Hard to believe, the season is already at the 25% mark. The Texas Rangers finished the first quarter of the season a lackluster 18-23 at the quarter pole but, considering the season started at 8-16, it’s not horrible. Horrible would be the team behind the Rangers in the standings, the Oakland A’s, who are a full five games behind Texas, which sits in fourth, a half game out of third.
At the end of April, the Rangers’ report card reflected a totally awful offense. The first quarter report card has improved.
The offense has improved greatly from April. The season’s opening month saw the Rangers offense putting together a miserable slash line of .210/.293/.318 with an OPS+ of just 75 (league average would be 100). Shin-Soo Choo ended April at .092. The offense has recovered in May so now they stand at a more respectable .237/.312/.383 with an OPS+ of 96. It still isn’t good but it’s improved to just below average. If the Texas offense performs the rest of the season the way they have in May, the numbers at season’s end could be in the upper third in the league. At this point, the biggest need for offensive improvement is the average with runners in scoring position. The Rangers sit at a measly .214 with RISP. Only 16 of their 117 extra base hits have come with runners in scoring position and only 37 have come with a man on first. Texas is hitting for decent extra base power but nobody’s on base when they do it. Grade: C
Defensively, the Rangers have committed 33 errors in 41 games. Only Oakland has committed more in the AL. Greatness wasn’t expected defensively, despite a couple of well-regarded defenders like Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus. In Baseball Reference’s defensive stats, Texas has a MINUS 5 on Total Fielding Runs Above Average, putting them 10th among the AL’s 15 teams. The good news is Prince Fielder admitted Mitch Moreland is a better defensive first baseman than he is and will agreeably be the DH if it helps the team win more games. Grade: D
The rotation took a header right off the bat when Derek Holland went down shortly after making his first start. With Yu Darvish already lost for the year, it was yet another hit the pitching staff could ill afford. The joke is, the Rangers have a better rotation on the Disabled List than many teams have on their active roster (Darvish, Holland, Martin Perez, Matt Harrison and Nick Tepesch). Colby Lewis and Nick Martinez have been outstanding, Yovani Gallardo below average (more later), Ross Detwiler awful and Wandy Rodriguez a godsend. Grade: C
A nice 4-game stretch to close out the season’s first quarter makes the relief stats look better but only Oakland has a worse bullpen thus far. When Neftali Feliz blew a save on May 16th against the Indians, it gave Texas more Blown Saves than Saves on the season. There have been some bright spots: rookie Keone Kela and long reliever Anthony Bass but overall, inconsistency has been the pen’s modus operandi. One night they’ll look like killers, the next like victims. Jeff Bannister has made moves lately to try solidifying the bullpen. Feliz is no longer the closer. Shawn Tolleson has taken to the role so far, having picked up saves in consecutive nights against the Red Sox. Other than that, Banny says he’s not going to have role players in his bullpen for now. He’ll play match-ups more than having a 7th inning guy or an 8th inning guy. Grade: D-
There is no bigger surprise than the play of Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields. The expectation for Double D, who hit only .236 for AA Corpus Christi last season, was, at best, being the 24th guy on the 25-man team, serving primarily as a late inning pinch runner and defensive replacement. Instead, he’s putting pressure on the Rangers to find a place for him in the line-up every day once Josh Hamilton arrives.
DeShields leads the club in steals with 10. He’s actually tied with Adrian Beltre for first on the team in WAR at 0.9. He leads all Rangers regulars in pitches seen per at bat at 4.09 (Tommy Field is better but only has 9 games under his belt). When Hamilton joins the roster, DeShields could find himself in a CF platoon with Leonys Martin as well as a 2B platoon with Field.
While he has an impressive track record, nobody thought Prince Fielder would be as good as he’s been thus far. Fielder’s hitting for average, he’s hitting for power, he’s been the steadiest hitter all season. Facing a shift just about every day, Prince has learned to hit against it, going the opposite way many a time. He leads the AL in multiple hit games. And, as mentioned earlier, he manned up and became the primary DH because he saw that Mitch Moreland’s D gives the team a better chance to win.
On the pitching front, Colby Lewis, Nick Martinez and Keone Kela all get nods. Lewis has possibly been even better than he was in the Rangers’ World Series years. Usually one of the league leaders in home runs allowed, he’s only given up three in 8 starts. In 50 innings he has 41 K’s, outstanding for a pitcher whose fastball seldom tops 90 on the radar guns. All this on a resurfaced hip. Colby pitched in pain for years. Now he probably wishes he’d done the procedure sooner.
Martinez was hands down the AL’s best pitcher in April, posting a sub 1.00 ERA. He’s struggled in his last few starts but still sports a 3-0 record with a 1.88 ERA. Pretty good for a guy who had never pitched above AA when forced into the Rangers plans a year ago. Martinez was below average a year ago, expected considering his situation, but posted a sub-3.00 ERA in 5 September starts. Seeing his success roll over to 2015 is great.
Keone Kela is a rookie who’s performed well in every role the Rangers have given him this year. He’s been used in long relief, short relief, in the middle of games and in high leverage late inning situations. Through it all, he’s put up a 3-1 record, 2.25 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 20 innings. Only 22 years old, Kela is already thought of as a future closer in another year or two.
With three-fourths of the season still ahead, everyone has time to improve back to expected levels. Still, two of the biggest disappointments are infielders.
Everyone had high hopes for second baseman Rougned Odor following a rookie campaign in which the 21-year-old hit a respectable .259 with 9 home runs and 48 RBI. This writer projected Odor for about .270 this season with 14 home runs and 70 RBI. Instead, he laid a big egg. The league adjusted to Odor and he didn’t adjust back. With a .144 average after 29 games, Texas sent Odor to AAA Round Rock to get his game back. He’ll likely be back no later than the All-Star break (and already has 3 Home Runs for the Express) but nobody expected him to get sent down either, so who knows?
Meanwhile, his teammate Elvis Andrus has everyone worried. Never a great hitter, Elvis is regressing so far again this year, checking in at this writing at .224 with a homer and 11 RBI. After spending most of his career as the #2 hitter in the line-up, Andrus shows up at #6 more often than not these days. Once he’s on base, he only has 5 steals in 8 eight attempts. This would all be acceptable if he played defense the way he’s known to, but even that is regressing. Elvis has nine errors in the season’s first 41 games and should have gotten tagged with his 10th in a game against the Red Sox this week. Put it all together and you have a MINUS 0.5 WAR. That’s right, Elvis is now considered a BELOW REPLACEMENT LEVEL player! This from a guy who averaged over 4 WAR from 2011 to 2013. Oh yeah and a new long-term contract just kicked in this year. The only thing saving Elvis right now is the Rangers feeling they don’t have an everyday shortstop down on the farm. I think the problem is mental. In the World Series years, the Rangers were full of leaders and Elvis could just enjoy playing baseball. Now he’s a veteran and maybe expected to do more and he’s letting it get to him. If he doesn’t hit, fine. But Elvis, you’ve got to get your D back!
On the pitching side, I could say Neftali Feliz is a disappointment but he’s never regained his velocity since Tommy John surgery. For me, the biggest pitching disappointment is Yovani Gallardo. Sure, he’s a bit removed from his days fronting the Brewers rotation. But I didn’t expect him to have so many command issues. Gallardo is 3-6 with a somewhat respectable 4.26 ERA but it seems every start is a struggle for him. I’ve gotten used to Eric Nadel describing the action on the radio and hearing an opposing batter has worked the count to 3-2 on Gallardo. He’s only allowed 15 walks but every batter feels like a long battle. While he’s not a heat thrower, Gallardo is reminding me of Rich Harden in 2010, where you just prayed the at bat would end soon. He’s averaging less than 6 innings a start and he’s the guy who’s needed as the “ace” with Holland and Darvish out. When acquired, Gallardo got pencilled in as the #3 starter. He’s pitched like more of a #4 than the #1 or 2 results the Rangers need from him now.
That’s the first quarter report card. Overall grade: C-
One week from Opening Day and the Opening Day roster is starting to take shape for the Texas Rangers.
Gone are non-roster veterans Ryan Ludwick and Nate Shierholtz. Nick Tepesch and Anthony Ranaudo will not appear in the starting rotation. At this point, only the utility infield position is available on the offensive side and three bullpen slots are open.
Here’s what the Rangers are looking like so far:
1B Prince Fielder
2B Rougned Odor
SS Elvis Andrus
3B Adrian Beltre
C Robinson Chirinos
C Carlos Corporan
DH Mitch Moreland
LF Ryan Rua
LF Jake Smolinski
CF Leonys Martin
RF Shin-Soo Choo
OF Delino DeShields, Jr.
The only minor surprise here is DeShields making the team as the 5th outfielder. A Rule 5 pick who’s never played above Double A, DeShields’ speed ended up being the deciding factor that sent the more powerful Ludwick and Shierholtz to pondering what to do next with their careers.
The only remaining offensive position open is utility infielder. Adam Rosales is still the favorite to get that slot. He’s had a good camp and was a good complementary piece a year ago. Yet there are still 4 utility infield candidates still in camp: Rosales, Ed Lucas, Elliot Johnson and Tommy Field. Field has been a slight surprise. The former Texas State athlete has played in just about every game in spring training and shown some pop with two home runs. Field has had a couple of cups of coffee in the bigs with Colorado and the LA Angels, but got released by both the Angels and the Pirates last year. I still don’t think Field makes the club but will instead be the starting second baseman at AAA Round Rock. I do think if Rougned Odor has a sophomore slump that Field would become a consideration as a starting replacement instead of Rosales, who would stay in a utility role. Lucas and Johnson? They’ll probably be released and signed just before Opening Day by another club.
Over to the pitchers. Here’s your Rangers rotation:
Martinez won the 5th starter slot on the basis of a strong spring 0.84 ERA, capped off by six scoreless innings in his last start. He ended 2014 strong and came out firing bullets in ’15. Tepesch, who also spent most of last season in Texas, showed the same tendencies that have dogged him in his career thus far. Great the first time through the order, considerably more hittable the second and third times through. He still has a shot at making the team in long relief, where he’d only need to face a line-up one time through.
The bullpen is more problematic. There are seven openings and thus far, these are the only sure bets:
Neftali Feliz (closer)
Tanner Scheppers (8th inning)
Shawn Tolleson (7th inning)
Freeman is a southpaw just picked up from the Cardinals. Before his acquisition, rookie Alex Claudio was the only lefty remaining in camp and he was starting to have troubles against left-handed batters in games. Freeman has a few years in the bigs under his belt and has a bullpen slot even though he just joined the team.
As for the other three slots? It’s anyone’s guess. A good case can be made for rookie Keone Kela, who has yet to give up a run in 8.1 innings this spring. He’s allowed only two hits and struck out 10. Other candidates are Tepesch (10.38) ERA, Jon Edwards (1.69, 17 K’s in 10.2 IP), Phil Klein (9.00 ERA), Kyuji Fujikawa (1.35 ERA), Lisalverto Bonilla (9.00 ERA) and Anthony Bass (9.00 ERA). Ross Ohlendorf (0.00 ERA, 1 hit and 11 K’s in 5.1 IP) will have a role with the Rangers, but minor injuries will keep him off the active roster Opening Day. Rangers brass hope he’ll be ready by May.
The bullpen doesn’t sound very impressive, but most teams don’t know how good their bullpen truly is for at least the first third of the season. You can also bet at least one waiver claim will bring someone new to the roster and at least one other slot becomes interchangeable with a shuttle going back and forth from Arlington to Round Rock.
Seven days left to Opening Day. It can’t get here soon enough.
Once you get past a certain age (I like to think it’s no later than 30), you learn not to sweat the Spring Training records. By then, you’ve followed the game long enough to know that the rookie who hits close to .400 in the spring suddenly becomes a .195 hitter when the games count and finds himself back in the minors by May 1st. Likewise, the team that went 25-7 over the long exhibition campaign could very well be the team that finishes 38 games out of first place when October rolls around.
How can anyone put stock in spring training records? After all, the players who start the game are usually gone by the 5th inning. In the early games, they only get one at bat before calling it a day. Most of the scoring comes from minor league guys, some of whom you didn’t even realize were playing in your team’s system. Heck, you didn’t know they played in ANYONE’s system.
So why does anyone look at what goes on in Spring Training as a harbinger of what is to come in the regular season? Because occasionally that .400 Spring Training hitter becomes the Rookie of the Year. And every so often, that 100 win team favored to win the World Series was the same one that went 25-7 in the exhibition games. It usually isn’t the case, but sometimes it does happen.
Still, your humble scribe is of the age that he knows exhibition records and stats mean absolutely nothing. I know that. I REALLY KNOW THAT! Yet here I sit, looking at the results of the last six exhibition games of the Texas Rangers: 11-11, 6-11, 4-4, 3-11, 2-12 and 0-8. The tentative Rangers Opening Day starter, Yovani Gallardo, gave up 8 runs in 4.2 innings in his most recent outing and now has an ERA of 11.32 on the spring. Also getting shelled this week were potential Rangers rotation members Anthony Renaudo (4 runs & 3 home runs in 4 innings), Lisalverto Bonilla (6 earned runs in 4 innings), Anthony Bass (8 runs in 2/3 of an inning) and Nick Tepesch (3 runs in 4 innings).
Jamey Wright and Joe Beimel, two major league veterans looking to help the Rangers this year, have spring ERA’s of 11.57 and 33.00 respectively.
I repeat: It’s just Spring Training. Some veteran pitchers get ready by working on just certain pitches in a game. Some hitters just focus on hitting to the opposite field one game and working walks in another. Exhibition games are just that: exhibitions that mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. Plus, four of the aforementioned six games were “split squad” games, with only half a major league team at best.
Still, I saw the second of the two game set the Rangers played against the Dodgers in the Alamodome, an 11-3 loss. The Dodgers hit 5 home runs in the first game, an 11-6 pasting. It took them just one pitch to have a 1-0 lead in the first inning of Game 2. It was a pitiful performance all around for Texas. Renaudo and Bonilla weren’t fooling the Dodgers hitters at all. Meanwhile, the Texas offense could manage only three hits in the first 7 innings against Los Angeles pitching. Two Rangers tried to steal, two got caught stealing. A 3-run 8th inning home run by one of those “Who?” players, David Lyon, kept the game from being a shutout. Then the Rangers followed it up by bringing the full team to play the Mariners on Sunday, where they managed only 6 singles and one extra base hit, a double, in the first 7 innings.
The mantra of the new Rangers skipper, Jeff Bannister, is “Never, ever give up!” Over the last six exhibition games, they may not have ever given up but it sure didn’t look like they were trying very hard either. But it’s the exhibition season. It isn’t about the wins and losses, it’s about the process. It means NOTHING…doesn’t it?
By now, even the average baseball fan is aware that Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish is, at minimum, out for at least half the season with a strained ulnar collateral ligament and more likely gone for the season and headed for Tommy John surgery.
The response was immediate and expected from the Rangers faithful: already the 2015 season is gone. Kaput. Doomed. A 67-95 team already down its best pitcher? How could the response be any different?
How about this for a response: Losing Darvish most certainly DOES hurt but it doesn’t mean the Rangers should automatically be picked to occupy the AL West cellar for the second consecutive year.
All one has to do is compare this year’s Rangers pitching staff to the one that began the 2014 season to feel just a little bit better about things. Remember, a year, the Rangers already knew Derek Holland was already out until after the All-Star break at the earliest. Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison weren’t penciled into the rotation until the end of April at the earliest. Then Darvish himself came down with a stiff neck and got scratched from the Opening Day start as a precaution. Thus, we had a Rangers starting rotation of Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, Robbie Ross, Joe Saunders and Nick Martinez. Perez was beginning just his second major league season, Ross and Scheppers were transitioning from the bullpen and Martinez had never pitched above the AA level before. The rotation member with the most major league service was Saunders and everyone knew he was a #5 starter at best.
Compare that to the expected rotation without Darvish to start 2015- Derek Holland, Yovani Gallardo, Colby Lewis, Ross Detwiler and one of Martinez, Nick Tepesch and Anthony Ranaudo, obtained from the Red Sox for Robbie Ross. Or none of those three could be #5, replaced by Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez, the Rangers’ #3 prospect behind Joey Gallo and Jorge Alfaro. Gonzalez threw three shutout innings against the A’s just today (3/9) in an exhibition game.
When the news on Darvish came down, a lot of doom and gloom came down from fans, particularly on Twitter. Sure, it was understandable but those fans didn’t expect this: Derek Holland replied to some of them. Dutch basically said, “Oh, so the other 24 members of the team don’t matter?” “You think the rest of us should just give up?” It was a great response, especially from Holland.
Dutch has always had a label: good stuff, inconsistent and he’s a goof. Anyone who’s paid attention to Holland since he came back from knee microsurgery in September last year should note the difference in the public Derek Holland. He still likes to have fun but he’s also let everyone know how he isn’t satisfied how his career has gone so far (51-38 with a 4.38 ERA). Dutch was often scolded by former manager Ron Washington when he let his focus slide. Now you hear him talking about stepping up and being the ace if he has to, how he’s striving for more consistency. If Holland’s performance changes and matches the new intensity he’s showing, Rangers fans could be in for a very big surprise this season.
Add to Dutch the newly acquired Yovani Gallardo. He’s an innings eater, a former ace and someone whose new focus on getting groundouts instead of strikeouts plays right into Globe Life Park. Colby Lewis showed in the season’s second half he’ll be the same reliable starter he was in 2010 and 2011. Detwiler was a decent 9-8, 3.58 as a starter for the Nationals in 2012.
Without Darvish, the Rangers rotation will never be confused as one of the best in the American League. It won’t even be the best in the AL West. It is, however, still better than the rotation the Rangers threw out there most of the 2014 season.
In 2011, Andres Blanco was Mr. Irrelevant. Blanco, signed at the end of Spring Training in 2010, was just what the Rangers needed in their first World Series run. Second baseman Ian Kinsler was on the disabled list on two separate occasions and, especially the second time, Blanco played steady defense and contributed some key hits as the Rangers steamrolled their way to an AL West title, their first since 1999.
In 2011, Blanco was still around, but Kinsler stayed healthy, as did shortstop Elvis Andrus. Blanco was with the club the entire season but played in only 36 games, only half of which were starts, getting only 76 at bats the entire season and, in one stretch, went 25 says between game appearances. The Rangers sported a potent 11-player line-up that year. Michael Young acted as a “Super Utility” player and Blanco’s services were seldom needed. He was not even placed on the post-season roster, though he did get a share of the post-season money.
Fast forward now to 2015. Our last spotlight looks at the Rangers bench. Like most teams, Texas will have four men on the bench to start every game. Once upon a time, teams carried 15 offensive players and 10 pitchers on the 25-man roster. This was back in the day of the 4-man rotation and before the era of the Designated Hitter. Now most teams have 12 man pitching staffs, leaving room for only 13 hitters.
For most teams, the bench consists of a second catcher, a utility infielder and two outfielders. The only position definitely filled on the Rangers bench is Carlos Corporan as the second catcher. His acquisition from Houston was for the express purpose of being Robinson Chirinos’ back-up. Beyond Corporan, the picture is murky. Here are some of the contenders:
If there’s such a thing as a utility incumbent, it would be Adam Rosales. He provided some pop with the bat and can play just about any position on the infield. Last year, he offered up a .262/.328/.378 slash line with 4 home runs in 56 games. Rosales won’t just be given the job, though. There are several other contenders out there looking to grab the pine for more than 50% of the Rangers’ games. There’s Kyle Blanks, a corner infielder/outfielder who showed promising power for the Padres but injuries have slowed him down the last few years. He’s already behind the other players in camp as he’s still getting over issues with both feet. Elliot Johnson has played with Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Atlanta and Cleveland in five major league seasons. He offers more speed on the basepaths than Rosales. In 2013 he was successful on 22 of 24 steal attempts and twice swiped 43 in the minors. Ed Lucas is another candidate. Just two years ago he played in 94 games with the Miami Marlins, and in both of his seasons there played all four infield positions as well as a few games in the outfield. His versatility gives him a shot. In fact, all three candidates here have played both the infield and the outfield in their major league careers, but it’s likely they won’t play much in the outfield. A very longshot candidate would be Tommy Field, a minor league free agent pick-up who played college ball for Texas State in San Marcos. Field has had a couple of cups of coffee in the bigs with Colorado and the Los Angeles Angels but doesn’t offer the versatility, having never played first base. His signing was more for minor league depth than a serious look at helping the big league club.
This got covered a lot in the look at the left field battle. As mentioned in that post, there are no less than ten candidates vying for the left field starter position and there’s no doubt the 4th and 5th outfielders will come from that group. You can read that post here. Since the Rangers were so injury-prone a year ago, I’m guessing the Rangers brass would really like to see the positions filled by the home-grown talent that hasn’t had injury issues, such as Michael Choice and Ryan Rua, both of whom could outright win the left field battle. Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields Jr. is in the mix as his Rule 5 status requires him to be with the club all year or be offered back to the Astros for $25,000. Ryan Ludwick’s recovery from shoulder issues also will play a factor. Again, the club wants reasonable assurances of health so Ludwick has to show he is a productive and healthy player again. Jake Smolinski is also in the mix.
The question is, what is Jeff Bannister looking for in his club? If he thinks the Rangers’ best chances to win include speed, Elliot Johnson and Delino DeShields both have great opportunities to earn roster spots. If Banny wants for bang from the bats, the likes of Rosales, Choice and Ludwick become the favorites. And don’t count out another player getting signed at the end of Spring Training to put all of them out of a job. It’s how Blanco and Matt Treanor became Rangers in 2010 and it could happen again in 2015.
One nice thing to add to the Rangers bench without costing an offensive roster spot? Yovani Gallardo, the #3 starter acquired from the Brewers, is a good hitting pitcher, with 12 home runs in an 8-year career. He loves to hit and Bannister will almost certainly use him as a pinch hitter on occasion. Not many American League teams have that luxury.
That’s right, 15 different pitchers got at least one start for the Rangers in 2014. If a member of the rotation never misses a start, he’s on track to make 32 or 33 starts. For Texas, not a single starter managed even 30 starts and the pitcher who had the most starts, 29, didn’t even play in 2013, was coming back from hip replacement surgery and posted a 6.54 ERA after his first 16 starts.
Yes, 2014 was a disaster from the get go for the Rangers pitching staff. It began before Spring Training even arrived, with Derek Holland messing up his knee in a home accident involving a flight of stairs and his dog. Thanks to a stiff neck, ace Yu Darvish got scratched from the Opening Day assignment and replaced by Tanner Scheppers, making his first ever major league start. Among the names getting a start in 2014 were Robbie Ross (12), Miles Mikolas (10), Scott Baker (8), Joe Saunders (8), Lisalverto Bonilla (3), Jerome Williams (2) and Phil Irvin (1).
More well-known names started but fell by the wayside. Second-year Martin Perez threw back to back complete game shutouts in April, then went down for the dreaded Tommy John surgery in May. Matt Harrison appeared on the comeback trail from back issues and thoracic outlet surgery, but lasted only four starts before back issues resurfaced. His career is in jeopardy. Lastly, Darvish began experiencing elbow discomfort and wound up making only 22 starts before calling it a season.
So why is there so much hope in Arlington this year? Believe it or not, it starts with starting pitching. A year ago, the lack of depth in the minors contributed to the poor performance of the pitching staff. This year, two guys who made over 20 starts for Texas a year ago aren’t even sure if they’ll make the team for the Season Opener. Here’s the rotation as we know it:
There’s no question Darvish is the ace of the staff. On any given night, there’s the potential for greatness. Darvish has the biggest arsenal of pitches most anyone has seen. At any given time, a hitter can expect one of 8 to 10 different types of pitches. Yu is temperamental and will often shelve a pitch for good in the first inning if he feels it isn’t working that day. Still, he’s good for 15 wins or more for the season.
It was Dutch who suffered the first injury going into 2014. If the results he showed upon his return in September continue in 2015, this could be a special year for the lefthander. Holland made five starts down the stretch in 2014 and posted a 2-0 record with a 1.46 ERA, going seven innings in four of the five starts and giving up two earned runs or less in all of them. Holland has been inconsistent throughout his big league career but his 4-0 win over the Cardinals in Game 4 of the 2011 World Series ranks as one of the best performances in Rangers history. He’s got the stuff. By all accounts, last year’s injury has upped his desire. If Derek gets consistency, he could easily add another 15 wins to the Rangers total.
Gallardo is the new kid in town, a guy who lives in Fort Worth in the off-season and now truly gets to plays his home games at home. Gallardo is an innings eater and, as he’s gotten older, has become more of a ground ball pitcher than a strikeout machine. Ask Matt Harrison and CJ Wilson how that ground ball thing works out in Arlington. There’s reason for excitement about having at least a year of Gallardo (he becomes a free agent at season’s end). He was once the ace of the Milwaukee Brewers staff. Now he’s a #3. That’s something to feel good about.
It’s incredible to believe that Colby Lewis led the Rangers staff in starts with 29 in 2014. As mentioned above, this is a guy who didn’t even play a game in 2013. After blowing out an elbow near the end of the 2012 season, Lewis’ arthritic hip added to his woes, finally getting to the point where his career was in jeopardy. After getting his hip shaved, Lewis began a long rehab process. As much as a thank you for his contributions during the World Series years as anything, Lewis got the chance to rehab in the minors. Who knew the injuries on the big league club would bring him back to Texas in mid-April. The results weren’t good the first half of the season. Just looking at box scores and statistics, one might think Lewis merely suffered from bad luck from the BABIP gods but those of us actually watching the games knew differently. Colby got shelled often. His pitches weren’t fooling anyone and he wasn’t hitting his spots. Remember, though, this is a guy who was still getting used to pitching without pain when putting pressure on the hip. Once he started getting used to it, the results were outstanding. From July 19 on, Lewis was only 4-8 but his ERA was 3.86. The BABIP through July 18 was .410. The rest of the way it was .267. Now Texas has the fully rehabbed Lewis for a full season and as their #4 starter instead of #2.
#5: Up For Grabs
This is the reason for optimism about the Rangers. A former #1 is now a #3, the former #2 is now the #4 and two of the guys fighting for the last spot were the #3 and #4 pitchers a year ago. This bodes well for the Rangers. It certainly gives them more depth than they had a year ago. Nick Tepesch (5-11, 4.36) and Nick Martinez (5-12, 4.55) are the incumbents. Martinez was here by necessity a year ago after never having pitched above AA all year. Despite staying all year, he’d surely benefit by at least beginning the year at AAA. For Tepesch, this is his third year with the Rangers. He needs to show improvement, particularly in facing the opposition batting order the second and third time. He still has at least one option so he could also go to AAA for a while. Martinez and Tepesch will compete with Lisalverto Bonilla, who pitched decently in three starts, newcomers Ross Detwiler (Nationals) and Anthony Ranaudo (Red Sox) and possibly top prospect Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez. Some have Gonzalez pegged as a possible surprise winner, but GM Jon Daniels would like to get him some more seasoning and not rush him. Before the first exhibition game is in the books, Detwiler and Tepesch are the likely front-runners.
In The Wings
He isn’t available until after the All-Star break at the earliest but Martin Perez will be ready to pitch again this season. Meanwhile, there’s no telling what will happen with Matt Harrison. Nobody has ever attempted to return from the type of back surgery he had. Harrison could come back or his career could be over. If it’s the latter, he can retire knowing he was a vital part of two World Series teams.
No matter how you slice it, this is a much deeper starting rotation than the Rangers had a year ago. It may not stack up in quality to the Mariners rotation or even the A’s but it has the potential of being a very good staff, not to mention one able to withstand an injury or two.
You’d think there’s not much to say about shortstop for the Texas Rangers and you’re not entirely wrong. Elvis Andrus is the Rangers shortstop, he has been since 2009 and, with his new contract officially kicked in, he’s making a lot of money to be the shortstop in Texas for a while.
Yet that didn’t stop the off-season conjecture that Andrus could find his way to another team via trade. Texas had a wealth of middle infield talent, even without considering Jurickson Profar, who missed all of 2014 with an issue with a shoulder muscle. While Profar was originally pegged as the Rangers second sacker entering 2014, he’s considered a better shortstop than second baseman.
The good news for Elvis is one of those middle infielders, Luis Sardinas, went to the Brewers in the Yovani Gallardo trade. Also, Profar hasn’t played in a year and will need some seasoning in the minors for at least a couple of months to get the cobwebs off his game. The bad news for Rangers fans is Elvis regressed in 2014, making that new contract of his an albatross when it comes to trade talks.
On the surface, Elvis didn’t have a horrible offensive year for Texas. In fact, in some ways it was an improvement. Never a power hitter, Andrus hit a career high 35 doubles last year and his .263 average wasn’t much under his career .272 mark. There were, however, plenty of black flags in his game. While Elvis stole a decent 27 bases, that was down 15 from his career high 42 in 2013, plus he got caught stealing a whopping 15 times, leading the American League in that category. His RBI dropped from 67 to 41, his OPS went down for the second consecutive year and he grounded into a career high 21 double plays. His overall WAR of 1.0 by Baseball-Reference, 1.3 by Fangraphs were both career lows.
Rangers fans have known Elvis for his defense and 2014 was not kind to those fans at all. Elvis committed 18 errors, his highest mark in three years. His .973 fielding percentage was the third lowest of his 6-year career. For only the second time, his defensive runs saved above average was a negative number and the worst of his career. Finally, his UZR rating was easily a career low.
Some of this could be attributed to the meager team Andrus had playing around him. He had a rookie second baseman playing next to him most of the season and at times it appeared Elvis made throws that had no chance of beating a runner to first. Maybe he was trying to hard to make things happen.
On the other hand, even with injuries to Derek Holland and Jurickson Profar making for a lot of talk in Spring Training, there was still room to talk in less than glowing terms about Elvis Andrus. For the first time in his career, he didn’t play winter ball. That isn’t a sin, but not only did he not play winter ball, he didn’t do ANYTHING in the off-season. No workout regimen, no batting practice. Elvis was an off-season couch potato. He showed up at camp heavy and he never seemed to get the speed back during the season. He could still make you marvel at his range deep in the hole to stop a ball, but the magical Elvis we’re used to was gone.
Now it’s a year later and we’re not hearing bad things about Elvis heading into training camp. In fact, the first thing heard at Fan Fest was Elvis has lost 15 pounds and is working hard to prepare for the 2015 season. He’s also quoted as saying he absolutely loves new manager Jeff Bannister. Rangers fans can only hope it’s true.
Elvis Andrus will never be an offensive power hitter. The Rangers don’t need him to. They do, however, need him as a better base stealer, a better gap hitter and back to where he once was defensively. We already know from Bannister that Elvis won’t bunt nearly as much as he used to, as Bannister doesn’t believe in bunting early in the game like Ron Washington did. If he can return to the offensive numbers he put up from 2011-2013 (.279/.341/.357) with the defense he was known for, he’ll either make Jurickson Profar a nice piece of trade bait for Jon Daniels and the Rangers or he’ll make himself a trade target again.