I’ll be heading out to Surprise, AZ this weekend. I’ll be at the game with my best friend on Saturday and, maybe more importantly, some sort of alcoholic delicacy (do I get that lucky at a Spring Training game?). So with that endeavor in hand — one I’m really looking forward to — let’s take a look at some issues to keep in mind with regard to the Rangers and/or Spring Training in general.
1. Don’t put too much stock in the numbers.
Each year — and this is with every team — you are going to have guys that pound other pitchers. Some AAA hitter could hit .455, and Adrian Beltre could hit .155. It doesn’t matter. The small sample size doesn’t tell us anything.
Sure, you’d like to see everyone hitting well as opposed to not, but the only real priority in Spring Training is to keep everyone as healthy as possible. To make sure the pitchers build their arms back up to full strength, and that the hitters get their timing on point.
2. It’s time for Leonys Martin to seize center field.
Ron Washington said the center field hole is a three-man race between Martin, Craig Gentry and Julio Borbon. If we submit to the fact that Julio Borbon’s Spring Training with the Rangers is essentially a three-week tryout to improve his stock for whoever claims him on waivers (he’s out of options), then the center field opening will belong to Leonys or Craig.
In limited playing time the last couple years (unless you consider about 60 starts significant playing time), Gentry has performed exceptionally, worth about 4.0 fWAR. If he is the primary center fielder, it means that Leonys Martin has been underwhelming.
So as much as I prefer to base my opinions on substantiated data, it’s just my feeling that if we don’t get at least 115 starts from Leonys in 2013, that we will not win the division. That’s how complimentary I view his talent level.
3. Yu Darvish needs to be a true ace, obviously.
Over his last 7 starts in 2012, he was arguably (if not probably) the most dominant pitcher in baseball. If he performs to that level on a semi-consistent basis, he’s a true #1 starter; if he pitches that well as the norm, he is one of the top 2 or 3 pitchers in baseball.
The rest of the rotation is also a critical, underreported area that almost needs to be a point of strength if we expect to win the West for the 3rd time in 4 years. Between Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando, I’d optimistically like to see +10.0 fWAR between the collection of them. Realistically, they might only be worth around 8.0. We’ll have to see.
The term to use about our rotation is called having a high Beta. Darvish could make 7.0 fWAR, or he could also be worth around 4.0. Matt Harrison could be worth 4.5 FIP-wins, or he could be around 2.5. The same goes for Alexi Ogando and Derek Holland: they are talented enough to be 4.0 fWAR pitchers, but they could also give closer to 2.0. The higher these numbers are for each pitcher, the more likely we are to make the postseason. The lower they are, the more dependent we will be on our offense, and of Yu Darvish to put up an automatic win every time around.
It’s no secret. This wasn’t an accident. Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry are the only outfielders on the Major League roster under contract beyond 2013.
In Murphy’s case, he had a fantastic 4.0 fWAR 2012 — by far the best season of his career — but can he repeat it? Some of his “luck” metrics suggest he was quite lucky vs. LHP in 2012, producing a .433 BABIP. The league average BABIP was .297. If somehow he found the magic recipe for hitting lefties consistently, he is certainly worth a two-year extension (2013-’14), which would veritably crush Nelson Cruz’s hopes for an extension into fine powder.
Nelson Cruz has more overall talent than Murphy does, particularly with his significant advantage in the power department and his second-to-none outfield arm. However, there are also several problems with Nelson Cruz, and the biggest at the moment seems to be his public perception. It’s not good. The 2nd biggest problem is that, assuming Cruz has a bounce back from his unimpressive 2012, he will probably be worth an extra $10-$15 million in contract money. And the truth is, I just don’t think the Rangers are particularly in love with either player with the longterm in mind (simply due to the fact that neither have been in extension discussions with the Rangers until Murphy very recently).
5. The games don’t mean a damn thing.
If there’s anything I can’t stress enough, it’s this. That’s probably why I typed it in bold italics. The point to the preseason is to recharge the batteries, stay healthy (or get healthy), and get ready to do some damage March 31st against our newest intrastate, intra-league, intra-divisional rival.
Last year coming out of Spring Training, I wrote that that was the best Texas Rangers roster ever assembled. I’m not sure if the unceremonious conclusion to the season validated that claim, but I cannot say today I am as confident in this years group. If we’re talking about the positive Beta, and the team’s overall potential, then they could surpass last year’s 93-win total. I could also very easily see them only winning 82-83 games. There are a lot of things that could go very wrong, and this year’s team just doesn’t carry the same ammunition as the last couple years.
With that said, I can’t wait for things to get going. This is my favorite time of the year.