Last season, the Rangers saw the team ERA bloom to a massive 4.49 runs per game and were ranked 28th in all of MLB. In 2013, the Rangers were 10th in the league in ERA with a 3.62. Also in 2013 the Rangers starting pitching was 16th in the league with a 3.99 ERA, compared to 2014 starters at 4.75 again ranked at #28.
That begs the question of what is a reasonable expectation for the starting rotation this year. To make those projections requires we look at what Colby Lewis, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Yovani Gallardo can be expected to do this season. While a stockbroker would say, past performance is no guarantee of future results; we all know that one thing about baseball is that prior year numbers can give a decent idea of what expectations could be.
Colby Lewis began last season recovering from hip replacement surgery, and it was hoped he could join the rotation in June. After beginning the year in the minors trying to work through the pain, he was called up to the Rangers on April 11 due to onslaught of injuries affecting the staff. The Rangers were already in desperation mode, and for the first 16 starts of the season, Colby had some monster numbers. He was 6-6 with a 6.54 ERA, and opponents were hitting .353 off him. In his last 13 starts, he was 4-8 with a 3.86 ERA and opponents hit .251 off him. The Rangers expect the last 13 starts to represent what they think he can do this season when he is not pitching in pain. Colby’s career numbers show that he is a 4.84 pitcher with a 54-58 record with a WHIP of 1.40 and a .268 opponent’s batting average against him. Since 2010, he is a combined 42-43, and has pitched 676 innings with only the 2014 as the blemish in the opponents’ batting average rising to .304 for the entire season. That projects his average ERA at 4.25, and a -1 in wins against losses. If you remove all 16 pre-all-star games from last year, the ERA drops slightly but the win totals are about the same. A 4.25 ERA is about what one would expect from #4 or #5 starters in a rotation, obviously the organization is hoping for similar numbers to his final 13 starts last year. Historically, it still projects a -1 in wins over losses.
Yovani Gallardo has been a workhorse since 2009 as he has logged 1,155 innings of work. His career line is a 3.69 ERA, his WHIP is 1.30, opponents are batting .247 against him, and he is 89-64. All of that work is in the National League facing teams without a DH. It is a reasonable assumption that playing in Texas, in arguably one of the toughest divisions will see his ERA rise a bit along with his other numbers. He is also pitching for a contract and he is just age 29. Most pitchers peak between 27-29 years old, and since the remodel at Globe Life Park, it is more pitcher friendly than in prior years. It is reasonable to project that he will get 32 starts, throw 190 innings, and produce an ERA around 3.90. That would project him to be a +2 wins over losses and be a solid #3 starter in most rotations.
Derek Holland is also 29 years old, and in the prime of his career. All dog jokes aside, he has the potential to become a dominate pitcher, although his career numbers are marked with inconsistency. Dutch is 51-38 with a 4.23 career ERA. His WHIP is 1.32, which compares favorably with Gallardo and batters are hitting .260 against him. The Rangers want to see him return to 2011 and 2012 numbers where his ERA was below 3.66 and for those two seasons, he was 33-19. In the four games he appeared at the end of last year, he was 2-1 with a 2.12 ERA, so he is capable of being lights out on the mound. It is reasonable to think that he projects to an ERA at 3.90, and +4 in wins, and that is a solid #3 starter in today’s game. However, the Rangers must have better numbers from him if the team is going to go anywhere this year. In fact, the Rangers need the 213 innings and 3.42 ERA he posted in 2013, but they need that with the 16-5 record he posted in 2011. If Dutch can produce a sub 3.50 ERA that gets him into solid #2 starter numbers and it is a must have for this year. If he produces based on prior averages, that leaves the team with a couple of 3’s and a #4 in the starting rotation, and that does not compete for the division title. He can be better than that and he must be this year, because at his best he projects the +4 wins over losses!
That brings us to Yu Darvish, and the expectations everyone has for him. In just three short years, Darvish is 39-25 with a career ERA of 3.27. Opponents are hitting just .216 against him, and his WHIP is .120. The Rangers expect those numbers at the very least this year, which projects him at +7 wins against losses. Darvish must be the team leader and set the example for everyone else to follow all season, and since we now know he has learned some English, it seems anything is possible for the 28-year-old.
When you look at these four projected starters, and the expectations, they should cumulatively be +12 in the win column. Assuming that whoever the 5th starter is finishes no worse than -2 in wins that would protect the team to finish 10 games over .500 for the starting rotation. Again, last year starters accounted for 46 of the team’s total wins, if you increase that to 56, the rotation would be in the top half of the league. In fact, a team approaching 60 wins, by the starting rotation, is among the best in baseball. It also projects a starting rotation ERA of somewhere around 3.83, which is better than .66 improvement overall and for starters almost a run less than they gave up last year. To become a top 10 team the combined ERA will have to be below 3.50, with starters below 3.50. At this point, the numbers just do not project that kind of result. In fact, a starting rotation with a 3.83 ERA projects a -5 for the rotation in wins. Numbers can be confusing and there is an expression heard by many accountants, liars figure, and figures lie.
Projections can be made using all kinds of stats, but all it takes is slightly better than historic numbers to earn 4 more wins than projection, and lower the ERA by .23 over projections to be a contending team.
However, we all know that there is more to a 90 win season than just the starters performing well, but this is what John Daniels, Mike Maddox, Jeff Bannister, and the entire organization believes should happen this year. Clearly, the team must improve the defense behind these guys, and the biggest issue is still going to be producing RBI. However, if this group stays healthy and just performs based on career numbers this team will be far above last year’s 67 pathetic win total. One thing I think everyone can agree on is that these four pitchers, all in their prime have to perform at a very high level all season, but if they do then this team can be much better than projected. There are always intangibles, and team defense plays hard into those results. The 2014 Rangers pitching problems go hand in hand with a defense ranked #29 in the entire league.
That has to be better this year and a healthy team should see better results, because the defense clearly cost the team at least half a run a game last year. It is also intangibles like overthrowing the cutoff man, or the outfield throwing to the wrong base. Last year we saw outfielders running into each other and play that looked more like the Bad News Bears than a professional baseball team.
If the team expects to contend this has to be the line for each of these pitchers at year-end:
ERA Innings Pitched Opponents BA WHIP Wins Losses
Colby Lewis 3.90 180 .251 1.40 10 10
Yovani Gallardo 3.80 200 .247 1.30 12 10
Derek Holland 3.50 190 .250 1.30 15 10
Yu Darvish 3.00 200 .216 1.20 18 5
#5 Starter 4.10 180 .260 1.40 10 10
Totals 3.66 950 .245 1.32 65 45
Put this into perspective Kansas City, who went to the series last year had this starter line:
ERA 3.60, IP 986, .257 opponents BA, WHIP was 1.27 and a record of 61-55 from their starting staff.
There is every reason to be optimistic, because the team will be better this year. What we all want to know is how much better. On paper, this team projects just 73-75 wins, but there is a lot of talent on the club and that is why they play the games. Anyone can project numbers, and there are a ton of computer programs that do just that, but the question we need to know is was last years injury plague the reason behind the avalanche of losses, or is there real talent there. The numbers are what they are, it seems clear to me that this 2015 team will be vastly improved, but it is like the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is only 25 more hits over 500 at bats. A few bloopers, and seeing eye grounders and it is greatness, without that blessing from the baseball Gods you are just average.