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The TCB Daily Boil: Rotating pitchers, rotating powers

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The Rangers' shallow rotation could have positive, long-term effects for the Astros, writes Edward S. Garza.

Scott Halleran

Last Friday in San Antonio, I had the pleasure of attending the Astros’ exhibition game against the Texas Rangers (see picture below). I was elated not only to watch the ‘Stros win 6-5, but also to see Carlos Correa, George Springer, and other prospects in action. By the end, Houston had banged out nine hits, enough to get me thinking about the Rangers’ pitchers this year.

So later I referred to Texas’s depth chart on FanGraphs, which revealed how shallow the team’s starting rotation is. With both Derek Holland and Yu Darvish injured, the Rangers have started the season with these five pitchers (projections courtesy of FanGraphs):

Name Innings Pitched Fielding Independent Pitching Wins Above Replacement
Martin Perez 167 4.56 1.6
Tanner Scheppers 141 3.88 2.5
Robbie Ross 75 3.54 1.6
Joe Saunders 65 4.63 0.5
Nick Martinez 9 5.40 0.0

Darvish will return this weekend, but I’ve continued to be shocked by how porous Texas’s staff looks. Without their Japanese ace, the above hurlers project for a mere 6.2 wins above replacement. Of them, only Scheppers holds a projected WAR above league average, and I don’t buy into him throwing 141 good innings. Even with Darvish returning, the Rangers will need to cover Holland’s starts until the All-Star break. They’ll do so with an inferior pitcher.

(As for the Astros’ starters--Scott Feldman, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, Lucas Harrell, and Dallas Keuchel--they project for only 4.0 WAR, though that number comes with youthful upside. There’s no way, for example, that Cosart, Oberholtzer, and Keuchel will combine for only 1.8 WAR this year, as FanGraphs' model predicts. At least one of them should improve enough to raise that figure. Houston also has considerable depth behind these five.)

Indeed, the Rangers’ staff could rob them of a playoff spot this year. As Holland’s de facto replacement, Saunders should cost them at least two wins. Moreover, now Texas’s entire depth chart is out of whack. Yes, Scheppers and Ross might pitch quality innings, but two less talented hurlers must now take their place in the ‘pen. Even then, the Rangers shouldn't just assume that their relievers will excel as starters. The Cardinals make that switch look easy, but there are far more counterexamples (see Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar, and Aroldis Chapman). Then there’s Martinez, who’s a fine prospect but has made only four starts above A ball. Rangers fans may keep chanting, "Just wait for Holland," but chances are Texas will concede at least four wins by the time he returns--and we know what four more wins would’ve done for Texas last season. (On a mostly related note, this team is not going 16-2 versus Houston this year.)

Photo credit: Amanda E. Scott

So, why should Astros fans care about the Rangers’ shallow rotation, aside from the fact Houston and Texas share the AL West? Well, the Rangers’ staff could cost them more than a playoff spot. By July, general manager Jon Daniels will likely trade more of the team’s future to have a better shot now. However, the Rangers’ farm system can no longer sustain losing prospects such as C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm, and Mike Olt, each a piece in last year’s Matt Garza deal. (Critics can minimize Olt all they want, but he was still Texas’s best candidate to replace Adrián Beltré down the line.) Even if the GM decides to double-down, another Garza-esque acquisition won’t guarantee Texas a playoff spot. Finally, going forward, the team’s payroll should take on dead weight as Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo get less productive and more expensive.

Given these factors, the Rangers may find themselves again staying home in October, but this time with a weaker farm system and a general manager on the hot seat. Sure, they’ll have their TV money and their infield depth, but they’re looking more like an organization that the Astros can regularly beat come 2016. As with last weekend's victories, that’s something Houston fans can toast to.*

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*If my second-to-last sentence comes to fruition, perhaps analysts could one day trace the Rangers’ decline to Derek Holland’s pet boxer, Wrigley, who reportedly caused his knee injury on a staircase.