2014 Finish: 67-95 (Last Place)
Projected Batting Order My batting Order
RF Shin Soo Choo CF Leonys Martin
SS Elvis Andrus SS Elvis Andrus
3B Adrian Beltre 3B Adrian Beltre
1B Prince Fielder 1B Prince Fielder
DH Mitch Moreland RF Shin Soo Choo
LF Jake Smolinski DH Mitch Moreland
C Robinson Chirinos C Robinson Chirinos
2B Rougned Odor LF Jake Smolinski
CF Leonys Martin 2B Rougned Odor
Projected Starting Rotation/Closer
LHP Derek Holland
RHP Yovani Gallardo
LHP Ross Detwiler
RHP Colby Lewis
RHP Nick Tepesch
CLOSER Neftali Feliz
2014 was a lost season for the Texas Rangers. Despite an exciting offseason, injuries stopped them in their tracks. Losing guys like Prince Fielder, Derek Holland and Shin Soo Choo gives you some cover but the rest of the team (aside from Adrian Beltre) played poorly. And now the Rangers will have to try to come back without Yu Darvish, who will miss the year undergoing Tommy John surgery.
If the Rangers are going to return to legitimacy, they have to stay healthy. They used the disabled list more than any other team in 2014 and paid over $46 million to players on the DL. But health may not be enough. The Angels and Mariners look really good and Oakland should be formidable as well. The Rangers will need to stay healthy, get their offense back to where it was and see the pitching staff get a lot better. That’s a lot that has to go back for the Rangers to have a chance in 2015.
Last year’s Rangers team saw a dip in production across the board. Offensively, their production dipped precipitously. They ranked below average in R and were second to last in HR, which is shocking considering their home park. The Rangers are built for offense, so getting better with the bats is key.
Adrian Beltre is the offensive leader on this club. He was one of two players with a positive WAR last season (with Leonys Martin) and he hit 324 with 19 HR and 77 RBI. He’s hit over 300 for 4 of the last 5 seasons and he hit over 30 HR 3 of the last 4 seasons. With better protection, I think we can see him return to 25 HR with an average north of 280 and 85+ RBI.
Prince Fielder missed the majority of the season with a neck injury. In his last full season, he hit 279 with 25 HR and 106 RBI, which was actually a down season for him. The Tigers didn’t like his production, so he was traded to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler last offseason before going to the DL for the first time in his career. The question is, what does Fielder have left? I personally believe he’s got a good amount left. He’s still a big strong lefty playing in a park that is perfect for his power. He may not hit 300 anymore, but if he hits 260+ with 30 HR and 100 RBI, that’s a win for this club.
The other major offseason addition last year was Shin Soo Choo. Choo appeared in 123 games last year hitting a mere 242 with 13 HR, 40 RBI, 53 R and 3 SB (in 7 attempts). He still had an impressive OBP (340) but below his career mark of 383. I predict a slight bounce back. Think 270 with an OBP north of 360. He may add in 15 HR and 80 R. He spent the majority of his career in Cleveland as a middle of the order bat, but Cincinnati saw his OBP potential two years ago and turned to him to be a leadoff man. He’s good at it, but with his declining speed I think he profiles better hitting 5th in this lineup, especially with his ability to hit for power.
Highly paid shortstop Elvis Andrus has been a disappointment since they signed him to an extension. His AVG has fallen three straight years, his defense has gotten sloppy and he still can’t take a walk. I think Andrus is good for 25+ SB, a 270 AVG and 70 R. Not bad, but not what they are paying for.
One of the few bright spots for Texas last year was Leonys Martin. Martin was a platoon player for years until interim manager, Tim Bogar, put Martin in the starting lineup where he excelled. As a result, Martin played in 155 games, the most in his career, and hit 274 with 31 SB, 68 R and led the league in bunts hits (17). I see the speedy center fielder hitting 275 with 40 SB and 80 R. If he plays like that, we may see him move up in the lineup, perhaps freeing Choo to hit 5th and use his power to drive in some runs.
Catcher Robinson Chirinos played in 93 games last year showing good defensive skills and some power with 13 HR. Jake Smolinski is winning the fight with Michael Choice for the starting job in left field. Smolinski played well in 24 games last year hitting 349 with 3 HR. Mitch Moreland is still around to DH and maybe take some at bats at first to give Fielder a rest. Moreland has a long career of being a complimentary player but never a star. Jewel of the franchise Jurickson Profar is likely to miss his second straight season with shoulder surgery. As he was not available to replace Ian Kinsler last year, the team promoted Rougned Odor from Double A. Odor hit 259 in 114 games last year while manning second. He needed more seasoning, but the Rangers didn’t have the luxury of waiting. He showed nice power (9 HR) and solid defense but no plate discipline, swinging at the first pitch in almost one third of his at bats and piling up the Ks.
This offense is top heavy. They need to get good production from the top four spots of the lineup to really have a chance to succeed. But those top 4 spots have questions. Shin Soo Choo was limited by an injury, but struggled while he was playing. Elvis Andrus has underperformed for 2 straight years. Adrian Beltre is getting older. And Prince Fielder is a big question mark whose numbers are trending the wrong way. If the Rangers are going to succeed this season, Martin and Andrus have to have big years, Fiedler and Choo have to bounce back and Beltre has to keep doing what he’s been doing.
I think this offense will fare better if they are able to utilize the lineup I put up next to their projected batting order. Choo can do a lot of things well, but they could really use his power, especially now that his speed is diminishing. Having that power lower in the lineup in an RBI spot will help them. But that can only happen if Martin continues to paly well enough to take over as the leadoff man.
The defense looks suspect. Fielder was never good at first, but has gotten worse. Andrus is losing range at short and playing sloppy. Age has finally caught up to Adrian Beltre and his third base defense has suffered greatly. Odor is above average at second. Choo has lost a step in the outfield and is returning to right, the easiest outfield position to play in Arlington and also where he spent the majority of his career. Martin is good in center and both Choice and Smolinski will be more than okay in left. Chirinos is good behind the plate, but that only gives the Rangers two plus defenders in the field and maybe 2 more average ones.
The Rangers pitching staff wasn’t immune to injury either last year either. They lost Derek Holland, Matin Perez and Matt Harrison and dealt with subpar performances from their substitutes. As a team, the Rangers had a 4.49 ERA, second worst in the league. To improve the staff, the Rangers added Yovani Gallardo and Ross Detwiler via trade. The hope was they could support Holland and Darvish. But news came down recently that Yu Darvish will need Tommy John surgery and will miss the season. In addition, Harrison and Perez won’t be ready until June at best so the Rangers will have to figure something out.
Their new ace has to be considered Derek Holland, who truly doesn’t have the stuff to earn that designation. He missed the majority of the year last season dealing with knee surgery and has reported discomfort in Spring Training, which has pushed his debut back. Over six MLB seasons, Holland is 51-38 with a 4.32 ERA. He’s got good command and can use his breaking pitchers at any point in the count, but he’s got to learn to keep runners off base.
Yovani Gallardo was added this offseason via a trade with the Brewers. Gallardo used to be considered an ace, but has not pitched like one in recent years. Last year he went 8-11 with a 3.51 ERA. Those numbers are fine, but the concern is the drop in Ks. Gallardo had 200+ Ks from 2009 to 2012, but less that 150 the last few years. However, he has surpassed 180 innings every year since 2009. He could stand to avoid the walks more, but I like him for a 200 inning season with an ERA around 3.80 and 10 wins.
Newcomer Ross Detwiler will also be asked to deliver some big innings. He was relegated to bullpen duty last year on the pitching rich Nationals but has 69 career starts under his belt. His career ERA is 3.82, but it comes with troubling secondary stats. Both his 1.37 career WHIP and 271 BAA are much higher than average and you worry about him moving to a great hitters park in the more offensive league. He’s not a big strikeout guy and gives up too many hits. I think he may struggle with an ERA north over 4.50 and perhaps more losses than wins.
Colby Lewis will now move from the 5th starter’s spot up into the middle of the rotation. Last year, he logged 29 starts and went 10-14 with a 5.18 ERA. The ERA was his worst since he returned to the Rangers (2010) and his WHIP (1.52) and BAA were both terrible. My best case for Lewis is a sub 5 ERA and 8 wins with a full complement of starts. He may reach 200 innings, but only because there is no one else to push him.
Expect to see both Tanner Scheppers and Nick Tepesch start some this year. Tepesch went 5-11 with a 4.36 ERA in 22 starts last season. He could stand to cut down on both walks and hits allowed, but he won’t kill you out there and the hope is with more experience he will get better. He’s got the inside track on the fifth rotation spot, ahead of Tanner Scheppers who was terrible as a starter and much better in relief last season. In 2013, Scheppers was a great reliever with a 1.88 ERA in 76 appearances. They like him be in the bullpen, but he may have to spot start some if Derek Holland is late joining the team or others get injured.
Neftali Feliz will anchor a bullpen that is due to see a lot of work. Feliz is back in the closer’s role, after an up and down career. He tried to start, had Tommy John, then went to the minors because of his loss of velocity. He got most of it back and returned to the closer’s role at midseason, going 13 for 14 in Save chances with a 1.99 ERA. He kept hitters off balance (183 BAA) and didn’t put runners on (0.98 WHIP). I think he can still be an effective closer and pitch to a sub 3 ERA converting the majority of his Saves, despite his dropping K rate.
After him, there are questions. Lefty Robbie Ross will join Scheppers as a long man in the bullpen. The Rangers took a chance on Kyuji Fujikawa who missed last year with Tommy John and failed to impress in two seasons with the Cubs before that. No other names jump out at you as overly talented, so the pitching staff could be in trouble, lacking guys with successful track records.
This pitching staff was hit hard by injuries last year and really struggled. They have some injuries already this year and don’t look to be off to a good start. The back of the rotation has questions, as does the bullpen. I think this pitching staff will be hurting again this year and ultimately the loss of Darvish will be too much to overcome.
I initially liked the Rangers more this year. The Astros aren’t ready and the A’s have lost a lot of offensive talent. I also believe in Fielder and Choo. If Leonys Martin keeps playing like he did at the end of last season, Beltre stays healthy, and Prince Fielder regains even half of his form, this team will score some runs. But I think the pitching staff will keep this team well out of the playoff hunt. I’ll put them down for 75 Wins and a fourth place finish.