Revisiting the Rangers

Since MLB’s Opening Day, in April, I have written about the Texas Rangers only twice. The first was on May 4th when I checked in to tell you Cole Hamels was hurt and the season was basically over. The second was exactly a month later to eulogize Sam Dyson’s strange tenure in Arlington.

That has been the extent of my Rangers’ coverage in 2017. Baseball typically serves as my favorite distraction throughout the year, so it’s funny that I haven’t been paying my normal amount of attention to it this season because I’ve… been distracted. There are a bunch of reasons for this, whether it’s because I’m usually at work while they play, or that right now politics are more interesting to me, or the fact that they are like a million games behind the Astros in the American League West.

And I don’t know. It just doesn’t get me excited to be in the hunt with 7 other teams for the 2nd Wild Card spot.

There have been years where I didn’t think the Rangers would be very good and they proved me wrong. There have also been years where I thought the Rangers would be outstanding and they underachieved.

This season I thought the team was going to be about average, and they have played about average. They are currently 43-45 (.488), which is 16.5 games behind Houston in the AL West and tied with the Angels (at 45-47) at 3 games back of the 2nd Wild Card. At the All Star Break, which is right now, there are 9 teams in the American League within 5.0 games of one another fighting for two playoff spots.

If all things were equal and basic probability decided which 2 of those 9 teams ended up as the Wild Cards, it would theoretically give every club a 1-in-4.5 chance. That’s 22.2% or, weak, in other words. You have betters odds of picking up a coin and flipping heads three times in a row than the Rangers do of making the postseason this year.

Still, the signs that point to Texas performing better in the second half than the first are too real to ignore. They are 3rd in the American League in runs scored (5.01 runs/game) and 4th in the AL in run differential (+29). Their ideal rotation — Darvish, Hamels, Martin Perez, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross — has a composite 3.90 ERA in 365 innings pitched in 2017. These are all positive things.

The real weakness of the Rangers has been their bullpen, which has 17 blown saves — tied for the most in the AL — in just 30 save opportunities. It has allowed a .344 on base percentage, worst in the league, and a .429 slugging percentage, which is 11th in the league (out of 15 teams). This is less an omen of what to expect moving forward than just your garden variety batch of bad luck. Last season the Rangers were historically good in one run outcomes — an impressive yet unsustainable recipe for success — and this year they are 6-14 in such affairs.

If you normalize the luck factors, then Texas has a puncher’s chance of playing past Game 162 for the 7th time in 8 years. But they are also one of 9 teams that is basically in the same position. The American League is so average in 2017 that it’s probably only going to take 85 or 86 wins to squeeze into the 2nd Wild Card spot, and it’s a fool’s game to try and predict which — of several — mediocre teams will break off runs in the second half to position themselves there.

That is why, if it was up to me, I would punt in the second half. I would look to trade everyone who isn’t tied down for multiple seasons — like Cashner, Ross, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Mike Napoli — and recoup some prospects. The only player I would shy away from trading is free agent to be Yu Darvish, since I think there is potential to re-sign him, and since I think he is the key to obtaining Japanese sensation Shohei Otani. Everyone else is up for grabs.

I’m obviously skeptical as to the Rangers actually doing this, because as I mentioned above there are reasons to expect the club to play better moving forward. The bullpen isn’t going to duplicate its league-worst conversion rate in the saves department, and they probably won’t perform at a 30% clip in one-run games.

But there is some nuance required in this specific Rangers season, since so many players are eligible for free agency after the year and since the farm system is absolutely starving for near-ready MLB talent. If ever there was a time to jumpstart the organization, it would be the year that the Astros are running away with the division and the minor league system was bereft of high-level assets.

I write this in part to say I told you so if Texas doesn’t sell and they don’t end up making the Wild Card Game, and partly in hopes that it will catalyze a brilliant second half run so they can make me eat crow. Either way it’s a win, whether for my ego or the Rangers making the playoffs.

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