There's not really any Ranger news out there this morning. So rather than a linky-type update, I thought I'd pontificate a little about the Rangers' 2006 performance, and in particular, address the issue of the Ranger offense.
In particular, there seems to be a myth out there that is being perpetuated, that the 2006 Rangers had a strong offense that was sunk by a bad rotation. Tim Kurkjian, in particular, talked about this on BBTN, while lamenting Buck Showalter's firing, and several local commentators have hit on this theme as well...it isn't Buck's fault the team lost, because he didn't have any pitching.
Regardless of the reasoning behind Buck being fired, and whether or not it was a good thing, I think it is fair -- and rather obvious -- to say that the Rangers did not have a good rotation in 2006. However, the Rangers pitching staff wasn't bad (or at least, didn't perform badly).
The Rangers were 8th in the A.L. in ERA -- essentially tied with Seattle and the ChiSox (yes, the pitching-and-defense Chicago White Sox). This is pretty remarkable, considering recent Ranger history...only one other time, since 1998, have the Rangers finished that well in the league ERA rankings, and that was in 2004, when they were 5th in the league.
And remember, TBIA skews the numbers of the Rangers pitchers. The 2006 Rangers had a team ERA+ of 102 -- better than league average, and 6th in the A.L.
This doesn't change the fact that the rotation was a problem in 2006 -- the team was 12th in the A.L. in rotation ERA. But that was balanced out by a 3.74 bullpen ERA, 4th best in the A.L. While the Rangers were far behind the Twins (whose bullpen put up a 2.91 ERA), they were close behind the A's and Tigers, and given the home parks those two teams play in, you can make a legitimate argument that the Rangers had the second-best bullpen in the A.L. last year.
So...the pitching staff, overall, while not good, was not terrible, either. Adjusted for the home park, the pitching staff was a tad above average.
But if that's the case...why didn't the Rangers win more games? Why didn't the Rangers beat the A's, who had not-that-much-better pitching (an ERA+ of 105) and very mediocre hitting?
Part of the answer to that question is, they should have beaten the A's. The Rangers' Pythagorean W/L record (based on their runs scored and runs allowed) was the best in the A.L. West. The A's finished 13 games ahead of the Rangers, largely because they out-performed their Pythagorean W/L by 7 games, while the Rangers under-performed by 6 games.
So, really, a lot of the reason the Rangers lost to the A's appears to have been luck...good luck for the A's, bad luck for the Rangers.
And the interesting thing about the Pyth. W/L records for the Rangers the past three years is that, really, the Rangers have had about the same quality of team each season...the Pyth. W/L for 2004 indicated they should have won 87 games (they actually won 89), for 2005 indicated that they should have won 82 games (they actually won 79), and for 2006 indicated that they should have won 86 games (instead of 80).
But the bigger issue here relates to the offense...for all the crying about the pitching staff (and I've cried about it, too), the pitching staff was okay last year. The problem was, the offense was only "okay," as well.
And yes, I know the Rangers were 4th in the A.L. in runs scored. I've heard the arguments about how that should be enough runs to win, that the team just needs better pitching. But the reality is, that argument ignores the impact of TBIA.
The OPS+ for the 2006 Rangers was 99 -- a shade below average, and 9th in the A.L. They were 11th in the A.L. in EQA (or, if you round off, tied for 9th with Seattle and Detroit). This was not a real good offensive team.
And really, anyone who followed the team this year should know that the team wasn't anything special with the bats. Mark Teixeira, Michael Young, Hank Blalock, Kevin Mench, Rod Barajas...they all declined from the previous year. Brad Wilkerson was a massive disappointment. The DH slot never got resolved.
GMJ and Mark DeRosa had career years, of course, which tended to help folks overlook the lack of production elsewhere. But even DeRosa posted just a .275 EQA -- not really anything special from a corner outfielder, where he usually played.
The 2006 Ranger offense was exceedingly ordinary. And if the 2007 Ranger offense isn't any better, there isn't much chance that the 2007 Texas Rangers are going to go anywhere.
I do think there are some reasons for optimism on some internal options. Ian Kinsler and Mark Teixeira, one would think, are reasonable bets to hit better in 2007. Gerald Laird holding down the catching slot, rather than Rod Barajas, should help, and hopefully Jason Botts' presence, along with a healthy Brad Wilkerson, can solve some of the corner outfielder/DH problems.
But the Rangers are still need a significant offensive addition to the lineup, if they want to be legitimate contenders in 2007. They need a Barry Bonds, a Gary Sheffield, a Manny Ramirez, someone they can slot into the middle of the lineup that is going to be a major offensive force.
Because, realistically, the Rangers aren't going to have a dominant rotation next year. They need to improve the rotation, but if an improved rotation isn't paired with an improved offense, there's a good possibility it will be for naught.
Pair an improved rotation with an improved lineup, though, and this is a playoff contender for 2007.