MLB Team Roundup: Texas Rangers

D.J. Short
Rotoworld

Follow @Rotoworld_BB and @djshort on Twitter.

Texas Rangers

2019 Record: 78-84
Third Place, AL West
Team ERA: 4.99 (23rd in MLB)
Team OPS: .740 (20th in MLB)

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What Went Right

The Rangers didn’t look like a winning team coming into the year, but they kept their heads above water a lot longer than most expected. One big reason — or two, really — was that Lance Lynn and Mike Minor had great years to lead an otherwise shaky starting rotation. According to Baseball Reference, Minor tied Justin Verlander for the MLB lead in pitcher WAR (wins above replacement) while Lynn ranked third. Whether you put much stock into that or not, the point is that they were excellent. Joey Gallo was great when healthy, posting a career-best 145 OPS+ with 22 homers over 70 games. Danny Santana came out of nowhere with a productive year while Hunter Pence turned back the clock with 19 homers and a .910 OPS over 83 games. Chris Martin was superb prior to being traded to the Braves on July 30. Shin-Soo Choo had a typical Shin-Soo Choo year while names like Willie Calhoun, Nick Solak, and Kolby Allard showed some interesting potential for the future.  

What Went Wrong

Rangers’ starting pitchers not named Lance Lynn or Mike Minor posted a brutal 7.22 ERA. It’s no surprise that they slipped to a 32-46 record after the start of July. Missing Joey Gallo was also a big part of that, as he didn’t play after July 23 due to a fractured right wrist. Elvis Andrus had a brutal second half, making it unlikely he uses the opt-out in his contract, while Rougned Odor continued to be frustratingly inconsistent at the plate. Nomar Mazara had a good second half, despite missing time with oblique and thumb injuries, but he’s still yet to rate as an above-average — or even average — hitter over a full season. Asdrubal Cabrera had a rough go of it as Adrian Beltre’s replacement at third base, batting .235 with 12 homers and a .711 OPS over 93 games before being released by the Rangers in early August. While Jose Leclerc struck out 100 batters in 68 2/3 innings, he took a step back from his breakout 2018 season.

Fantasy Slants

*There was some degree of head-scratching when the Rangers inked Lance Lynn to a three-year, $30 million contact last offseason, but it didn’t take long for that deal to look like a bargain. Lynn enjoyed the best season of his career in 2019, with a 3.67 ERA over a career-high 208 1/3 innings. Throwing harder than he did during his Cardinals days, he had his best strikeout and walk percentages over a full season. Only 16 qualified pitchers had a high strikeout percentage. Changes with arsenal and mechanics played a part in the breakthrough. When thinking about a repeat, it’s hard to contextualize without knowing the specifics of where Lynn will be pitching next year. With an underwhelming free agent market, there’s a case to be made to sell here. And if he stays, we don’t know how the Rangers’ new ballpark will play.

*Mike Minor was also a huge surprise for the Rangers and fantasy players alike, earning his first All-Star selection while posting a 3.59 ERA and 200/68 K/BB ratio over 208 1/3 innings. It was his first time reaching the 200-inning plateau since 2013 as a member of the Braves. That was before all of the shoulder issues which caused him to miss two seasons. The circumstances of his 200th strikeout were notable — as he got there after Ronald Guzman intentionally let a pop-up drop — but that doesn’t overshadow what was a great year. With the jump in workload, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Minor scuffled a bit during the second half, including a spike in home runs. Still, he’s not as good of a bet for 2020 as Lynn.

*It’s really a shame that we didn’t get to see if Joey Gallo could sustain his breakout over a full season. The 25-year-old batted .276/.421/.653 with 17 homers over his first 50 games before going down with an oblique injury at the start of June. He scuffled upon his return three weeks later and ultimately suffered a broken wrist in late July which kept him sidelined for the remainder of the year. The deep dive on Gallo suggests that he’s still a bit of an enigma. His strikeout rate this year was actually above his career average and only the Orioles’ Chris Davis struck out more frequently among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances. The main difference was that he managed a .368 BABIP, an improvement of over 100 points from his .249 mark in 2018. By any measure, Gallo hits the ball incredibly hard, so he certainly earned some of that good fortune. It’s just hard to count on consistent batting average help moving forward. The power should be there in spades, though.

*Danny Santana was the Rangers’ most valuable position player in fantasy leagues this season. I’ll say that again. Danny Santana was the Rangers’ most valuable position player in fantasy leagues this season. It was an outcome nobody would have predicted, as Santana slashed .219/.256/.319 in 735 MLB plate appearances between 2015-2018 and he didn’t even make the Rangers’ Opening Day roster this year. However, he started out hot upon his call-up in mid-April and managed to sustain it during the second half while making starts at seven different positions. In addition to blowing away his previous career-high with 28 homers, he batted .283/.324/.534 with 21 steals, 81 RBI, and 81 runs scored. There’s still flaws with his game, as he struck out in 29.5 percent of his plate appearances while walking just 4.9 percent of the time. He rated highly in metrics like average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, so if you throw in his speed, it’s hard to say he didn’t earn his .353 BABIP. The thing is that you just can’t bank on a repeat with his approach. With unknown factors like a possible change in baseball and the Rangers’ new ballpark, he’s looking like an early player to avoid next year.  

*It took long enough, but Willie Calhoun finally appears to have a clear role with the Rangers moving forward. The 24-year-old thrived in his return to Triple-A this year before batting .269/.323/.524 with 21 home runs and 48 RBI over 83 games with the Rangers. He primarily played left field — with some starts at DH sprinkled in — so it’s increasingly likely that Joey Gallo slides into right field in 2020. As for the 5-foot-8 Calhoun, he makes a lot of contact and checked plenty of boxes this year in terms of power production, lofting and pulling the ball more often while making some nice strides with his hard-hit percentage. Defensive concerns aside, Calhoun is going to be a popular name on draft day next year. And rightfully so.

**Is time running out on Nomar Mazara and Rougned Odor?

Mazara, who turns 25 next April, batted .268/.318/.469 with 19 homers through 116 games this season. That amounted to a career-high .786 OPS, but that takes context out of the equation. With power numbers at a record high this year, he finished with an OPS+ of 96, equaling his total from 2018. Four years into his career, we’ve yet to see much in the way of progress. Mazara was actually more aggressive than ever before this year, seeing his strikeout rate jump from 21.6 percent to 23 percent in the process. According to Baseball Savant, he actually experienced a decline in both average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage. With Joey Gallo, Willie Calhoun, and Shin-Soo Choo all in the fold for 2020, it’s very possible, if not likely, that the Rangers field offers this offseason.

Odor turned in his third 30-homer season in the last four seasons, but he did so while posting a lowly .205/.283/.439 batting line. That all adds up to an OPS+ of 79, so he was well below-average as a hitter. He led the American League with 178 strikeouts and his strikeout rate jumped from 23.7 in 2018 all the way to a career-high 30.6 percent this year. As often as he hits the ball in the air, it’s no surprise that his batting average sunk. He also took a step back defensively. Odor struggled mightily against right-handed pitching this year, so the Rangers are in a tough spot here. A trade is a possibility, but he’s still guaranteed $36 million over the next three seasons, so the Rangers would almost certainly have to cover some of his salary to make a deal more palatable.

*The most interesting variable here is that the Rangers will move into their new retractable roof stadium next season. Given the unbearably hot temperatures in the summer months, that’s probably a good move. What impact that will have on offense is to be determined, but the team believes it will play more neutral than the stadium they called home for the past 26 seasons.

Key Free Agents: Hunter Pence, Shawn Kelley (assuming the Rangers don't pick up his option)

Team Needs: Starting pitching depth and third base appear to be the biggest areas of need. The club could also use a veteran reliever or two to mix in with their intriguing and young bullpen arms.

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