After taking 2 of 3 against Baltimore to start this most recent home stand, the Rangers bats again put on a show, piling 10 runs on an efficient 12 hits to squash the Minnesota Twins 10-6 in the opener of a 4-game weekend series on Thursday night. Adrian Beltre launched his 4th homer in the last two games, and Josh Hamilton collected 5 more RBI to leapfrog Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera for the American League lead.
For how offensively weak and collectively lost the Rangers presented themselves in July (.243/.309/.375, 79 wRC+), which was good for 26th out of 30 Major League franchises, they’ve picked it up in August, running amuck on American League pitching to the tune of a triple slash line sitting comfortably at .287/.353/.453, with a wRC+ of 112. This isn’t as good as the Rangers offense has been this season, and they’ve certainly hit at more impressive clips for longer stretches at different intervals, but it’s a giant leap in the right direction heading into September where the games magnify in meaning. The offense has been particularly impressive of late, scoring double digits in runs in 3 of their last 5 games (and 4 of their last 8). They currently lead the majors in runs (637) by a fairly large margin; the next best is the Cardinals at 610.
We all have a pretty good idea of what kind of offense the Rangers possess when everything is clicking. It’s worth noting that the team’s #9 hitter on most nights, Mitch Moreland, is probably batting 6th in most other American League lineups.
What we don’t know is just how good the starting pitching is. Tonight against the Twins, Roy Oswalt continued his streak of underwhelming starts (tonight’s in place of Japanese import Yu Darvish, who got a start skipped due to a tight quad). I’m not looking too deeply into this being a problem for Darvish, as he’s dwarfed over every other Rangers starter in pitches thrown on the year; tonight was likely just a means to get him a little rest. There’s still much left up in the air as far as the starting rotation goes as we look to how it will be aligned for the postseason, but it’s a safe assumption that some collection of the Matt Harrison/Yu Darvish/Ryan Dempster troika will start the first 3 games in the opening series; the final spot will be determined by how well Derek Holland, Scott Feldman, and Roy Oswalt perform down the stretch. So let’s break down their cases.
On the year Derek Holland has posted an ERA of 4.92, and xFIP of 4.2, and a SIERA 4.05. Most of you are probably familiar with earned run average and how it’s calculated, so I don’t need to define the terms there. But for some of the less sabermetrically-inclined, xFIP is generated by taking a pitcher’s fielding independent statistics, such as strikeout and walk ratios, ground ball and fly ball percentages, and home run rates. SIERA is a slightly modified version of xFIP, and carries the same general principals. Amongst the SABR universe, SIERA is generally accepted as the most accurate of all the pitching metrics, and it helps best illustrate a pitcher’s true talent level. As you know if you’ve been paying attention to Derek Holland this season, he’s allowed a ton of home runs, and hasn’t been all that good at stranding runners. This has ballooned his ERA up to uncomfortable territory, but he has been a lot better in recent starts. His advantage over the other two pitchers he’s competing with is that he has the ability to move very quickly through games, missing bats and inducing weak contact. And, as I mentioned in a recent article, he’s proven himself on the biggest stage, putting together the best start in Rangers playoff history, in arguably the most important game the Rangers had ever played up to that point, down 2-1 in Game 4 of the World Series. I put the odds of Holland claiming the #4 spot in the playoff rotation at 65%.
Scott Feldman is a bit of a different bird. Yeah, he won 17 games back in 2009. I don’t care about that; it’s 2012. He put up a fuss earlier this year about his unforeseen fluctuation between the bullpen and starting rotation, but, to his credit, that’s in the past and we haven’t heard much from him of late. His produces some very impressive starts which have unfortunately been blended with an array of very mediocre outings. His ERA sits at 4.77, with an xFIP of 4.19 and SIERA of 4.19. Yeah, when his cutter/sinker are diving in and out against left-handed hitters, he’s one of the more quietly imposing figures the Rangers throw out there. But it’s commonplace for him to have a bad inning or two in most starts, and if his fastball flattens out at all over the heart of the plate, he simply lacks the juice to afford himself any breaks. As it stands now, he might be the favorite to hold that final rotation spot, if for nothing else he’s been consistently decent, as opposed to Holland who could be very good or very, very bad. If you asked me, I’d tell you I have more faith in Feldman out as a long man during October, a guy you could insert in the 6th inning. I handicap Feldman at 30%.
And finally, Roy Oswalt. I was against the signing before it happened, when it happened, and I’m still opposed to him having anything to do with the organization. It’s debatable if he’s as much of a clubhouse cancer as it’s perceived, but for this discussion we’ll just keep it objective. Oswalt’s ERA stands at 5.06, with an xFIP of 4.19 and SIERA of 3.31. Apparently SIERA is in love with Roy Oswalt. However, on the mound he’s looked average, at best. He still gives up a ton of hits, lacks the velocity to put hitters away like he did in his prime, and has relied mostly on his secondary offerings to induce weak contact. I give Roy a 5% chance of claiming that final rotation spot, but that’s more a figure to throw up in case something tragic happens to either of Feldman or Holland down the stretch. All things considered, there’s probably a better chance he isn’t even on the postseason roster.
Like I say most times when I produce some sort of article, I will admit there is still a lot of time left in the season. I don’t know how this is all going to play out, but I believe the numbers and prior experience tell more of the story than I will ever be able to.
The Rangers are at their high-water mark of the season, a full 22 games over .500. September is coming soon.