Blog: Lone Star Ball
Players listed are based on my best efforts to gather information and are not guaranteed to be correct
Going straight off the name value, it's easy to look at this lineup and think "just another slugging batting order in Texas." Vlad, Hamilton, Cruz, Davis, Kinsler, and Young? This lineup's never going to relent!
Name value, though, is a dangerous means of estimation, as it may very often steer you wrong. Offensively speaking, this is a good lineup, but not a great one, and while there's obvious upside, it's more about volatility - this order has a wide range of potential outcomes.
Vladimir Guerrero is 35 and had the worst season of his career in 2009. The Rangers are counting on a bounceback, and it's the perfect environment for him (as it's the perfect environment for anyone), but how much better can they realistically expect him to be? His peak is almost certainly gone. Josh Hamilton is arguably the most physically talented player in the division, but he's also deathly fragile and struggled to produce between injuries. Chris Davis, for all of his power and success in the minors, was impossibly bad over 400 PAs. Young's due to regress. Saltalamacchia hasn't shown he can produce. On and on.
I'm not going to do a player-by-player analysis, because that would take too long, and I'm not a Rangers fan. The point is that, for all of its talent, this is a lineup littered with question marks. On top of everything else, Ian Kinsler's going to begin the year on the DL with a high ankle sprain, and while that's not a major injury, it's the sort that fans of other sports know can linger. It's not a...comfortable lineup. I'd be comfortable with the talent, but I wouldn't be comfortable with the probability that enough players can show off their talent at once.
Working in Texas' benefit is that they do have some reasonable depth. Murphy's a league-average bat ready to step in if Hamilton gets hurt, the dropoff from Saltalamacchia to Teagarden isn't huge, and between Garko, Smoak, and Ramirez, they should be able to find at least one sufficiently potent bat at 1B/DH. It's the infield that's the problem, because Blanco and Petit are terrible. At least at the plate. This team really needs Kinsler and Andrus to stay as healthy as possible, because the guys behind them spell trouble.
Julio Borbon's going to be annoying, by the way. Makes a lot of contact, puts the ball on the ground, runs like he's wearing afterburner roller skates. If I didn't know better, I'd think he played for us.
As for the defense? The big plus, obviously, is Andrus. Cruz has always scored well, even if he doesn't look like it. I'm guessing Borbon is pretty good. Nobody else is particularly special - although Blanco has earned rave reviews - so overall, this unit should probably be a little above average. Andrus makes the rest of the infield look like a bunch of damn retards, but Young could be a little better after a year of adjusting to third.
The Rangers might have too much pitching. I know, it weirds me out too. You could make an argument that every single one of those guys is at least about average, and they have enough depth in the system to absorb some degree of injury or underperformance.
Everybody knows what Harden brings to the table - punchout stuff, walks, injury concerns, short starts. He's not a traditional ace, but he's the most talented starter the Rangers have had in a good long time, so there's a lot riding on his shoulders. Behind him, there is quality and a handful of question marks. Feldman and Harrison are known entities, although Harrison comes with some upside as he claims he can throw a little harder after surgery. Wilson and Lewis will be keys. Wilson hasn't started since 2005, but he dominates lefties and added a cutter towards the end of 2009 to help him against righties. And while former top prospect Lewis got throttled in the bigs, he spent the last two years in Japan, piling up 369 strikeouts and 46 walks in 354.1 innings. If any part of that is in any way representative of a new, improved Colby Lewis, he could be the find of the winter.
Behind those five guys are another few quality arms. Hunter was supposed to begin the year in the rotation before straining his oblique, and when he's healthy, he's carried by his disproportionate success against righties. McCarthy has a new two-seamer, cutter, and delivery which have shown promise, and he took a step up in 2009. Holland has strikeout stuff, fanning 94 in 117 innings as a starter, and he could easily emerge as the team's second-best starter by July. And Martin Perez is only one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.
This is a good group of starters. There are concerns, of course, and it isn't impossible to imagine a scenario in which Harden gets hurt, Lewis struggles, and Wilson can't cut it, but even then, you can replace those three guys with the next three in line and not really suffer a whole lot. This rotation is deep, and anyone who thinks it all rests on Harden's health is incorrect.
The most important part of a bullpen is the top, and the Rangers aren't looking too bad - Francisco's a strikeout machine, Feliz as a reliever has otherworldly stuff, and the ageless Oliver is better than you think he is. O'Day's a useful pitcher, too, curiously platoon-free and flyball-neutral for a sidearming sinkerballer, and while I don't know a whole lot about the rest of the group, the back of the bullpen is of lesser significance, and tends to change makeup throughout the season anyway. All of those depth names have demonstrated some pretty good strikeout ability, although Hurley is currently rehabbing from a couple surgeries and Madrigal is dealing with unexplained forearm tightness.
It's a bullpen. It's talented. Bullpens are hard to predict. The biggest questions are in middle relief, but the biggest questions are almost always in middle relief.
There's talent almost everywhere, and it's easy to see why so many people think this team is on the verge of really arriving. I don't know that the Rangers are necessarily better than theor in terms of WAR projections, but they clearly have the most upside, meaning I think this is the team most likely to run away with the division. Along with that upside, though, comes the downward volatility, so we shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves in proclaiming Texas the favorites. Still, while they will need their luck and their health, this team is inarguably positioned well to make a run at the playoffs.
Why You Should Root For Them If The Mariners Drop Out
Talent. It's hard to root against talent. Obvious, in-your-face talent. The Rangers, as an organization, are run really well, and they're loaded with capable players. If the Angels win the division, it'll be annoying. If the A's win the division, it'll be annoying. If the Rangers win the division, it'll make sense. Guys like Andrus and Feliz and Harden are just treats to watch, and I'd be happy to watch this team bring down one of the beasts from the East.
Why You Should Root Against Them If The Mariners Drop Out
I dunno. Jealousy? General displeasure that comes with having a rival whoop your ass? They've never won a playoff series, and that'd be a funny thing to keep alive, I guess. Wouldn't look forward to all the mass media love going in Michael Young's direction.