I’ll never cash an easier bet than last year’s Under season win total for the Texas Rangers.
They lost 102 games and went 15-34 across June and July to remove any potential for a sweat. It was a terrible team in every facet. They were outscored by 190 runs, lost by five or more runs 31 times and were never above .500. The Rangers had the worst offense in baseball with a .291 wOBA and were one of two teams with an OBP below .300. On the pitching side, only the Diamondbacks accumulated fewer fWAR. The Rangers had a 4.80 ERA and a 4.76 FIP with the fourth-lowest K% in the majors. The bullpen was about league average, so most of the poor performances came from the starters, a group that posted a 5.33 ERA and a 5.19 FIP.
The Rangers were at least active this winter. They revamped the top of the batting order with Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Mitch Garver. They brought in outfield upgrades with Kole Calhoun and Brad Miller. They signed Jon Gray and Martin Perez in hopes of bolstering the rotation and Greg Holland and Garrett Richards on the relief side. They threw around a lot of money for a team with a season win total of 74.5, but was it enough for a 15-win improvement?
The offense certainly looks more exciting than it did last season. Semien won’t hit 45 home runs again, but he’s a big upgrade at the top of the order with two outstanding offensive seasons in the last three years. He posted 7.6 fWAR with the A’s in 2019 and a 6.6 fWAR with the Blue Jays in 2021. Semien has also improved defensively over the years and was a great second baseman for the Jays last season.
Last season, Semien pulled the ball a lot more and hit a lot more fly balls. The Blue Jays are doing that with a lot of their hitters, so we’ll see if he keeps it up in Texas. The ball doesn’t carry nearly as well at Globe Life Field and AL West parks are worse for offense than AL East parks. I have no doubt Semien will be a valuable player but not nearly as valuable as recent years.
The Rangers gave Seager a 10-year, $325 million deal, which is a lot for a player who missed ample time last season and most of 2018. He’s been a productive hitter with a career slash of .297/.367/.504, and he was solid last season with a .389 wOBA. He makes a ton of quality contact with a great feel for the barrel, so his offensive profile is a good gamble, but health is a factor and his range at shortstop is questionable.
Given that the Rangers got a 95 wRC + at second base last season and an 85 wRC + at shortstop, Semien and Seager are tremendous upgrades. If Calhoun and Miller hit for an outfield that had an 85 wRC + last season, that’s two more upgrades. Calhoun did miss most of last season with an injury and he’s now 34 years old, so I’m tepid on his profile. He, too, has increased his launch angle to generate more power. Miller hit 20 homers in 377 PA, but he is a health risk as well. His contact quality numbers were outstanding, but he is a full-fledged platoon player.
Adolis Garcia is a more valuable player by traditional metrics than the new-school sabermetrics. He strikes out a ton without walking but also hit 30 homers and played a great center field last season. His low OBP will hold down his offensive numbers, but he has an enticing power/speed combo. Nathaniel Lowe hit 18 homers and posted a 115 wRC + as he finally got some regular playing time. Garver, the team’s new catcher, hit 13 HR in 68 games after hitting 31 in 93 games in 2019.
The lineup does have some upside but also has a tremendous amount of injury risk and a lot of guys that haven’t dealt with the strain of playing every day. The Rangers will be attempting to put together some platoons, which is a good strategy if players stay healthy.
Semien and Seager were much needed pieces, but this is also a team that needed a lot. The offense will absolutely be better and the Rangers could very well have six or more guys that hit 20 homers. They could also have a parade to the injured list, which would shine a light on their limited depth and a lacking minor league system.
The lineup better score a lot of runs because the pitching staff will need them. This was one of the worst rotations in baseball last season. There is some addition by subtraction. Jordan Lyles was awful for 30 starts and he’s now an Oriole. Mike Foltynewicz was terrible for 24 starts and he’s still a free agent. Kolby Allard made 17 starts with a 5.40 ERA and he’ll be back to a relief role. Kohei Arihara was pretty bad for 10 starts and he’ll likely end up in the bullpen.
I still like Dane Dunning, who had a 4.55 ERA with a 3.94 FIP. Dunning got a little unlucky that so many ground balls found holes, but his Hard Hit% did jump to 43.5%. He still had almost a strikeout per inning. He has massive home/road splits, posting a 3.09 ERA in 67 innings at home (with a .289 wOBA against) and a 6.39 ERA in 50.2 innings on the road (with a .391 wOBA against). He has some upside, but the Rangers are still trying to figure out how to unlock it.
Jon Gray is the most interesting pitcher for the Rangers. We all know Colorado is bad for pitchers, but the Coors Field effect can also hurt Rockies pitchers on the road. Gray had a 4.54 ERA with a .316 wOBA against in 416.2 innings at home and a 4.65 ERA with a .329 wOBA against in 412.2 innings on the road. Gray’s K% and BB% were both higher on the road. The ball does different things at sea level than it does at elevation, and Colorado’s pitchers tend to struggle with control on the road.
At home, you throw a pitch to one spot expecting a certain amount of break. On the road, if you throw it in the same place, it’ll either be a ball or a mistake. You have to constantly adjust. Being able to simplify the game with Texas has to help Gray, but that might take some time. We shouldn’t expect miracles just because Gray is out of Colorado. Do I think he’ll be better than a 4.59 ERA and a 4.22 FIP? Absolutely. Do I think he’ll put up ace-worthy numbers? Absolutely not.
Dunning has upside, but he hasn’t found it yet. Martin Perez is just an innings-eater in a lost season. Otherwise, you have names such as Taylor Hearn, A.J. Alexy, Spencer Howard, Allard and Arihara. The Rangers have three top-100 starting pitcher prospects, including Jack Leiter, but Cole Winn is the closest to major league ready and he walked 31 batters in 86 innings last season.
The bullpen has a few decent arms, but Jose Leclerc is out for at least the first 6-8 weeks as he recovers from Tommy John. Spencer Patton was solid in 42.1 innings, and Joe Barlow had 11 saves with a 1.55 ERA after Ian Kennedy was moved, but there aren’t a lot of high-upside arms and none I would consider dominant.
For all of the upgrades to the lineup, the pitching staff was largely ignored. The Rangers could be an Over team throughout the season, especially in games with good hitting conditions and an opposing pitcher with bad command. They have the potential to score some runs but also the potential to give a whole lot of them.
Player to Watch
SP Dane Dunning: In the launch-angle generation, I like guys that can strike out a batter per inning and keep the ball on the ground. The problem is Dunning’s high strikeout rate is not as a result of swings and misses. His Whiff% ranked in the 27th percentile per Statcast. Most of his metrics are in the bottom 40%. Without a velo bump, I’m worried he won’t live up to his prospect hype.
The Rangers have improved in some noteworthy areas, but this is still a poor ballclub. Offensively, the Rangers will be significantly better. After only scoring 3.86 runs per game, they’ll improve upon that. However, I don’t see them doing much better than the 5.03 runs per game that they allowed. I commend Texas for spending this winter when others didn’t. That should help down the line if they can develop or sign better arms. For this season, though, the Rangers are the fourth-best team in the AL West. Their pitching will hurt them when matching up with other division rivals (outside of the A’s). I think they stay Under the season win total, but I’ll be more interested in playing Overs with them on the road and against pitchers with bad command.
Win Total Lean: Under 74.5