The Texas Rangers Have Question Marks in the Rotation

Published: Feb 09, 2014 00:38am EST
By Lance Rinker, Managing Editor for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Feb 09, 2014 @ 12:38am EST


The Texas Rangers made one of the bigger splashes this winter by trading long time Ranger and second baseman Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers for slugging first baseman Prince Fielder. The move further solidified their lineup by freeing up a position for top prospect Jurickson Profar and, of course, vastly improving the production at first base. Generating the offense to crush opposing pitchers shouldn’t be much of a problem this season, but a sudden lack of depth in the rotation amid injury and health concerns could nix any advantage they may have had.

The Rangers starting rotation, and pitching staff as a whole, was a top three unit in 2013 coming in behind the Detroit Tigers and being right there with the Boston Red Sox as far as overall production is concerned. Their starting staff combined for a 3.99 ERA and a 3.94 FIP while striking out over 20% of the batters they faced and holding hitters to a .252 batting average. Not bad for guys that pitch half their games in one of the more hitter, and home run, friendly ballparks in baseball.

All is not rainbows and sunshine for the team heading into the 2014 season, however, as a key member of the rotation – Derek Holland – was taken out by his dog and tore cartilage in his left knee. That injury required surgery and he is expected to be out until at least midseason. The team now heads to spring training with a rotation of Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison (who is coming off of three surgeries to repair a herniated disc in his back last year and made only two starts), Martin Perez, and Alexi Ogando. Of course there is the one spot to fill until Holland gets back but question marks litter the rotation.

Can Matt Harrison come back from those three surgeries and quickly become the near top of the rotation starter he was in 2011 and 2012?

From 2011 to 2012 Harrison was one of the better starters in baseball, posting a 3.36 ERA and 7.7 WAR while throwing 397 total innings. It’s not often that a pitcher can run through opposing batters with minimal effort most starts, especially half of them being in the Ballpark in Arlington, without genuine swing and miss stuff. However, with a groundball rate hovering a tick below 50% those two years and a willingness to pound the strike zone with your first pitch Matt Harrison was able to do just that.

The good news is that the injury had nothing to do with a shoulder or an elbow. The bad news is that it had to do with his back and required three surgeries to resolve. Harrison says that he feels 100% but the Rangers won’t really know how far along he is until they see him face live batters.

Can Martin Perez help lighten the load of the bullpen in the absence of 200-inning man Derek Holland?

Martin Perez showed the Rangers last season that he belongs in a big league rotation, but he only pitched a total of 167 and two-thirds innings between the minor and major league levels last year. Is he going to be able to handle logging upwards of 190 innings or so (innings the Rangers desperately need right now)?

There’s no telling whether Perez will improve upon certain numbers last year, namely the walk rate and the tendency to elevate his pitches from time to time. Even though his ERA was a respectable 3.62 his FIP was over one-half run higher at 4.23, which is representative of how he actually pitched. For a lefty that can hit 93-mph with his fastball you would expect a higher strikeout rate, but he is still just 23-years-old so there’s time. I’m just not sure if this is the year the Rangers should be riding him too hard to that high innings and pitch count.

Is Alexi Ogando at risk of a major injury?

The Rangers used Alexi Ogando as a reliever in 2010, then as a starter in 2011, then as a reliever again in 2012, and predominantly as a starter in 2013. Such fluctuation in his workload and the big jump and decline in pitches being thrown from year-to-year didn’t do any favors to Neftali Feliz and it’s very possible the story could be the same for Ogando at some point this season.

In addition to the injury concern, Ogando will get nowhere near the number of innings the Rangers are going to need to help keep the bullpen fresh. He pitched just 123 and one-third innings between the majors and minors last year and threw just 69 total innings in 2012.

Then of course, who slots in as the fifth starter?

In a perfect world the Texas Rangers wouldn’t have to worry much about this question because Derek Holland wouldn’t be injured, but we don’t live in a perfect world. They have at least five internal options for the final spot in the rotation.

Neftali Feliz could potentially fill some of the void but it’s unlikely he’s allowed to throw too many innings this year, which means it’s likely the bullpen for him. Colby Lewis is another in the mix since the Rangers re-signed him to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. But Lewis hasn’t pitched since the middle of 2012 due to various arm injuries that required surgery, not to mention the hip surgery he had last season.

Lefties Robbie Ross and Michael Kirkman, who were both in the bullpen last season, are expected to get looks in spring training. Ross was a starter during his minor league career but has spent the previous two seasons dominating hitters out of the bullpen. Kirkman was also a starter in the minors but he has struggled in the majors and minors for the better part of the last three seasons.

Right-hander Nick Tepesch is the pitcher to watch, in this baseball analyst’s humble opinion. Over 17 starts last season he threw 93 innings while striking out 7.35 batters per nine innings, was able to keep the free passes in check for the most part, and though his ERA was a less-than-inspiring 4.84 he did have a 4.19 FIP. If he’s able to pitch more effectively to left-handed hitters, the way he doest against righties, then he has a shot to stick in the rotation for a full season.

If I were a betting man, which I am but don’t tell anyone, then my money is on Tepesch winning the job out of spring training and very likely sticking in the rotation all season long. 


Comments (3)

  • Michael Owen   Feb 11, 2014 @ 06:18PM
    Looks like Tommy Hanson is gonna get his shot now also. Nice pickup for only $2mil...If he can return to form, the Rangers can control him til 2016 -

  • Lance Rinker   Feb 9, 2014 @ 04:10AM
    I think you're being a bit too hopeful here. They have Darvish as the only one really a lock to perform at near elite levels. Harrison is coming off of three surgeries to fix a herniated disc in his back.

    Perez's best pitch may be his change-up but he still had a tendency to elevate it and his fastball. Has plenty left to learn and I expect him to be a quality starter for the team, but not someone who's going to get you 190 innings.

    Innings are the one thing the Rangers need from their rotation and they're simply not there. I don't see it. They will be relying heavily on the bullpen this year. -

  • Michael Owen   Feb 9, 2014 @ 03:41AM
    Great article, but you failed to mention that Perez's best pitch is his changeup and his swing and miss ratio is higher on that than his fastball. Feliz,, is the Rangers closer this year. Period. Won't even get a shot at the rotation. Ogando was low inm innings last year due to 2 trips to the DL and then Bullpen after that. If he can avoid the injury bug, he's a solid #3. The key will be Lewis and if he can come back and eat some innings. -

Lance Rinker
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