So in the spirit of Spring Training, it's time to start up with team previews. Teams will be previewed in approximately the same order as we like them. We try not to accord too much favor or bias around here, but...we like some teams more than others. This will only be reflected in the order of the previews. We promise. Sort of. Anyway, the general idea is that we'll talk a bit about the team to preface it all, mention how they did last year and what they've done to address the situation this year. We'll guess at what they will look like on the diamond, and who will log significant innings and/or saves in Around the Horn and From the Bump, respectively. Furthermore, we'll use PECOTA to help us predict what they'll each do this year. Should be great fun. Let's get going.
The Rangers clocked in at 79-83 last season, which was somehow enough for second place in the weakest division in baseball, the AL West. The Rangers are a fun team if you love offense (we do) and hate pitching (we don't, but we can still enjoy watching the Rangers). They had the most prolific offense in the bigs last year, posting 5.57 runs per game, and the worst pitching staff, sporting a 5.97 runs allowed average. That's quite a trick if you can manage it, and the Rangers pulled it off in spades. They only had three pitchers make more than 20 starts; of those, only Vicente Padilla managed a sub-5.00 ERA (4.74). Their most valuable pitcher in terms of VORP, reliever Frank Francisco, is better known as the guy who threw a bullpen chair at fans a couple years ago, and his 16.7 VORP is pretty bad in itself. And their pitchers, all 30 (!) of them who logged innings in a Rangers jersey, combined to average a negative VORP. Their entire staff was less valuable than replacement level players.
Fortunately, they scored enough runs to help compensate for this problem last year; OFs Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley, combined with 2B Ian Kinsler and (former) SS Michael Young were a great nucleus to build around. Surrounded by up-and-comers like 1B Chris "Crash" Davis, OF Nelson Cruz, C's Taylor Teagarden, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Max Ramirez, and SS Elvis Andrus (the last three are former Braves!), this could be a fun lineup for years to come. Unfortunately, Milton Bradley has departed for the ivy-covered pastures of Wrigley Field, robbing them of arguably the best hitter on the team. The Rangers hope that Cruz and Marlon Byrd can help fill Bradley's gap in the outfield, though they also signed (former Brave!) OF Andruw Jones as insurance. Jones, of course, was absolutely horrendous last year, and slightly less horrendous the year before, so we're pretty sure he's done. But if he can wrangle some ABs and show some of his previous prodiguous power, so much the better for him.
The Rangers also didn't make any moves to address their pitching, though Nolan Ryan's arrival in the front office last year should start to make a difference in this year or the next. He has changed the organizational philosophy on pitching, hoping to extend their pitchers a little more with improved conditioning programs and an expectation of more innings pitched. We personally support this movement wholeheartedly; we admit to missing the days when pitchers would routinely go 9. Anyway, there's a whole lot of problems facing the Texas pitchers beyond not throwing enough innings; with their talent level, they might be better served throwing as little as possible. There are some promising arms in the system like RHPs Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland, and LHP Matt Harrison (former Braves!), but any free agent help is going to need to be complemented by a lot more development of the young hurlers. Also they have had some significant defensive issues in the last few years; moving Michael Young to third base for the defensively gifted Elvis Andrus (who will platoon with similarly skilled - and much older! - Adam Everett) will help, but it also significantly weakens their hitting at short, third, and DH, where Hank Blalock's washed-up bat will have to play.
PECOTA Projected Record: 73-89, 3rd in AL West.
KCSD Projected Record: 69-93, 4th in AL West.
The offense will be weaker thanks to lesser contributions from short, third, and DH, plus losing Milton Bradley will take a big toll. We think Crash Davis and Nelson Cruz will be good, but their contributions won't be enough to offset this terrible, terrible pitching staff. It's a lot like the Orioles' situation.
Around the Horn
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia: .264/.351/.473, 15 HR. The talented young Salty has long been considered a top prospect, and now is getting a chance to put in a full season of ABs...if he can hold off other top prospect Taylor Teagarden. And Max Ramirez looms behind them. The Rangers have really got to trade one of these guys.
1B Chris Davis: .277/.344/.535, 32 HR. Crash has legit power, and he flashed some good contact skills last season in his 300-AB audition. If he can build on that in his age-23 season, he could really be something special going forward.
2B Ian Kinsler: .286/.356/.478, 20 HR, 22 SB. A classic 20-20 man, Kinsler flashed some real power last year while posting near-MVP caliber numbers. Unfortunately, Kinsler has had trouble staying healthy in the past, which cost him recognition last season. If he can stay healthy as a 27-year old, and put up power numbers like last season, he can be the anchor of the lineup.
3B Michael Young: .279/.334/.396, 9 HR, 10 SB. This...is not a useful bat at the hot corner. Young's steady decline in power the last few seasons were acceptable when he was playing shortstop - albeit poorly - but at third base, you've just got to have someone with more pop in the bat. Also we'd like to point out that Young's contract extension was just silly when it was signed and will only look worse in years to come. Until is expires, anyway.
SS Elvis Andrus: .247/.299/.331, 1 HR, 20 SB. Bold move installing a 20-year old as a starting big league shortstop. Kid's good with the glove, but has very little power, and hopefully his bat starts to play a little more as he develops.
LF David Murphy: .260/.360/.421, 13 HR, 9 SB. Murphy has a good eye at the plate, and power will come as he develops. His bat should play now, but he's more of a future investment.
CF Josh Hamilton: .310/.390/.550, 34 HR, 10 SB. Hamilton faces a challenge, especially from a health standpoint, in moving to center full-time, but we're not about to bet against him. He's got so much natural baseball talent that we wouldn't doubt anything he chose to do. And, hey, he's gotta be better than at least a few of their pitchers. Why not give him some innings??
RF Nelson Cruz: .270/.339/.489, 27 HR. We just watched Cruz play in the WBC today. That's not really relevant, but we just like the WBC. Probably more than most. Anyway Cruz is a talented kid who's got a very good bat. Should be an above-average right fielder.
DH Hank Blalock: .279/.340/.475, 12 HR. Blalock has had serious injury issues the last few years, and his production has suffered accordingly. But he'll be 28 this year, and has one less rib, so maybe his body will find it easier to lug itself around now.
From the Bump: Starters
RHP Kevin Millwood: 165 IP, 5.15 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 115 K, 52 BB. God, he's their ace? We're already getting depressed.
RHP Vicente Padilla: 160 IP, 5.21 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 110 K, 61 BB. Thankfully, his contract is up after this year. We're spiraling downward.
RHP Brandon McCarthy: 110 IP, 5.09 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 72 K, 44 BB. The former White Sox prospect showed up with a newly muscled up body in hopes to stave off the injury bug that's bitten him recently, but he's already got shoulder stiffness. Spiraling...
LHP Matt Harrison: 125 IP, 6.31 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 62 K, 49 BB. And look at the former Brave. We've now hit bottom. Thanks, Rangers.
You know, we don't care about their fifth starter and suspect that you don't, either. We could throw out any name, with any line of horrible, horrible numbers, and it'd be believeable. Let's just say that whoever ends up logging innings here will combine for something like a 6.50 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, not very many K's, and lots of walks. We hope they prove us wrong, but...well...we've hit bottom, remember?
From the Bump: Starters
Closer RHP Frank Francisco: 60 IP, 3.23 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 66 K, 27 BB, 27 SV. We know someone has to be the best pitcher on a baseball team, but when yours is Frank Francisco, you're probably in trouble. That said, he's a useful guy who can rack up saves, Ks, and fan-related lawsuits.
Setup man LHP C.J. Wilson: 60 IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 54 K, 27 BB. Wilson was tabbed as the closer last year, but suffered with bone spurs in his elbow before ultimately shutting it down. '08 was a lost season for Wilson, but we like him to rebound a little bit this year. Which means that the Rangers will have TWO useful pitchers! They'll be celebrating in the streets when they read this.