a per batter basis, Darvish’s ’14 season (+4.1 fWAR in 144.1 IP) was his best to date, which is saying something coming off impressive +4.8 and +5.1 FIP-WAR campaigns the two years prior. Holland, meanwhile, was hurt most of last year, but when he returned he was never better. In 37 innings he carried a 25:5 K/UIBB ratio with a 1.46 ERA. Extrapolated over a 200-inning season he would have been worth around +7.0 fWAR.

Of course, in the real world it probably wouldn’t have worked out that way. Pitchers are fragile and cannot be relied upon under most any circumstances, and thus for the Rangers to succeed in 2015 it will have to come from the strength of their top-2 starters.

Darvish is an ace. If he throws 215 or 220 innings this year, I think he’ll be on the short list of Cy Young Award candidates. Derek Holland is an above-average #2 when his game is right. It’s not out of the question to see these two produce ten wins this season.

Behind them, it’s not so clear. The club just traded for Yovani Gallardo, an upgrade over the replacements, but he likely isn’t more than a #3 in the best case. If he can throw 200 innings at an ERA around 4.00 I think the club will be satisfied. Colby Lewis and Ross Detwiler are currently the favorites to hold down the final two spots of the collective.

Here again is my semi-best-case scenario:

1. Darvish (+6.2)

2. Holland (+4.5)

3. Gallardo (+2.7)

4. Lewis (+1.6)

5. Detwiler/Tepesch (+1.2)

Total: +16.2

With the addition of Gallardo, the rotation is balanced, but that doesn’t inherently make it good as much as improved. Come August it will be interesting to see where the developments of Martin Perez (coming off Tommy John surgery) and Matt Harrison (spinal fusion surgery) have arrived at. On the farm there are also top Texas farm hands Chi-Chi Gonzalez and Jake Thompson — both who figure to debut at least in spot action at some point during the year.

Like everything else with the 2015, we’re kind of in wait-and-see mode. It’s one of those teams that, if they play well, we’ll all nod our heads and say, “well, yeah, that makes sense.” And if they are non-competitive, we’ll more or less do the same thing. Probably with more finger pointing and second guessing, though.

Bullpen

It might just be one of those things, but I’m not overly concerned about bullpens. Definitely not the Rangers bullpen. There will be the typical names and faces of guys who throw in the mid-90’s and strikeout around a batter an inning — Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers, Shawn Tolleson — the token lefty (Robbie Ross) and a few other guys who’ll be used to making the trip from Arlington to Round Rock.

Total: +4.5 

Overall, even optimistically, I gave the Rangers 45 WAR… making them a 92-win team, in theory. That’s with everything working out, and other shit staying the same. That’s with a productive Andrus, Fielder and Choo, a Cy Young candidate in Darvish, Holland pitching like a TORP, Beltre maintaining his 2011-’14 production levels, et. al.

That’s assuming the players take to new manager Jeff Banister as well we think they will. There are so many variables in play, and the answer could play out much simpler.

As Grant Bisbee writes, “It’s generally not wise to run a team as if it’s likely to hit on a 15-bet parlay,” and that’s what it kind of feels like has to happen for Texas to make the postseason.

In spite of my liberal projections, in truth I see this team, right now, in the 85-87-win range on paper. Any wins — if any — the Rangers add before the season gets underway are critical. Neither the Mariners nor Angels scare me, but if I had to put money on a team to win the West it would be Anaheim.

A lot also rides on the question marks surrounding the Rangers. There is a scenario where they don’t get any meaningful production from either Perez or Profar in 2015, but there’s also the potential of Jurickson to squeeze out at bats in a lineup that could use him, and for Martin Perez to make 8-10 starts.

Perhaps more than any team in baseball, Texas has plenty of alpha to add to their projected win total.

It’s still only January, and this post is a bit premature, but the roster is essentially complete. For them to sniff the postseason a lot has to go right; the hopeful, optimistic Ranger fan inside of me wants to believe anything is possible. The realistic, objective fan in me says we need career years from multiple players and good fortune to boot.

These aren’t the 2010-2012 Rangers. We can’t just sit back and kick our feet up during the regular season, knowing no one in the West could touch them, and wait to play the Rays in the ALDS, or Tigers in the ALCS.

It also isn’t the pre-World Series years; this isn’t a bad, hopeless organization anymore. The franchise is wedged in the middle of its post-glory stage, looking to redefine itself with a new manager and handfuls of not-so-household names. It’s scary and interesting to imagine where this club is headed in 2015.

Will I be surprised if they win 90 games and win the West? Kind of, but not really. I also won’t be shocked to see them win 79 games and finish 4th in the West.

Either way, I feel like the baseball gods owe us one from last year.

One response

  1. Pingback: Window Shopping The 2016 Free Agent Class | ER

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