2017 Position Preview – The Rotation

With a little under a month before Pitchers and Catchers report, we’ll look at the 2017 Texas Rangers. We’ll go position by position and we start with the Rotation.

In 2016: For the most part, starting pitchers for last year’s Rangers were just okay. “Okay” is not just a word picked out of the air.

  • Starter ERA: 4.38, 16th in the Majors, 9th in the American League.
  • Strikeouts: 729, 22nd in the Majors, 12th in the American League.
  • Walks: 344, 2nd in the Majors, 1st in the American League (Note: That’s not good.)
  • Starter Innings Pitched: 921.1, 11th in the Majors, 6th in the American League.
  • Opponent Batting Average: .260, T-10th in the Majors, T-5th in the American League.
  • Home Runs Surrendered: 135, T-9th in the Majors, 8th in the American League

As you can see, there was no major category in which the rotation really dominated. For a team whose strength was the bullpen, that’s no real surprise. The leaders in games started were Cole Hamels (as you might expect) and Martin Perez (as you might not expect). Perez made one more start than Hamels, who skipped one game early in the season. Following these two was actually A.J. Griffin, who was 2016’s biggest reclamation project. Griffin, who will compete for a temporary rotation spot in 2017, started off brilliantly before an injury. When he returned, the former Oakland Athletic was not nearly as sharp and effective. Perhaps this was a result of missing two years of active competition. Perhaps it was out of desperation and desire to remain on a Major League roster. Whatever it was, Griffin showed just enough to warrant another chance with Texas, but not enough to secure a rotation spot.

The other two primary rotation spots belonged to a combination of Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Yu Darvish. Lewis, at age 36 and coming off of his most successful season ever, was well on the way to being an All-Star. A strained lat muscle in late June thwarted all chances of that and Lewis never really pitched the same again. His performance down the stretch unfortunately may have spelled the end of his time in a Texas uniform for 2017.

Darvish had the opposite problem. The Rangers played it safe with Darvish’s rehab from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander did not make his 2016 debut until late May, made three starts, and returned to the disabled list. Citing neck and shoulder pain, the move to the DL may have been more precautionary, but was still a factor in his health. When he returned, Darvish only had two clunkers the rest of the way. He allowed five runs against Houston and seven against Oakland, both in September. Besides those, Darvish routinely pitched six and seven innings per outing. He looked every bit as sharp and strong as he had in his first few years with Texas.

The most disappointing performance came from Derek Holland. Then again, after a recurring pattern of underachievement, 2016 wasn’t exactly a surprise. Holland was viewed as an X-Factor in the 2016 Rangers rotation. While an inflammation of his pitching shoulder certainly prohibited any kind of breakout year, his performance while healthy did nothing to instill confidence. Holland pitched to a 7-9 record with a 4.95 ERA in just 20 starts and eventually moved to the bullpen. He never really grew to be comfortable in that role, and his Rangers tenure ended in a fizzle.

In 2017: The proposed primary starting rotation for 2017 probably looks very strange to someone stuck in 2013. Yes, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez will toe the rubber for Texas. But if you told a 2013 fan that Cole Hamels, Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner would round out the rotation, they’d probably be really excited.

This isn’t going to be the same Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross though. Signed for a guaranteed $10 million and $6 million respectively, both pitchers are essentially reclamation projects. Cashner split 2016 between the Padres and Marlins, making just 27 starts and totaling a 5.25 ERA. The reduced number of starts were due to two different DL stints – one for a neck strain and one for a hamstring strain. The Rangers had their eye on the Fort Worth native Cashner for a while due to his upside and potential. Now, betting on a one-time searing fastball and a great change-up and slider, the Rangers are looking for the 30-year old to finally achieve his potential.

Ross, a former Padre in his own right, has more than just health to prove. After a shoulder injury wiped out all but Opening Day for the 29 year old, the longtime Ranger target found himself without a job. The Padres decided not to tender a contract to the deceptively hard-throwing righty, despite the tremendous upside Ross still possesses. Jon Daniels is banking on that upside, having signed the fastball-slider pitcher to an incentive-laden $6 million contract, while Ross might not even be ready for Opening Day.

With that in mind, the initial fifth starter position, still an important slot for the two-time AL West champs, has plenty of pitchers vying for it. A.J. Griffin, who avoided arbitration with a $2 million contract, is the front-runner for the temporary fifth spot. Right behind him are perennial prospect pitchers Nick MartinezChi-Chi Gonzalez, and Rule-5 pick up Michael Hauschild will also be vying to start April 4th as the Rangers’ fifth starter. Hauschild may have a leg up on the competition, simply due to his status as a Rule-5 pick. Should the 26-year old not make the Rangers’ roster out of Spring Training as a starter or long reliever, he’ll be placed on waivers or offered back to the Astros for $50,000.

From the Hot Stove: Cashner and Ross were the Rangers’ Winter moves for the rotation. While many Rangers fans would have desired Chris Sale or Jose Quintana from the White Sox, the truth is that Texas just doesn’t have the package available to acquire a starter of that caliber. Instead, Texas will go into battle in 2017, much the same way they have the previous several years. They will rely on their internal depth, coupled with reclamation projects with something to prove, to push each other to step up and over-achieve. That will get them to the mid-season Trade Deadline. That’s where Texas has pooled more resources to help the Major League team.

The “Richard Durrett” Three Questions at this position:

  1. Knowing that Texas didn’t have a package suitable to get a front-line starter in a trade, do you think Jon Daniels did as good a job as he could have to compete in 2017?
  2. What pitcher would you like to see the Rangers pursue if they’re still in it at the deadline?
  3. Given all the opportunities they’ve had to step up in the last couple of years, what happens to Nick Martinez and Chi-Chi Gonzalez if they don’t make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training?
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Matt Fisher
Matt Fisher is an Editor/Staff Writer for ShutdownInning. He is a baseball lifer, preferring to use the eye test and rely on the knowledge and analysis of baseball minds greater than his, while using relevant stats to encourage situational discussions. He is also co-host of The Most Valuable Podcast on the NextWave Radio Network, talking sports, entertainment, and sports entertainment.

While Matt's favorite team will always be his hometown Texas Rangers, he knows the ongoing story lines of every team in Major League Baseball. If you sit next to him at a game, be prepared to hear him try and do play-by-play. If you're famous and reading this, just know that he's not afraid to drop names.

Matt Fisher. ShutdownInning Editor/Staff Writer

2 comments

  • 1) Yes. Sometimes not making a move at all is the right move. Given the cost of doing business for trades this winter, JD made the right decision not to bankrupt the farm by blowing what was left of the top-level prospects. JD is not only trying to preserve what’s left of the farm system, but also working within a budget set by the ownership group that is restrictive, relative to the market strength of DFW.
    2) Depends on who is selling in July. I liked DeSclafini as a target last season’s deadline. I still don’t think Gallo has a place in this team’s future, so I wouldn’t be sad to see him traded to bolster the rotation this July.
    3) I’ve seen enough of Martinez and Gonzalez over the last couple years. If they appear on the 25 man roster this season as a starter for anything other than spot starts or long relief, that will mean that plans didn’t go according to Hoyle, and once again injuries have plagued the rotation. I think they both need a full, uninterrupted season of instruction at Round Rock because they both appear to be nothing more than AAAA players right now.

  • 1) Knowing that Texas didn’t have a package suitable to get a front-line starter in a trade, do you think Jon Daniels did as good a job as he could have to compete in 2017? As it pertains to the rotation, I do believe so. The prospect cost that was shown for this off-season was something I would not have been comfortable parting with for the arms that were available. We also have to keep in mind that although these were the moves made by JD, they were very likely not the initial plan. The ability of a GM to pivot when plan A doesn’t come to fruition is a good test of a solid GM, and I believe JD did very well this off-season. I would be more comfortable if another 1B/DH/OF bat is added on a 1-2 year deal.
    2) What pitcher would you like to see the Rangers pursue if they’re still in it at the deadline? Vince Velasquez or Anthony DeSclafini. Alex Cobb if he comes back healthy.
    3) Given all the opportunities they’ve had to step up in the last couple of years, what happens to Nick Martinez and Chi-Chi Gonzalez if they don’t make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training? As anti-prospect fans (not me) always say, prospects are merely “prospects” until proven otherwise. This may be the case for this duo of arms.

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