Texas Rangers 2023 Season Preview
The Texas Rangers were arguably the unluckiest team in baseball last season. They finished 68-94, but had a Pythagorean Win-Loss record of 77-85 and BaseRuns had them down for the same mark. By being -9 in both Pyth W-L and BaseRuns, they had the largest negative discrepancy between actual record and expected record. Clay Davenport’s 3rd Order Win% metric wasn’t as kind with a record of 74.4-87.7, but the reality is that this team should have been better than it was.
The Rangers were 11th in wOBA offensively with runners in scoring position and 11th in wOBA against with RISP. The reason why there was a huge discrepancy in record is because Texas was 15-35 in one-run games. Usually you see that happen with a bad bullpen, but the Rangers were 12th in reliever ERA and 16th in FIP. I wouldn’t call this bullpen good, especially with some heavy losses, but it wasn’t the problem last season.
There was some built-in positive regression, but when you add Jacob deGrom, Andrew Heaney and Nathan Eovaldi to a starting rotation that had a 4.63 ERA, a 4.42 FIP and finished 26th in fWAR, people are going to notice. Oh, yeah, and the Rangers added manager Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series winner who decided front office life wasn’t for him and wanted to get back in the dugout.
As a result, the Rangers are a team that a lot of people expect to be trending upward this season.
Explanations of the stats used in this preview can be found in my “MLB Stats to Know” article.
2023 Texas Rangers Odds
(odds from DraftKings as of Mar. 10, click for updates)
World Series: +5000
AL Pennant: +2000
AL West: +850
Win Total: 82.5 (-115/-105)
Make Playoffs: Yes +180 / No -215
Texas Rangers Offense
The Rangers committed big dollars to pitching this offseason because they already locked in their two big hitters last offseason. Marcus Semien and Corey Seager kick off Year 2 of their mega deals here in 2023. Semien got seven years and $175 million, while Seager got 10 years and $325 million, so ownership has made some huge commitments over the last two winters.
Because of the value they provided on the bases and on defense, they more than paid for their contracts from a cost per WAR standpoint, but Semien only posted a .248/.304/.429 slash with a .317 wOBA and a 107 wRC+. The reality is that is pretty close to his baseline, as two huge years (2019, 2021) skewed the numbers and made him look like a more valuable offensive player than he is. He’s also not the kind of guy I’d want batting leadoff, so I’d love to see the Rangers change that dynamic and get a guy with more on-base upside at the top of the order.
Seager ultimately hit 33 homers, but his 117 wRC+ was the second-lowest of his career. He was also much less productive in the second half, going from a 124 wRC+ to a 107 wRC+. His .242 BABIP was far and away the lowest of his career, as he had never finished lower than .301 in that department. His contact quality certainly supports a return to normalcy in that metric, so I would anticipate a much stronger season from him.
And the Rangers are going to need it. I’m not sure Nathaniel Lowe’s 143 wRC+ is a repeatable skill. He’s a good hitter, but I’m not sure he’s an objectively great hitter, which is what that type of performance would imply. He was 43% above league average on offense after posting a 114 wRC+ in his first full season in 2021. Adolis Garcia posted a 112 wRC+ and was a 25/25 guy with 27 homers and 25 steals, but he’s a free swinger with a low walk rate, so he’s a little bit limited offensively.
Mitch Garver was the only other above average offensive player for the Rangers with a 101 wRC+ and he only had 215 plate appearances. There were 17 players with at least 100 PA for the Rangers and only five graded above average and only one was over 17% better than league average (Lowe). Texas was 24th in plate appearances with a runner in scoring position, so it really comes down to how they hit for power.
There may be more sustainability to that strategy than I would have thought. After the 2021 season, the Rangers hired Tim Hyers to be the hitting coach and gave the title of “offensive coordinator” to bench coach Donnie Ecker. In 2021, the Rangers were 25th in fly ball percentage at 34.6%. In 2022, they were seventh in FB% at 39.4%. They also went from 26th in Pull% at 38.1% to 3rd in Pull% at 42.4%. Only the Braves and Dodgers pulled the ball more frequently.
This would have been a very optimal strategy at the Globe Life Park when the sun and heat warmed everything up, but it hasn’t been quite as equitable at Globe Life Field. The trick will be figuring that part out. The Rangers did score 22 more runs at home last season than they did in 2021, but also scored 60 more runs on the road than they had the previous year.
It could, however, be a better strategy this season, as pulling the ball should be rewarded more in a post-shift environment. It won’t necessarily help on the fly ball front, but Texas is leaning into trying to hit the ball with more contact authority and I always look more favorably teams taking that approach.
I’m not sure where I’d rank this offense. Does Josh Jung break out after an injury-plagued season? Can Leody Taveras replicate the power he showed at Triple-A? Will Robbie Grossman’s contact quality return and aid his high walk rate? Will the Rangers continue, or even increase, their aggressiveness on the bases under a new manager? The high K% will always be somewhat prohibitive, but if the Rangers can overcome it with power and baserunning value, this could be a league average or better offense.
Texas Rangers Pitching
Mild offensive gains would go a long way because the starting staff is clearly much improved. You may have heard of deGrom, who is the game’s absolute best starting pitcher when healthy. It’s the healthy part that is tricky, as he has only made 26 starts over the last two seasons across 156.1 innings of work. If the Rangers get that in one season, they’d be beyond ecstatic.
Hell, in 64.1 innings last season, deGrom amassed enough fWAR (2.2) to have been second on the Rangers behind Martin Perez and ahead of Jon Gray. The next two guys after Gray were relievers Matt Moore and Brock Burke. Texas used 16 starting pitchers last season, as they were pushed to incorporate several different openers, piggybacks and spot starters. Perez had a 2.89 ERA with a 3.27 FIP. Gray had a 3.96 ERA with a 3.80 FIP. Beyond those two, nobody with at least eight starts had an ERA under 4.46 or a FIP under 4.45.
When looking at acquisitions for teams, it isn’t enough to think about what the player brings. You also have to think about who the player is replacing. For example, let’s say deGrom can throw 135.2 innings like Glenn Otto did. Otto had a 4.64 ERA, 5.21 FIP and 0.0 fWAR over those 27 starts. I think deGrom may be just a tad better than that!
Let’s say Eovaldi steps in and knocks out the 153.1 innings produced by Dane Dunning with 0.9 fWAR, a 4.46 ERA and a 4.45 FIP. Eovaldi is coming off of a bit of a down season with 109.1 innings with a 3.87 ERA and a 4.30 FIP, but the Rangers could get his 2021 career year with a 3.75 ERA and a 2.79 FIP over 182.1 innings. The reality lies somewhere in between, but “somewhere in between” is better than Dunning or somebody comparable.
Similarly, Heaney is a guy that has flashed tremendous upside, but can’t stay healthy. He only has one season with at least 130 innings pitched since 2015. In terms of MLB, specifically, he’s topped 106 innings just twice. The long ball has been his other bugaboo, something that Globe Life Field could help. Because Heaney, Eovaldi and deGrom all have health risks, it makes sense that the Rangers also traded for Jake Odorizzi and signed Danny Duffy to a minor league deal.
Perez is coming off of a career year at age 31, so I’m not buying that long-term, but he cut down his HR/FB%, increased his GB% and had the second-lowest Barrel% of his career. Inducing poor-quality contact is a skill and Perez mastered it last season. He also posed the highest K% of his career with a sinker/cutter arsenal and a 27.6% changeup rate. That was the highest of his career and he had one of his better seasons with it.
Perez only gave up one home run classified as a “no doubter” last season by Statcast. Previously, his lowest number in a full season was eight. He is an example of how pitch usage changes and sequencing can keep hitters off-balance and keep the ball off the barrel. It’s one of the many reasons why contact quality is such an important metric to me for hitters and also pitchers. Perez did have a huge spike in BB% in the second half last season, so I’ll be keeping an eye on that early.
Dunning and Otto are still around, along with several others that have MLB experience and Jack Leiter, who is one of the team’s top prospects. The ceiling for this rotation is dramatically higher with the increases, but the floor is also higher with far better depth than last season.
I’m not sure I can say the same about the bullpen. Texas’s best reliever was Moore and he’s gone. Better health for Jose Leclerc would go a long way and Brett Martin’s return from shoulder surgery will be a big key. Leclerc and Matt Bush are the two guys capable of missing bats, as most of the other guys struggle with that. Burke is a guy that is expected to be a multi-inning relief weapon after throwing 82.1 innings over 52 games.
Like I said earlier, it’s not a bad group, per se, but I don’t think it’s a strength. At least they should have more leads to protect. With the atrocious starting rotation, the Rangers only had a lead after five innings in 57 games last season. That makes it really hard to rack up wins.
The -9 in Pyth W-L and BaseRuns were two of many interesting notes for the Rangers. They were 30-57 against teams .500 or better, but 38-37 against teams with losing records. Also, they were just 41-66 against right-handed starters and 27-28 against left-handed starters. They had a 112 wRC+ against lefties and a 92 wRC+ against righties with the 26th-ranked wOBA.
Seven of those one-run losses were against the Mariners, who Texas was just 5-14 against. They only won 10 of their last 37 games and six of those wins were by one run, accounting for 40% of their one-run wins for the season.
Player to Watch
SP Glenn Otto: So, the full-season numbers weren’t great for Otto, but he allowed three or fewer runs in 20 of his 27 starts. He only had a .255 BABIP against, but walked 62 guys against just 107 strikeouts in his 135.2 innings of work. The 6-foot-3 Otto was in the 89th percentile in extension and had pretty good results with his sinker and slider, but his fastball and curveball were poor. I think there’s something to work with here and if I was a smart team, I’d try to acquire him. His first-pitch strike percentage was only 53.3%, so he started 1-0 too much and didn’t get enough whiffs to battle back into counts, but I think some of the issues are correctable and I’ll probably buy too much stock as the season goes along and he serves as an injury replacement.
Texas Rangers Season Win Total Pick
If you gave me a head-to-head prop bet of Rangers wins vs. Angels wins, I’d take the Rangers. For what it's worth, I think this market will be available in some places and I think Texas is a worthy bet. It may even be at some books, but I didn't see it at DraftKings when publishing this. I think they have a higher ceiling than the Angels.
I think the Bochy dynamic is pretty underrated, given that he’s a proven winner who instantly commands more respect than a guy like Chris Woodward, who is a fine baseball mind with a head for sabermetrics, but he’s not a three-time World Series winner. I think that’s a boost that may be factored into the equation, but may also be taken for granted.
I’m just so torn on what the ceiling is for the Rangers. I usually like to prey on high-variance teams in the win total market because anything can happen and it’s that lack of certainty that often creates betting value. However, the Rangers have such a wide range of outcomes almost directly tied to pitcher health that I don’t know how things will transpire.
If you told me that deGrom would throw 200 innings, this is an easy over bet to make. Given that he’s thrown 156.1 innings over the last two seasons and he turns 35 in June, I’m nowhere near sold. If you told me that I’d get 150 innings out of deGrom and another 300 from Eovaldi and Heaney, sign me up for an over. But, if you told me that all three guys would get hurt and I’d be lucky to get 300 innings total, I couldn’t run away fast enough. There’s a non-zero chance that happens.
There are also some concerns about Gray’s health, as he has fallen short of 150 innings each of the last two seasons. I don’t think this offense is good enough to overcome cluster injuries in the rotation. I do think this offense with a healthy pitching staff can compete for a Wild Card spot. But, that doesn’t mean I want to invest in it. I will lean towards the over for the sake of the article because I think this team has some serious upside if they stock up on enough Deet to keep the injury bugs away, but I couldn’t invest money in that scenario.
Lean: Over 82.5