Last year, just before Spring Training, I wrote this:
Now, here we are at the beginning of 2016 and I thought it might be good to go back and review that post given the outcome of last season. The Rangers won the division, but got bounced in the first round of the playoffs, in a way that I don’t care to talk about ever again. So, let’s just dwell on the fact that the Rangers won the West and are the reigning division champions.
I listed 12 things I thought needed to happen for the 2015 Rangers to make the post-season. Let’s start with #1.
- Yu Darvish needs to continue being Yu Darvish, and cannot get hurt.
Well…this is not looking good. I wrote that post at the beginning of February. By March Darvish was looking at having Tommy John surgery and, of course, he did and missed the entire season. That forced the Rangers to look to other guys to top the rotation, and actually ended up pushing the team into a hodge-podge rotation for much of the first part of the season. We ended up seeing names like Phil Klein, Anthony Ranaudo, Ross Detwiler, and Chi Chi Gonzalez starting games. One stat that should give you some real perspective about the 2015 Ranger rotation is that Wandy Rodriguez started 15 games. Obviously, the Rangers eventually added a true ace in the form of Cole Hamels, but that wasn’t until late in the season. So for a good part of the year, the “ace” of the staff ended up having to be Colby Lewis, who all things considered, had a remarkable season. The old man pitched over 200 innings, went 17-9, and even had a chance at a perfect game against Oakland on September 11. Looking back, Lewis pitched his best all-around season at the age of 35 when the team needed it the most.
2. Derek Holland has to pick up where he left off last season and pitch like a #2 starter.
Well crap. That didn’t happen either. Holland went down early with an injury too, and didn’t return until late in the season. I mean, seriously, the Ranger rotation was just devastated before the season was even a few days old.
3. Yovani Gallardo needs to eat up innings. He doesn’t have to pitch as well as Holland and Darvish, but he needs to throw 200+ innings, consistently taking games into the 7th inning and then leaving it to the set up guy and closer.
I will give Gallardo some credit here. He did not pitch 200 innings but he finished second in total innings with 184. He went 13-11 with a 3.42 ERA. Both respectable. He, along with Lewis, were the only mainstays in the starting rotation. The 3, 4, and 5 spots in the rotation….well rotated. And rotated quite a bit. They started 12 different guys in 2015. Both Gallardo and Lewis each started 33 games. No one else had more than 21. Any guess as to who that was? I bet you can’t. I’ll give you a minute. Who finished third last year in games started and total innings pitched? He didn’t even make the playoff roster. Still thinking…..? Nick Martinez.
4. Prince Fielder needs to be healthy and to play like a healthy Prince Fielder. If his poor performance last season was due to his injury, then he should be able to be the Prince Fielder we thought he could be. If not, then we spent a lot of money…well…for not much.
Fielder started off awful. Then got really hot, and then cooled down. Overall he had a pretty good year. He tied for the team lead in homeruns with Mitch Moreland, and led the team in batting average, RBIs, and OPS. I would still like to see more power. He finished with 23 HRs, but I think he can do better, especially with the jet stream at the ballpark.
5. Shin-Soo Choo needs to be healthy and to play like a healthy Shin-Soo Choo.
Choo started off awful too. But he ended up contributing quite a bit, particularly down the stretch. He finished just behind Moreland in batting average and homeruns, and a large chunk of that happened after the all-star break. He hit .221 before the break and .343 after. Fielder had opposite splits hitting .339 before the break and only .264 after.
The main thing to point out is that both these guys, Fielder and Choo, stayed healthy and played the whole season. That was a big key to the team’s success.
6. Mitch Moreland needs to figure out how to be a good DH and sometimes position player. He has not met expectations.
I think we can say that Mitch took a big step in this direction. He hit .278, tied for the team lead in HRs and added 85 RBIs. He also played some really good 1B. Overall, Mitch put together his best full season for the Rangers, finishing with a 2.2 WAR, and career highs in average, RBIs, OPS, and slugging.
7. Neftali Feliz needs to figure out how to be a good closer. Sometimes he looks brilliant, other times he looks awful. He needs to be consistently good.
At first, all I really wanted to write here was “Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.” But that would short change the job that Shawn Tolleson did. So, Feliz ended up getting released, because frankly, he was just bad. The Rangers thought they might just do closing by committee, but that ended very quickly when Shawn Tolleson showed that he could effectively handle the job. Tolleson finished with a 2.99 ERA and 35 saves. He had not saved a single game before last season. Those 35 saves were good for 5th in the AL, and that’s without getting his first save until May 20th when he started a streak of saving 6 straight games. He finished the season with only 2 blown saves. Pretty remarkable for a guy who got thrust into the closing job almost two months into the season.
8. Elvis Andrus needs to be a solid hitting, good defensive short stop. He was not that last year.
Elvis was a mixed bag. He put up a career low in batting average. But finished with more HRs, RBIs, fewer strike-outs, a higher OPS and a better WAR than he did in 2014. But, unfortunately, Elvis’s 2015 season will probably only be remembered for what happened in the ALDS which I will not talk about.
9. Jurickson Profar needs to quit being the second baseman of the future and be the second baseman. He needs to meet his potential and become the game changer the team seems to think he is.
Again, I was tempted to just write “Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.” But that would do a disservice to the job that Rougned Odor did. Rougie was a huge bright spot for the 2015 Rangers. A very pleasant surprise. These numbers aren’t going to knock you off your feet, but in context they were impressive. Odor hit .261 with 16 HRs and 61 RBIs. He started the season off as the every day second baseman, but got sent back to the minors in early May hitting only .144. He came back in mid-June and took off. He hit .391 for the month of June, .319 for July, and .310 for August. Ultimately he solidified himself as the club’s second baseman of the future, and frankly, that job was supposed to be Profar’s. And the numbers themselves weren’t the whole story. Rougie was a spark plug. He played hard, was excellent defensively, was quick on the bases, and was very fun to watch. His heads up play in the final game of the ALDS, that resulted in what should have been the go-ahead/winning run, exemplified all of this. I’m looking forward to seeing what Odor can put together this year.
10. The bullpen needs to be good.
There were a number of good things that happened in 2015. But, maybe the biggest was the emergence of one of the best bullpens in the league. It didn’t start off that way, and the Rangers had to make some key moves for it to happen, but those resulted in something spectacular. If you look at the full season numbers, the Rangers had one of the worst bullpens in all of baseball. A 4.12 ERA was towards the bottom of the league. But after the team traded for Sam Dyson and Jake Diekman things improved, and improved quickly. Between the start of August and the beginning of the playoffs, the bullpen had a 2.99 ERA, good for third best in the majors. And they were ridiculously good in the ALDS. In Game 1, Diekman and Dyson pitched scoreless 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. Game 2 went 14 innings and the bullpen pitched 7 scoreless, allowing the Rangers to finally win after scoring 2 in the top of the 14th. In Game 3, the Rangers lost, but the bullpen only gave up one run in 4 innings. The Rangers also lost Game 4, but that was Derek Holland’s fault. He gave up 6 runs in the first 2 innings. Colby Lewis had to come in for relief and pitched 3 innings. The actual bullpen only gave up 1 run over 4. Game 5 ended the Rangers’ season, but the bullpen only allowed 1 run in an inning and a third. So, over the course of 5 games, they allowed 3 runs over 19 and a third innings. Over the off-season they added veteran reliever Tom Wilhelmsenn to the mix, which adds depth to what has the potential to be the most reliable part of the team heading into 2016.
11. Adrian Beltre can’t get hurt.
He didn’t, but he did have a down year. But a down year for Beltre is a good year for others. He hit .287 which was still good for second on the team. Heck he’s 36 years old and has spent 18 years in the majors. We might be seeing the final years of his career, but it’s been fantastic.
12. They need an every day catcher that hits better than .239.
Catcher is still a big question mark for the team. If you want to call him that, I guess Robinson Chirinos was the “every day” catcher, but he missed all of August and almost all of September. He played in the most games as catcher (78), but the team had 5 guys who caught games last year, and four of them spent significant time behind the plate. Chris Giminez was probably the bright spot, hitting .255 in 36 games, but overall the group only hit .225, so they certainly didn’t improve on the .235 mark Ranger catchers posted in 2014. There needs to be a marked improvement here offensively.
So…it was an interesting season. Several of the things I thought needed to happen in order for them to win the division didn’t happen. And some of those ended up being quite the opposite. But, several other things DID happen that no one could have possibly foreseen in February of 2015. The signing of Cole Hamels, the trades for Diekman and Dyson, the emergence of Rougned Odor, and Shawn Tolleson taking over as a dominate closer. I think this team has a lot of potential going into 2016, but also some pretty important question marks. But a lot of teams are in that same position. However, given my accuracy in predicting last year’s “keys to success,” I think I may hold off on posting the “Things that need to happen for the Rangers to compete in the AL West in 2016.”