Texas Rangers 2015 projections: While the offseason isn't quite over yet, and there are still moves to be made around the league, with the start of the new year I thought it would be instructive to take a look at the 2015 Fangraphs projections, and see how the Rangers compare to the rest of the league at this point.
As of now, things don't look good for Texas in the projections...the Rangers are projected to win 77 games, the same as the Brewers and ChiSox, one less than the Rockies (who were even worse than Texas last year), and just one more game than the Astros. But what I want to take a closer look at is how the Rangers project, position by position, and how they compare to the rest of MLB.
So let's do that, why don't why?
Catcher -- Rangers: 25th, 2.3 WAR. MLB as a whole: 90.9 WAR
In a way, this is not surprising...the Rangers' catching situation is in a bit of flux, as they don't have a real backup in place yet, and they are basically treading water until Jorge Alfaro is ready. On the other hand, Robinson Chirinos played well last season, and Fangraphs projects him at 2.1 wins in 448 plate appearances in 2015, with Tomas Telis providing the other 0.2 wins and the rest of the PAs. This low ordinal ranking seems to stem, in large part, from the high overall projections for catchers, with 3.0 as the median mark. Getting 2-2.5 wins from the catching spot in 2015 would seem to be something the Rangers would probably take.
First base -- Rangers: 14th, 2.7 WAR. MLB as a whole: 79.0 WAR
And this is the first of the critical positions for the Rangers, as it relates to their chances in 2015. Fangraphs has Prince Fielder as getting 2.5 WAR in 595 plate appearances, with the other 105 PAs being picked up by Mitch Moreland, Kyle Blanks, and Ryan Rua. I think its fair to say that the Rangers didn't trade Ian Kinsler, and agree to pay Fielder $24M per year in 2014-15, with another $18M per year from 2016-20, with the belief he'd be a two-and-a-half win player this soon. And the 595 PAs is a reflection of the time he missed last season...if he's healthy, Prince will probably get close to 700 PAs, which would bump up his projected wins slightly. But I think the Rangers are expecting -- or, perhaps, hoping -- that Prince starts mashing again, and is a 4-5 win player in 2015. What he does is going to be one of the biggest factors for Texas in 2015.
Second base -- Rangers: 18th, 1.7 WAR. MLB as a whole: 60.3 WAR
For years, the Rangers consistently were able to pencil Ian Kinsler in at second base, and expect him to be in the upper-half to upper-third of second basemen in baseball. With Kinsler gone, Jurickson Profar was supposed to take over that role as better-than-average second baseman in 2014, but missed the entire year with a torn shoulder. Fangraphs projects that Profar will get half the playing time, with a 1.2 WAR, and Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas splitting the remainder of the PAs. Profar, of course, is not expected to start the season in the majors, and it seems likely Odor will be the everyday second baseman this year. Odor acquitted himself well for a 20 year old pressed into duty in 2014, but he's probably not at a point where he's going to be an average major league regular, and so this is one of those projections that seems like it is on the high side.
Shortstop -- Rangers: 10th, 2.8 WAR. MLB as a whole: 68.1 WAR
Much ink has been spilled over Elvis Andrus, his contract, his 2014 performance, his future with the team. Fangraphs, for what it is worth, projects him with the 6th highest WAR of any shortstop in 2015, with the overall team WAR dropping because Sardinas, who gets the backup PAs, is projected to be replacement level. You'll be amused to know that the M's are 4th at SS in the projections, with the Chris Taylor/Brad Miller combo pegged at 3.1 WAR.
Third base -- Rangers: 3rd, 5.3 WAR. MLB as a whole: 90.3 WAR
Adrian Beltre is tied with Evan Longoria for the second highest projected WAR for a third baseman, at 5.3, trailing only Josh Donaldson (5.6). Like at shortstop, the backups at the position project at replacement level, which is why the Rangers are at 3rd, behind the Rays. Adrian Beltre is Adrian Beltre. One day he'll stop being awesome. Hopefully that won't be in 2015. Third base, like catcher, has an unusually high aggregate WAR projection...whether that is because there are a lot of good third basemen, or whether the position adjustment for 3B is too high, is a discussion for another day.
Left field -- Rangers: 14th, 2.1 WAR. MLB as a whole: 65.2 WAR
This is the second of the two critical positions for the Rangers in 2015...or at least, the second of the two critical players, as Fangraphs puts Shin-Soo Choo in left field, even though it sounds like he'll be playing right field. Either way, the Rangers gave Choo a
seven nine figure contract as a free agent last season, with the thought he'd be an impact leadoff hitter and a solid defender in a corner outfield spot. Instead, after being great at the plate to start the season, Choo hurt his ankle, was terrible as he tried to play through it, and then had his season cut short with elbow surgery, while being dreadful in the field the whole year. The Rangers didn't sign Choo to be the 14th best left fielder (or right fielder) in MLB. Like Prince, Texas is expecting, or hoping, Choo is a 4-5 win player in 2015, rather than the 2.0 win player Fangraphs has him projected as, and whether he is or not will be a major factor in the Rangers' success or failure in 2015.
Center field -- Rangers: 12th, 2.6 WAR. MLB as a whole: 79.6 WAR
Leonys Martin frustrates a lot of fans -- and, I suspect, his coaches and manager -- and I think that results in Rangers fans overlooking the value he offers. Leonys is a little-bit-above-average player in centerfield, a guy who plays really good defense, runs the bases well, and hits righthanders fairly well. He struggles against lefties, and he makes mental mistakes that drive folks crazy, but the only problem the Rangers have in centerfield is who will be backing up Leonys. Fangraphs has Jake Smolinski and Michael Choice as the backups there, but my guess is that, if Delino DeShields, Jr., doesn't stick on the roster (and I'd be surprised if he did), the Rangers will find a righthanded hitting outfielder who can handle center and have him be the 25th man on the roster.
Right field -- Rangers: 29th, 0.4 WAR. MLB as a whole: 71.8 WAR
This is the one gaping, ugly hole in the everyday lineup right now for the Rangers. Fangraphs has a 40/40/20 split of playing time with Michael Choice, Jake Smolinski and Ryan Rua, which, predictably, projects to be bad. It remains to be seen if the Rangers try to nab someone like Nori Aoki or Colby Rasmus on a one year deal, but if they don't, Ryan Rua seems to have the inside track for the job. The Rangers seem to have more faith in Rua than the projections do.
DH -- Rangers: 13th (among A.L. teams), 0.6 WAR.
Oh, yeah. There's also this gaping hole. Well, I say it is a gaping hole, but unlike with the vacant COF spot, the Rangers appear to be going into spring training with a real plan in place, having Mitch Moreland and Kyle Blanks platoon. Fangraphs gives Moreland the bulk of the PAs in their projection, but has him at just 0.2 WAR for the season, while Kyle Blanks picks up 175 PAs with a 0.4 WAR, and Choo and Rua split the rest at replacement level. I tend to believe that a healthy Mitch Moreland would be worth more than 0.2 WAR as a platoon DH, but then, I'm not sure of the likelihood we'll see a healthy Mitch Moreland.
Rotation -- Rangers: 14th, 8.8 WAR. MLB as a whole: 266.1 WAR
Fangraphs has the Rangers with roughly a league average rotation, despite all the questions and issues surrounding the back end of the rotation. This is largely a tribute to the power of Yu, as Yu Darvish projects for 4.3 WAR, or almost half of the team total. Derek Holland is only projected at 2.0 in 188 IP, with a 4.19 ERA and a 4.15 FIP. This is surprisingly low for a pitcher who had a 4.8 fWAR in 2013, and pitched exceedingly well in 2014 in his limited work. Behind those three, Nick Tepesch, Ross Detwiler and Colby Lewis are all projected as about the same, 0.7-0.8 WAR apiece, with Nick Martinez getting most of the stop starts in this project and Martin Perez and Matt Harrison being tossed in for a dozen-and-a-half innings apiece.
Bullpen -- Rangers: 21st, 1.6 WAR. MLB as a whole: 58.7 WAR
Fangraphs sees Tanner Scheppers, Shawn Tolleson, Robbie Ross and Neftali Feliz as being worth a combined 1.4 wins, and the rest of the bullpen as being replacement level. Bullpens are inherently one of the least predictable and projectable areas, and but I'd wager on the 2015 pen exceeding this projection. The team has a lot of good arms, Neftali Feliz looks like he's finally back from Tommy John surgery, and the team has generally done well in sifting through bullpen options and finding guys who perform. I'd bet on the Ranger pen being in the top half of MLB in 2015.
Okay...so we've gone through the projections. What have we learned? We've learned that Fangraphs sees the big weaknesses on this team as being 2B, DH, and one of the COF positions. We've learned that Fangraphs really likes Adrian Beltre. We've learned that, aside from those spots, it sees this team as an average to a little above average group.
If one wants to ask, how can this team be a playoff contender in 2015, given these projections, I think its easy to identify the most likely areas of improvement:
1) The Rangers need to get about 4 more wins, in aggregate, from Choo and Prince than projected
2) The Rangers need to get an extra 2 wins, total, from the dead spots in the lineup -- 2B, DH, and one of the COF spots -- either by Moreland, Rua or Odor taking a step forward, or by trading for someone who can perform better
3) Derek Holland needs to be 2 wins better than projected, which would put him as a 4 win pitcher -- a level he's exceeded, on a rate basis, the past two years
4) The Rangers need to get another 2 wins out of the back three spots in the rotation, either by acquiring a 2.5-3 win pitcher to slot into the rotation, by Lewis or Detwiler performing better, or by someone internally (Chi Chi Gonzalez would be the most likely bet) taking a step forward (or some combination of the above).
5) The Rangers need to get another win or two out of their bullpen.
The above doesn't fall under the "if everything goes right" category -- those are attainable goals, which would get the Rangers to close to 90 wins, even if the rest of the proejctions are accurate. There are other areas that you can point to and say, "The Rangers could do better here (or worse there)," but if you are wanting to look at the big things that have a reasonable chance of happening that would put the Rangers in the playoff mix, I think those 5 things, above, are the main ones.