What They Did: 93-69, 2nd Place AL West. Lost Wild Card Game.
Actual Runs: Scored 808 runs, Allowed 707.
Expected wins based on RS and RA: 90.8 (2.2 below actual)
Restated: Scored 799 runs, Allowed 672.
Exp. wins based on restated RS and RA: 93.8 (0.8 above actual)
(Glossary: Expected wins, based on a modification of Bill James’ Pythagorean Theorem, are the amount of wins a team should win in any season based on the amount of runs it actually scored and allowed. Deviations will be explained in the appropriate team capsules.
Restated Runs Scored and Runs Allowed are the amount of runs a team should have tallied based on its actual components of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging achieved/allowed. In the case of the Rangers, if they posted exactly the same stats in 2013 as 2012, they should expect to win 94 games.)
On the surface, it sure seemed unlikely that Texas didn’t win the AL West last season. After all they outscored their opponents by more than 100 runs while leading the majors in runs scored. In fact, they were in first place 177 calendar days in a row beginning April 9 until the last day of the season on October 3. It turns out, however, that the cumulative nature of baseball standings masked the fact that while the Rangers were the dominant team in all of baseball during the season’s first quarter, for the remainder of the year, they were not much better than league average. In its first 40 games, Texas played .600 baseball and outscored its opponents by a whopping 80 runs. However, over the remaining 121 games, their run differential was just 21 runs. Meanwhile, over those same last three quarters of the season, the eventual division champion Oakland A’s outscored their opponents by 113 runs. The final standings and the drama of the last series of the season suggested an unlikely champion but the fact is the Rangers were convincingly outplayed by Oakland for a majority of the season.
The question for Rangers fans is how much weight to put on those last three quarters of play?
Ian Kinsler had the worst year of his career at the plate but he’s only 30. It’s not unrealistic to expect a bounce back year. Michael Young (.277/.312/.370) was the biggest problem in the lineup fetching the majority of his playing time at the premium hitting positions of first base and designated hitter all while hitting like an average MLB shortstop (.257/.310/.378). He departed via free agency which presents an opportunity for improvement. However, as discussed yesterday in the Angels preview, so did Josh Hamilton, whose .577 SLG production (2nd best in the AL) has zero chance of being matched by the Rangers new centerfield platoon, Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry. The Rangers hope that gaping hole in year-over-year production will be closed with Lance Berkman manning the DH role. Berkman, however, is 37 and has been healthy exactly one year since 2008. Of course, during that year, 2011, Berkman wielded an exceptionally effective bat in leading the Cardinals to a World Series title. The Rangers hope he has another Comeback Player of the Year campaign left in the tank. Finally, Texas is betting A.J. Pierzynski’s sudden power surge at age 35 (he hit 27 HRs in 520 plate appearances in 2012 after hitting 30 HRs in his previous 1,548 plate appearances) will replace the departed Mike Napoli’s 24 HRs (in just 417 plate appearances).
When the Rangers were in the midst of back-to-back World Series appearances, their farm system was deemed so stocked with talent, they seemed sure to score 800 runs a season for many years. Although they are young, Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar have looked overmatched in the majors so far and as a result, the Rangers suddenly have a depleted line up with a bench that provided dismal support last year. Their streak of 800 run seasons rests on a pair of creaky-kneed newcomers closer to 40 than 30.
Thanks to the ballpark they play half their games in, the Rangers pitching staff is always more effective than their runs allowed indicate. (9th in AL in runs allowed, although 5th adjusted for a park factor of 107.) The good news for the Rangers is the starters should be better this year. Half-seasons of 5.00+ ERA pitching from huge disappointments Roy Oswalt and Ryan Dempster as well as 21 starts from Scott Feldman, another 5.00+ ERA performer, will be improved upon by nearly anyone they give the ball to. If 22 year-old Martin Perez performs well, that will help salvage the reputation of the top-ranked farm system of a couple of season ago. Yu Darvish pitched every bit as well as his most optimistic supporter foresaw including stellar pitching down the stretch when he went 3-0 in five September starts posting a 2.21 ERA. It certainly didn’t look like the league caught to his stuff.
Offsetting that encouraging news is that Texas’ defense, elite in prior years fell to league-average in 2012. That drop may have, somewhat invisibly, cost the Rangers three games compared to 2011 and if it resulted from an aging core of players, it’s not likely to turn around this year. Additionally, the 2012 bullpen was 2nd best in the AL (behind Tampa) in suppressing runs. Due to the fickle nature of year-to-year bullpen results, it’s highly unlikely the Rangers bullpen will be as effective in 2013 due, not just to variance, but departures (notably, Mike Adams) and changing roles as well (Alexi Ogando moving to starter).
Finally, I’ll apply yesterday’s Jered Weaver prediction to Rangers starter Matt Harrison (18-11 3.29 ERA in 2012): A 2013 ERA above 4.00 and a struggle for the Rangers to win half the games he starts. Harrison’s 2012 results – truly top-tier given the venue he calls home – were aided by a special type of “cluster luck.” Harrison stranded 78.6% of the runners who got on base, 5th best in the AL. The average AL starter stranded 71%. However, Harrison – even if you believe he has the ability to raise his game with runners on base – actually pitched worse (less strikeouts, more walks) in those situations. Batters simply hit his pitches at fielders. With his anemic strikeout rate (15.2% -- fifth lowest in the AL among qualified starters) there is little chance he can repeat that performance in similar high-leverage situations in 2013.
The Rangers still have enough firepower to ease into the playoffs as a wild-card team for the second year in a row. In fact, it’s not unrealistic to expect a tight division battle with Los Angeles, or even Oakland and Seattle (gasp!). I believe, with pretty high conviction, that if such a battle is waged in 2013, unlike 2012, it will be conducted at a win level in the 80s not the 90s.
Oddsmakers’ expectations: The Rangers total wins market opened at 86. Even though this falls right in line with my expectations, it still surprised me quite a bit. On the eve of Opening Day last year, the Angels and Rangers markets were 93 and 92 respectively. The Rangers won by four games in posting 90+ wins for the third year in a row. Further, on a day-to-day basis the high-scoring Rangers are a “public” team. I know why I foresee problems for Texas this year, and of course Josh Hamilton switched teams, but I’m surprised the oddsmakers see it the same way. Given the popularity of the Rangers, I expect when we take a look at the pre-Opening Day markets, the Rangers win total will have eased higher. For now though, I think it’s right in line with expectations.
85-77 – Second in AL West, 2nd Wild Card Berth
777 Runs Scored 737 Runs Allowed
Mop Up Duty:
Joe Peta is the author of Trading Bases, A Story About Wall Street, Gambling, and Baseball* (*) Not necessarily in that order, a Dutton Books/Penguin (U.S.A.) March 7, 2013 release. It is available for pre-order from a number of on-line booksellers. Here are three you can currently choose from:
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