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2018 AL West Preview: The Rangers’ Pitching Staff

The Rangers have cobbled together a patchwork pitching staff.

Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

With Yu Darvish out of the picture, the Rangers pitching staff is filled with pitchers looking for big bounce back campaigns in 2018. They added Matt Moore, Doug Fister, and Mike Minor to their rotation after losing Darvish, Tyson Ross, and Andrew Cashner. All three of those additions have questions surrounding them as they enter spring training. Will Matt Moore recover after an abysmal season in San Francisco? Can Doug Fister stave off father time? How much velocity will Mike Minor carry over in his return to the rotation? I haven’t even mentioned the questions surrounding the holdovers like Cole Hamels or Martin Perez. If you squint hard enough, you can barely see some upside here but it will take a lot of good luck to realize it.

Starting Rotation

LHP Cole Hamels

2017 Stats: 148 IP, 4.20 ERA, 4.62 FIP, 1.5 fWAR
2018 Projection (Steamer): 201 IP, 4.65 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 2.4 fWAR

Cole Hamels is not the pitcher he used to be. After making more than 30 starts in nine straight seasons, averaging 211 innings pitched per season, an oblique strain in early May wiped out half of his 2018 season. More alarming were his deteriorating peripherals when he was on the mound. He lost six and a half points off his strikeout rate as opposing batters refused to chase his pitches out of the zone. He allowed more contact than ever before and an extremely lucky BABIP saved his ERA from ballooning even further. As the de facto ace of the Rangers starting rotation, the expectations for a bounce back season will be high.

RHP Matt Moore

2017 Stats: 174 1/3 IP, 5.52 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 1.0 fWAR
2018 Projection: 157 IP, 5.30 ERA, 5.24 FIP, 0.7 fWAR

The Rangers went out and traded for Matt Moore earlier this offseason and he slots in as the second starter in their rotation. It’s an odd fit. Moore has really struggled with a big home run problem ever since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2015. That’ll only get exacerbated in Texas. He’s only a year removed from posting 2.3 fWAR with a FIP hovering around 4, which is the upside the Rangers are hoping to see. A dip in velocity last season isn’t a good sign—it led to a two point drop in strikeout rate—and his command has never been a strength. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Moore’s return to the American League probably won’t go the way they want.

RHP Doug Fister

2017 Stats: 90 1/3 IP, 4.88 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 1.4 fWAR
2018 Projection: 168 IP, 4.91 ERA, 4.81 FIP, 1.5 fWAR

After sitting out almost half of the season, Doug Fister signed on with the Red Sox in late June and rejuvenated his career. He posted the highest strikeout rate of his career in Boston—though it was matched by the highest walk rate of his career too. The key to his success was a revitalized fastball that averaged 90 mph for the first time since 2013. The additional strikeouts are certainly nice but the slip in command is a little concerning. Fister has always thrived by limiting base runners while running above average ground ball rates. Last season, he ran an extremely unlucky 63.3% LOB rate which pushed his ERA almost a full run over his FIP. With a little better luck, he could bring a ton of unexpected value to this rotation.

LHP Martin Perez

2017 Stats: 185 IP, 4.82 ERA, 4.65 FIP, 1.9 fWAR
2018 Projection: 135 IP, 4.85 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 1.3 fWAR

[Update: This piece originally stated that Perez would miss the first few months of the season. That report was out-of-date. He could be ready by Opening Day and would take the third or fourth spot in the rotation.]

Martin Perez injured his non-throwing elbow this offseason but is working towards making a recovery by Opening Day. He’s just 26 years old, but his style of pitching is well established already. He won’t get many strikeouts, possesses an acceptable walk rate, and runs an excellent ground ball rate. His high-contact approach leaves very little wiggle room so when his ground ball rate dropped to merely above average in 2017, his BABIP jumped up to .328.

The depth

The rest of the Rangers rotation will be cobbled together during spring training. After spending last season in the Royals bullpen, Mike Minor looks to rejoin the starting rotation with the Rangers. He added a ton of velocity as a reliever and started leaning on his slider a lot more. The velocity gains probably won’t follow him back to the rotation but it’ll be interesting to see what the Rangers have on their hands. Matt Bush is also trying to make the transition to the rotation after working out of the pen for his entire career. He’ll have to hold off Bartolo Colon for the final spot in the rotation. The ageless wonder was signed to a minor league contract and will try to prove himself after posting an outrageous 6.48 ERA last season.

The bullpen

The closer – LHP Alex Claudio

2017 Stats: 82 2/3 IP, 2.50 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 1.6 fWAR
2018 Projection: 65 IP, 3.94 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 0.5 fWAR

One of the most unconventional relievers in the game, Alex Claudio managed to grab hold of the ninth inning last year. His greatest weapon isn’t a big fastball or a wipeout slider. Instead he relies on deception and excellent command of his pitches. His fastball sits around 86 mph and throws his changeup 15 mph slower than that. It’s a killer combo that induces tons of weak contact. He won’t strikeout many batters but he’s only allowed just seven home runs total over the last two seasons. That ability to limit explosive damage should benefit him greatly in high leverage situations.

The setup man – RHP Seung Hwan Oh

2017 Stats: 59 1/3 IP, 4.10 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 0.1 fWAR
2018 Projection: 65 IP, 4.74 ERA, 4.71 FIP, 0.0 fWAR

After a brilliant debut in 2016, Seung Hwan Oh stumbled in his sophomore season in the US. The Korean star just couldn’t generate the same whiff rate he enjoyed during his first season with the Cardinals. That resulted in a huge 12 point drop in strikeout rate. The 35-year-old will hope for better results in Texas, locking down the eighth inning in a thin bullpen. Should Claudio lose his grip on the ninth inning, I’m sure the Final Boss would be among the options considered to replace him.

The rest

The reliever with the best raw stuff in the Rangers bullpen is probably Keone Kela. Injuries and some attitude problems have held him back from realizing his potential. His fastball is impressive but his curveball is his best pitch, using it to generate both whiffs and weak contact. Jake Diekman returns to the Rangers as the left-handed specialist. He missed most of last season after undergoing surgery early in 2017. He can be wild but his fastball/slider combo is killer against left-handed batters.