Pinch hitting once again is Mike Hllywa, this time with the 2014 Texas Rangers team preview. You might recognize Mike’s name from his work at Gammons Daily, Halo Hangout, or Off Base Percentage. He’s also been a guest host on The Baseball Show Podcast. You can follow him on twitter here.
Four years ago, the Rangers lost the World Series in five games. Three years ago, they came within one strike of winning the fall classic numerous times, but eventually fell to the Cardinals in seven games. Two years ago, they lost the play-in game. Last year, they lost a play-in game that would have led to the play-in game. Bloggers are meant to be unbiased, but I cannot hide my smile when I see the slow erosion of a division rival.
But erosion is not the same as being not competitive. This is still a dangerous team that is capable of ousting the Oakland Athletics as the incumbent division champions, and with relatively little ease to boot. Just because I smile at their misery, doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize trouble when I see it. What are the betting expectations for the Texas Rangers this season? According to Sportbet.com here are the best updated odds to win the 2014 World Series.
Even with the acquisition of Prince Fielder, This is Adrian Beltre’s team. The ageless wonder has averaged 5.9 fWAR over the last four seasons since successfully escaping Seattle. He’s not going to be bringing sexy back in the form of a 2004-redux season, but as his career is entering its twilight years, Beltre is quietly making a case for the Hall of Fame. And his effectiveness in the batter’s box could lead to a bigger year from the aforementioned, Prince Fielder.
Argue all you want about the myth that is “lineup protection,” but answer me this: Is protection really a myth when Miguel Cabrera had his two best seasons as a hitter with Prince Fielder hitting behind him in the lineup? The ballpark formerly known as the Ballpark in Arlington is renowned for home run alley in right-center field. Would you care to guess where Fielder is most prone to hit fly balls? That’s right, right-center field. Even though his body type doesn’t scream “athletic,” he has missed only one game in the last five years, and only 13 games since becoming a full-time regular in 2006. This could be a very dangerous man in Arlington in 2014.
The rest of the offense, however, is either uninspiring or a question mark. Elvis Andrus is known more for his glove than his bat. Jurickson Profar is projected to be a near three-win player, but that sounds bullish to me. Alex Rios could continue his recent trend of being a better-than-average player, or he could turn back into the pumpkin that was worth -1.1 fWAR in 2011. Shin-Soo Choo? Gesundheit. Oh. Choo is fine player, but not exceptional, and he didn’t have his best season until he had his first season in the National League. The projections have him being worth anywhere from three to five wins in 2014, and personally, my money is on the lower end of that scale. But, man, that one-two punch of Fielder and Beltre, in that ballpark, could really be the stuff of legends.
But, enough about the offense. In the history of forever, Rangers teams have always been thought of for their offense. What about the pitching?
ZiPS has three pitchers expected to be worth six wins in 2014. Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish. It must be comforting to know that, at least once every five days, if the offense has an off day, your team has a pitcher who can carry the load. In Darvish the Rangers trust. But after Darvish, well, eek. Derek Holland is starting the season on the 60-day DL thanks to his lightning quick pooch, creating a heavier workload for inferior pitchers. Thanks a lot, Fido.
Alexi Ogando is the kind of pitcher who could turn in the kind of season that impregnates women thanks to the stuff he has. He could also be completely uninspiring. Matt Harrison is projected to open the season as the team’s number two starter. Harrison had to have surgery on a disc in his back last season. As the owner of a not-so-great back, I would be hard pressed to slot Harrison anywhere above fourth in the rotation. But, therein lies the problem. Behind Darvish, Harrison and Ogando, the Rangers have Martin Perez who is coming off of a solid rookie campaign, and Nick Tepesch who is coming off of a shoulder shrugging rookie season. And occupying the sixth spot in the rotation, hoping to slide in while nobody notices, is the ghost of Tommy Hanson.
So, to recap, the Rangers have a rotation of Ace, back surgery recovery, inconsistent, sophomore season, sophomore season and a backup of “used to be good.” They also have a bullpen that is headlined by Neftali Feliz who is coming off of Tommy John surgery and recently improved his velocity to the point where he was sitting in the 91-93 MPH range. This is a pitcher who used to sit in the 95-98 MPH range. This team is going to need to hit. They are going to need to hit a lot.
Fangraphs projects that the Rangers will finish tied for second with an 84-78 record. Baseball Prospectus has them pegged to finish third in the AL West. The biased part of me loves those projections. Loves them. And the unbiased part of me can’t argue with them. There are a lot of holes that have opened up over the last few years in Texas, and even though their farm system was routinely among the best in the game, it looks as though those youngsters coming up through the ranks, aren’t talented enough to replace the pieces that made this team a juggernaut a few seasons ago.