Did the Rangers make the right choice?
The Angels and the Rangers have a unique relationship. The national media has often billed them as rivals, even though their respective periods of success have had very little overlap. This season, after having been roundly selected to win the World Series by offseason prognosticators, the Angels are still far behind the Rangers. Despite this ethereal rivalry, the Rangers and the Angels share a similar taste in pitchers. This past offseason, both were heavily involved in the pursuit of C.J. Wilson, and at the trade deadline both tried desperately to trade for Zack Greinke. In both cases, the Rangers pulled out from negotiations after having been outbid by the Angels, and settled for an alternative pitcher. Those players were Yu Darvish and Ryan Dempster, respectively, and in both cases the Angels were themselves in the mix for the alternative player. I was very interested in comparing both sets, just to see how the Rangers decision making process had panned out during this eventful 2012 season.
Yu Darvish has had an excellent season. Despite playing in a difficult run environment, Darvish has excelled mainly by striking out the opposition: he is third in the league in K%. However, he has struggled mightily with walks: he is fourth in the league in BB%. Nevertheless, he has been worth 3.4 fWAR this season, exceeding C.J. Wilson’s total 2.7 fWAR and ranking him 7th in the AL. Not that C.J. Wilson has been all that bad himself; in fact, he was outperforming Darvish until his inconsistent second-half, featuring several starts with more earned runs than innings pitched. Although we don’t yet know how the year will close out for either pitcher, at this point we can safely draw a few conclusions. First, C.J. Wilson has not followed the upward trend in value set in the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Instead, Wilson has fallen from his 2011 height of 5.9 fWAR to a probable finish around 3 fWAR. Indeed, Wilson has gotten measurably worse in nearly every category: he is striking out fewer batters, walking more, performing worse with men on base, and even allowing more home runs, despite playing in a much more pitcher-friendly park. Meanwhile, despite doomsday predictions from analysts, Darvish has adjusted to U.S. baseball with aplomb. Considering their respective ages and expected future performances, and the peripheral benefits of making inroads into the Japanese market, I am very happy the Rangers elected to go with Darvish over Wilson.
Similarly, I am extremely pleased with the decision to pass on Greinke and acquire Dempster. Greinke has done a decent job for the Angels through his first seven starts with them, with three great starts, one mediocre start, and three pretty poor starts. Thanks to his high strikeout rates and consistently going deep into his starts, Greinke has earned him .4 fWAR. Meanwhile, Ryan Dempster has earned a the exact same value, while putting together two calamitous starts, and four excellent starts. Considering the massive difference in the quality of prospect packages to trade for the pitchers, getting roughly equivalent performances out of the two is surely a win for the Rangers.
All in all, the decision-making process, which many national, local, and internet commentators scrutinized and often criticized, has been largely validated by the results thus far in the 2012 season. Of course, the remainder of this season and then the remaining years of the Darvish and Wilson contracts will determine how well this present analysis holds up.