After being decimated by injuries in recent seasons, the Rangers have rebuilt their starting rotation but it’s just as top heavy as years past. Gone are familiar names like Derek Holland and Colby Lewis, and that’s for the better, but Andrew Cashner and Martin Perez don’t move the needle very much. The Rangers bullpen looked like it had all the pieces to make the jump to elite status last year but ended up accumulating just 1.7 fWAR as a group by the end of the year.
RHP Yu Darvish
2016 Stats: 100 1/3 IP, 3.41 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 2.7 fWAR
2017 Projection: 195 IP, 3.54 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 4.5 fWAR
If there were any ill effects from Yu Darvish’s Tommy John surgery in 2015, they were masked by an excellent half season. He was able to use his entire arsenal of excellent pitches but began relying heavily on his fastball rather than his secondary (or tertiary) pitches. After his surgery, he was able to add velocity to his four-seamer, helping him generate a ridiculous number of whiffs with the pitch—the seventh highest fastball whiff rate in the majors last year. His strikeout rate was as good as ever and he was even able to lower his walk rate a bit. He should be fully healthy in 2017 and that’s a terrifying prospect for the rest of the American League.
LHP Cole Hamels
2016 Stats: 200 2/3 IP, 3.32 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 3.0 fWAR
2017 Projection: 204 IP, 3.91 ERA, 3.86 FIP, 3.3 fWAR
Despite a nice shiny ERA last season, Cole Hamels’s FIP was the highest it’s been since his rookie year in 2006. That doesn’t bode well for a pitcher who just turned 33-years-old. A walk rate that increased by 2 points and a few more home runs are the main culprits. Giving up additional free passes is definitely the more serious of the two problems. In 2016, Hamels pitched in the zone just 44.1% of the time, the tenth worst mark among qualified starting pitchers. His ability to generate swings on pitches outside the zone hasn’t deteriorated which helped him maintain his strikeout rate, but it didn’t increase either, resulting in the jump in walk rate.
RHP Andrew Cashner
2016 Stats: 132 IP, 5.25 ERA, 4.84 FIP, 0.4 fWAR
2017 Projection: 155 IP, 4.77 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 1.2 fWAR
The Rangers signed Andrew Cashner to a one-year, $10 million dollar contract early in the offseason. Considering the state of the starting pitching market, the Rangers might have jumped the gun with Cashner. On paper, it looks like Cashner should be an excellent mid-rotation starter. Big velocity on his fastball, secondary pitches that generate above-average whiff rates, and decent command to avoid too many walks. But what looks good on paper just doesn’t match reality. Last season, he lost velocity off his already too hittable fastball, his secondary pitches weren’t generating as many whiffs, and his walk rate jumped up two points. The Rangers must be hoping that Cashner’s woes from last year are just temporary or are easily fixable.
LHP Martin Perez
2016 Stats: 198 2/3 IP, 4.39 ERA, 4.50 FIP, 1.8 fWAR
2017 Projection: 142 IP, 4.48 ERA, 4.47 FIP, 1.4 fWAR
Martin Perez finally put his injury woes behind him and pitched an entire season last year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a particularly good season. Perez allowed the sixth highest contact rate among qualified starters. With such a high contact approach, it’s no surprise that his strikeout rate was the worst in baseball. Because he’s able to generate an above average ground ball rate, some of that contact is mitigated. Add to that a poor walk rate and the whole package isn’t good enough to be more than a back-end starter.
RHP Tyson Ross
2015 Stats: 196 IP, 3.26 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 4.4 fWAR
2017 Projection: 113 IP, 3.98 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 1.8 fWAR
A bad shoulder injury suffered in his first start of the year wiped out Tyson Ross’s entire season and will keep him out through May this year. When healthy, Ross has been electric. A heavy sinker and an excellent slider allowed him to run excellent ground ball rates and above average strikeout rates in the past. A two pitch repertoire may seem unusual but he’s proven that it can be effective. The injury to his shoulder casts some doubt on his ability to continue throwing so many sliders. It’s also unclear how effective he’ll be once he returns to the rotation.
A.J. Griffin will probably step into the starting rotation for the first two months of the season while Ross rehabilitates his shoulder. His fly ball heavy approach might not be a good fit for the Rangers but he’s able to generate an above average strikeout rate with his big curveball. After Griffin, Nick Martinez and Chi Chi Gonzalez could see some time in the rotation if Cashner or Perez falter. Neither will make much of a positive impact.
Closer – RHP Sam Dyson
2016 Stats: 70 1/3 IP, 2.43 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 1.0 fWAR
2017 Stats: 65 IP, 3.64 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 0.9 fWAR
As a closer without overpowering stuff, Sam Dyson relies on one of the best ground ball rates in the majors to finish games. Like Zach Britton, Dyson’s repertoire begins and ends with an excellent sinker. He isn’t able to generate as many strikeouts as Britton since his secondary pitches aren’t nearly as good. An 85.4% strand rate last year is rather high for a pitcher with such a low strikeout rate and some regression here could be trouble in 2017.
Setup – RHP Matt Bush
2016 Stats: 61 2/3 IP, 2.48 ERA, 2.74 FIP, 1.5 fWAR
2017 Stats: 65 IP, 3.49 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 1.1 fWAR
Matt Bush is one of the few relievers projected to post an above average strikeout rate in the Rangers bullpen. That alone qualifies him to step into the closer’s role should Dyson falter. Last year, a suppressed BABIP and low home run rate helped Bush push his ERA below 2.50. His batted ball mix doesn’t indicate an ability to generate weak contact. He likely got a bit lucky in his first exposure to major league batters.
Jeremy Jeffress accumulated 27 saves with the Brewers last year and would be the other candidate to pitch in the ninth if Dyson doesn’t hold onto the job. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate tumbled by five points last year making his overall projection pretty lackluster. Keone Kela has shown a lot of promise when healthy but needs to stay on the mound to capitalize on his excellent stuff. With Jake Diekman sidelined for the majority of the season after offseason surgery, Alex Claudio will step up as the primary lefty in the pen. Like many on the Rangers pitching staff, he relies on an excellent ground ball rate to make up for a below average strikeout rate.