Not as Much Value as Hoped in the Rangers Rotation

Injuries decimated the 2014 Texas Rangers. Injuries to Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo and Jurickson Profar played a big part in Texas hitters amassing the fifth lowest WAR total in the league. Injuries to Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Matt Harrison led to the Rangers using 15 different starting pitchers. As a group, those starters amassed the ninth lowest WAR total of any rotation.

The good news is that Darvish and Holland, their two starters who were above league average according to xFIP when healthy last year, are expected to enter the season healthy. The bad news is that Perez and Harrison won’t be back until at least summer and potentially might not be back at all this year. That’s especially true for Harrison who has had three back surgeries in two years and considered retirement after his last surgery. But they’ve added a few new arms that will hopefully limit the number of Nick Tepesch and Nick Martinez starts that Rangers fans have to watch this year.

Let’s start with the two Rangers starters you’re most likely to draft, Darvish and Holland.

Darvish is currently the tenth starter off the board on average according to early ADP. If you don’t want to pay SP1 price for Darvish because of injury concerns, that’s fine. But he has apparently been cleared for all activities, and Steamer and the fan projections both have him throwing a little more than 190 innings. Put me in the “not concerned about injuries” camp on Darvish. Well, maybe concerned. But not to the point where it’s going to factor into whether I draft him.

After running the Steamer projections through the z-score method, Darvish actually ranks as the seventh best starting pitcher. So there may be a little bit of value to be had thanks to Darvish’s injury last year. But whether you’ll draft Darvish probably has less to do with what you think about Darvish and more to do with your philosophy on drafting pitchers. If you prefer to get one of the top starters, you’ll have your SP1 before it’s time to consider Darvish. And if you like to wait to take your first starter, it’s likely Darvish is gone before you’re ready to draft an arm. But given the uncertainty around him, it’s possible he falls to the fifth round of a 12-team mixed league, which is the point at which I would consider taking him as my SP1.

As for Holland, I was hoping that he too might represent a value given potential concerns about his injuries last year. But because Holland isn’t a top tier option, I was hoping the potential value might be more than few spots difference between his ADP and his projection ranking. However, not only is the gap between his ADP and his ranking not larger than Darvish’s, his ADP is actually higher than his projection ranking. Holland is 61st among starters in ADP and 70th according to the Steamer rankings.

My first inclination was to take issue with the fact that Steamer projects Holland for a 4.17 ERA when Holland’s ERA estimators were in the 3.60-3.80 range both in 2013 and in his limited work last year. But his estimators staying in that range last year was likely due to a fluky walk rate of only 3.5% when he has hovered around 7% for his career. What I’m afraid isn’t fluky is the big drop he saw in strikeout rate.He struck out 21.1% of batters in 2013 and just 17.2% in limited work last year. The low walk rate masked the strikeout rate decline in the estimators.

The reason the strikeout rate decline could be more than a fluke is that Holland’s velocity was down quite a bit in his brief return from injury in September. With the 21.1% strikeout rate in 2013 he had an average fastball velocity (sinker velocity in this case) of 93.6. Last year it was down to 92.3. Holland’s injury was a knee injury, not an arm injury, so it’s possible he gets some velocity back this year if he has regained his leg strength completely. But maybe he hasn’t. Who knows? And with that uncertainty in play, I’m not willing to take him as a top 60 pitcher, which I consider to be a starting fantasy pitcher in even ten-team mixed leagues.

That’s probably it for fantasy relevance in the Rangers rotation, at least in the most common formats.

They have acquired Yovani Gallardo who is undoubtedly better than Tepesch and Martinez. And that’s great for the Rangers but not as meaningful to fantasy owners. Gallardo finished last season as the 86th most valuable fantasy starter, he’s being drafted as the 90th starting pitcher on average, and Steamer has him ranked 95th among starters. It would appear that Gallardo’s place in the world is pretty well defined. And as Karl de Vries so adequately described earlier in the offseason, it’s hard to determine any reason why his value might be significantly different than what it has been recently and what it is currently.

If you’re playing in a 14-team mixed league, Gallardo can be your last starter. Although I’d imagine you might be able to take a shot on someone with at least some upside at that spot, even if it comes with additional downside. In an AL-only league, Gallardo can be your fifth starter. Again, I might suggest you take more of a gamble there, but if you took on some risk at pitcher earlier in the draft, Gallardo is a reasonably safe option for the back half of your fantasy rotation.

Past that there’s not much to consider. Our depth charts have another new face, Ross Detwiler, and a decidedly old face, Colby Lewis, throwing the most innings as starters behind Darvish, Holland and Gallardo. But both their ERA and FIP are projected to be in the 4.65-4.95 range with average to pedestrian strikeout numbers. The same can be said of the aforementioned Tepesch and Martinez. The Rangers also acquired Anthony Ranaudo from Boston, and it’s possible he turns into a back end arm but unlikely. The Rangers best hope for rotation depth comes from Perez and Harrison, but they shouldn’t be on your radar at this time. When they’re ready for your consideration, the guys who write our waiver wire posts will let you know.

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I’d love to see Lisalverto Bonilla make the rotation. His strikeout potential could certainly make him fantasy relevant if the control ever shows up. He’s still relatively young and has time to figure things out, so the Rangers might benefit by giving him an extended look this year, if not only as a swing man out of the pen.