2016 Position Preview – The Starting Rotation
Welcome one, welcome all. We’ve just turned the page of the calendar year to 2016, and with that comes the promise and premise of another season of Major League Baseball. For your Texas Rangers, who sit at the top of the American League West mountain (and a mountain it is!), they have a strong set of teams to defend against, especially for a team that just squeaked by as Division Champions. Indeed, the title was not fully secure until the final day of the season, when a man, who was picked up mid-season, did what he was picked up to do a lot sooner than anyone could have dreamed.
Over the next six weeks, we will be taking a look at the 2016 Texas Rangers position by position, including the bench, bullpen and coaching staff. We’ll do two a week and you’ll always be able to click towards the top of each article to find exactly which position you’re interested in or need to re-visit, like this:
- Week 1: The Rotation; Catcher
- Week 2: First Base; Second Base
- Week 3: Third Base, Shortstop
- Week 4: Left Field, Center Field
- Week 5: Right Field, The Bench
- Week 6: The Bullpen, The Coaching Staff
Please keep in mind that all of these outlooks are written as of the date at the top of the article – any moves made to bolster or alter those positions after the article was written will be analyzed by the SDI staff in a separate article.
Without further adieu, let’s kick things off with the most promising position on the field for the Rangers…
In 2015: Trying to remember the rotation that started for the Rangers before Cole Hamels arrived on the scene may cause neck trauma from all the head shaking.
Behind Colby Lewis, the season’s most reliable pitcher, and Yovani Gallardo, the season’s second most reliable pitcher, you had a virtual “Who’s That” of arms trying their best to keep the Rangers in games.
Remember when Wandy Rodriguez looked like he should be the front of this rotation for a time? From May through June, the 36-year old lefty, who was looking to just get back into the game, led the Rangers to a 9-2 record in his starts and Rodriguez had an ERA of just under 4.00. He featured a disgusting looking curveball (this is a good thing!) and a bulldog mentality on the mound. The only two games that he didn’t go five innings or more, the team lost, and by the point when it was time to swap him out for Hamels, he left everyone with the same thought: For $507,000, that was a really, really productive acquisition.
Remember when Ross Detwiler was traded for in the off-season and looked at as a “Change of Scenery” type pitcher who might thrive behind Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Lewis? That will segue into the next paragraph, but Detwiler’s tenure with the Rangers did nothing to boost his confidence or enhance his stock. He would go win-less in 7 starts with Texas, contributing to the overall starter ERA of 4.32 with his own 7.12 before the Rangers cut ties with him.
The 2015 Rangers rotation was wracked with injury from the get-go, with Darvish succumbing to Tommy John surgery and Derek Holland missing the first half of the season yet again, needing shoulder surgery after throwing one inning in his first start of the season. Martin Perez didn’t make his return until after the All-Star Break, recovering from his own Tommy John surgery. Matt Harrison was a heart-warming story, having come back from spine surgery to take a Major League mound picking up an unprecedented win, although he ended up being a side-piece thrown in to acquire Cole Hamels. Even once the rotation was at full strength, with Hamels, Lewis, Gallardo, Holland and Perez, inconsistencies kept threatening to break the rotation apart. Hamels was the one constantly good pitcher, as Lewis, Holland and Perez all dealt with control and composure issues (we didn’t find out until Exit Interviews that Lewis, the team leader in wins and innings pitched, had been pitching 3/4 of the season with a torn meniscus), and Gallardo couldn’t get out of the 6th inning on a good day. Despite all of that, a starting pitcher’s job is to keep his team in the game, and when Jon Daniels augmented the bullpen, allowing for manager Jeff Banister to have a quicker hook when necessary, those pitchers could say that they did just that.
In 2016: As it seems to have been for the last couple of seasons, the projected rotation for the Texas Rangers looks really, really nice…on paper…in January. Indeed, all of those qualifiers are important, as anything can happen A) in Spring Training, and B) to Derek Holland. As it stands right now, Cole Hamels is 99.9% your Opening Day starter, with Holland, Colby Lewis, and Martin Perez as probable locks behind him.
After that, there will be LOTS of internal competition for the fifth, and possibly even the fourth, spot in the rotation, at least to hold down the fort until the return of Yu Darvish. Even then, just because a pitcher doesn’t make the big league club right out of Spring Training doesn’t mean they won’t be useful at some point down the road. Darvish, for all of the glory we have bestowed upon him, is a bigger unknown than Derek Holland. While the Japanese-Iranian strikeout beast is a phenomenal athlete with every indication that all systems will be go when he returns, he is still going to be recovering from Tommy John surgery – that means innings limits, strict pitch count regimens, extended rest, skipped starts, and if you want to go intangible, the mental toll on someone who doesn’t want to have to deal with all of the aforementioned restrictions. With all of that in mind, if anyone can come back and be just as dominant as before, it’s Yu Darvish.
As for the internal competition, Texas still has a wealth of options for decent number five starting pitchers. Chi-Chi Gonzalez and Nick Martinez seem to be at the forefront of those discussions, with each pitcher having made 10 and 21 starts for the club respectively. All told, Gonzalez has the higher ceiling and is the more probable of the two to get more seasoning and experience in Triple A. Normally, Nick Tepesch would also be a name grouped in here, but the Rangers decided to not tender him a contract after the 2015 season. That move was made with the intent of clearing 40-man roster space and then trying to bring back Tepesch on a minor league deal, but Tepesch seems to think he can be better utilized elsewhere (he may be right), and is floating in Free Agency. Currently, the Rangers have Double-A starter Jose LeClerc (not likely), Single-A starter Yohander Mendez (really not likely), Anthony Ranaudo (possible), and Phil Klein (not as possible) as starting pitcher candidates on the 40-man roster.
The more curious case might be former Oakland A’s right-hander A.J. Griffin. After suffering setbacks during recovery from his 2014 Tommy John surgery, the Athletics released the 27-year old and he latched on with the Rangers on a minor-league contract with an invitation to Spring Training – giving him a good sporting chance at making the club. Over his two seasons in Oakland, Griffin posted a 21-11 record with a 3.60 ERA in 47 starts. Now, with a training staff that has a good amount of experience in assisting with pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery, Griffin could potentially be 2016’s Wandy Rodriguez for the Rangers. He could also be a non-factor, but there’s competitive, high-leverage Major League experience in Griffin’s arm and mind, which Martinez and Gonzalez, the two most-likely internal candidates for a rotation spot, do not have.
From the Hot Stove: Griffin was a move made after the Athletics designated him for assignment. Colby Lewis is technically a free agent signee, although there was roughly a 15% chance that he would sign with another club. Lewis also comes to the team at a relative bargain; with pitchers of Lewis’ caliber getting 2-4 year deals at anywhere from $8-12 million per year, Daniels was able to bring the big righty from Bakersfield back at a mere $6 million. While Texas is likely not going to make another multi-year commitment to a starting pitcher, bringing on other starters on Minor League deals certainly isn’t out of the question, and let’s not forget that trades can still be made in Spring Training.
The “Richard Durrett” Three Questions at this position:
- What are you expecting out of Yu Darvish?
- Who’s your most likely candidate to fill the last spot in the rotation for Opening Day?
- Do Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, and Martin Perez finish out the season as the five rotation pitchers? If your answer is no, who’s going where, and who’s taking his spot?
Come back on Wednesday, when we preview the position marked “2” on your scorecard.