When I planned this series a month ago, I put the Angels first, knowing that the majority of their off-season heavy lifting was completed. The A’s would come next, since I didn’t foresee them making a lot of moves. By the time we got to the Rangers, I figured, they’d have made some kind of major free-agent signing worth talking about. As of this writing, those major FA acquisitions are Doug Fister, Bartolo Colon, and Matt Moore. Those are some pretty meh acquisitions, as John pointed out in his preview, and didn’t move the needle much for projection systems.
- Current Fangraphs projected record: 78-84 (4th in the AL West by one game, 19th in MLB, 10th in the AL)
- Projected runs scored per game (RS/G): 4.99
- Projected runs scored against per game (RA/G): 5.19
- PECOTA projected record: 77-85 (5th in the AL West)
Fangraphs likes the Rangers’ offense a little more than the A’s but thinks their pitching will allow the fourth-most runs per game in baseball, trailing just the three-headed pitching nightmare of the Orioles, White Sox, and Tigers. PECOTA takes a similarly dim view of the Rangers’ pitching, projecting only Cole Hamels to be even slightly over replacement value, and doesn’t think much of the Rangers’ homers-or-bust approach to offense.
How can the Rangers ride off into the sunset?
Very few players in baseball have a swing more seductive than Joey Gallo’s, a beautiful lefty swing loaded with power. When he makes contact with the ball, he can make it travel unthinkable distances. Fangraphs projects Gallo as a 2.6-win player, second only to Beltre in WAR, predicting him for a wOBA of .357 with a slugging percentage over .500. That’s actually below the 2.9 he put up last year, when he slugged .537 with 41 dingers. If Gallo can cut down on his strikeouts and collect some hits of the non-dinger variety, he’s a potential All-Star, but as long as he keeps transforming plate appearances into wiffle ball games, he can buoy the Rangers offense. With sustained performances from Gallo, Beltre, and a not-bizarro-world Rougned Odor, the one remaining piece to electrify the offense could be young Willie “June” Calhoun, acquired from the Dodgers in the Yu Darvish trade. Unlike his big-bopping but big-strikeout teammates, Calhoun has the ability to hit for both power and average. He will most likely be an Altuve-like annoyance to Mariners fans for many years to come. Hooray.
What could cause the Rangers to fall off their horses?
While the outlook for Calhoun is rosy, the Rangers’ offensive success depends on a bunch of returning players being better than they were last year. If healthy, Adrian Beltre will continue doing Adrián Beltré things, but the Rangers are banking on Odor bouncing back, Nomar Mazara taking a step forward, Joey Gallo sustaining his madcap HR pace, and everyone else holding steady. That “if” for Beltré’s health is a pretty significant “if,” too, especially if the 39-year-old continues to hold down the Hot Corner. Even with Beltré, the Rangers’ infield defense projects to be significantly better than their outfield, where the slow-footed Mazara and defensively-limited Calhoun will be the starters. That won’t help out a pitching staff that’s projected to be one of the least effective in MLB. As Flo Rida implores, Mariners hitters should hit the ball up in the ayerrr, ayerrr when facing the Rangers.
What reinforcements are available on the farm?
Like the Angels and the Mariners, the bulk of the talent in the Rangers’ organization is in its lower levels. Also like the Mariners, the starting pitching ranks are troublingly thin. If any of the Rangers’ crop of older starting pitchers fails, their replacements aren’t coming out of the farm system but rather through the same strategy of minor league FA depth options (Bartoloooooo) the Mariners used to prop up their rotation last year. Similarly, if [knocks bachata beat on wood] something happens to jewel of the land Adrián Beltré, the Rangers don’t have strong in-house candidates to replace him, unless you have strong feelings about Ryan Rua.
The Rangers have some youth at the MLB level, but their pitching staff is old and prone to injury, and their depth is thin. Adrián Beltré should be living out the golden years of his MLB career smoking a cigar in a recliner in the on-deck circle, serving as the DH as the baseball gods intended, but instead that slot is taken up by lead-footed and elderly Shin-Soo Choo. Projection systems might give the Rangers a slight edge because of the quality of their MLB core compared to Oakland, but with their Darvishless pitching staff, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them bringing up the rear of this division if even one of their core players had a worst-case-scenario outcome, as Odor did last year.