As we get closer to the beginning of baseball season, the team that intrigues me most of the 30 is the Texas Rangers. From 2010–13 they were one of the better teams in the league, winning 90 games or more in four consecutive seasons. They punched a ticket to the World Series in back-to-back seasons, 2010 and 2011, only to lose them both.
In 2012 it wasn’t as painful, surely, but it had to have stung quite badly. Seemingly in control of the AL West for a third consecutive season, the Rangers were as much as five games up on the rest of the pack with nine games to go. Rather than coast to another division title, they lost seven of their final nine games, only to lose in the AL wild-card matchup against the Baltimore Orioles.
Despite winning 91 games in 2013, the Rangers finished second in the division, 5.5 games behind the Oakland Athletics. For the first time in three years, the Rangers had no extra baseball to play. Yet, they still had some talent in place. With Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo entering the fray, a solid and young pitching rotation, and the fact that Adrian Beltre was still playing at a very high level, 2014 was setup to be very promising for the Texas Rangers.
Of the countless players that got hurt, Fielder, Choo, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Martín Pérez, Mitch Moreland, and Jurickson Profar come to mind—just to name a handful. As CBS Sports’ Matt Snyder, along with several others, pointed out, the 2014 season was long lost due to injuries. In that list alone, four of those players are starting pitchers. As for a total number of days lost to injury, it’s no surprise that this ballclub blew the rest of the field away with 2,116—more than the previous record of 2,017 set by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004.
Texas won 67 games last season. Snyder noted, “Forty different pitchers were used, including position players (Mitch) Moreland, J.P. Arencibia and Chris Gimenez.” If that wasn’t bad enough, “Fourteen different pitchers took a start and none made more than 25 starts.” It’s difficult—nay, impossible—to win consistently when there are virtually no healthy players on a daily basis. Eventually you’re just grasping at straws, as evidenced by 14 different players starting a game for one team over the course of 162 games.
As for 2015, I cannot get on board with any sort of Rangers turnaround story. Even assuming the majority of these players come back perfectly healthy—which is already dangerous to do in the first place—there are still a few other glaring question marks.
Fielder, 30, had a rough go of it in 42 games before being shelved for the season. He hit .247/.360/.360 with three home runs. The on-base percentage was a solid mark, but his power had all but left him. Perhaps regression is starting to set in and his body is breaking down a little quicker than others due to his size. Regardless, after playing in 157 games or more in eight consecutive seasons—including 162 in four of them—it will be very interesting to see how he returns from injury. He’s due $114 million over the next six seasons.
Choo, 32, is another one. Despite making it through 123 games last season, his mark of .242/.340/.373 was a far cry from the line of .285/.423/.462 that earned him a contract worth $130 million over seven years in the offseason. He walked 112 times last season over the course of 154 games in 2013, but only 58 times in 123 of them last season. While playing in 31 fewer games last year than in the year before, his strikeout total was very similar: 133 and 131, respectively. Perhaps it’s just a blip on the radar, but if Choo’s 2014 is a sign of things to come, having this player locked up for six more years is less than ideal.
The Choo contract actually transitions us perfectly into a troubling characteristic of this club: big contracts for aging and/or regressing players. The Rangers have three big ones that jump out at you, including Fielder and Choo as already mentioned, and shortstop Elvis Andrus. He’s owed at least $118 million through 2022, unless he decides to opt out of his contract in either 2018 or 2019. That said, with his recent levels of production, there is a slim chance that would happen.
Between 2010–12, Andrus slashed .277/.346/.347. Slugging percentage aside, as he offers little in terms of power, the discipline at that point in his career (23 years old) was very promising. Over the last two seasons, those slash lines have fallen to an average of .267/.321/.332. He went from stealing 42 bases and getting caught just eight times in 2013 to stealing 27 and getting caught 15 times last year.
If there’s one still promising thing to look at, it’s the fact that his strikeout and walk rates have hardly wavered in his six-year career. His walk rate has ranged from 6.7 to 9.5 percent, while his strikeout rate has never crept higher than 14.2 percent. While he’s still much too young to bank on continued regression, for the Rangers, there’s no getting away from that contract. Meanwhile, he’s been suffering from arm and knee soreness as well.
Even worse, Profar—who was supposed to be their star middle infielder for the future—has had continuous shoulders injuries which have really stunted the 22-year-old’s development.
And finally, we come to the abundance of pitching injuries that plagued this club last season. Harrison, after being a key cog in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, has made just six starts in the past two years because of various injuries. Pérez, the promising left-handed starter that came on strong in 2013, couldn’t make it 60 innings before being shut down for 2014 season and undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Holland only appeared in six games last season, five of which he started, and underwent knee surgery last January. Because of that, he didn’t make a start until September, and was scratched from a start near the end of the season due to a migraine. Then, there’s the ace: Darvish. With the playoffs well out of reach and their main man experiencing elbow soreness, the Rangers took no further chances and shut him down for the season in September. Things aren’t looking much better now; an MRI revealed he sprained the UCL in his pitching elbow. Tommy John surgery may be in his future as well.
When healthy, Darvish was as advertised: 3.06 ERA, 2.84 FIP, a 30.1 percent strikeout rate, and an 8.1 percent walk rate. In three seasons with the Rangers, he’s posted a WAR of 4.1 or higher, and he’s still just 28 years old. For the entirety of this team, that’s just it: will they stay healthy? Will a fraction of them stay healthy? If so, can those like Fielder, Andrus, and even Choo that are starting to regress come back to form? Can the fans really expect much out of Harrison, who has virtually missed the past two seasons?
For me, that’s just way too much to bank on. As for Ron Washington not being the manager, I believe that doesn’t matter as much as some may think. A baseball manager’s impact on a game is fairly minimal overall. At the end of the day, it comes down to talent. The Texas Rangers certainly have the names, but with them come several question marks. Let’s give it another year before this comeback train starts rolling.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs.