We’re in day 4 of 30 Rangers In 30 Days, so if you were expecting this to go in alphabetical order, or had some inclination to believe it would be anyone other than Texas’ #4 starter, Alexi Ogando, then, well, sorry, I guess. Ogando, 29, is reentering the rotation for the 2nd time in three years, last season giving the bulk of his innings out of the bullpen. From the Rangers’ perspective, this is a bold move. It’s also the right move. Whenever we’re discussing the qualifications of Alexi Ogando on a pitching mound, one word comes to mind: heat. Texas is looking to take advantage of his ability to strike hitters out, capitalizing on his value before his contracts begin to escalate through arbitration.
Ogando came on the scene pretty hard back in 2010, firing just north of 40.0 IP out of the bullpen, contributing mightily to the Rangers’ first World Series appearance in franchise history. His ERA during the regular season was an anorexic 1.30, producing an exquisite LOB% of 92.3. Ridiculous.
In 2011, with Cliff Lee newly minted on a fresh contract not with the Rangers, Ogando ostensibly occupied his vacated hole in the rotation. The move immediately paid dividends, with Alexi earning an All Star selection in what was considered his rookie season. He was truly exciting to watch. But whether it was due to American League competition catching up with him, or the fact that it’s almost impossible to sustain success while primarily operating with just two pitches (fastball/slider), Ogando’s 2nd half was nothing to write home about. Texas essentially shut him down down the stretch, ultimately utilizing him in a more dominant bullpen role for the playoffs.
All told, the final line on his 2011 regular season was an impressive 3.51 ERA in 169.0 IP, finishing an exceptional 3.7 fWAR rookie campaign. If in 2013 he can recapture that success from two years ago, suffice to say the Rangers will be happy.
In 2012, Ogando returned to the bullpen, striking out a batter an inning over 66.0 frames, producing an ERA of 3.27. In his lone start of the season, a sunny afternoon in San Francisco, he tossed 3 perfect innings before incurring a groin injury that kept him out a little over a month.
One could admit he didn’t quite look like the same pitcher in 2012, but from where I sit, I tend to believe the time he missed to injury was a positive occurrence. After his career-high 2011 workload in the rotation, along with the added stress put on his arm transitioning to a high-leverage bullpen role in the postseason, that cannon needed a break. He missed a month-plus of action last year and still threw 66.0 innings. That’s a lot. There’s certainly always been a temptation for Ron Washington to pitch Ogando every other day, because you don’t find many guys with starter-type stuff who can throw multiple, dominant innings out of the pen at a time.
So, needless to say, 2013 should be quite interesting. Alexi Ogando has seen first-hand how difficult the grind can be pitching every five days. It’s fascinating how much success he had in his first full big league season, basically as a two-pitch pitcher. To maintain a positive 2013 in the rotation, Ogando will have to focus on developing a third pitch. We’ve seen him dance around with a change up, albeit sparingly, over the last two years. His fastball is plus; it’s heavy. And his slider, when it’s on, is a dominant out pitch. Even if he can add an average change up to his repertoire, something he can go to 12-15 times a game to keep opposing lefties off balance, it will go a long way. Right now, Ogando is considered a MORP (middle-of-the-rotation pitcher). If his change up is true, he has the type of makeup to be a #2, right up there with the ceiling of Derek Holland.
For what it’s worth, Fangraphs has Ogando rating out at 3.0 fWAR in 2013, going 11-6 with a 3.52 ERA in 167.0 IP.
If you’re asking me, which I don’t know why you would, I could see Ogando producing anywhere between 2.5 and 3.5 fWAR next year — a pretty wide range — but it’s all predicated on how many innings he pitches. He’ll be an effective 5.0-6.0 inning starter each time his turn comes up in the rotation, but it’s difficult to predict guys coming back from the bullpen into a starting role. If he manages to throw between 180-200 innings, then the sky is the limit. He could be closer to a 4.0-win pitcher if that’s the case. My logic tells me he’ll pitch closer to 150-175 innings, which is still nice, but I don’t know if he’ll have enough left in the tank to warrant a postseason rotation spot — if the Rangers can make it there.