Expectations Management

The greatest source of disappointment is typically unmet expectations. I see this happen most often with movies. If a friend of mine tells me that I have to go see a movie because I’ll love it, very rarely do I find myself truly enjoying that movie. The reason being that in my mind, the standard for that movie has now been set to unrealistic levels.

In baseball, come springtime, hope always abounds for all 30 MLB clubs. Gone are the sorrows from the previous year, and now the old Dodgers mantra of “there’s always next year” has materialized into “this is our year”.

For the Rangers, they perhaps have more reason to hope than most of, if not all clubs. Two straight trips to the World Series, a young team that is gaining experience, and a couple of exciting offseason acquisitions are among several reasons to have a high standard for the 2012 baseball season for Texas Rangers fans. However, only 7% of all baseball teams make it to the World Series each year. Two consecutive trips is beating the odds, three consecutive trips is rare. Even more unique, no team since the 1923 Yankees has lost consecutive World Series, and returned for a third straight trip.

Beyond the overall pressure placed on the Texas Rangers franchise in 2012, I also have my concerns about what kind of individual performances fans think they’ll see from the nine men on the field each day. My aim is to do my part to break these bubbles of unrealistic expectations, with the hope of minimizing our collective disappointment, and optimizing our enjoyment of the 2012 baseball season.

1. The Rangers pitching rotation will regress in 2012 compared to 2011.

I am very excited about the state of the Rangers pitching staff. Led by Colby Lewis at age 31, and followed by 4 young, power arms in Derek Holland (25), Yu Darvish (25), Matt Harrison (26), and Neftali Feliz (24), there is a lot to look forward to in the future of the Rangers pitching staff. However, there are question marks throughout the rotation, despite our tendency to overlook them through our rose-colored lens.

Lewis struggled in the 2011 regular season, giving up an alarming number of home runs, while also seeing his strikeout rate fall from 2010 levels. There is no reason to expect that Lewis, one year older with an additional 223 innings on his arm, will improve from his 2011 form.

Holland and Harrison made great strides in 2011 towards achieving their potential, but they still have a long ways to go. As I wrote in my “Evolution of an Ace” piece here, after a similar season for Cliff Lee in 2005 that showed signs of improvement, he struggled the next 2 years before putting it all together in 2008. It is not out of the question that the league will adjust to these pitchers, and they’ll have to master a few finer points of their game before they truly reach that status of consistent rotation piece.

Like most, I think Darvish will be really special. But, it is not reasonable to expect that he’ll come out of the gates in 2012 pitching at the highest level he’ll reach in his MLB career. It’s going to be electrifying to watch him pitch, but for his sake, and our own, we need to refrain from the belief that he is going to be this rotation’s lead horse this season.

Neftali Feliz is without a doubt the largest question mark of the group. He has the stuff, and the pedigree, to one day have a home at the top of this rotation, but it would be a big step for him to make that jump this year – perhaps too big of a step.

Beyond these question marks, the 2011 Rangers rotation was unremarkably healthy, at a near unsustainable level. Only five starts were made all year by a pitcher besides the original five-man rotation, by far the lowest number of any team in Major League Baseball.

2. Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz will not play 150 games

The DL trip for Hamilton and Cruz seems to be an annual event in Arlington. Every Spring, both players have committed to new techniques or playing styles to prevent any season-limiting injuries. To this point in time, these efforts have been fruitless, and there is no reason to anticipate that trend changing in the future.

The good news is that the Rangers have constructed a versatile and deep roster, and although without the big bats of Hamilton and Cruz the lineup is much less potent, the drop-off to greater playing time for David Murphy in the outfield is not so significant that this team can’t be competitive.

3.  Mitch Moreland will not be an above-average first baseman

Unless the asking price for Prince Fielder comes down significantly, it appears the Rangers are committed to Moreland being the 2012 first baseman. This is all well and good, but we should not be mistaken in thinking that this means that Moreland will ascend to some new level of ability as a major league first baseman.

Some would make the argument that he is still young, and has room to improve at the big league level. Others will say that Moreland was severely hampered by a wrist injury in 2011, and so he will certainly be an important piece to this team in 2012. I think both of these arguments are flawed. First, Moreland is 26, so he is hardly a young prospect any longer. Second, it is bold to assume that all of Moreland’s second-half struggles were a result of his wrist injury, and not because of major league pitchers adjusting their game plan to attack his weaknesses. Even if we made such an assumption, combining Moreland’s 2010 season and the first half of 2011 (his best days in the major leagues), he sports a slash line of .266/.345/.456. This is absolutely acceptable, as long as the height of your expectation level is an average MLB first baseman.

There is no reason to think this Rangers team can’t win it all in 2012. I’ve only provided for you a couple of reasons why it’s dangerous to expect them to win it all in 2012. It’s important to maintain perspective – it is extremely difficult to make the playoffs in the MLB, and even more difficult to reach the World Series. If nothing else, let’s take this as a reason to appreciate the 2010 and 2011 Rangers seasons all the more.

This is also still a Rangers team with a roster filled with hungry and motivated players, led by a cavalcade of talented front office individuals and an ownership committed to winning. All the pieces are here, and you know I’ll be cheering my guts out for all 1,458 innings of Rangers baseball that are played in 2012.

Even if this season ends without a World Series championship coming to Texas once again, that doesn’t mean we can’t love every minute of the ride along the way.

Peter is a Shut Down Inning Staff Writer. Email him at peter.ellwood@shutdowninning.com, or you can reach him on Twitter @peter_ellwood

Peter Ellwood

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