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The Texas Rangers started 15 different pitchers in 2014. This absurd number of starters was a symptom of the team’s horrific injury experience this past season. The end of the season was almost merciful. If the team had not finished so strong with so many young players flashing brilliance it could be argued that the best part of the 2014 season was watching the Kansas City Royals bounce both the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels out of the playoffs.
Jon Daniels has been on the record as saying that the Texas Rangers will not pursue a top tier starting pitcher. What do the Texas Rangers look like in 2015 if they do not add starting pitching help this offseason and decide to go with the pitchers they currently have?
None of the starters were particularly inspiring outside of Yu Darvish. Darvish was his usual dazzling self with a 2.84 FIP and 4.1 WAR (Fangraphs). The Rangers can count on Darvish to anchor the rotation in 2015. Had Derek Holland gotten one or two more starts he would have had an excellent chance to be the second most valuable pitcher on the team (as measured by WAR). In only 5 starts he accumulated 1.3 WAR. By comparison, Colby Lewis accounted for 1.6 WAR in 29 starts. In 2013 Holland was a top ten pitcher in the AL. Holland and Darvish look to be a formidable one-two punch atop the rotation in 2015.
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Unfortunately, after these two the rotation is a series of terrifying question marks. The aforementioned Colby Lewis was the second highest ERA among all qualified pitchers in 2014. Only Clay Buchholz prevented Lewis from the dubious honor. Colby was also the 8th highest in FIP. He was 67th out of 88 qualified pitchers in WAR. To call Lewis an abject failure is a bit too harsh, but he was closer to that than he was to being a success. Sadly, the Rangers will likely bring him back and, given the alternatives, it makes sense to do so.
After Lewis’s 29 starts the next most starts came from Nick Martinez with 24. Martinez’s ERA is a disappointing 4.55 and his FIP was an even worse 4.94 and his peripherals are equally frustrating with fewer than 5 ks per 9 and over 3.5 walks per 9. Martinez was not supposed to be a major league piece this year. He has only been a pitcher for two years after playing middle infield in college. While Martinez was not great this year it seems like he developed as the year progressed. His second half ERA and FIP were near 4 while strikeout rate rose and walk rate fell. In fact his second half WAR was a decent 1.1 after his first half WAR was an atrocious -0.5. It seems like Martinez could become a Colby Lewis like inning eater. No one views Martinez as being able to become anything more than a back of the rotation piece but this team needs 4th and 5th starters. If the Texas Rangers are lucky Nick Martinez could provide 2011 Colby Lewis type production and eventually become a Lewis prototype, eating innings with decent numbers.
After Nick Martinez, the most starts come from Nick Tepesch with strikingly similar numbers to Martinez across the board. Tepesch threw a 4.36 ERA with a 5.01 FIP in 2014. He had both fewer strikeouts and fewer walks per nine than Martinez but only marginally so. It seems like these two will be the fourth and fifth starters in 2015 unless someone in the minor leagues makes a statement in the spring.
Lisalverto Bonilla, Scott Baker and Miles Mikolas all made multiple starts for Texas in 2014 with limited success. For each, the sample size is too small to say much about their numbers. With Baker and Mikolas the numbers are not pretty but for Bonilla the numbers look good other than a poor walk rate. It would not be surprising to see these three at least compete for a starting spot in the spring.
Thankfully the Texas Rangers have seen the last of several of the pitchers they threw out on the mound during the year. Joe Saunders, Jerome Williams and Phil Irwin all made starts but are out of the team’s system now.
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Two of Texas’s better pitchers, Martin Perez and Matt Harrison, both went down with serious injuries early in the year. Pinning down a return date for either is tough. Perez could return around the half way mark in 2015 but it is difficult to say if that is realistic or even what Perez could contribute if he did return at that point. Harrison is an even more difficult case. He had major back surgery and the updates on Harrison have been sparse. It is not unrealistic to suppose that Harrison may never pitch again. These two can effectively be counted out of the 2015 rotation.
This leaves two intriguing cases; Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers. Hopefully, the Texas Rangers have finally learned their lesson and will stop trying to convert relievers at the major league level. Ross came back for the second half after spending some time in AAA as a starter but was as terrible in his second stint as his first. Scheppers was also not good as starter, giving up tons of runs in his starts early in the year. Hopefully, Scheppers and Ross will be returned to the bullpen where they have been dominant in the past.
There is some hope that a prospect or two might crack the rotation and provide a big boost to the team. This system certainly has a few candidates for such a breakout star. Players like; Alex Gonzalez, Luke Jackson and Alec Asher could be major league contributors in 2015.
So what does the 2015 rotation look like the Texas Rangers do not add any free agent help? The most likely scenario is; Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Nick Martinez and Nick Tepesch. If that rotation stays healthy it could be a decent one but it seems doubtful that it could be more than an average AL staff.