HBT’s 2016 MLB Preview: Texas Rangers

Colin Henderson, MLB

texas rangers 3

2015 Season: The Texas Rangers looked off for the first half of 2015, only marginally better then in 2014 season where they ended up with the 3rd worst record in baseball. They were struggling to score runs consistently while the loss of ace Yu Darvish to Tommy John surgery the late in spring training was being felt on the pitching staff. Nevertheless, Texas was able to straighten itself out and after acquiring lefty Cole Hamels from Philadelphia at the trade deadline, rode a scorching hot second half to the AL West crown, their first since 2012, eventually losing to the Toronto Blue Jays in the Division Series.

 

Key Additions: The Rangers were relatively quiet in the offseason this year, adding few players to the playoff roster from a year ago. Their biggest issue entering the offseason was Left Field and who would play it. With Josh Hamilton having trouble staying on the field (and he is expected to start the 2016 season on the DL), the Rangers decided to avoid the bevy of slugging outfielders available and instead waited until early in spring training to sign shortstop Ian Desmond to a 1-year, $8 million deal and will attempt to convert him to outfield. This move is a bit risky as Desmond has played a total of 2 games in his career in the outfield, but getting a former $100 million shortstop who bet on himself in free agency and lost, for a mere $8 million ($2 million/year less then Howie Kendrick) with plenty of incentive to prove everyone wrong could turn out to be a stroke of genius for GM Jon Daniels.

In addition to Desmond, Texas added bullpen arms Tony Barnette and Tom Wilhelmsen along with starter A.J. Griffin and outfielder Justin Ruggiano. Both Griffin and Ruggiano are expected to be nothing more then outfield and pitching depth respectively, while Barnette and Wilhelmsen will be looked upon a middle-to-late inning relievers and as closer depth.

 

Key Losses: The biggest loss for the Rangers coming into the 2016 season is starter Yovani Gallardo who made 33 stars in 2015 and pitched to a respectable 3.42 ERA over 184 1/3 innings en route to a 4.1 WAR. He may not have gone late into games, but the reliability of the veteran will be missed, especially until the return of Darvish expected around mid-May-June. In addition to Gallardo, the Rangers parted ways with 1B Mike Napoli, and outfielders Leonys Martin, Kyle Blanks, Drew Stubbs, and Will Venable. While these five have had varying levels of success for the Rangers, none of these are deal-breakers for a team hoping to repeat last season’s regular season performance.

 

texas rangers 4Projected Opening Day Lineup:

Delino DeShields Jr. CF .261 Avg / 2 HR / 37 RBI / 25 SB
Shin-Soo Choo RF .276 Avg / 22 HR / 82 RBI
Prince Fielder DH .305 Avg / 23 HR / 98 RBI
Adrian Beltre 3B .287 Avg / 18 HR / 83 RBI
Mitch Moreland 1B .278 Avg / 23 HR / 85 RBI
Ian Desmond LF .233 Avg / 19 HR / 62 RBI
Elvis Andrus SS .258 Avg / 7 HR / 62 RBI
Rougned Odor 2B .261 Avg / 16 HR / 61 RBI
Robinson Chirinos C .232 Avg / 10 HR / 34 RBI

 

Outside of Desmond slotting in to play Left Field, this lineup will be eerily similar to the one that ended up 3rd in the American League in runs with 751. Having some reliable play in left should should only make this offense better, especially with Desmond trying to play his way back into the money. DeShields is an ideal lead off guy, someone who gets on base (.344 On-Base Percentage last year) while the 2-3-4 of Choo, Fielder, and Beltre should continue to be as formidable as any around the league. The 36-year-old Beltre will continue to be relied upon in the middle of the lineup, but as he ages it would not shock me to start to see his numbers begin to dip in 2016, especially with the lack of everyday DH-ing that he could be doing if big Prince wasn’t around as much. Texas would be wise to limit Beltre to less than 135 games if they are to plan for a late October run.

After the top 4, Moreland and Desmond should able to drive home whoever is left on base, combining for 42 homers and 147 RBIs a year ago.. Odor could very easily jump up to the 6-spot in the lineup sooner then later with his combination of average and power while Andrus will be expected to use his legs once on base to score (26 SB in 2015).

Overall, this is a very dangerous and long lineup for opposing pitchers to deal with. It has a nice lefty-righty balance from top to bottom with anyone from 2-7 having the power to jack one out in a very hitters friendly park in Arlington. I expect this lineup to once again be in the Top-5 of the AL in runs at the end of the year.

 

texas rangers 1Projected Opening Day Rotation:

Cole Hamels LHP 13-8, 3.65 ERA, 215 K
Derek Holland LHP 4-3, 4.91 ERA, 41 K
Colby Lewis RHP 17-9, 4.66 ERA, 142 K
Martin Perez LHP 3-6, 4.46 ERA 48 K
Chi Chi Gonzalez RHP 4-6, 3.90 ERA, 30 K

 

After acquiring Hamels from the Phillies last year, the Rangers plan is to eventually have a Hamels-Darvish pairing at the top of what could be a very solid rotation. In the meantime, with Yu Darvish not expected to be back until mid-May after recovering from Tommy John, it will be up to the back of the rotation to produce while keeping a rotation spot warm for him. We know what to expect from Hamels and with a full season on a winning team (something he hasn’t pitched for in 4 years) it would not shock me if he puts up big numbers now that the games he pitches will actually matter past June 1st.

After Hamels though, the biggest issue is health for this rotation. We already know about Darvish returning from TJ, but Holland and Lewis also have their question marks . While both are serviceable arms who should adequately eat up innings with average to above average production,they must remain healthy in order to do so. Holland was limited to just 10 starts last year with injury while the 36-year-old Lewis is far from a sure thing to start 25+ games as he enters the twilight of his career. Neither pitcher sported good ERAs last year, and they would be a disappointing number 2 and 3 starters for a playoff team, but once Darvish returns and bumps them back a spot (at least), the rotation should fill out better.

At the back end, Perez (another injury prone player who was limited to 14 starts in ’15 and only 8 in ’14) will be tentatively slotted in the rotation, that is until he is hit with another injury. Young pitchers Chi Chi Gonzalez and Nick Martinez will be competing for the 5th spot in the rotation, one that Gonzalez is currently leading having thrown a great spring training to date while Martinez has struggled early on. Both will supply depth to a rotation that has injury concerns from #2-4, while also holding a spot down until the return of Darvish.

 

Oct 9, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Keone Kela throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays in the 13th inning in game two of the ALDS at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY SportsProjected Opening Day Bullpen:

Tony Barnette (R) RHP 1.29 ERA, 41 SV ( Japan)
Tom Wilhelmsen RHP 2-2, 3.19 ERA, 60 K
Jake Diekman LHP 2-1, 4.01 ERA, 69 K
Keone Kela SU 7-5, 2.39 ERA, 22 Holds
Sam Dyson SU 5-4, 2.63 ERA, 71 K
Shawn Tolleson CL 6-4, 2.99 ERA, 35 SV

 

The Rangers bullpen was a mess for long stretches of 2015, but after acquiring some bullpen arms at the deadline and adding Barnette and Wilhelmsen over the offseason, they project to be far better in 2016. Barnette has been over in Japan since 2009, pitching to mixed results, but after tied for the league lead in saves last year with 41, he has been brought back over to the mainland to try and duplicate that performance here. Wilhelmsen is a veteran who will be called upon to deliver in the middle innings. The trifecta of Diekman, Kela, and Dyson have the potential to be a force in the AL, each throwing an ERA under .300 during their time in Arlington in 2015.

Lastly, Tolleson, while not a dominant closer by any stretch, was able to convert 35 of 40 save opportunities last year and will enter the year as the unquestioned closer. You won’t mistake him for Aroldis Chapman or Craig Kimbrel any time soon, but the man gets the job done.

 

2016 X Factor: Yu Darvish

texas rangers 2In a perfect world, the partnership of Hamels and Darvish should be one of the most dominant lefty-righty 1-2 punches in the game. Both are hard throwing strike out artists who are among the very best the game has to offer when they are on. we expect Hamels to put up his normal ace-caliber numbers, but for this team to win the AL West and make a longer trip in the postseason, this duo is what will get them there. We know the offense will score runs, we know the bullpen (at least on paper) is far improved, but when your rotation includes guys like Holland, (oft-injured), Lewis (nothing more then an innings eater) and a combination of Perez, Gonzalez, and Martinez, the heavy lifting will be on the shoulders of Hamels and Darvish.

If Darvish can return from his injury and become the Darvish of old, then this team should be able to mask any short-comings the back of their rotation brings. If he comes back and is 70-80% of the pitcher we remember then the Rangers will have to worry about their prospects of a long playoff run.

 

HBT’s 2016 Season Prediction: The Rangers are a good team with not a lot of turnover from last year. They add the ideal ‘buy-low’ guy in Desmond who I expect to have a big bounce back year, they improved their bullpen which was 24th in the Majors in ERA, and they will get their ace back before the All-Star break. Common sense would dictate that they shouldn’t take a step back from last years results and I am not one to disagree with common sense. My prediction: that Prince Fielder ends up in the top-7 of AL MVP voting, Hamels in the top-7 of AL CY young voting, and a repeat of last year’s success as they win 90 games en route to back-to-back AL West titles.

 

Be sure to check out the rest of HBT Sports’ MLB Team Previews here.

 

Author

Colin Henderson

Colin is a Fordham University grad, Founder of How ‘Bout Them Sports, and notable Fantasy nerd. If he isn’t annoying friends and family by talking sports for 5 hours straight, he can normally be found on the couch watching old movies, humming one of the 10 songs stuck in his head, or bragging about his most recent FIFA victory on his PS4. A New York City kid through and through, he can be heard on ESPN New Hampshire every Saturday from 2-4 along with fellow HBT Sports writer Ricky Cibrano. Follow him on Twitter @ColDontLie and be sure to tell all your friends about HBT Sports (I’m sure he would appreciate it).

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