2011 Texas Rangers: Do they have the rotation depth to repeat in the AL West

2010 Record: 90-72, 1st AL West
2010 Prediction: 81-81, 4th AL West
Diff: 9
2011 Prediction: 2nd AL West

Impact Player: OF Josh Hamilton
Impact Pitcher: RHP Neftali Feliz
Best Reliever: RHP Neftali Feliz
Top Prospect: LHP Martin Perez

General Manager: Jon Daniels
Manager: Ron Washington (331-317, .511)

Significant Acquisitions:
RHP Brandon Webb, LHP Arthur Rhodes, C/1B Mike Napoli, 3B Adrian Beltre, C Yorvit Torrealba, RHP Yoshinori Tateyama

Significant Departures:
DH Vladimir Guerrero, C Bengie Molina, INF Jorge Cantu, INF Joaquin Arias, C Max Ramirez, SS Cristian Guzman, LHP Cliff Lee, RHP Rich Harden, RHP Frank Francisco, RHP Dustin Nippert

For the first time in their history, the Texas Rangers not only won a playoff series, but they won the AL pennant.  Despite losing to the Giants in the World Series, the Rangers were clearly more successful than they had ever been before and there’s an optimism surrounding this team going forward that must feel strange for Rangers’ fans.

The optimism persists despite losing out on the team’s top free agent priority, Cliff Lee who decided to return to Philly rather than return to Arlington.  The core of the team outside of Lee still remains and the Rangers were in the midst of a solid season at the time of acquiring him, but rotation depth could be an issue this year, especially considering how much better the A’s project to be.

Reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton has a lot to do with the Rangers’ success as well and the likelihood of him repeating his 2010 performance is slim.  He also continues to have injury problems which has to concern Texas going forward.

Starting Rotation
The knock on the Rangers over the years has been their inability to pitch.  That changed in 2010 and was the chief reason that the team had so much success.  They finished third in the AL in ERA led by Lee and two unexpected successes, converted reliever C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis who returned from a hiatus in Japan and put up a solid season.

With Lee gone, the burden on those two pitchers becomes greater in 2011.  Wilson posted a 3.35 ERA and a 3.56 FIP in his first year as a starter and the Rangers weren’t shy about breaking him in giving him 204 innings in the regular season; a number that increased to 228.1 innings after the post season.  Wilson’s previous career-high at the major-league level was 73.2 innings.  The Rangers don’t believe it will be a problem, but there’s no denying the risk this entails.

Lewis also posted a career-year after returning from Japan posting a 3.72 ERA and 3.55 FIP in 201 innings.  Like Wilson, there is some risk of regression with Lewis considering he was never that good in any previous major league season.  For the Rangers to realistically contend, they’ll need those two at the top of their game.

Brandon Webb was signed away from Arizona, and the Rangers are hoping the former Cy Young Award winner can return to form despite missing the last two seasons with shoulder problems.  Apparently, he’s already experiencing problems again this spring, which is certainly not good news.

Tommy Hunter, who’s 13-4 record, 3.73 ERA, and 4.02 FIP were very solid last season, will also fit into this rotation.  At only 24, he has some serious upside and the Rangers are hoping he can take another step forward in 2011.

The final spot (or two, depending on the health of Webb) will be a spring battle between Derek Holland, Scott Feldman, and Michael KirkmanNeftali Feliz may also get a look.

Bullpen
Reigning AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz will probably end up in the rotation someday, and he will get a look there this season, but it’s likely that he’ll still be the team’s closer in 2011.  Last year, Feliz had 40 saves and a 2.73 ERA to go along with a 2.96 FIP.  If the Rangers are really having trouble with depth in their rotation, it might be smart for them to slide him into the rotation now.

The oldest lefty duo in baseball now resides in Texas with holdover Darren Oliver and free agent signing Arthur Rhodes who are 40 and 41-years-old respectively.  Both were very good last season, but Oliver, you could argue, had a career-year.  His 9.49 K/9 rate, 2.48 ERA and 2.64 FIP will all regress this season.  Rhodes has been solid for a long time and his 2.29 ERA and 3.24 FIP are much more repeatable than Oliver’s numbers.

The Rangers have one of the deepest bullpens in baseball on paper as the rest of the unit is made up of some very good assets.  Darren O’Day has now put up two consecutive excellent seasons.  Last year he had a 2.03 ERA and a terrific walk-rate.  Joining him will be Alexi Ogando who was dominant in his rookie season and could end up being the closer when the team decides to put Feliz in the rotation.

The remaining two spots will be up for grabs with lefty Matt Harrison fighting with righties Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama, and Pedro Strop.  Feldman and Kirkman could also be in the mix if they’re not starting.

Omar Beltre was also expected to compete for a spot, but will miss the first half of the season recovering from spinal surgery.

Catchers
The Rangers acquired Mike Napoli from the Jays after he was sent to Toronto for Vernon Wells.  Napoli will get a lot of innings at catcher, but will also play some first base and DH.  He’s an underrated offensive player who was never really appreciated in Anaheim.

Yorvit Torrealba will also get plenty of time behind the plate this season after a .271/.343/.378 slash line in San Diego last year.

With Napoli likely to log plenty of time at first and DH, the Rangers may decide to carry three catchers which will give Matt Treanor and Taylor Teagarden a chance to compete for the final spot.  Their inclusion on the roster also has a lot to do with the Michael Young situation.

Infielders
Speaking of Young, he is no longer in the Rangers’ infield picture after the team signed Adrian Beltre to play third base for the next five years.  Young is in decline offensively and is pretty much incapable of playing anywhere in the infield besides maybe first base, where his middling offensive statistics barely stand up.

This is the third time Young has been moved in his tenure with the Rangers and each time he asks for a trade before settling down and accepting his new lot in life.  This time, however, it appears as though Young is very serious about his want to be traded.  He has reported to training camp and is saying all the right things, but it’s clear the best situation for both sides is for Young to move on.  The problem is that his contract, which has three more years and $48-million left on it, is nearly impossible to move.

If Young remains on the team going forward, he could see some time at first base, but will likely spend most of his time at DH.

Beltre is a weird player.  In his two career years of 2004 and 2010 (both contract years), he has a .328/.377/.591 slash line while outside of those two years, his slash line drops to .264/.318/.435 which is probably what you’ll see from him going forward.  That hardly seems worth the $80-million price tag attached to his name.  He’ll also be 36 at the end of the contract.  Either way, he’s an upgrade from Young, especially defensively.

Ian Kinsler returns at second base and is a very good all around player.  He doesn’t get the press that Robinson Cano or Dustin Pedroia get, but his numbers are at least comparable to them.  Last year he had an outstanding .382 OBP and a .357 wOBA.

Shortstop Elvis Andrus is still just 22 years old and he improved greatly at the plate in 2010 with a .265/.342/.301 slash line, although the drop-off in his slugging percentage concerns some.  He is considered a very good fielder, but last season he was merely average which contributed to his underwhelming 1.5 WAR rating.

At first base, the Rangers have four players who may all see some time at the position.  Along with Napoli and Young is Mitch Moreland, who was decent in 47 games last year and enters camp as the likely starter.  He does, however, have a very limited ceiling.

Chris Davis was almost traded to the Cubs, but he’s still around.  After looking like the first baseman of the future  in 2008 and 2009, he fell off the planet last year struggling to hit lefties and posting a .192/.279/.292 slash line.  He’s currently fourth on the depth chart at first and may find himself on another team soon.

Andres Blanco is back as the utility infielder and non-roster invite Esteban German may also get a look but will likely provide minor-league depth.

Outfielders
The Rangers outfield has the potential to be one of the better units in the AL.  Hamilton in left was an absolute beast last year posting a surreal .359/.411/.633 slash line and leading the majors in OPS at 1.044.  He also led the majors in WAR at 8.0 and wOBA at .447.  He still missed nearly 30 games with another injury and has yet to stay healthy for more than a year at time, which is certainly a concern.  There’s no denying that, when healthy, Hamilton is one of the best players in the game and will be integral to the success of the Rangers going forward.

In rightfield is Nelson Cruz who is has become a very solid major leaguer.  The late-bloomer was terrific again last year when he was healthy.  In 108 games, Cruz amassed 22 homeruns and an impressive .318/.374/.576 slash line with a .408 wOBA.  Defensively, his 10.6 UZR/150 was third in the AL among rightfielders.

In centerfield will be Julio Borbon who struggled a bit at the plate last year seeing his on-base percentage fall to .309 as a result of a very low walk-rate, but it’s expected that he will bounce back going forward to be a consistent .300 hitter with at least average patience.  He’s never going to hit for power, but he’s a very good defensive player who could be a force at the top of the order with Andrus for many years.

David Murphy is one of the better fourth outfielders around.  He’s solid defensively in the corners and can handle centerfield as well and last year was great at the plate with a .291/.358/.449 slash line.  He managed to get into a lot of games last season due to the Cruz and Hamilton injuries.  He may get more at-bats if Young is traded as he could be one of a few rotating DHs.

Craig Gentry is around as well and may also become a bigger factor if Young is traded and has to be used as an extra outfielder.
Designated Hitter
As of right now, Young and Napoli should split time at DH with both getting occasional time at first base and Napoli also catching.  If Young is dealt, the team would likely go with a rotating cast that could spell injury risks such as Hamilton and Cruz from playing every day in the outfield.  That would also allow Murphy to get the at-bats he probably deserves.

I’ve run out of creative ways to say CHARTS!

Overview
If the Rangers were able to re-sign Lee they’d have a really good chance of repeating in the AL West, but as it is, their lack of rotation depth could really hurt them against a team like the A’s.  Their lineup and bullpen will keep them moderately competitive, but expect a regression from Wilson and Lewis in the rotation.
Final Prediction: 85-77, 2nd AL West

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One response to “2011 Texas Rangers: Do they have the rotation depth to repeat in the AL West

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