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Springtime Storylines: Will the Texas Rangers' rotation hold up?

Mar 29, 2010, 9:00 AM EDT

Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Texas Rangers


The
big question: Will the rotation hold up?

When Nolan Ryan rode into town in 2008 and took over as Rangers’ President he vowed to make a historic weakness in Texas — pitching — into a strength. He wanted his starters to be better-conditioned physically and mentally with the aim of having them throw deeper into games.  Last season it paid off, with team ERA dropping and his starters’ innings pitched improved to seventeenth from dead last the year before. We’ll have a better idea if the improvement was a matter of personnel or philosophy after this season, because the cast, she has changed.

Kevin Millwood is gone, traded to Baltimore. In his place is a pitcher who, if healthy, can be better, but who is never ever healthy: Rich Harden. Harden has been a bit erratic this spring, but no one is too worried about it. Harden will actually be the number two starter, with Scott Feldman getting the Opening Day nod. Those two will be followed by C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Matt
Harrison. Tommy Hunter would have been there but for a strained oblique that will have him starting the year on the DL.

Feldman was something of a revelation last year. Is it sustainable? Some very smart people suggest the answer is yes because his improvement in 2009 was the result of some conscious changes in approach from the guy in the form of changing his arm angle and relying much more heavily on a cut fastball that proved to be most effective.

Colby Lewis is back from a couple of great years in Japan. If he’s more like NPB Lewis, the Rangers will have a good one on their hands. If he pitches like he did during his first major league tour of duty it will be pretty ugly. Wilson is pulling a Kyle Farnsworth and converting into a starter after years in the pen (I like Wilson’s chances better for reasons we’ll just broadly refer to as his superior mental approach). Harrison has been hit hard in two partial seasons as a starter.

I like Feldman’s chances to put up another good season, but beyond him you have an injury case, a converted reliever a kid and unknown quasi-import.  It’s possible that all of them will take nicely to Nolan Ryan’s mental approach.  But I’m a bit worried about them being able to do so physically, and I think that there’s a decent chance we’ll see the Rangers’ pitching slide back down to where we’re used to seeing them: at the bottom of the league in multiple categories.

So what else is going on?

  • Is Neftali Feliz Joba-south?  Feliz was a candidate for the rotation but will be in the pen instead. I wonder if he’s the latest in a line of promising starting pitchers who break into the majors as relievers in the interest of preserving their arms but who end up finding themselves stuck in the bullpen forever, wasting so much of their promise.
  • Vlad Guerrero in Texas made so much sense that I’m amazed it actually happened.  The big talking point over the winter was just how awesome he hits in the Ballpark at Arlington. Not as big as a related talking point was the fact that he’ll no longer be able to hit against Rangers’ pitching there.  I have no idea how he’ll do. I’d place just as much odds on him going on a tear as I would on him having one of those forgettable superstar-in-winter seasons like Harmon Killebrew with the Royals or something.
  • I’d be remiss in not mentioning the ownership situation. The deal isn’t closed yet, of course, and won’t be by Opening Day.  Last year Major League Baseball had to come in and help Hicks with payroll. The longer that sort of stuff lingers into this season the worse it will be.  If a serious roadblock presents itself that stretches the timeline out further, it could impact the ability of the team to make moves to stay in the pennant race if need be. Right now that seems unlikely — they’ll probably get it done — but it’s an issue looming out there.

So how
are they gonna do?

This is one of those previews that made me more and more pessimistic the more I thought about it.  I had it in my mind that the Rangers would be a solid second place choice behind Anaheim, but I’m not terribly comfortable with that at the moment.  The rotation scares me and the injuries scare me even more. We’ll do the Mariners next, but both of these teams have problems. It may all come down to Cliff Lee’s abdomen vs. Ian Kinsler’s high ankle sprain.  It’ll be close either way.

Prediction: Second
place, AL West, but this is not your Lock of the Week or anything.  It’s a shaky second place pick, no question about it.

Click
here for other Springtime Storylines

  1. Moses Green - Mar 29, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    Love the CJ Wilson aside.
    We’re outgunned and undermanned, but you know what? We’re gonna win. You know why? Superior attitude. Superior state of mind.

  2. APBA Guy - Mar 29, 2010 at 11:35 AM

    Much as I love the way Wash and Nolan Ryan have constructed the team and have them playing, the back end of the rotation is sure to cause problems, and you have to wonder about Feldman as a #1. He is certainly serviceable, and his poise is commendable (what else do you expect from CSM alumni?)but in a head to head with other #1′s in the division (Ben Sheets, King Felix, whoever the Angels run out there), who would you favor?
    The Hicks thing is more than a distraction, and if his indifference to Liverpool’s needs in the transfer window is an indicator, the Rangers will have to play the cards they have at the end of Spring.
    The one positive is that in the rest of the division nobody is a lock. But since the Angels and Mariners are both largely veteran teams you have to give them the edge over the Rangers. The beloved A’s figure to only be a threat to the league lowest attendance record, especially once Sheets and Duke hit the DL.

  3. Old Gator - Mar 29, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    Craig, when you gonna stop wasting our time on Designatedhitterball teams and come over here to the league where real baseball gets played? Or are you just saving the best for next?

  4. YankeesfanLen - Mar 29, 2010 at 1:38 PM

    Wilson has a better mental attitude than Farnsworthless? So does Daffy Duck,
    Still like Rangers in West.
    BTW, you know I have nothing against ex-Yankees- Damon, Matsui, Abreau, even Giambi and (gasp) Pavano, just those that you could never trust with a 5 run lead in the 7th.

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