Who Will Be The Fifth Member of the Rangers Rotation

Haren
One of my daily rituals after awakening from my brief slumber every morning is to peruse the fresh, daily material from Baseball Prospectus. Thanks to my wonderful and benevolent SDI boss, Patrick Despain, I currently am not required to pay the $4.95 monthly fee for the privilege to read the enlightening and compelling filtered material provided by BP. Recently, BP has been releasing a fantasy baseball preview for each team shortly after the team’s top 10 prospect list is revealed. The Texas Rangers top 10 prospect list was released earlier this week headed by second baseman Rougned Odor, followed by Jorge Alfaro and Chi Chi Gonzalez. If one is of the opinion the Rangers “window” for a championship might be closing, I encourage one to read the piece to assure yourself of future baseball bliss and euphoria.
Since the Rangers top 10 prospect list was released earlier in the week, the fantasy team at BP posted the fantasy preview for the Rangers this morning. Me being the baseball statistics and fantasy nerd I am, I was definitely interested to read what the fantasy gurus had to say about 2014 season.

One relevant piece of information I must mention before proceeding is the fantasy team at BP does not speculate as to which free agents will sign with each club, and instead only projects the players currently with the organization. Meaning, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury are not anywhere to be found in the Rangers piece. So, while I did find the fantasy soothsayers projection of Ian Kinsler moving to first base rather riveting, I want to actually discuss their prognostication of the Rangers rotation in ’14.

Predictably, the top four was Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Martin Perez (and one would advise becoming accustomed to this quartet as they are all locked up through at least 2016). However, I found the choice for the fifth and final starter to be rather intriguing as they chose Alexi Ogando over other internal options such as Nick Tepesch, Neftali Feliz, and perhaps Robbie Ross. Ogando has had trouble staying healthy recently, and while his injuries are said not to be related to an expanded workload, one has to wonder whether he is physically able to handle starter innings. Due to the fact I am dubious of Ogando being able to handle a starter’s workload, even as the less valuable fifth starter in the rotation, I thought I would investigate which pitcher, both internally and externally, would make a decent fit in the Rangers ’14 rotation. We will begin with the external possibilities.

External Options

David Price

I thought I would immediately begin with Price as I realize he is the sexy name which attracts the most attention. However, trading for Price would probably be the most ignorant move the front office could make. The Rays do have a right to demand a king’s ransom for the 2012 Cy Young Award winner as Price is certainly one of the elite pitchers in baseball, but if the rumored return package for Price includes Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor, and potentially more as ESPN baseball insider Buster Olney suggested, that could be one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory. I realize Olney is great at what he does, but this trade suggestion is totally asinine.

Profar was the number one prospect in all of baseball heading into 2013, and Odor is currently the Rangers number one overall prospect of a potent farm system which graduated Profar and Martin Perez in ’13. Not only would the Rays receive their starting shortstop with multiple years of cost-effective control, but they would also be receiving their starting second baseman most likely beginning in 2015 for multiple years of cost-effective team control. Even if Profar and Odor turn out to be average players at crucial up the middle positions and produce 2 WAR a piece, the amount of cheap, young value the Rangers are trading for two years of a 28 year old pitcher with two arbitration years left on his deal before becoming a free agent is not worth the price. Russell Carelton details the value of cost-effective wins by younger players, especially position players, in this piece here.http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=22202

Teams are becoming smarter and more prudent in realizing the value younger players provide. Cheap, cost-effective value is paramount in today’s game, and for a team whose GM has stressed placing an emphasis on the farm system and development, the rumored package for Price would be far too exorbitant. The Rangers do need to figure out what to do with Profar and the middle infield situation going forward, but the package mentioned by Olney would be the type of move a myopic organization would make, and the Rangers are not that.

Josh Johnson

2013 was a disappointment in Johnson’s first year in the American League with Toronto as he yielded a 6.20 ERA in only 81.1 innings. The former Marlin also experienced dwindling velocity on his fast ball. However, Johnson did generate some encouraging numbers which would seem to predict a bounce back effort in ’14.

Johnson – 2013
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I have mentioned in past articles the predictive value of the xFIP statistic, and how teams are beginning to pay for the predictive value of it while ignoring a more inconsistent stat such as ERA. The 2 year, $35 million dollar deal signed by Tim Lincecum last month would seem to suggest teams are willing to overpay for a pitcher who posted a high ERA, but low xFIP. Johnson could potentially be one of these pitchers as he yielded an admirable 3.58 xFIP, almost three runs lower than his ERA.

There is much value in a pitcher who strikes out a lot of hitters, does not walk many, and induces a ton of worm killers. The high BABIP number was 54 points above his career average, and with Johnson leaving a career low of 63.3% of runners on base, the numbers indicate Johnson will regress back towards being a decent pitcher as he likely experienced a small sample of failure and bad luck in ’13.

Johnson is also appealing because he was not extended a qualifying offer by Toronto, which means he will not cause a team choosing outside of the top ten of the first round in next year’s draft to forfeit their cherished first round selection. However, with indications that teams are beginning to pay for predictive value, the cost for Johnson could be higher than one would be comfortable paying.

If Johnson was willing to accept an incentive laden one year deal, and that is a big if, he could potentially provide a lot of value as Steamer projects him to yield a 2.4 fWAR in ’14. Also, if he pitches well in ’14, he could potentially earn the team who signed him a compensation pick in the first round of the 2015 draft.

Roberto Hernandez

The pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona produced underwhelming numbers in ’13 with Tampa Bay as his 4.89 ERA and 0.2 fWAR in 151 innings of work would indicate, but like Johnson, Hernandez provided value in other areas.

Hernandez – 2013
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One might be sensing a trend here, low xFIP, solid K%, low BB%, high GB%. Hernandez was rated by Dave Cameron as the second best bargain of the offseason, and a pitcher who could be worth much more than what a team pays him. If Texas chooses to allocate the majority of their available resources to bolster the offense, and decides an internal option is not worthy of being given the final spot in the rotation, Hernandez would be a superb signing. Hernandez will be cheaper than Johnson, will not cost your team a draft pick, and is projected by Steamer to produce a 3.72 ERA. Not bad for the fifth member of your rotation.

Dan Haren

The major concern with Haren is the reduced fast ball velocity as he has not averaged 90 MPH since 2010, but despite what many perceived as a poor season for the Nationals, Haren actually was not terrible.  

Haren – 2013
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Haren is unlike Hernandez and Johnson in that he does not induce many ground balls, and is more of a fly ball pitcher. So, one would assume he would not be an ideal fit for RBiA. But, with the possibility of a reduced jet stream at The Templehttp://shutdowninning.com/7/post/2013/11/mlb-and-texas-rangers-home-runs-in-2013.html , Haren’s propensity to strike out hitters and keep his walks to a minimum could be highly desirable. Haren also tends to get a lot of outs by infield fly balls as his 10.2% IFFB in ’13 was right at his career average of 10.3%.

Haren appeared to be victimized by an elevated home run rate and BABIP in the first half of ’13, but after a stay on the disabled list, the numbers eventually regressed to normal over the larger sample in the second half.

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Haren was a rumored trade piece late in the season, but no team was willing to cave in to Washington’s asking price, and rightfully so as teams knew Haren would be available in the off season anyways. The former Angel just turned 33, and should be an affordable addition for a team seeking a back end of the rotation starter. More importantly, Haren will not cost a team choosing outside of the top 10 a first round draft pick next June as Washington did not give Haren a qualifying offer.

Masahiro Tanaka

Obviously, Texas has had success acquiring pitching from Japan, but Jon Daniels has already stated he is not interested in any long-term commitments with pitchers. Tanaka’s numbers look phenomenal, and according to a scout, Tanaka’s splitter is better than any pitch Yu Darvish throws.

The Rangers, and many other teams for that matter, would love to have Tanaka, but his posting price and contract will probably be too exorbitant for the Rangers to become too heavily involved. However, I will note that at the Paranoid Fan meet and greet last week, baseball writer Jonah Keri did say he would not be surprised if the Rangers pursue Tanaka. So, there is that.

Internal Options

Alexi Ogando

Ogando would seem to be the most logical choice as he has earned a trip to the All-Star Game in 2011 as a starting pitcher, and started 18 games in ’13. If one were to glance at Ogando’s numbers in ’13 that appear on the backs of baseball cards, 7-4 record and 3.11 ERA, one would assume Ogando had a productive season. However, Ogando spent quite a bit of time on the disabled list, and the numbers indicate Alexi experienced some luck on balls in play.  

Ogando – 2013
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The xFIP statistic indicates Ogando is due for quite a regression. The xFIP, BB%, and LOB% were all career highs, while the K% reached a career low. Ogando’s .254 BABIP was near his career average of .257, but the majority of his early BABIP success was when he was throwing a blazing fast ball which hitters had difficulty squaring up. Ogando’s fast ball velocity in ’13 of 93.5, and his IFFB% were also career lows. Here’s another disturbing trend in regards to Ogando.

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One will notice hitters were beginning to lay off of Ogando’s stuff both inside and outside of the strike zone, but still making more contact than in 2012, a year when Ogando spent the majority of the season in the bullpen. These numbers and Ogando’s ’13 slash of .231/.312/.366 suggests he was allowing base runners, and then experiencing some luck when hitters put the ball in play. If Ogando were to continue having success in ’14, he would need to increase the K%, and decrease the BB%.

Part of Ogando’s issues could have been injury related, but Ogando has had trouble developing a much needed third pitch to remain a formidable starting pitcher. If Ogando were moved back to the bullpen, he could abandon the third pitch and remain focused on blowing his fast ball by hitters. The perfect role for a pitcher similar to Ogando would be a bridge reliever, similar to the role Mariano Rivera had in 1996 before becoming a closer the following year when John Wetteland left via free agency. This might be hard to fathom, but Rivera yielded his most valuable season of his career in terms of fWAR in ’96 with 4.3 when he was recording the outs in the seventh and eighth innings, rather than just the ninth. Yes, the outs preceding the ninth are just as valuable, if not more valuable.

Due to the fact Ogando has been used as a starter, this type of role would seem to be ideal and one he could handle due to previously pitching over 100 innings twice. If Ogando is used in the bullpen, you minimize the chances of his overall numbers inflating because he is pitching in a small sample where success is more likely. Attempting to turn Ogando into a starter is reasonable as starters provide more value, but Ogando appears to be more of a fit in the pen.


Nick Tepesch

Due to various injuries in the rotation last season, Tepesch actually started 17 games, threw 93 innings, and generated an fWAR of 1.2. While the sample is certainly limited, Tepesch produced numbers in ’13 which would seem to indicate future success. 

Tepesch – 2013
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Tepesch’s .309 BABIP is a stark contrast to Alexi Ogando’s .254 mark, despite allowing less contact than Ogando. The most appealing thing about Nick Tepesch is he will not be paid much at all in ’14. If Tepesch is the fifth member of the rotation, he could potentially provide cheap, young cost-effective value, and allows the Rangers to use the majority of their financial flexibility to improve the offense.

Robbie Ross

Despite Robbie’s ERA increasing from 2.22 in ’12 to 3.03 in ’13, Robbie still pitched well out of the bullpen last year. The perception was Robbie had difficulty retiring LHH, and for the most part he did, but the left hander was mainly hurt by a .438 BABIP against same-sided hitters. There is very little chance of such a high BABIP being repeated.  

Ross – 2013
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Ross actually increased his strike out percentage, and decreased his walks. His GB% did decrease, but a 62.4% worm killer percentage is not sustainable. The BABIP will more than likely drop substantially, and the xFIP suggests Ross will be effective in ’14. Ross is currently being used as a starter in winter ball, and has pitched well. While one might currently be cynical, Robbie’s chances of pitching in the rotation should be taken seriously.

Neftali Feliz

Feliz was one of the game’s elite closers before being moved into the starting rotation in ’12. Feliz would only pitch 42.2 innings before being shut down in May of ’12 with arm problems, and eventually required Tommy John Surgery.

Feliz returned to action in the final month of ’13, appearing in six games. His fast ball velocity was down, but that was to be expected. Feliz did throw a change-up more often than he had in the past, but it was a very small sample. As previously mentioned, starters are certainly more valuable. So attempting to convert Feliz into a starter made sense, but he seems better suited being used out of the pen. Steamer projects the right hander to throw 65 innings in ’14, and if he were able to do that, the Rangers would be ecstatic.

Conclusion

Based on the evidence, I would not feel comfortable with Alexi Ogando as the fifth member of the rotation as BP predicted. If one had to rank which pitchers I would prefer used in the starting rotation, I would rank Hernandez first, followed by Tepesch, and then Ross. Johnson is intriguing, but his probable salary and injury history lead me to feel more comfortable going another direction.

Who becomes the fifth starter ultimately might not matter much as Peter Ellwood wrote here http://shutdowninning.com/5/post/2013/03/fifth-starters.html , but determining the final rotation spot could potentially impact what else the front office is able to do when constructing the roster.

Who do you feel should be the 5th member of the rotation? Will it be someone not on this list? Do the Rangers need to add more than one starter due to the Matt Harrison injury situation? Let us know.  

Dustin Dietz is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Dustin.Dietz@shutdowninning.com or on Twitter @DustinDietz18
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