This is the first installment of a new series at Shutdown Inning. This series will look at the 2012 Texas Rangers roster position-by-position each day leading up to Opening Day.
One thing you will not find in the Rangers starting pitching staff in 2012 on Opening Day is a true blue legitimate top-of-the-rotation Ace. However, that simple fact does not take away from the truth that starting pitching is a position of strength on this ballclub. For the second consecutive year, despite losing its top pitcher from the prior year (Cliff Lee after 2010, C.J. Wilson after 2011) an argument could be made that the Rangers’ starting rotation is in a stronger position year over year.
The Opening Day starter will be Colby Lewis. The irony of this is that of all the Rangers starting pitchers, the Shutdown Inning staff expects Colby to post the worst ERA, and truly he is the least intriguing of all the Rangers starting pitchers. Lewis is an innings-eating workhorse, reaching the 200 innings pitched plateau each of the last two seasons. However, he is also the best playoff pitcher in Rangers franchise history. This is one of the reasons that he is a great choice for Opening Day starter. As the veteran on the staff, he will lead the way, providing an example and reducing the pressure on the back four of the staff.
Likely falling into the #2 position will be Derek Holland. You can read an extended version of my thoughts on Holland in a previous article. A new wrinkle for Holland is the additional pressure that comes from the recent 5-year contract extension he signed with the Rangers. This team is counting on him to be a key piece of their success for years to come, and that expectation will begin starting from his first start this year. Holland did appear to begin to figure things out in the back half of 2011, and the reports of his hard work in the offseason and this spring would only suggest that that success will continue in early 2012.
The most exciting member of the Rangers staff is Yu Darvish. The international superstar from Japan will likely slide into the #3 spot in the Rangers rotation, despite carrying the largest price tag of the group. This ought to suit Darvish well as he adjusts to pitching in the US, and against MLB competition for the first time. Thus far in the spring, Darvish has delivered mixed results, but spring results are of miniscule importance. Beyond the results, Darvish has showed off the type of stuff and approach that would merit the price the Rangers paid to obtain his services. Every pitch that he throws has superior movement, his arsenal is extensive, he is a natural fit in the clubhouse, and he is putting in the work and bringing the mentality that the Rangers need from him.
SDI writer Lincoln Floyd is the founder of the Matt Harrison fan club, and currently the membership is relatively small. After 2012, it is possible that the group will grow. If you missed it, be sure to read Lincoln’s write up on Harrison, with a comparison to Holland. After Wilson, Harrison had the most successful regular season of the Rangers starting pitchers in 2011. He did suffer from some arm fatigue near the end of the season, but he is still young and continuing to grow. In his second year as a starting pitcher in the rotation for a full season, look for Harrison to continue to build on his 2011 success and sustain it for a full season.
In 2011, the 5th starter for the Rangers was supposed to be Tommy Hunter. In an unfortunate accident for Hunter, and a happy accident for the Rangers, Hunter suffered an injury in Spring Training that sidelined him for the first two months of the season. This allowed former reliever Alexi Ogando to step into the fifth starter role. In 2012, the Rangers once again are attempting to convert a reliever, Neftali Feliz, into their fifth starter. This is now the third year in a row the Rangers have attempted such a conversion (Wilson in 2010). If the Rangers track record of success with these conversions is any indication of what to expect from Feliz, this could be a big year for the former closer. Even better for Feliz is that he has had a full offseason to prepare for being a starter, including working with Pedro Martinez over the winter. The key to his success will be improving his slider and changeup to be MLB-quality pitches, and more importantly how his arm holds up to the increased workload.
No team in baseball can provide the kind of strength beyond its fifth starter like the Rangers. Even though only five starts were made in all of 2011 by a pitcher other than the original starting five, the Rangers are well equipped to handle any injuries or fatigue that may befall Lewis, Holland, Darvish, Harrison, or Feliz. Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman will start the season with a seat in the bullpen, but don’t expect that to be where they remain for the entirety of the season. With the 100-degree temperatures of Arlington summers, an increased workload for Feliz, and the first time for Darvish to work in a 5-man rotation (pitching on 4 days rest instead of once per week in Japan), you can expect Ogando and Feldman to make several starts, either because of injury or forced rest for the starters.
ESPN and Baseball Prospectus have both ranked the Rangers rotation as among the top 6 in all of baseball for 2012. I cannot argue with that projection. This is further proof that today’s version of the Rangers is far removed from the Rangers of old, as starting pitching is a strength to showcase instead of a weakness to cover up.
The Shutdown Inning staff has projected the Rangers starting rotation to produce the following:
Colby Lewis: 14-10, 196 IP, 3.89 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
Derek Holland: 17-7, 208 IP, 3.62 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
Yu Darvish: 15-9, 199 IP, 3.31 ERA, 1.09 WHIP
Matt Harrison: 14-9, 200 IP, 3.47 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
Neftali Feliz: 10-7, 156 IP, 3.59 ERA, 1.28 WHIP