Texas Rangers: Corey Kluber cements a playoff caliber starting rotation

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 04: Corey Kluber #28 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the first inning at Progressive Field on August 4, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Angels 3-0. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 04: Corey Kluber #28 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the first inning at Progressive Field on August 4, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Indians defeated the Angels 3-0. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images) /

After the Texas Rangers polished off their rotation improvements with Corey Kluber on Sunday, does the club now have a group worthy of a playoff spot?

When the Texas Rangers signed Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles to contracts this offseason, it seemed they might be done with their upgrades to the starting rotation. In 2019, Texas relied heavily on the duo of Lance Lynn and Mike Minor to keep them afloat. While the talented duo was stellar, the starters outside of the veterans posted a combined ERA over 7.00 and signaled a big need for additions come this offseason. Gibson and Lyles were two solid grabs that could give Texas a competitive rotation and help win a few more games. But Jon Daniels pulled off a masterstroke on Sunday bringing in two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber via trade with the Cleveland Indians in exchange for OF Delino DeShields and RHP Emmanuel Clase.

The Rangers offseason has now produced a trio of starters to fill out the rotation alongside Lynn and Minor. Kluber carries with the reputation of an ace, Gibson has mid-rotation ability and Lyles produced a second half in 2019 that was as good as just about anybody out there. So now, with all this potential in the rotation, has the Rangers front office built a group worth of contention?

Current Predicted Rotation

At this time, the Texas Rangers have a few different setups they could roll with next year but based on 2019 performances, I’d imagine the order probably looks something like Lynn, Minor, Kluber, Gibson, Lyles.

At first glance, seeing Corey Kluber in the middle of the Rangers rotation could cause some curious glances. But we have to remember just how great a season Lance Lynn had last season and the fact that Kluber is coming off a year drastically shortened by injury.

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Lance Lynn – Current #1 Starter

Looking at the rotation as currently constructed, Lance Lynn is the current ace of the Texas Rangers starter group. Look past the fact that he didn’t get a deserved All-Star nod in 2019 and you’ll see that there’s a very legitimate case that he was a top 10 starter in baseball last season. Lynn had the 3rd best bWAR and fWAR last season among starters at 7.6 and 6.8 respectively. Whichever calculation you prefer gives credence to the fact that Lynn was extremely valuable last season.

He racked up 208.1 innings of work, the highest total of his career and maintained a 10.6 K/9 rate. His 3.67 ERA and 3.13 FIP were both phenomenal and his 1.219 WHIP showed that he did a solid job of keeping runners off base. And while wins aren’t considered as important as they used to be, the face that he finished with 16 of them on a team that finished six games under .500 is noteworthy. He finished 5th in the AL Cy Young vote behind Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Shane Bieber. Impressive company for the 32-year old. No, Lance Lynn may not have the name recognition of an ace but he pitched like one in 2019 and probably deserves that title at least to start next season.

Mike Minor – Current #2 Starter

Minor was the Rangers Opening Day starter in 2019 and very well could be come Opening Day of 2020. He was very good for Texas last season as their de factor number one guy. He had some struggles, particularly late in the first half of the season but I’m willing to guess that all the trade rumors featuring his name could’ve had a negative effect.

In 2019, Minor actually finished second in bWAR among pitchers at 7.6, finishing just above Lance Lynn. FanGraphs metric was more unkind to the veteran lefty placing him 19th among starters with a 4.2 fWAR. His 3.59 ERA just edges out Lynn’s from last season and in the exact same 208.1 innings pitched. His strikeout rate was lower though at 8.6 per 9 innings and his FIP of 4.25 suggests perhaps his ERA was a bit generous. Still, he hasn’t been a one season wonder with a lot of this success dating back to the second half of 2019. I don’t think he has quite the swing and miss stuff of Lynn but the 2019 All-Star is an excellent option to follow the righty.

Corey Kluber – Current #3 Starter

Putting Corey Kluber as a number three in any rotation feels wrong. But he’s not there as a slight to him but more so as a credit to Lynn and Minor. Plus Kluber is coming off a year that saw him miss a lot of time because of an injury sustained to his pitching arm after being hit by a line drive early in the year. Even before the injury though, Kluber was having a bad start to the season. He had a 5.80 ERA through seven starts and his .370 BABIP would’ve been by far the highest mark of his career. Those struggles, combined with injury and a big salary though all culminated in some diminished value which is why Texas was able to land him in a trade.

Because of what they gave up, the Rangers really just need Kluber to put up middle of the rotation numbers to make this move worthwhile. But in acquiring the two-time Cy Young winner, the Rangers will be hoping for a lot more from the 33-year old. Texas was not doubt tantalized though by the numbers Kluber put up in 2013-2018 and will be aiming to get him back to those heights. In 2018, Kluber made 33 starts and crossed the 200 innings pitched threshold for the fifth consecutive season. He had a 2.89 ERA and 3.12 FIP in 2018 along with a 9.29 K/9 rate. He finished in the top 10 among pitchers in both fWAR (5.5)  and bWAR (5.9) while making his third straight All-Star Game and finishing third in AL Cy Young voting.

All those 2018 numbers in conjunction with his stats over the course of the few years prior give Texas hope that he can regain his elite form. If he does, that can cause some switch up with the top three in the Rangers rotation which is why this is a more fluid situation than defined roles. If Texas gets that Kluber, this rotation has the capability to be among the best in baseball.

Kyle Gibson – Current #4 Starter

Joining Kluber as an offseason rotation addition is right-hander Kyle Gibson. Texas inked Gibson to a three-year, $28 million deal prior to the Winter Meetings with eyes on him being the #3 starter in the rotation. Now he gets bumped down to #4 and that means only good things for the Rangers. He’s spent his career with the Minnesota Twins to this point and over the past two years has really found his form.

In 2019, Gibson posted a 2.6 fWAR to go along with a 4.84 ERA. However his 4.26 FIP and 3.80 xFIP suggest he could maintain an ERA around the 4.00 mark over the next few seasons. In a perfect world, Gibson joins Corey Kluber in regaining his 2018 performances where he finished the season with a 3.62 ERA. He’s not quite the innings eater that the other three starters above him have developed into but he’s made 29 or more starts each of the past three seasons. He hasn’t hit the 200 innings mark in his career but if Texas can get 175 or more out of the 32-year old, that will greatly reduce the pressure on their bullpen.

Jordan Lyles – Current #5 Starter

Lyles, like Gibson, was a free agent signing for the Rangers this offseason. He also joined up with perhaps a different role than he currently possesses. Prior to adding Kluber, Lyles seemed to slot in as the #4 starter, a role which he would’ve been suited for most likely. However, now he drops down to the bottom of the rotation where he very well could be well-above average.

His career 5.11 ERA leaves plenty to be desired but in 2018 his ERA was just 4.11 and last season he maintained a 4.15 ERA which could signal he’s taking some steps forward. He’s on a two-year, $16 million deal which is hefty for a number five starter. However, Texas is betting on getting the Lyles we saw with Milwaukee in the second half of the season. From July 31st on, Lyles made 11 starts and posted a stellar 2.45 ERA. His 4.42 FIP takes some shine off the ERA and his .225 BABIP signals he may have been a bit lucky, but the Rangers felt there was enough there to work with. At just 29-years old though, he still has some room for growth which could benefit Texas.

A Possible Elite Rotation?

On paper, one thing stands out about this group. Immense potential. Top to bottom, the Rangers have the rotation to compete in 2020. The thing holding them back from being among the best is consistency. Minor and Lynn were stellar last season but it those numbers aren’t long-term trends. They look like they can continue those performances but it isn’t a guarantee. The starter that has had long-term success is coming off an injury that wiped out nearly a year and wasn’t pitching well before that. Gibson and Lyles both have shown flashes but are still waiting to breakout. That’s a lot of ‘if’ going on.

However, on paper, Texas has the makings of one of the best rotations around. Jared Sandler noted his viewpoint that the Rangers now possess a Top 5 rotation in the game and I don’t think that’s much of an exaggeration. More directly, they have a real case to make that they now have the best rotation in the AL West, partially due to Gerrit Cole’s departure from the Astros this offseason. The Astros probably would contest that assertion and at the top, they might still have the edge with Justin Verlander and Zack Grienke. However, beyond that, Houston will rely on a talent Lance McCullers who is coming off Tommy John surgery,  and then a number of younger starters who are very much unproven.

Texas set out to improve their rotation in some way this offseason and went above and beyond probably their own expectations. They’re rotation is miles better than it was last season and really could give them a shot to compete on a night-in, night-out basis. This is arguably the best rotation we’ve seen in Arlington in a long time and will be exciting to watch inside the brand new Globe Life Field.

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