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The Rangers Rotation: Yu Darvish and Some Other Guys

This much we know about the 2014 Texas Rangers rotation on a chilly January day: it’s going to feature Yu Darvish, and it’s going to contain some other guys. That’s no slight to the candidates to fill the latter category — some of them are quite good. It’s just that, at this point, we don’t know exactly who they will be.

So let’s speculate wildly, shall we!

Before we get too far along, let’s make three things clear:

1. The offseason is not over yet, and it is still very possible the Rangers will sign a starting pitcher from the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, or A.J. Burnett. Maybe not likely, but possible.

2. Texas has acquired a starting pitcher from the Cubs at both of the past two trade deadlines. Put another way: Jeff Samardzija will be in Arlington by August.

3. With the number of players either injured or returning from injuries, spring training will matter here. A lot. It’s almost pointless discussing this in January, except we don’t have anything better to do, so why not?

The point is: this situation is fluid. Very, very fluid. With that said, we’re not totally in the dark here. We know Yu Darvish will be the headliner, and we know that former top prospect Martin Perez will surely find a place among the pool of Other Guys.

I won’t belabor the point on Darvish because plenty of ink has spilled on his greatness, including these gems. He will be among the first arms off the board in drafts this spring, and deservedly so. He is very good at baseball.

Our own J.P. Breen shared his thoughts on Perez a couple of weeks ago, and his piece is well worth reading. My short take: Perez is a lock for the rotation, and will likely get closer to the 200 inning plateau, but unless he starts generating more whiffs on his fastball (just 4.85 percent last year, according to Brooks Baseball) he’s going to have trouble being more than a mid-rotation arm. That said, his changeup is downright elite (12th in wCH/C last year among starters with at least 100 innings pitched) and he has potential to be more than what he was last year. Put simply: there’s potential risk and potential reward there, but it’s safe to bank on Perez having a spot in the rotation and it’s safe to assume he will be at least as good as he was in 2013.

We also know that Derek Holland will get his job back whenever he returns from getting tripped by his dog. It’s impossible to say what physical state he’ll be in when he returns midseason, but the injury is unfortunate because Holland was quite good last year, pitching more than 200 innings for the first time, while striking out 21.1 percent of batters and walking 7.2 percent. His ERA (3.42), FIP (3.44), and xFIP (3.68) were all career lows.

But … he’s going to miss half the season. That leaves three open spots to start the year.

FoxSports Southwest’s Anthony Andro tweeted that Matt Harrison threw a bullpen session last week, and “felt fine.” He missed most of last season and is coming off back surgery, but when he was healthy in 2011 and 2012 Harrison accrued 4.1 and 3.6 wins above replacement, respectively. This is a case where in-depth spring training reports will matter a great deal, especially with regards to health indicators (number of pitches, velocity, movement).

This will also be the case for Colby Lewis, who signed a minor league deal with the club in November. He missed half of 2012 and didn’t make a major league start in 2013, but is slated to being a rehab program during spring training. The odds of him regaining his form, staying healthy, and having fantasy value are more slim than they are for Harrison, but the chance exists nonetheless.

Two more options here before we go.

It’s not clear that Alexi Ogando can handle a starter’s workload full-time (after all, he’s never thrown more than 169 innings in a single season) but it is equally evident that the righty is an effective major league pitcher. Over his four seasons split between the Rangers’ rotation and bullpen, Ogando has fanned 19.5 percent of the batters he’s faced, and walked 7.5 percent. Per Brooks Baseball, he’s been able to generate strong whiff rates on his fastball (9.64 percent), slider (13.26 percent), and changeup (13.26 percent). He’s good at pitching, basically.

So, assuming perfect health, that’s your April starting five. Darvish, Perez, Harrison, Lewis, Ogando. At some point, Derek Holland will rejoin the rotation and move one of these Other Guys to the bullpen. But assuming perfect health is a fool’s errand, so let’s include one more option.

Nick Tepesch made 17 starts for the injury-depleted Rangers last year, and acquitted himself well. He struck out 18.7 percent of batters faced and walked 6.6 percent. He induced groundballs at a healthy clip of 47.3 percent. Since his minor league strikeout and walk numbers are similar (19.3 percent and 6 percent according to Minor League Central), and because his performance does not appear to be aided in any obvious way by good fortune, it’s entirely fair to expect results in line with his 2013 FIP (4.19) and xFIP (3.82) if and when he’s pressed into duty.

In total, this is a good, deep rotation. It’s led by a pitcher as good as any in baseball, and filled with options capable of helping both the Rangers and fantasy owners. And while this is one way to draw up the Rangers rotation today, in January, so much of this depends on health, and so much of it depends on spring training. Beyond Darvish and Perez, any of these guys may be in, and any of them may be out. So stay tuned, this is bound to change. The owners paying the most attention will be the ones who find the best value.