Rabu, 14 Maret 2012

Season Previews, Part 28: Texas Rangers

This comes from chimpape:

2011 Record: 96-66
Pythagorean Record: 98-64
Games out of first: N/A

2011 Recap

In 2011, the Texas Rangers were the champions of the American League West division with a 96-66 record. Their 96 wins were good enough for second best in the American League, and best in their division by 10 games over the rival Angels. The Rangers offense was lead by left fielder Josh Hamilton and third baseman Adrian Beltre, who combined to hit 57 home runs and bat .297 despite missing over 30 games each due to injury and wear. The pitching staff was anchored by crafty lefty C.J. Wilson, who assumed the role of staff ace following the departure of current Phillies star Cliff Lee. Wilson shined, leading all Rangers starters in ERA, GS, IP, SO, and WAR.

Overall, it was a good year for the Rangers. The pitching in particular was spectacular compared to other years, especially because of how difficult their park has been to pitchers. The staff posted a combined 118 ERA+, second behind only the New York Yankees. Dave Bush and Scott Feldman split 5 starts, but the starting 5, C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Alexi Ogando, started the other 157, so their pitching staff proved to be effective and durable. Their bullpen was also effective, led by young closer Neftali Feliz, veteran lefty Darren Oliver, and mid-season acquisition Mike Adams. Offensively, the Rangers were third in OPS+, and second in home runs. Five of their players hit 25 or more home runs, and Michael Young and Mike Napoli led the team in average, hitting 338 and 320 respectively. Ian Kinsler was healthy for the entire season, and Elvis Andrus made some steady improvements on offense.

The Rangers battled through the injuries of their stars all season, yet they fought their way to a division crown, and eventually won the American League pennant after defeating the Rays 3-1 and the Tigers 4-2. Unfortunately, their season ended in heartbreak in one of the most memorable World Series in baseball history. The highlight of the series was game 6, when the Rangers were a single strike away from being named champions on several occasions, only to see the Cardinals claw and fight their way back. Game 7, however, belonged to the Cardinals as the Rangers collapse was complete. This was the second year in a row that the Rangers had won the American League pennant, but failed to bring home the Commissioner's Trophy.

Top Performers by War

1. Ian Kinsler (7.7)
2. C.J. Wilson (5.9)
3. Adrian Beltre (5.7)
4. Mike Napoli (5.7)
5. Elvis Andrus (4.5)

Offseason Overview

The Rangers made a splash in free agency by signing highly coveted Japanese star Yu Darvish. The Rangers posted a bid of $51.7 million, and that was just for the rights to speak to Darvish. Eventually, he signed a 6 year, 60 million dollar deal. However, in doing so, the Rangers had could not afford to keep C.J. Wilson, who eventually signed with the Angels. Darvish is unproven, but his numbers in Japan speaks for themselves. In fact, they are much more impressive than that of Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was held in very high regard. With a mid 90's fastball, a low 90's breaking fastball, a sharp mid 80's slider, and a slow, loopy curve, Darvish is armed with an impressive arsenal rivaling that of Matsuzaka. The difference, however, is that Darvish appears to have better command of his pitches than Matsuzaka, which was Daisuke's biggest problem. Still, the Rangers are clearly very confident in Darvish's ability, because they let their proven ace C.J. Wilson go in favor of him. The Rangers plan to change more with their pitching, including moving closer Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation. The signing of Joe Nathan, the former star closer for the Minnesota Twins, allowed the Rangers to move Feliz, considered one of the top starting pitching prospects in the minors in 2010 (9th overall by Baseball America), back into the rotation. The Rangers also removed some headaches in the future by agreeing to contract extensions with Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus which takes care of both players' arbitration eligible years. Despite the loss of C.J. Wilson, the Rangers still helped their rotation by adding Darvish and Feliz, and didn't damage their bullpen by securing it with Nathan. Overall, the offseason was fairly successful for the Rangers.

Notable Additions

SP Yu Darvish
RP Joe Nathan

Notable Losses

SP C.J. Wilson
RP Darren Oliver

Projected Lineup

2B. Ian Kinsler
SS. Elvis Andrus
LF. Josh Hamilton
DH. Michael Young
3B. Adrian Beltre
RF. Nelson Cruz
C. Mike Napoli
1B. Mitch Moreland
CF. Julio Borbon

Another loaded lineup returns to Texas in 2012. Ian Kinsler, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, and Mike Napoli all have displayed the ability to hit more than 30 home runs. Throw in Julio Borbon, Ian Kinsler, and Elvis Andrus providing game changing speed at the top of the lineup, and the Rangers are going to score a lot of runs. This is easily one of the most balanced lineups in the entire league, as there are no glaring holes in the rotation, and they can score in many different ways. Josh Hamilton will look to regain his 2010 MVP form, but even if he doesn't, the lineup has enough fire power to succeed without him. No one should be expected to see a significant drop in production, maybe with the exception of Michael Young, and perhaps Elvis Andrus and Mitch Moreland should be expected to improve.

Projected Rotation

RHP Colby Lewis
LHP Derek Holland
RHP Yu Darvish
LHP Matt Harrison
RHP Neftali Feliz

The loss of C.J. Wilson hurts, and now the Rangers are looking to a new ace. Perhaps Yu Darvish, the newest star of the Rangers, can step in immediately and take the reigns and lead the staff. Maybe Derek Holland, the 25 year old south paw, can work on his improvements over the past two years and blossom into a top of the rotation starter. It's possible that the other lefty, Matt Harrison, will continue to develop, and keep his ERA in the low 3's. The guy to watch is Neftali Feliz, the former closer. He has electrifying stuff that allowed him to be one of the most successful closers in the game. If he successfully translates to the rotation, the Rangers will likely have one of the games best young pitchers.

Significant Relievers/Reserve Players

1. RP Joe Nathan
2. RP Mike Adams
3. OF David Murphy

Team Strengths

Offense. There are absolutely no holes in the lineup, and they have the ability to score at all times. There are guys who can run, those who can hit for power, and those who get on base consistently. Even without one or two of their stars in the lineup, their bench is good enough to fill in the holes, and the rest of the lineup is good enough to produce. Nothing, not even injuries, look like they will stop this offense.

Team Weaknesses

Pitching Depth. By default, the pitching depth is the weakness, because the offense, bullpen, defense, and speed are all exceptional. Now that C.J. Wilson is gone, there is no one in the rotation that can be considered reliable every time he goes out on the rubber. There is definitely loads of potential in the rotation, but whether it comes together is still up in the air. However, if the pitchers come through and post solid numbers, this can easily be turned into a strength. 

2012 Outlook

The Angels improved significantly by signing C.J. Wilson away from Texas, and of course, landing the best player on the market, Albert Pujols. Pujols alone could close the 10 game gap with a good season, and losing Wilson hurts, especially since he's with the Angels now. If the Rangers wish to stay at the top of the division, they'll have to keep their rotation healthy, and the rotation needs to pitch consistently, because the offense will carry the load.

Potential Breakout Player

Derek Holland: The Rangers have been very patient with lefty Derek Holland, and it's beginning to pay off. In 2011, Holland pitched 198 innings, with a 3.95 ERA, and 3.6 WAR. His xFIP, tERA, and SIERA are all promising, and have shown improvement over the last three seasons. He greatly improved his fastball last season, and now he'll look to do the same with his breaking pitches. With his talent, he could be a star pitcher, and blossom this season.

Potential Bust

Adrian Beltre: Adrian Beltre will be entering his 15th season as a major league player. At the beginning of the year, Beltre will turn 33, which is getting fairly old for a third baseman. Historically, third basemen have a very hard time staying healthy into their mid 30s, and with the milage that Beltre has, it has to be a concern. Not only that, but Beltre saw a spike in offensive production the last two seasons. Perhaps he's for real, but you still have to take a look at his career slash of 276/329/469 over 8,000 PA and wonder if you can really expect a 300/350/550 season.


Record: 91-71
Finish: 2nd
MVP: Ian Kinsler (6.4)

Final Thoughts

With the additions that the Angels made, and the loss of C.J. Wilson, the Rangers will likely not do as well this season. I expect the Rangers to still finish with an excellent record, and be in a position to fight for a playoff spot.

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