Sunday, December 6, 2009

2010 Team Analysis: Texas Rangers

Texas Rangers:

2009 Record: 87-75

General Manager: Jon Daniels

Manager: Ron Washington

Organizational Philosophy: Club President Nolan Ryan seems to have taken the reigns, at least on a public level, and is not shy in making statements to the media about everything from payrolls to pitch counts. Ryan expects the 2010 payroll to stay roughly the same from its ’09 season $68M. They also have an unsettled ownership situation which definitely factors in their finances, so don’t expect them to sign any long term free agents this offseason.

This offseason the Rangers will strongly adhere to a more streamlined approach as the front office looks to improve their communication into a single thinking organism focused on scouting and player development rather than free agent acquisitions.

2010 Commitments:

Starting Rotation:

Kevin Millwood ($15M)
Scott Feldman ($430K; arb eligible)
Tommy Hunter ($400K)
Derek Holland ($400K)
Brandon McCarthy ($650K)
Matt Harrison ($405K)
Neftali Feliz ($400K)

Kevin Millwood benefited from a low BABIP after throwing close to 200 innings for the first time since 2006.  His decrease in K's (5.57) and rise in BB's (3.22) could spell trouble next season.  Millwood will be 35 at the start of the season and will be pitching in the last year of his current contract.  The Rangers have stated that Millwood isn't on the trading block this offseason.

26 year old Scott Feldman has been ushered in as the defacto ace despite a low K rate and average control.  Last season the Rangers made this soft-tossing righty a starting pitcher and the results were mixed.  What made Feldman successful this season (especially in Arlington) was his re-invention as a sinkerball pitcher possesing one of the best cut fastballs in the game.  Feldman is limited in terms of upside but as long as the Rangers surround him with a capable defense this contact pitcher may not live up to the skills set expected from a #1 starter but he will be a very effective mid-rotation pitcher.

Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland are two young pitchers expected to anchor this rotation next season.  Both are 23 years old and have clocked in over 100 innings a piece last season.  On paper one would immediately point to Hunter as being the better pitcher.  In 2009, Hunter posted a 9-6 record while showing excellent command (BB% of 2.65) in 112 IP.  His low walk totals was something Hunter easily displayed in the minors while throwing three pitches almost equally (fastball, cut fastball, curveball).  Like Feldman, Hunter's fastball comes in a bit slow (averages out at 89.2 mph) but his curveball has been quite effective.

Derek Holland, on the other hand, struggled with an 8-13 record while posting a high ERA of 6.12 in 138 IP.  Holland did struggle at home (in the smallish sample size of 73 innings pitched) and his velocity did slighty decrease as the season wore on according to this PitchFX chart.  All of this may spell trouble for the young lefthander but as Dave Cameron argues, again at the wonderful FanGraphs site, Holland's ability to post a K/9 above 7.0 along with a BB/9 below 3.5 as a rookie in over 120 IP could predict later success.  This observation is based on the fact that among the 20 rookie pitchers who achieved this feat a large portion of those pitchers took a big step forward in their second season.  Holland definitely possesses the makeup of a successful power pitcher in terms of body type and delivery and has a plus slider.  His fastball has been inconsistent but on the lack of movement from his two-seamer. 

Talk has centered about trading Brandon McCarthy for a RH bat. McCarthy has been plagued with injuries and his strong finish as a viable back of the rotation pitcher should draw some interest from looking for young pitching.  Last season, McCarthy began using his slider more to mix with his so-so fastball. 

One of the bigger names here is Neftali Feliz.  His numbers were dazzling in 31 innings of relief as a 21 year old with a fastball that has hit 100 mph and averages at 96 mph.  Feliz has electric stuff and this spring will be heavily watched as he attempts to make a home for himself in the rotation. 

Next season's rotation will be interesting as the Rangers seem to be depending on a lot of young arms coming through for them.  This is a major reason why they aren't shopping Millwood and have seem to throw their hat into the Rich Harden discount sweepstakes.  24 year old Matt Harrison has been a dissappointment since coming over from the Braves organization.  Last season he battled various arm injuries and if healthy enough to start in 2010 he'll be dependant on harnessing his control to counter his low K rate.  Harrison could be a serviceable GB pitcher if he could learn to reduce his high LD%.

LHP Martin Perez will be 19 next season and could be a late season addition if he can recreate his incredible K% in AA.  Perez is still developing a plus curveball and changeup to compliment his mid-90's fastball.  This season will be watched by Ranger fans and with the organization not afraid to throw arms into the mix he could be in Arlington quicker than we think.


Frank Francisco ($1.6M)
C.J. Wilson ($1.85M)
Darren O’Day ($406K)
Dustin Nippert ($411K)
Doug Mathis ($400K)
Pedro Strop ($400K)
Guillermo Moscoso ($400K)
Willie Eyre ($410K)

On the closer side, Frank Francisco posted an excellent K/BB rate but his propensity to allow near 50% of FB's could bite him if his HR/FB rate should ever reach above 10% (it was 9.4% last season).  He does miss a few bats so he does have that to help him.

C.J. Wilson helped to share closer duties and was incredibly effective down the stretch as a set-up man.  Wilson throws a sinking fastball along with an effective slider that serves to keep the ball in the park (last season's home run bug against him was obviously a statistical outlier and has seemed to correct itself).  Wilson also made incredible strides in increasing his K% by almost three points to 10.26 and his BB% went from 5.24 to 3.91, whether this trend sticks is the major question.  Wilson will be 29 next season and how he spells Francisco this season will be interesting since the latter will be eligible for free agency next offseason.

Darren O'Day combines his slow fastball with an effective slider.  Last season his also posted an incredible 3.11 K/BB ratio.  His did get a bit lucky in terms of having a strand rate at 87% and his low HR/FB percentage of 4.7% is unsustainable due to the number of FB's he allows.  I would expect O'Day to regress a bit next season but his proven record of control shouldn't get him into too much trouble.

Dustin Nippert is a Diamondback cast-off who has become a half-starter and half-reliever and has seem to lost his ability to be a consistent GB pitcher.  His fastball does have some life to it but I would expect his FB/HR levels to return to normal and back into the 10's.  His value on this team could be tested as he will probably be called to spot start between 10 to 15 games next season.

Doug Mathis is another sinkerball pitcher in the pen that found success in bringing his BB% down to counter his low K rate.  He won't fool a lot of hitters nor miss bats but if he can keep the ball on the ground and not walk anyone, he'll be a valuable situational reliever.

Pedro Strop needs to harness his control if he wants to live up to the mantle of future closer.  He has shown amazing K rates through all levels of the minors and after pitching in AAA for 12 innings and showing good control the team felt he was ready.  Strop did behind in the count quite a bit during his brief tenure as a Ranger and next season he will be 25.  The Rangers have no reason to rush Strop and I would imagine the team would start him out as a closer in AAA next season.

Another question for the Rangers in terms of player development is what role should Guillermo Moscoso assume next season.  He will be 26 next season and after quietly dominating the PCL in 11 starts last season, Moscoso was utilized in the Ranger bullpen in mostly low leverage situations.  The rotation, barring any injuries, seems pretty set.  Moscoso doesn't have the velocity on his fastball that gets everyone excited but he seems to be out of options in terms of further development. 

On the field:

C: Taylor Teagarden ($400K)
C: Jarrod Saltalamacchia ($410K)
1B: Chris Davis ($406K)
2B: Ian Kinsler ($4.2M)
SS: Elvis Andrus ($400K)
3B: Michael Young ($16M)
LF: David Murphy ($415K)
CF: Josh Hamilton ($550K)
RF: Nelson Cruz ($408K)

The team plans to let free agent Hank Blalock go this offseason but questions still remain among many key positions.

At catcher, fans may be questioning the once envious wealth of young talent promoted last offseason. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has never approached the stud level promised a few seasons ago and Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez have struggled with their plate discipline thus making fans wonder whether they can develop into everyday players.

The recent shoulder injury to Saltalamacchia in winter ball has the team looking into re-signing free agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez in order to shore up depth.

At first base, fans were hoping to find the second-coming of Mark Teixeira (at least until Justin Smoak was ready) but instead got Chris Shelton (minus a few walks) by mid-summer in 23 year old Chris Davis.  Last season Davis was plauged by a K% of 38.9!  Davis did make a few adjustments after being sent down to the minors and seemed to correct his approach to plate by only striking out 14% during the final few months of the season.  If he can carry this over, Davis could become an above average 1B in 2010 and an excellent trade piece once Smoak is ready (Davis' glove is too atrocious to be considered on the other side at 3B).

Ian Kinsler showed better durability this season and his low K% and ability to not chase pitches outside the strikezone shows that once he gets his BABIP up to normal levels, he'll be a superstar.

Elvis Andrus will be 21 at the start of the season and already plays like a veteran in terms of defense and pitch selection.  I'm expecting him to increase his BB% to somewhere near the 10's next season and with his ability to keep his strikeouts down, he should be a valuable leadoff hitter for next 10+ years.

Full time 3B Michael Young showed he still has some value despite that ridiculous contract he signed during the 2008 offseason.  I'd be surprised if he slugged over .500 again next season (he's only done that one other time in his career).  Another bad sign: his speed scores and defense scores (two measures of how rapidly a player is aging) have shown a downward trend since his peak season in 2003.   Before this contract expires after the 2013 season, I'm expecting this end very badly.

Last month the Rangers expressed some hope in re-signing free agent Marlon Bryd.  The market for Bryd will probably be 2 to 3 years at over $5M annually.  The Rangers made a smart play in offereing him arbitration. 

Another prospect to watch out for is Julio Borbon who could be taking over LF full-time.  Last season the 23 year old speedy slasher stole 19 bases while batting .312 in 179 PA's.  In the minors, Borbon has always shown the ability to hit for a good average while rarely striking out.  Last year he made some strides in increasing his BB% from the low 4's and 5's a few seasons ago to 7.5% in AAA and 8.7% with the Rangers.  He did benefit from a high BABIP (.360) but his ability to not chase balls outside the strikezone is a promising sign. 

David Murphy may be relegated to 4th outfielder status.  He struggled last season to make consistent contact and saw his K% dramatically increase from 16.9% to 24.5% in his second full season.  I would expect his K% to come back down a bit but unless Murphy can show consistent power (his ISO dropped from .190 to .178 in 2009) his role may be reduced.

Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz round out the rest of the OF.  Hamilton battled injuries last season and saw increases to his K and BB%.  A few negative trends I see in Hamilton's career is the increase over the past three seasons to swings outside the strikezone and a steady decrease in overall contact %.  Not good signs and could be precursors to later struggles.

Nelson Cruz provides the necessary right-handed bat while scoring better than average defensively in RF.  Cruz will be 29 at the start of the season and I would expect some variance considering his extremely high HR/FB rate of 21% last season coupled with his high K rate and low contact percentage (67% last season).

Next Season's Forecast: The Rangers are intent on acquiring a RH bat and Milton Bradley's name has been tossed around but a lot of the success of this team will depend on how well their young starters hold up.  It will be tough, based on how notoriously friendly their ballpark is to hitters, to convince a Rich Harden, Ben Sheets or Erik Bedard to take less money and years in order to revive their careers and value in Texas. 

If Scott Feldman and Derek Holland can pitch 150+ quality innings then this rotation should be fine since Dustin Nippert and Guillermo Moscoso will probably be called on to spot start 10 games a piece.  I would worry about Neftali Feliz's usage next season.  Including the minors, Feliz has pitched a total of 127 innings in 2008 and 108 innings last season. If he makes the 25 man roster on opening day it would be quite a task to expect 180+ innings out of him based on his age and frequent usage of his fastball. 

As it stands, I don't see this team toppling the Angels for the top spot in the AL West since I expect this team to go through some growing pains.  However, I do like the direction this team is going and if one of their young pitchers could develop into a bonafide #1 starter this team will be competitive sooner rather than later.

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