Saturday, March 20, 2021

Texas Rangers 2021 Season Preview

 


       The Rangers are definitely a sleeper team. To make the playoffs? No, not even close. I am talking about them being a sleeper team to finish last in baseball. People's minds float to the Pirates, Orioles and Tigers when thinking about the league's worst teams, but the Rangers are in that conversation. Their team has seen a lot of changes over the past few years, and now new GM Chris Young has to rebuild the team from scratch. 

Offseason additions: DH Khris Davis, OF David Dahl, RHP Mike Foltynewicz, RHP Dane Dunning, 1B Nate Lowe, C Jonah Heim, IF Brock Holt, OF Delino DeShields Jr., IF Charlie Culberson, RHP Ian Kennedy, RHP Hunter Wood, RHP Nick Vincent, RHP Justin Anderson, C John Hicks, C Drew Butera.

Offseason subtractions: RHP Lance Lynn, OF Shin-Soo Choo, IF Elvis Andrus, C Jeff Mathis, RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Rafael Montero, RHP Jesse Chavez, RHP Nick Goody, IF Derek Dietrich, OF Danny Santana. 


Trade Deadline 2020 summary

Acquired: OF Marcus Smith, IF Dustin Harris.

Traded: LHP Mike Minor, C Robinson Chirinos, IF Todd Frazier.

2020 record: 22-38

2020 placement: 5th

2020 WAR leader (batter): Isiah Kiner-Falefa

2020 WAR leader (pitcher): Lance Lynn


Starting Pitchers

Lance Lynn carried the rotation last year, and now that he is gone, there is no one left. Kyle Gibson has already been announced as the Opening Day starter, and Gibson has just one season with an ERA+ over 100 in the last five years. That year came in 2018, when Gibson still had a 4.30 xERA. In 2020, he struck out 58 in 67.1 innings with a 5.35 ERA. Gibson had a 5.70 xERA, and walked ten percent of batters, and had a 1.530 WHIP. Batters had a .283 xBA and a .450 xSLG against him. Mike Foltynewicz also was great in 2018, with a 2.85 ERA, but his career has come crashing down since then. He had a 4.54 ERA in 21 starts in 2019, and after getting crushed in his first start of 2020, Foltynewicz was DFA'd, never to see the field again that year. A massive concern with Foltynewicz's first start was that his fastball was sitting 91 mph, four mph below his average in 2019. The most promising prospect in Texas' rotation is Dane Dunning, part of MLB Pipeline's top 100 prospects who was acquired for Lynn. 2020 was Dunning's rookie season as a member of the White Sox, and he had a 3.97 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 34 innings. He also had a 3.68 xERA, and a 32.6 hard hit percentage. Dunning's best pitch is a slider, which had a .116 xBA against with a 43.5 percent whiff rate last year. 28 year old Kohei Arihara comes from the Japanese League, where he had six successful seasons. For Nippon Ham in 2020, Arihara struck out 106 batters in 132.2 innings with a 3.46 ERA. He also had a 2.0 BB/9 and a 0.7 HR/9. Six-foot-seven right-hander Kyle Cody has a really good chance to make the rotation after he was productive in eight games last year. Cody had a 1.59 ERA while striking out 18 batters in 22.2 innings, allowing just 15 hits. Cody allowed just two barrels all season, and he had a .198 xBA and a .309 xSLG against. His primary two pitches are his fastball and slider, which both had an average against under .130. Kolby Allard has a 3.37 ERA in 40 AAA starts, but could not put things together in the Rangers' rotation last year. Allard had a 7.75 ERA while walking 13.2 percent of batters. He did have a 4.80 xERA, which is a big improvement considering what his actual ERA was. Taylor Hearn could also make the rotation, but he spent all of 2020 in the bullpen, and also could easily go back there. Hearn had a 3.63 ERA while striking out 23 in 17.1 innings. Hearn also had a 3.30 xERA while limiting batters to a .182 xBA and a .294 xSLG. His main issue was walks, which he did at a 14.5 percent rate. 

Relief Pitchers

The Rangers closer role is a bit of mystery after Rafael Montero was traded to Seattle. The favorite is Jose Leclerc, who was the closer in 2019 before missing just about all of 2020. While he had a 4.33 ERA in 2019, Leclerc was much better than that, striking out 100 in 68.2 innings, and having a 2.99 xERA. His .164 xBA against was among the league's leaders, as was his .266 xSLG and 28.3 hard hit percentage. Both Leclerc's slider and changeup had a whiff rate over 40 percent in '19, and his fastball averaged 96.8 mph. The breakout star of last year's bullpen was Jonathan Hernandez, who could miss some time with a UCL sprain, although at the moment Tommy John surgery is not in the plans. Hernandez had a 2.90 ERA while striking out 31 in 31 innings last year. He also had a 2.66 xERA and a .291 xSLG. His slider had a 47.7 percent whiff rate, while his changeup was at 51.7 percent. Hernandez's sinker may have only had a 16.7 percent whiff rate, but it averaged 97.7 miles per hour. Joely Rodriguez had a nice return to the MLB from Japan, before a hamstring injury made him miss time. Rodriguez had 17 strikeouts in 12.2 innings, with a 2.13 ERA. Batters went 0-for-16 against Rodriguez's changeup, with seven strikeouts. He also had a .215 xBA against. Left-hander Brett Martin pitched in 51 games as a 24 year old in 2019, but was much better in 2020, with a 1.84 ERA and a .170 xBA against. Martin only struck out eight batters in 14.2 innings, but also allowed just eight hits. Unfortunately, Martin also walked nine batters. Jordan Lyles had a 2.45 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch of 2019 with the Brewers, earning him a contract with the Rangers. His first year in Texas did not go well, as Lyles had a 7.02 ERA with just 36 strikeouts in 57.2 innings. Lyles' 45 earned runs allowed was more than any other American League pitcher. His fastball got hammered, with a .330 average against and a .651 slugging plus a 90.5 mph average exit velocity and just an 8.5 percent whiff rate. Former Royals closer Ian Kennedy is in camp on a minor league deal. Kennedy was terrible in 2020, allowing 17 runs in 14 innings with 15 strikeouts. He was a good closer in 2019, as Kennedy saved 30 games with a 3.28 xERA, a .217 xBA against and 73 strikeouts in 63.1 innings. Wes Benjamin debuted in 2020, and he had a 4.84 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 22.1 innings. Benjamin also had a 3.85 xERA, and his fastball had a .255 slugging against. Jimmy Herget is in camp on a minor league deal, but he was one of Texas' better relievers in 2020. Herget had a 3.20 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 19.2 innings. He walked 16.1 percent of batters, but he limited batters to a 27.8 hard hit percentage. 

Catchers

Top prospect Sam Huff has never played in AA or AAA, but he played really well in 10 MLB games last year. Huff had a .355 average and three home runs in the majors. Huff also had an average exit velocity of 95.7 mph. While he may not start the year on the team, Huff deserves a shot after what he did last year. If he does make the team, then Jose Trevino will probably be his backup. Trevino, whose alma mater is in the news or something, had a .715 OPS in 24 games last year. Another backup option, either for Huff or Trevino, is Jonah Heim, who debuted last year for the A's. In 35 AAA games in 2019, Heim hit four home runs with a .358 average and a .968 OPS. 

Infielders

The Rangers have a pretty big positional battle going on right now between Ronald Guzman and Nate Lowe, with the loser going to the bench. Guzman is an above-average defensive first baseman, and his .750 OPS in 26 games led the team (minimum 20 games). Still, Guzman struck out 27.9 percent of the time, and his 86.3 average exit velocity is not good. While he is not the favorite for the job, Guzman has made a good argument in Spring Training, hitting .346 with three home runs. Lowe was brought in to start at first, but he has gone just 4-for-25 so far this spring. He has 11 home runs with a .770 OPS in 71 career games, and he hit 16 home runs with a .929 OPS in 93 games at AAA in 2019. Rougned Odor has a lot of power, but his last season with an OPS+ over 100 was 2016. Odor hit 10 home runs in 2020, but he struck out at a 31.8 percent rate while only walking 4.7 percent of the time. He hit .167 with a .209 OBP last year, and while Odor usually hits the ball hard, his average exit velocity was just 86 mph last year. Odor may lose his second base spot to Nick Solak, while one of them plays third base. A 2016 2nd round pick of the Yankees, Solak had an .884 OPS in 33 games in 2019, which earned him a role in 2020. Playing in 58 games, Solak hit just two home runs with a .671 OPS. He only struck out at an eighteen percent rate, and Solak showed off his speed, swiping seven bags with a sprint speed of 28.6 ft/s. He was a terrible defender, with -8 outs above average, and -6 at second base. Isiah Kiner-Falefa has caught games in the past, but moved to third base last year, where he had six outs above average and won a Gold Glove. Kiner-Falefa will now take over for Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Offensively, he is not as good, with a .699 OPS. He did steal eight bases, and only had a 14 percent strikeout rate. The backup infielder spot is a fight between Brock Holt and Charlie Culberson, two utility players who are non-roster invitees. Holt played more in 2020, and is the favorite. He hit .262 in 20 games for the Nationals, but also went 3-for-30 in Milwaukee. Holt hit .297 with a .771 OPS for the Red Sox in 2019. Culberson only had seven at-bats last year, and had a .731 OPS in 108 games for Atlanta in 2019. 

Outfielders

Joey Gallo's skill set is so odd and unique, as he is so good at some things, and terrible at other things. Gallo was great in 2019, with a .598 slugging and a .986 OPS in 70 games. But, he hit just .181 with a .679 OPS in 2019. Gallo had a 94.8 mph average exit velocity in 2019, but that dropped by over three mph in 2020. He struck out 35 percent of the time, which sadly was a career best. Gallo also walked 12.8 percent of the time. He had two outs above average in right field, and he won his first Gold Glove. He has a 21.5 barrel percentage in his career. Former all-star David Dahl was non-tendered by the Rockies after he had a .470 OPS in 24 games. Dahl only played in 100 games in 2019, but he hit 15 home runs with a .302 average and an .877 OPS, earning him the all-star nomination. Dahl can play all three outfield positions, but he will start in left field for the Rangers. One of the team's top prospects is Leody Taveras, whose cousin Willy stole 68 bases for the Rockies in 2008. Leody is also a speed demon, swiping eight bags with a 29.1 ft/s sprint speed. Taveras had a .703 OPS in 33 games, and while he had a 10.4 walk rate, he also struck out 32.1 percent of the time. Willie Calhoun hit 21 home runs with an .848 OPS in 83 games in 2019, but he had a -1.0 WAR with a .491 OPS in 29 games in 2020. He had -2 outs above average in left field, and Dahl's arrival probably signifies Calhoun's end as a starter. For the second consecutive season, Calhoun had a 15.7 percent strikeout rate. He could alternate at DH with Khris Davis, who had two rough final seasons in Oakland. Davis was once elite at hitting the ball hard, but he just had an 87.7 mph average exit velocity and a 31.7 hard hit rate last year. He hit just two home runs in 30 games, with a .632 OPS. Eli White, who had a .460 OPS in 19 games last year, is in the race for the 4th outfielder spot after a good Spring Training. So is speedster Delino DeShields Jr., who is back with the Rangers on a minor league deal. 

Projected Rotation
Kyle Gibson (R)
Dane Dunning (R)
Mike Foltynewicz (R)
Kyle Cody (R)
Kohei Arihara (R)

Projected Bullpen
Jose Leclerc (R)
Jonathan Hernandez (R)
Joely Rodriguez (L)
Brett Martin (L)
Taylor Hearn (L)
Ian Kennedy (R)
Jordan Lyles (R)
Jimmy Herget (R)

Projected Lineup
CF Leody Taveras (S)
3B Nick Solak (R)
RF Joey Gallo (L)
DH Khris Davis (R)
C Sam Huff (R)
LF David Dahl (L)
2B Rougned Odor (L)
1B Jorge Guzman (L)
SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa (R)

Projected Bench
C Jose Trevino (R)
UT Brock Holt (L)
1B Nate Lowe (L)
OF Willie Calhoun (L)


Projection

Yes, this team is awful. The Rangers just do not have a strength. The rotation, bullpen and lineup are all terrible, and it is just a matter of time until they get the recognition they deserve for being the league's worst team. At least the Pirates have Ke'Bryan Hayes. The Rangers don't have that guy yet, as Huff has played in just 10 games, and no AA games. Even in a weak division, the Rangers will be baseball's worst team in 2021. 

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