Thursday, March 26, 2009

Guide Preview: Texas Rangers

Here we are, the 30th and final guide preview. Six weeks ago, I thought it might be fun to use the season preview magazines that I buy every year and do a team-by-team preview of the 2009 season. I figured it'd be a good way to accomplish a few goals: to see how well each magazine does at predicting teams' success, to give a flavor of the different opinions that writers have for each team, and, most importantly, to give me a good reason to read and learn about all 30 ballcubs. In those regards, I think it's been a pretty big success. In that time, I've learned a lot about teams that I might not have normally paid attention to, and the Rangers are no exception. It's been a good run, and I hope everyone has enjoyed it.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team's 2009 season. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for all the other guide previews.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there's room for some personal commentary. I think it'll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don't want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I'll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

Texas Rangers
Last Year: 79 - 83, 2nd Place, AL West

Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News3



* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008

Team Notes

The 2008 Rangers made no airs about what they were: an offensive team, through and through. With strong offensive seasons from Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, and Milton Bradley, the Rangers should have been situated for a good, healthy 85-or-so win season. And even with Bradley leaving for the Cubs this offseason, the Rangers should still be able to score plenty of runs in 2009.
"Hamilton, acquired from the Reds for Edinson Volquez, had one of baseball's all-time feel-good seasons. A No. 1 overall draft pick by Tampa Bay in 1999, Hamilton returned to the majors the previous season after a three-year absence caused by drug and alcohol problems, and he flourished in Texas. He led the league with 130 RBIs, which helped him earn an All-Star appearance and a memorable Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium, where he hit 28 blasts in the first round.

Even if Texas can't land a significant bat to replace Bradley, Hamilton will have nice parts around him, particularly No. 2 hitter Michael Young, a five-time All-Star. Second baseman Ian Kinsler (.319, 102 runs) also made the All-Star team, and the Rangers added two more promising hitters to their lineup last season in outfielder David Murphy and Chris Davis, who can play third or first. (TSN)"
But the offensive prowess of those stars just wasn't enough to offset the weaknesses of the staff, and 2009 doesn't look any more promising.
"As usual, there are a ton of questions in the starting rotation, which ranked last in the majors in ERA (5.51) in 2008 and didn't draw any new bodies for 2009. Will Brandon McCarthy ever be healthy enough to be a stready contributor? Is lefty Matt Harrison ready for the big leagues? Can reformed reliever Scott Feldman, a relative surprise in 2008, take another step? Those questions and others won't matter a lick if the Rangers don't get more from Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla. Both are making more than $11 million per season. Both have had consecutive underwhelming seasons. And both are in potential free agent seasons. ... The Rangers need the duo to lead the way for the rest of the staff, and club president Nolan Ryan has challenged them to do just that. (Athlon)"
The weak pitching staff isn't enough to be completely down on this franchise, though. After a few trade deadline deals over the last couple of years, the Rangers have what many call the best farm system in baseball. Those prospects may not all be major league-ready for 2009, but they will be soon enough, and then things will be looking up for Texas and their fans.
"The Rangers have had one winning season since 1999 - also the year of their most recent division title. And with the Angels in firm command of the American League West, the Rangers' postseason drought is unlikely to end in 2009. But the Texas farm system is full of talent. Thanks in large part to trades involving Mark Teixeira and Eric Gagne at the 2007 trade deadline, general manager Jon Daniels has a group of prospects with which to mold the franchise's future. At long last, a number of them are pitchers, including righthander Neftali Feliz and lefthander Derek Holland. Feliz and Holland finished last season at Double-A Frisco, which suggests that they could join the big league staff by next season. Elite shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus also spent all of last season at Double-A. Translation: The 2010 Rangers are certain to have a different look, even if 2009 brings more of the same. (Lindy's)"
Spotlight Quote

Athlon highlights the Rangers' biggest move of the offseason:
"Coaching Carousel: Perhaps the biggest addition the Rangers made during the offseason was to go out and get Maddux. Mike Maddux, that is. The club convinced Maddux to leave Milwaukee behind for a two-year deal worth more than $1 million to revitalize the Rangers' pitching staff. Maddux got his start in coaching for Nolan Ryan's Round Rock Express. Maddux becomes the Rangers' seventh pitching coach since the start of the 2000 season. He inherits a staff that ranked last in the majors in rotation ERA (5.51). Also, Andy Hawkins, who began 2008 as the Triple-A Oklahoma pitching coach and later served as interim pitching coach, will handle the bullpen. Former major league infielder Dave Anderson will handle the third base box and infield instruction and Jackie Moore will take over as bench coach."

The Rangers are a tough team for me to understand. They finished last season in second place, with only 79 wins. They improved only 4 games from the year before, but moved up from fourth & last place all the way up to second. This tells me that the division they're in, with only three other teams, is just too fickle and too easy. A 79-win season would have been fourth or worst in every other division in baseball except the extraordinarily weak NL West, where it would have earned them a third place finish. All of that tells me that they're just not a good team.

But it's hard to accept that at face value, too. The 2008 Rangers had some pretty amazing players, with the likes of Milton Bradley, Ian Kinsler, and Josh Hamilton. Everyone loved the Josh Hamilton story last year, and for good reason. It was a little overhyped at times, but the story really is something. And the way he played last year, especially for the first half or so, definitely deserved it. Bradley was the same way, finally showcasing his talents and abilities to everybody.

Looking at the stats from last year's team, it seems that injuries, and a worse-than-subpar pitching staff, were their weakness. Neither Bradley nor Kinsler were able to play in 130 games, and the best ERA+ among their starting rotation was Vicente Padilla's 93 (a 4.74 ERA). When you add all of that together, you rarely get a winning season.

Heading into the 2009 season now, with all of the issues from last season and minus their best player in Milton Bradley, I just don't know what to say. It's hard to see them improving on their record. The rest of the West is just as confusing, though, and, with the right cards falling their way, any team has a chance. My money would be placed on another 75-to-80 win season, but I don't think I'd be surprised with anything these days.

No comments: