They appear to be going through a soft rebuild similar to what the Brewers went through.
The Rangers currently have a 16-17 record and are sitting in the middle of the AL Central, just 3.5 games behind the division leading Astros. It is a pretty good start for a team that was projected as a 73-win team at FanGraphs, and the offense is a big reason why the Rangers for that. My BtBS coworker Patrick Brennan recently wrote about the drastically improved Rangers offense, and how new hitting coach Luis Ortiz could be responsible.
The team’s wOBA went from .315 last year up to .338, and when we park adjust those stats, their offense has gone from the 22nd-best in the majors to the 11th-best. The lead performer of this group is none other than Joey Gallo, who is currently hitting .270/.413/.660, and whose 169 wRC+is tied with Paul DeJong for seventh best in baseball among qualified hitters. I remember a prospect writer once saying that if Gallo could be even just 50-grade hitter, he would have Hall of Fame potential because of his prodigious power. Well, so far his hit tool has been even better than that.
Even Elvis Andrus has been raking! He has a career line of .276/.334/.374, yet he has been hitting .333/.391/.532 this year! His .393 wOBA is 80 points higher than his career wOBA! Granted that comes with a .381 BABIP, but as Patrick mentioned in his article, Andrus is actually hitting the ball harder.
So why is the team hovering around .500 despite such a good offense? Well, they are getting nothing from Delino Deshields or their catchers right now. Isiah Kiner-Falefa has been disappointing, and Jeff Mathis is hitting really badly even for Jeff Mathis. But really, it has been the pitching holding the Rangers back. The bullpen has been solid so far, with a combined 5.12 RA9 that is actually not bad given how hitter-friendly that ballpark has played. However, the same can’t be said for a Rangers rotation that has a 5.62 RA9. Mike Minor has been outstanding with a 2.40 RA9, but no other pitcher has an RA9 better than 5.75 as a starter.
Despite these exciting improvements, FanGraphs is projecting the Rangers to be only four wins better than where they had them at the beginning of the season, and their chances of making the playoffs are still virtually zero. Their hitting is likely to see some regression, and their pitching just isn’t good enough right now. Sorry, Rangers fans, this year is not going to be their year.
But consider this: 75 wins would be a big improvement over their 67-win season last year. The year before that, they won 78 games. As recently as 2016, the Rangers won 95 games on their way to their second consecutive division title. This team is clearly rebuilding, but they are not tanking to the extent that the Cubs and Astros did. Other than trading away Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, they have not stripped the team bare.
This might be a bit premature, but doesn’t this feel like the Brewers a little bit? They did not execute a scorched earth policy to their rebuild either. They finished with the best record in the NL last year, made the playoffs for the first time in seven years, and during that drought they won fewer than 70 games only once. They cracked 80 wins twice. Without the high draft picks a team gets from tanking, the Brewers could not rely a lot on home grown talent to propel them to contention like the Cubs and Astros did. Instead, they have succeeded through shrewd player acquisitions, and were able to make big impact moves such as spending money on Lorenzo Cain and executing the blockbuster trade for NL MVP Christian Yelich.
Speaking of home grown talent, if you check out the latest prospect lists, how much the Rangers’ farm system can help in the future depends on whom you ask. Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law have their system ranked in the bottom third of the league, while Baseball Prospectus is especially high on the system, ranking it ninth. The team’s biggest need right now is pitching, and they do have some interesting young arms in the minors.
There are options in free agency, too. Gerrit Cole and Madison Bumgarner will be available next winter. So will Stephen Strasburg and Jake Arrieta if they decide to opt out, though I doubt they will do so given how poorly free agency has gone the past two years. At this rate, Dallas Keuchel might still be available. There are options after the 2020 season, as well. Anthony Rendon obviously is not a pitcher, but he is still set to be a free agent after this season, and the Rangers do need a third baseman!
Obviously there are differences between the Rangers and Brewers, but the Rangers are in an interesting position to return to contention before too long, and without the long painful rebuild that teams such as the Royals and Orioles are going through. It will be hard, but it could be done if GM Jon Daniels can properly execute it.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.