What can the Texas Rangers reflect on, improve on, and look forward to in 2017?
The Texas Rangers have plenty to be proud of. Behind an American League leading 95-win season was an excellent one-two punch in the rotation and a powerhouse lineup.
Despite these elements, the Rangers fell short in their postseason pursuits. The inconsistent bullpen and heartbreaking retirement of Prince Fielder became too much for the club to overcome. Here we will examine what went right, what went wrong, and what the future holds for the 2017 season.
For the Rangers, this offseason will be a time of tremendous reflection. While the Rangers provided amazing highlights for fans to hold on to, some are still trying to push out the memory of a three-game sweep at the hands of the rival Blue Jays. Despite the agony at the tail end of the season, key players remain to keep the Texas faithful excited for what’s to come.
Elvis Andrus put together the best season of his career, hitting .302/.362/.439 with eight home runs. His 69 RBIs and 46 extra base hits also served as a career-high, with an added bonus of significantly decreased strikeouts (70) after a career-high of 97 in 2013. Batting in the bottom of the lineup allowed Andrus to put together a .378 average with runners in scoring position. This caused significant difficulties for opposing pitchers, as Andrus’ production allowed for a much more fluid lineup. Andrus and Rougned Odor‘s 33 home runs created one of the more potent middle-infield combinations in the league.
The diamond in the rough for the Rangers this season was shortstop-turned-centerfielder Ian Desmond. His one-year contract with the Rangers proved to be a surprising factor in their 2016 success. Desmond provided excellent defense with a slash line of .285/.335/.446 and 22 home runs. Desmond’s unlikely performance may raise his asking price in the offseason, but for that type of contribution, he is certainly worth it. The Rangers seem to agree, as the qualifying offer of $17.2 million was recently extended to him.
One of the league’s most consistent hitters in the past 20 years continues to be a threat to all who face him. In his 19th season in the majors, third baseman Adrian Beltre—a timeless treasure—hit .300/.358/.521 with 32 home runs. Beltre had the best defensive WAR at third base in the entire league and is on the brink of obtaining his fifth Gold Glove award for leading the American League in runs saved (15). The 37-year-old veteran was in his final year of his original six-year, $90 million contract. Over those six years, he averaged 623 PA, .305/.358/.516, 27.8 HR, 93.8 RBI, 6.3 bWAR, 5.6 fWAR.
The Rangers exercised their option on catcher Jonathan Lucroy for $5.25 million. Lucroy showed his value, as the club had a .634 winning percentage (26-15) in his starts after being acquired from the Brewers. Lucroy’s 152 at-bats produced 11 home runs and .539 slugging percentage, which was far more power than the Rangers anticipated. His defensive woes remain a factor to be worked on. His 15 wild pitches in 367 innings may have been due to unfamiliarity with the rotation, but in comparison to other catchers (30 wild pitches in 1,076 innings), the numbers are staggering.
- Cole Hamels‘ numbers reflect a solid overall season: 15-5 in 32 starts with a 3.32 ERA, and 200 strikeouts in 200 2/3 innings. Yet, most Rangers fans will tell you the tail end of the season prevented those numbers from looking even better. Hamels was a viable Cy Young candidate for a large portion of the 2016 season until the end of August. His last seven starts did not align with the rest of the season, as Hamels fell out of rhythm and posted a 7.64 ERA. Rangers’ fans are hopeful their number-one starter can bounce back from the ALDS Game 1 loss where he gave up seven runs in 3 1/3 innings.
- It’s been a long road back for Yu Darvish, who spent the early part of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. After missing all of 2015, Darvish made his debut in May and went 7-5 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.261 WHIP in 17 starts. The Rangers ultimately had to monitor his workload, but even so, the three-time All Star managed to pitch 100.1 innings. For Darvish, free agency lurks just around the corner, and he may be looking at early contract discussions if he can get back to his old self.
- One of the most difficult and shocking parts of the season was when Prince Fielder announced his early retirement. Fielder’s .212 batting average and .626 OPS in 89 games resulted from a herniated disc in his neck that required a second spinal fusion surgery. In three years with the Rangers, Fielder had one partially good season after being obtained from the Tigers. This debilitating injury along with his emotional press conference left baseball fans around the world sympathizing with the 32-year-old All Star:
The remainder of the starting rotation was inconsistent. Colby Lewis‘s 3.71 ERA was not enough for him to receive a qualifying offer. His low strikeout rate may have factored into that decision. Martin Perez and Derek Holland wrapped up the rotation with subpar numbers as both sported ERAs over 4.30. Holland’s back-to-back seasons with an ERA near 5.00, below-average strikeout rates (5.9 K/9), and home run troubles could lead Texas to go in another direction.
Instead of midseason power acquisitions in Carlos Beltran (52 G/.280 AVG/7 HRs/29 RBIs/.776 OPS) and Jonathan Lucroy, the Rangers would have greatly benefited from an additional starting pitcher or bullpen depth. The rotation was the primary reason why the Rangers never had a lead at the end of any of the 28 innings they played in the ALDS. Shawn Tolleson‘s early designation as the team’s closer was quickly halted. He finished the year with a 7.68 ERA over 36 1/3 innings. Despite closing inconsistencies, the bullpen was able to help lead the Rangers to a league leading best record in one-run games, finishing at 36-11.
Some fresh talent could greatly benefit the organization despite a fair amount of youth leaving the system through trades. Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo remain strong players with bright futures in the lineup.
Expectations will be high for the reigning AL West Division Champions. Behind one of the game’s premier managers in Jeff Banister, the Texas Rangers feel they have what it takes to win. There will be much added pressure to recreate such a successful season, but with hope for a far better outcome.
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