What defined their 2019 campaign?
Nothing describes the Texas Rangers‘ seasons better than the term “a middle-of-the-pack team”. For the most of the 2019 campaign, the Arlington-based team was just that – statistically and record-wise, en route to a 78-84 record and a third-place finish in the AL West.
The starting rotation, despite a strong year by Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, turned out to be a real disappointment, posting the sixth-worst ERA in the majors. That way, the bottom part of the rotation was one of the biggest priorities for general manager Jon Daniels going into a busy 2019/2020 offseason in which the Rangers needed to establish a contender in what is likely to be Minor’s final year in Texas. The 2020 season’s is Chris Woodward’s second with the organisation. It also just happens to be the Rangers’ inaugural in their new home, Globe Life Field.
The Rangers scored 810 runs, 12th-most in MLB, in 2019. They will face the tough challenge to replicate those numbers without one of their most consistent hitters, the 36-year-old Hunter Pence, who landed a one-year deal with the San Francisco Giants via free agency. The good news – shortstop Elvis Andrus accepted his qualifying offer and is staying put in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Joey Gallo led the team in WAR with 3.0 and, despite playing in just 70 games, provided power hitter value on the top of his homerun-or-strikeout hazard for the first time in his five-year big-league career. Danny Santana also put on impressive showing batting .283 and driving in 81 runs.
Notable additions: Nick Goody, Corey Kluber, Jordan Lyles, Kyle Gibson, Derek Law, Robinson Chirinos, Todd Frazier, Sam Travis, Cody Allen, Greg Bird, Blake Swihart
Notable departures: Hunter Pence, Logan Forsythe, Emmanuel Clase, Delino DeShields, Nomar Mazara
The Rangers hit the jackpot in mid-December when they completed a trade to acquire Corey Kluber that might have come cheaper than expected with DeShields and Clase going to Cleveland. That opened the door for Daniels to keep on improving a rotation that lacked depth and to say that he has fixed it, at least on paper, would be an understatement.
Starting righties Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles, in addition to Kluber, cap off a strong winter for the Rangers and their rotation, in particular. Wei-Chieh Huang and Edinson Vólquez are coming back to the bullpen but, with four of the game’s most durable starters, the rotation is bound to be the real deal on the mound this upcoming year.
On the other hand, Daniels failed in what was reportedly his biggest goal – strengthening the batting lineup. Rumours had Anthony Rendon going to Texas but that never turned into reality – instead, Texas had to settle for Todd Frazier at third base. Still, if Danny Santana’s success becomes a constant, then the Rangers might not lose too much offensive production. If they manage to do so, the rotation could push the team forward and make it a legitimate force to be reckoned with.
Possible one-through-five: Kluber-Minor-Lynn-Gibson-Lyles
The Rangers have on their hands maybe one of the best rotations in all of baseball. Minor and Lynn were beyond great but were victims of a mediocre effort by players like Ariel Jurado and Adrian Sampson. However, that isn’t to erase the fact that both of them posted an ERA south of 4.00 and won at least 14 games.
Now imagine the prospect of Kluber pitching a healthy season – he’s probably having a better year than both. The last year the 2-time Cy Young winner pitched a full season, the case was no different – 2.89 ERA, 20-7 record and a 3rd-place finish in the AL Cy Young Award voting. That’s not even the best season in his career.
Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles provide tremendous value at the 4-5 spots. Nobody’s questioning Gibson but it’s easy to overlook Lyles, who went 7-1 with 2.89 ERA after being traded to the Brewers at the trade deadline.
Gallo on the upswing
Joey Gallo is providing unique numbers in unique statistical categories. He was the first player with 100+ homers to have more homers than singles. He’s been that way for most of his tenure with Texas.
His focus didn’t shift in 2019. He had hit 40 homers in consecutive years and was probably a sure bet to make it three in a row if not for an injury that put him on the 60-day IL and ended his great campaign. What changed? He now delivers in situations he’d otherwise be clueless in.
While his strikeout percentage still went up from 35.9% to 38.4%, Gallo was an OPS guy that the homerun, no-hit Gallo from the past could only dream of being. His on-base numbers went beyond the league average and his .986 OPS was then ninth-best amongst batters with 250+ at-bats.
It’s still up in the air whether he can sustain that over twice as many plate appearances but his first All-Star campaign, which also included the only homer of the All-Star Game in Cleveland, was his most encouraging yet.
Despite being more flawed than during 2018, Jose Leclerc was solid as the Rangers closer in 2019. That certainly cannot be said about the relief pitching staff as a whole. This same staff posted the 10th-highest bullpen ERA and cannot be given credit until a bounce-back becomes a part of the agenda.
However, there’s a trick here – Rangers relievers also pitched the 10th-most innings and a mere throwback to last year shows us that literally every team inside the top 10, except for the Rays, had an awful year on the mound. For all those teams, starting pitching issue stems from using the bullpen just too often.
Continuity and durable pitching out of the rotation could be huge factors for a comeback from Leclerc and company. However, the bullpen is still by far the Rangers’ Achilles’ heel.
The Rangers certainly have AL Wildcard potential – the competition just has more. The rotation comes into the year with tremendous expectations and the lineup has versatility. Gallo and Santana are both trending in the right direction. The bullpen is looking to bounce back. This may not be enough to overcome Wildcard competition even inside Texas’s AL West division but they’re definitely able to enter the postseason chase and keep themselves alive late into the season.
Best case: Texas has the best rotation in baseball and exploits a shaky year by Oakland and LA to grab a Wildcard spot in the American League.
Worst case: Kluber is sidelined yet again, Lyles and Gibson can’t keep up with their past success and the lineup falls prey of their own all-or-nothing approach. The Rangers, meanwhile, finish fourth in the West and get a top 15 draft pick.
Prediction: 80-82, 3rd place in AL West