StrategyMarch 7, 2011

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30 Team in 30 Days: Texas Rangers

By Michael Kropman

In 2010, the Texas Rangers had the finest season in franchise history. After a slow April, they seemed to heat up with the weather, as they rode the bat of eventual AL MVP Josh Hamilton to the best team batting average in all of baseball. However, the hitting in Arlington is no surprise to anyone. It’s the pitching that made this team different. Thanks to a mid-season acquisition of ace Cliff Lee coupled with AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz’ record setting closer performance, the Rangers shook off their ‘all bats and no arms’ tag to finish with a 90-72 record, good for their first AL West crown in 11 years. But the success didn’t stop there. They rolled through 40% of the mighty AL East in the playoffs, taking down the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees en route to the first AL pennant since the Washington Senators relocated to Arlington in 1972. Alas, like 28 other teams, their season ended on a sour note, as they couldn’t overcome the young guns and timely hitting of the San Francisco Giants.

After the season was over, free agency claimed two huge contributors to the Rangers’ 2010 success in Cliff Lee and Vladimir Guerrero. However, Texas made moves to counter those losses by signing third baseman Adrian Beltre away from the Red Sox and gambling that Brandon Webb’s two-year injury vacation wouldn’t extend into a third. They also traded for masher Mike Napoli to play all around the diamond.
While the 2011 Texas Rangers may seem to be a bit weaker than the team that made it to the World Series, there is more than enough firepower in the lineup and potential in the rotation to make waves again this season. The key is health. If notoriously fragile sluggers Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, and Josh Hamilton can stay off the DL (something they’ve all had trouble doing), and their rotation continues to progress, a second AL West crown is a very likely scenario with potential for much more in 2011.
In “30 Teams in 30 Days,” the Fantasy Baseball Cafe will preview each team in Major League Baseball on a daily basis. In addition to projecting starting lineups, rotations and closing situations, the Cafe will identify potential targets for 2011 fantasy baseball drafts.
Offensive Starters

C Yorvit Torrealba.271.343.378317377325w/SD
1B Mitch Moreland.255.364.469209253145 
2B Ian Kinsler.286.382.4127394515391 
SS Elvis Andrus.265.342.3018803532588 
3B Adrian Beltre.321.365.55384281022589w/BOS
LF Josh Hamilton.359.411.63395321008518 
CF Julio Borbon.276.309.3406034215438 
RF Nelson Cruz.318.374.57660227817399 
DH Michael Young.284.330.4449921914656 

Unsettled: First base. Last season, first base was a surprisingly weak area offensively for the Rangers. Justin Smoak, Chris Davis, Ryan Garko, and Mitch Moreland all failed to strike any fear into pitchers on a consistent basis when it was their turn to man first base in the regular season. However, with Smoak shipped off to Seattle for the Cliff Lee rental, and Mitch Moreland tearing up postseason pitching to the tune of a .348 average, it seems that the position initially belongs to Moreland. However, he has two very imposing figures ready to step in at signs of the first struggle: Michael Young and Mike Napoli.
With Beltre brought in to man the hot corner, Michael Young has once again been asked to move to a new position: DH. He seems none to happy about this, so don’t be surprised to see Texas play him at first occasionally to get his glove on the field. Also lurking is masher Mike Napoli, who figures to spell Yorvit Torrealba behind the plate, but also has quite a bit of experience at first. With these options, as well as the mercurial Chris Davis still lurking, expect Moreland’s leash to be quite short this season.
Target: Michael Young. It seems as if Texas management is doing to Young what fantasy owners have been doing forever: undervaluing him. Year in and year out, Young produces. Since he doesn’t put up huge numbers in fantasy baseball’s ‘glamour categories’ (HR, SB, AVG), he is consistently overlooked. There is something to be said, however, for the skill set Young brings to the table. First off is his health. With the way Texas hitters get dinged up, you’d think there was something in the water. But Michael Young has shown to be the picture of durability, spending zero days on the DL in his career. The fact that the rest of the Rangers infield is so brittle adds even more to his value, as it would not be surprising to see him get work at first base, second base, and third base throughout the course of the season.
Michael Young also bats second in a loaded Texas lineup. Given his usual 600 at bats, his floor is 80 runs and RBIs with a more likely line of 90-90. He’s also hit 20 home runs in his past two seasons and batted .284 or better in each of his past eight seasons. With a reasonable chance to attain a line of 90-20-90-.290, his MDP of 76 seems like a nice little bargain, given the dearth of third base talent. If you find yourself without an elite option, he’s a wonderful fall back option that could very well finish top-five at his position.
The Rotation
C.J. Wilson (L)15-83.351.2517093204.0 
Colby Lewis (R)12-133.721.1919665201.0 
Tommy Hunter (R)13-43.731.246833128.0 
Derek Holland (L)3-44.081.38542457.3 
Brandon Webb (R)----- 

Unsettled: The fourth and fifth spots. With the recent grumblings about Neftali Feliz getting stretched out in spring training, things could get very interesting for this rotation in the upcoming weeks. Most likely to be affected by a Feliz move to the rotation would be Derek Holland. Despite high hopes, Holland has yet to put it all together. He’s also been bitten by the Texas injury bug, spending 62 days on the DL last season due to rotator cuff inflammation. While his future is bright, he is still 24 and has quite a bit of work to do before he fulfills his potential.
And then there’s Brandon Webb. After missing two years due to shoulder woes, there is quite a bit of hesitancy by fantasy owners to accept that he’s even close to full strength, as evidenced by his MDP of 353. While he’s fairly good value as a last round flier, don’t be surprised to see a shell of who he once was.
Target: Colby Lewis. Without Cliff Lee, the Texas rotation is much less imposing. However, thanks to Colby Lewis’ return from Japan in 2010 and subsequent impressive season, all hope is not lost. His strikeout rate translated nicely to the majors last season, resulting in a dominating 8.8 K/9. Also, while his ERA splits were a bit concerning, jumping from 3.35 in the first half to 4.11 in the second half, there is no reason to be concerned. His xERA, FIP, and xFIP all stayed consistent throughout the year, with end results of 3.58, 3.55, and 3.93 respectively. While a huge step forward should not be expected, a regression is unlikely as well. He’s a good No. 2 pitcher with far less risk than he’s being given credit for.
The 8th and 9th Innings
Neftali Feliz (R)402.730.88711869.1 
Alexi Ogando (R)01.301.13391641.2 

Chasing Saves: Nice little debut for Feliz last season, eh? All he did was set the MLB rookie record for saves, win Rookie of the Year, and make it to the World Series. While he was a bit on the lucky side last season, his youth and upside would have made him one of the safest picks among all closers. It’s never that easy though, is it? As of right now, he is currently being stretched out in spring training and could possibly be moved to the rotation. If he does, his value falls a bit, as his starting experience in the majors is minimal. That would not be the case, however, for Alexi Ogando. After a season in which he put up spectacular ratios, the converted outfielder is now a necessary handcuff for those counting on Feliz as their main saves guy. Keep a close eye on the situation as it develops, as veteran Darren Oliver may instead get a crack at the gig due to experience.
Final Thoughts
Texas Rangers will be flying off the board in drafts, as most of the offense is roster worthy. While there is quite a bit of injury risk with the top end Rangers (Hamilton, Kinsler, Cruz, and currently dinged up Adrian Beltre), it seems to be built into their price tag somewhat. If you’re a gambling man (or woman), all four could pay off very handsomely if they can stay healthy.
As was mentioned, there’s also value to be had in the middle rounds with the safety of Michael Young, the upside of young Elvis Andrus, and the power of Mike Napoli. For a late round speed option, you could do worse than hope for a bounce back season from the speedy Julio Borbon.
On the pitching side, you probably don’t want any of these guys as your staff ace, but C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis are nice options as middle of the rotation guys. If Feliz moves into the rotation, he would profile as a No. 3 with high upside. If not, he remains a top tier closer.
Check back tomorrow for our preview of the Seattle Mariners.

Mike Kropman is a transplanted New Yorker currently teaching high school math up in little old Rhode Island. He enjoys P90X, watching Yovani Gallardo pitch, and Super Bowl 42. You can catch up with him in the Cafe under the user name Inukchuk.
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