Team Preview: Texas Rangers

They say “everything’s bigger in Texas,” and nothing exemplifies that more than the expectations surrounding the Texas Rangers. After an incredible season in which they won the AL Pennant, the pressure will be on the Rangers to repeat last year’s success. Due to the departure of Cliff Lee during the offseason, much of that pressure will once again fall on the rotation. The offense may be built around some extremely talented players, but those players come with significant injury concerns. Despite last season’s success, there are many questions surrounding the Rangers this season. Do they have what it takes to live up to their lofty expectations?

The Starting Line-Up (*indicates left-handed batter)
1 2B Ian Kinsler
2 SS Elvis Andrus
3 LF Josh Hamilton*
4 3B Adrian Beltre
5 RF Nelson Cruz
6 DH Michael Young/Mike Napoli (vs lefties)
7 1B Mitch Moreland*/Michael Young (vs lefties)
8 C Yorvit Torrealba
9 CF Julio Borbon*

The big offseason acquisition of Adrian Beltre should help the team in a multitude of ways. Although he has yet to play this Spring, his durability should give the Rangers a consistent presence in the lineup if (when?) Hamilton, Cruz, and Kinsler miss time. Over the last nine seasons, Beltre has averaged 149 games played each season. Defensively, Beltre’s acquisition puts less pressure on a pitching staff that has to cope with larger roles following the departure of Lee.

Finally freed from the grasp of Mike Scioscia, Mike Napoli should get a shot at increased playing time. Napoli is expected to play first base and DH depending on the handedness of the opposing pitcher. Ron Washington also seems willing to allow Napoli to catch when Yorvit Torrealba needs a day off. Napoli has always shown a propensity for power, so he should find his new ballpark favorable when it comes to putting balls in the stands. Given more playing time, Napoli could post his strongest season yet.

The acquisitions of Beltre and Napoli have pushed Michael Young to the other side of the diamond. Young voiced his complaints over switching positions, and, while it appeared the Rangers would hang on to Young, trade rumors popped up again recently. Young’s bat isn’t ideal for first or DH, but he should prove a more effective fielder than Napoli due to his experience across the diamond.

The Rangers’ offense will once again be led by Hamilton, Cruz, and Kinsler. While all of them have star potential, they also have dealt with some significant injury issues in the past. Hamilton did manage to play in 133 games last season, but he played through injuries most of the season before finally succumbing to a rib injury. Hamilton is one of the most talented players in all of baseball when healthy, but it would be foolish to expect him to post a .390 BABIP again. Cruz and Kinsler missed even more time than Hamilton last season, but were effective when they played. Despite only playing in 108 games last season, Cruz was worth 5.1 WAR. Kinsler, while still effective when he played, was clearly restricted by his injuries. He stopped hitting for power, lost more than half of his stolen bases and his defense suffered as a result of leg injuries. The health of all three players is integral to the Rangers’ success in 2011.

The Pitching Staff

The Starting Rotation
1 LHP C.J. Wilson
2 RHP Colby Lewis
3 RHP Tommy Hunter
4 LHP Derek Holland
5 RHP Neftali Feliz

C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis both experienced huge breakouts last season, and are now slotted atop the Rangers’ rotation. Their peripherals indicate that their gains were legitimate last season, but both must prove they are more than one-year wonders. No one on the staff will benefit from the Adrian Beltre acquisition more than Tommy Hunter. Hunter’s performance will rely heavily on the defense behind him, and the Beltre for Young swap at third works in his favor. Derek Holland may be this year’s Lewis/Wilson. Although injuries held him to only 57.1 major league innings, his strikeout rate was strong and his home run rate fell to acceptable levels. Neftali Feliz is the most interesting name of the bunch. The Rangers are giving Feliz a legitimate shot at breaking the rotation this Spring, and he has responded well thus far. Even though he prefers to remain the closer, Feliz has the potential to blossom into the Rangers’ best starter if left in the rotation. Feliz’s conversion has been one of the biggest stories of the Spring, and the Rangers’ decision will be a situation worth watching.

The Bullpen
CL RHP Mark Lowe?
SU RHP Darren O’Day
SU LHP Arthur Rhodes
MID RHP Alexi Ogando
MID LHP Darren Oliver
LR LHP Matt Harrison

Even with the loss of Feliz, the Rangers should have a strong bullpen in 2011. The Rangers bullpen finished second in the AL in WAR last season, and a similar cast of characters return to the pen this year. With Feliz in the rotation, the closer role is up for grabs this Spring. In an article over at RotoGraphs, I speculated Mark Lowe had the best chance to close due to his perceived “veteran experience,” velocity and handedness. Alexi Ogando shot through the minors last season, culminating in a dominant postseason performance during the Rangers’ World Series run. Like most of his bullpen mates, however, Ogando flashed an extreme platoon split in his first season. Arthur Rhodes neutralized lefties last season, but can be exposed when facing right-handers. He should be the Rangers designated LOOGY again in 2011. Darren Oliver is absolute hell on lefties, and doesn’t struggle against right-handers as much as people think. With Feliz gone, Oliver has a chance to be the Rangers’ best relief pitcher this season.

Key Player
Given a chance to start every five days, Neftali Feliz could become the best starting pitcher on the team. A big part of Feliz’s development will depend on his ability to refine his changeup. The last two seasons, Feliz has predominantly used a fastball/slider combination out of the pen, only throwing his changeup 3.5% of the time last season. The value that Feliz gets from his fastball and slider are so valuable, however, that his changeup merely has to be average for him to succeed as a starter. The Rangers should also be concerned about his workload after Feliz only threw 71.0 innings last season. But C.J. Wilson’s success after making the same transition last season makes Feliz’s transition one the Rangers are familiar with.

Summary
Replacing Cliff Lee will be nearly impossible, but the expected emergence of Feliz and Holland should soften the blow. If the Rangers can keep their stars healthy, the offense has the potential for greatness. Despite the expected loss of Feliz, the bullpen remains strong. Neither the Mariners nor the Angels are expected to contend this season, leaving the revamped Oakland Athletics as the only threat to the Rangers this season. The A’s may have improved this offseason, but this is still the Rangers’ division to lose. Expectations may be higher than ever in Texas, but the Rangers appear poised to reward their fans with another “big” season.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


33 Responses to “Team Preview: Texas Rangers”

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  1. jacob says:

    Vorvit Torrealba – typo.

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  2. “Replacing Cliff Lee will be nearly impossible”. I may be the only person on earth who still thinks this but, I think he is overrated. His lat/oblique strains are omnipresent which make him always a candidate to hit the DL with a nagging injury. I think that he makes Texas better but, he didn’t get them any closer to being Champions last season, his contribution wasn’t as huge as it was made out to be. I just think that Lee, who is still less than four years removed from being sent back down to AAA, is perhaps baseball’s most overrated pitcher.

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    • Ari Collins says:

      I see people say this, and I don’t understand. Can you name five better pitchers over the last three years? Maybe Halladay? Maybe Felix? He’s pitched better than almost anyone over that period, and it’s a little hard to say it’s a fluke because he was terrible four years ago.

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      • MrKnowNothing says:

        Halladay, Lincecum, Felix. probably Greinke

        CC?

        yeah, i can make a case for three being better, maybe four, (not saying they ARE better, just a case can be made).

        but, when the only guys who *might* be better hold eighty hundred cy young awards, yeah, you’re good.

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    • neuter_your_dogma says:

      I agree Lee is way overrated. Only 21 WAR in the last 3 years? Obviously those injuries have taken their toll.

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    • Nash says:

      Overrated? Maybe. But where I disagree with your comment is where you say that Lee’s presence didn’t get them any closer to a championship. Sure, they didn’t win the World Series, but they won their first postseason series in club history, coupled with their first AL pennant in club history. It’s undeniable that Cliff Lee’s performances against the Rays and Yankees were integral in making those victories happen. His starts against the Giants were less stellar, but the Rangers were without question closer to a title last year than ever before, and Lee was an important part of that.

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    • Telo says:

      He’s pitched 200 innings 5 our of the last 6 years. You’re going to need to point to a hell of a lot more than “HIS OBLIQUES ARE WEAK” to convince me he’s overrated. And the idea that he didn’t get Texas any close to being champions……………………….

      did you actually watch the ALCS?

      Spolier – he had a 1.42 FIP in 35.2 innings in the postseason.

      So overrated.

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    • When I say overrated, I am not insinuating he is a garbage pitcher. I don’t think he is one of the best pitchers of all time, nor even of this ERA. I think yes, Halladay and Hernandez are better. I think Justin Verlander has been better and Tim Lincecum as well. He has held up with the oblique strains etc, but we are talking about the future here. That in 2007 is what held him back, and going forward I don’t see any reason it couldn’t reappear, its a nagging type of injury. Also he is going to be 32 and I think is due for a decline.

      Also did Lee pitch well in the ALDS and ALCS? Yes. But we’re talking 2011. Baseball is a marathon, and in terms of getting Texas into the playoffs he didn’t make much of a difference of course how the playoffs work is a different story, where dominant pitching is very important. But this article is talking about a preview of the upcoming 162-game season that the Rangers have. Ultimately over 162 games, the loss of Lee, I feel is not going to have as large an effect as many have said. Now in a short series thats a different story but a moot point if you don’t get there.

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      • Telo says:

        You are incoherently rambling. Try completing thoughts, using logic to flesh them out.

        Like this one: I think yes, Halladay and Hernandez are better. I think Justin Verlander has been better and Tim Lincecum as well.

        That’s great. You think something. It doesn’t really mean anything until you start to get into WHY.

        Or this one: Also did Lee pitch well in the ALDS and ALCS? Yes. But we’re talking 2011. Baseball is a marathon, and in terms of getting Texas into the playoffs he didn’t make much of a difference of course how the playoffs work is a different story, where dominant pitching is very important.

        You’re saying that he didn’t help Texas get into the playoffs. Yes, he posted a higher than normal ERA (3.98) in 100 innings for TEX down the stretch, but there’s no reason to think that’s what the future holds. He had a rough LOB% which lead to most of the extra runs. There’s a 90-95% chance he’d post better than a 3.98 next year for Texas.

        Or this: That in 2007 is what held him back, and going forward I don’t see any reason it couldn’t reappear, its a nagging type of injury.

        He has pitched 200+ innings the past three years. If you think you can predict injuries, you should talk to this guy Will. I hear he takes crazy pills, too.

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      • Apologies for incoherent rambling, and I accept yours for “I am a big man on the internet”. I was just merely agreeing with the comment that there were better pitchers, I didn’t realize I needed to write a dissertation. But why? All of those pitchers in the last five years had a higher WAR than Lee (specifically mentioned as a timeframe in one of the above comments) Halladay (32.7), Hernandez (24.6), Verlander (25.1) and Lincecum (24.0). All (exception Verlander) also have lower xFIPs than does Lee (4.03) by considerable margins Halladay (3.28), Hernandez (3.44), Verlander (4.03) and Lincecum (3.23). Hernandez (8.1), Verlander (8.2) and Lincecum (10.1) all do far better than Lee (6.8) in K/9, whereas Halladay (6.9) is about even.

        In 2010, Lee did not make a huge difference for getting Texas into the playoffs. On July 9th they were 4.5 games up in the West with a .581 Winning Pct., they finished with a .556 winning percentage. Obviously they didn’t suddenly perform better with Lee even if you account for a psychological “we have an ‘ace'” type lift. Now granted in fairness, there is only so much you can do especially as a pitcher in half a season, but the Rangers went 6-9 in his starts. It don’t hesitate to think that one of their other pitchers could easily match that output. But yes, we are talking as you point out about the future, and in 2011 Lee should be worth more than he will throughout the rest of his contract (I am assuming a bell shaped decline) but if he pitches in 35 games is he going to have that much bigger of an impact that Neftali Feliz as a starter? I mean we might be talking 2 or 3 wins better. So if you think that that stands between Texas competing or not competing and that tose 2-3 wins are worth $25M, fine, I just don’t see it as as big a deal as everyone is talking about.

        With respect to the injury, I am not saying I can predict injuries nor did I, but there are risk factors but that point is really more of an aside than the crux of the argument.

        I am happy to hear disagreements, I would hope in the future you can do it in less of an obnoxious manner. When dealing with the future everyone is working on assumptions and guesses that can be laid to waste by unforeseen circumstances. I get where you are coming from, and I respectfully disagree.

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    • Preston says:

      He’s over-rated in the sense that it’s hard to imagine someone of his age with back trouble being worth the money he’ll be paid at the end of the contract. But right now he’s a consensus top 5 pitcher in the league and will be in all liklihood be up for the Cy Young award.

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    • Scott says:

      I agree. You are the ONLY person on earth that thinks Lee is overrated.

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  3. Bill says:

    Prediction…. David Murphy will end up with 400+ ABs

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  4. Josh says:

    Feliz is working on a cutter as well. All though it may be below average with promise right now, he only started working on it ten days ago. If the cutter and change can keep hitters guessing even a little bit he should do well in the rotation.

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  5. wobatus says:

    I don’t think Napoli will get substantially more Plate Appearances than last year, when he had 510 PA in 140 games. Sounds like from what is described above he’ll catch maybe 1-2 games a week and DH or play 1st maybe 2-3 games a week.

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    • Scott says:

      Yes, but Napoli will improve because Mike Scioscia won’t be screaming “YOU SUCK!” from the Angels dugout.

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  6. CubsFan says:

    Bill,

    I hope you’re right about David Murphy. The Rangers are my favorite AL team and I would love to see Murphy get plenty of ABs.

    On the subject of Cliff Lee, I don’t see the Rangers beating Tampa in the ALDS last year without him. It seems a bit ridiculous to call a guy overrated when he is one of the best and most consistent pitchers in the game AND he continues to come up big in the playoffs.

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  7. Stan says:

    To claim that the Angels aren’t supposed to contend is a ridiculous statement.

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    • Dexter Bobo says:

      All the projections I’ve seen has them at about 77-78 wins and around 15 games back of the Rangers. That pretty much defines “not supposed to contend” to me.

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      • I think he means the Angels are “built to contend” they aren’t a team that says we are retooling or we are rebuilding with an eye for the future like say the Mariners – Reagins has built the team in a way he feels will allow them to compete. I think they shouldn’t be taken so lightly. They finished 80-82 last year, and an improvement from Kazmir and solid years from the rest of their very solid rotation and they can easily be in the mix, plus they have the money to swing some deals midseason.

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      • Stan says:

        Yes, and we all know just how accurate the “experts” are when it comes to predicting the Angels.

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    • johan says:

      The Angels will absolutely contend for that division. Jared Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joel Piniero and Dan Haren is a good starting 4. Now they added Vernon Wells to their lineup and Kendry Morales will be back, that is a big boost in production.

      They will need their top of the order guys to get on base, but they will compete in that division. Book it.

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  8. Collin says:

    So I guess Brandon Webb is being written off since he is not even mentioned?

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    • tonysoprano says:

      It would be a great story for Webb to come back healthy and produce for the Rangers. But I think if they get anything from him it will be a bonus. I would bet on the over/under for innings pitched this year to be under 100.

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  9. Joltin' Joe says:

    The Angels are not expected to compete? They may not be great and the Rangers are better, but it’s hardly as cut-and-dry as you put it.

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  10. Bayarlalaa says:

    I would play Jeff Francoeur over Nelson Cruz in RF.

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  11. maqman says:

    I’ve been a big fan of Cliff Lee, especially after the Mariner’s got him. However I get what David Wishinsky is saying about his potential to decline going forward and his record in Texas was not bad but not great either. I’m thinking Eric Bedard might just have a better year than Lee in 2011.

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    • Dizzave17 says:

      Unless Cliff Lee ends up dealing with a major injury and Eric Bedard somehow doesn’t, there is no way Bedard outpitches Lee in 2011. As a Mariners fan I would love it if he did but it’s just not gonna happen. Maybe Rich Harden will outpitch Lee. Perhaps Brandon Webb. C’mon, let’s be serious.

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    Feliz throwing his change more and developing a cutter also give him 2 pitches that are generally easy on the arm which is a big plus for fastball-slider hurlers. That,IMO, is equally as important as being able to change speeds.

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  15. Rol_Texas says:

    Looking over this with the benefit of the 2011 season’s hindsight, this analysis was remarkably prescient. Even in cases in which it was off the mark in a narrow, technical sense, it was still illuminating. Also, I hope that what you say about Feliz in 2010->2011 will apply to him in 2011->2012.

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