With the 2019 Texas Rangers season now over, I’m going to do a series of posts handing out grades to every player who appeared for the Rangers this year. I’m starting with pitchers, will go in alphabetical order, and then will do position players in alphabetical order.
Grades will be based on a combination of performance, expectations, and my own whims at the moment I happen to be typing this up. They aren’t to be taken too seriously.
And today, Part VIII...
MIKE MINOR — A
Mike Minor was really good in 2019. He also had kind of an odd year, and it seems like our discussions about him shifted over the course of the season from talking about how good he was pitching to asking about how good he was really pitching, and fretting about whether the Rangers blew it with him.
Minor was terrific out of the box, led the American League in bWAR most of the year, and ended the season with a 7.8 bWAR, tied with Justin Verlander for tops in the American League. He had a 3.59 ERA, which was 6th in the American League, and a 144 ERA+, 4th in the American League. And he was durable — he logged 208.1 IP on the year, tied with Lance Lynn for 4th in the A.L., and famously had exactly 200 strikeouts on the year, 10th best in the American League.
For much of the year, the talk was about how Minor had a legitimate Cy Young case, and how he was one of the best pitchers in the league in 2019.
As the season went on, however, the tenor of the discussion changed. There were rumors swirling around Minor in July, as the Rangers, out of the race, were willing to move their prized lefthander, who is still under contract through 2020. There were arguments about whether the Rangers were asking too much for him, whether other teams weren’t offering enough, whether the Rangers were being stupid or stubborn by not being more aggressive in making deals because of trying to position themselves to be good when the new stadium opens in 2020. There was the bemoaning of Minor slumping at the wrong time, as he put up a 6.59 ERA in 27 IP in July, and fretting that he had tanked his value.
After the trade deadline came and went, there was second guessing, condemnation, talk about whether Minor should be extended, talk about whether he’s too old to extend. Minor struggled down the stretch, giving up a lot of runs in his final three outings of the year, which resulted in his ERA going from 3.08 in mid-September to 3.59 at season’s end, but he battled to get 200 strikeouts on the season, to the point that he was left in the game in his final start against the Red Sox longer than he probably should have been, getting his 200th K after Ronald Guzman purposely let a foul pop up drop so Minor would have another chance to fan the batter, resulting in recriminations back and forth between the BoSox and Rangers about playing the game the right way.
And then there were questions about how good Minor’s 2019 season really was. His FIP of 4.25 meant his fWAR was 4.2, much lower than his bWAR, though still good for 8th in the A.L. BP’s WARP had Minor even lower, at 3.9. He, along with Lance Lynn, almost seemed to be blamed by some for Jeff Mathis getting playing time, with suggestions being made that Mathis was only playing because Minor and Lynn liked throwing to him.
It is almost enough to make one miss that Minor had the highest bWAR of any pitcher in Texas Rangers history, that he had his second great very good season in the rotation for the Rangers after they were the only team that pursued him in free agency with an eye towards making him a starter rather than a reliever.
The Rangers are heading into 2020 in a good spot with Minor and Lynn in their rotation. The Rangers could deal Minor this offseason, or they could extend him, or they could just roll with him and see how 2020 goes. But he’s been one of the best pickups of Jon Daniels’ tenure as general manager, and was one of the best pitchers in the league in 2019.
RAFAEL MONTERO — A
A guy I have to eat crow about. The Rangers signed Montero, who was recovering from Tommy John surgery, to a minor league deal in the offseason, and there was talk about him possibly contributing in the major league bullpen in 2019. I scoffed at the notion — yes, the righthander was once a top 100 guy as a prospect, prior to the 2014 season, but he never performed well for the New York Mets in the majors before his injury, and I saw little reason to believe that he would be anything other than depth in Nashville that we would hope would never have to see the majors for Texas.
Montero rehabbed, had 5 appearances for the AZL Rookie League team, made 5 appearances for Frisco, and then 1 for Nashville before the Rangers called him up on July 22. Montero replaced Shawn Kelley, who went on the injured list, on the active roster, and Carlos Tocci was designated for assignment to clear a 40 man roster spot. Kelley being injured was a blow, since there was a hope that he could be dealt for a nice return at the deadline, and Tocci being DFA’d was kind of big news, given that the Rangers had stuck with him all through 2018 as a Rule 5 guy. Montero being up seemed like an afterthought, and he appeared to be just a warm body who would be gone in a week or two.
But no. Montero pitched well, and Chris Woodward used him almost immediately in a 7th/8th inning role. By September, Montero was the primary 8th inning guy for Woodward. He finished the year with a 2.48 ERA and a 3.83 FIP in 29 major league innings, with 34 Ks against 5 walks and (his one bugaboo) 5 home runs allowed.
Statcast said Montero was a little lucky — he had a .286 wOBA allowed, compared to a .315 xwOBA — but still, a .315 wOBA from a cheap reliever is nothing to sneeze out. Montero is out of options, and he’s not exactly young — he turned 29 last week — but he is under team control for three more years. The Rangers have a number of relief arms on the 40 man roster that they will have to make decisions on, and two months ago I would have said Montero would be a 40 man casualty, but I’ve come around to the view that he’s probably got a job on the Opening Day bullpen for 2020 if he stays healthy and doesn’t implode in spring training.