Playing Pepper 2020: Texas Rangers

If we’re closing in on the regular season, that must mean it’s time to play some pepper!  For the 12th year in a row, I’ve contacted bloggers and writers from around baseball to talk about the team they hold dear.  It’s a good way for folks to get the pulse of other teams around MLB and see what other fanbases are talking about.  It’s a tradition unlike any other (because who would want to copy it): it’s time for Playing Pepper.

Texas Rangers
78-84, third in AL West
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper

It’s a time of transition in Texas as Globe Life Field replaces Globe Life Park.  (Hey, it’s not like Cardinal fans can cast aspersions on the creative naming of new stadiums.)  The Rangers have also been roaming the desert a bit, as they have finished out of the division lead by 23 or more games in each of the last three seasons.  Will things be different in their new digs?  At least it’s a different look.  Let’s see what those that follow the team think!

Blogger Site Twitter
Christopher Fittz Lone Star Ball apoplecticfittz
Brandon Land One Strike Away onestrikeaway

C70: New year, new digs. What are your thoughts so far about Globe Life Field and how do you think it will play?

Christopher: My personal initial thoughts on Globe Life Field is one of confliction. I’ve never liked the idea of publicly funded stadia but the Rangers did need a roof. No one was meant to sit out for three and a half hours in 110 degree days during the Texas summer. It was an unbearable experience. So, from that perspective, the new park makes a hypocrite of me. I think the park will play more fair. It almost has to. A part of ownership’s bilking of the people of Arlington was convincing them they needed this palatial baseball estate and then installing fake grass to make even more money by hosting concerts and events without chewing up the field. That means the ball will be a little bit of a mystery when put into play and the team will see a little more wear and tear on the players. But we’ll get a Weezer concert out of it.

Brandon: As someone who grew up with the old ballpark being my first introduction to professional baseball, I’ll always have fond memories there. Of course, getting to experience the thrill of two World Series runs in my mid-twenties helped to cement it as my favorite place to be. With that said, it was just time for this move to be made. While I’m still not a fan of publicly-financed stadiums for rich team owners, it’s going to be incredibly nice to go to games without seeing people have heat strokes, and leaving at the end feeling like a ball of sweat. It was much easier to deal with at 23 years of age rather than 33, so it will help a lot of fans out in respect to enjoying the game without risking a heat stroke.

As for the product on the field, the hope is that players will remain fresher throughout the season without the heat gradually breaking their spirit. The playing surface itself remains my biggest question. The organization elected to go with artificial turf rather than grass. The surface will be synthetic grass with an infill of coconut husks that the organization believes will allow it to play very similarly to grass, without the “splashing” that is commonly seen on turf fields. The hope would be, at least, that your average single that hits in front of center field doesn’t end up bouncing over the fielder’s head as is sometimes seen in Toronto. As long as it plays like a true field, the Rangers should have themselves a nice home, provided they don’t price the average fan out.

C70: In your opinion, how was the offseason for the Rangers? Was there a move they should have made but didn’t?

Christopher: The timing of the opening of the new park made the Rangers feel inclined to be more aggressive in free agency than I would have liked. I didn’t think the core of the lineup supported going into a phase where the Rangers were expected to buy to compete but they had other ideas and went after players like Anthony Rendon and Zack Wheeler. After they whiffed on those free agents, I anticipated that they would try to keep their powder dry, go through another year of the rebuild, and try to see where they were at after the 2020 season. Instead, they traded for Corey Kluber and sort of signified that they were still going to do their best to improve rather than hold their ground. Since the addition of Kluber, they’ve added Robinson Chirinos and Todd Frazier to upgrade at positions of dire need but they’re still a big acquisition or three (namely at either 3B, 1B, or CF) away from me feeling like they’ve hit the mark on turning the roster around. If they don’t do that, it will be a winter of half measures which is always the worst place to be.

Brandon: The Rangers had a decent offseason on the pitching side, shoring up a starting rotation that could end up being one of the best in the American League, barring injuries. The addition of Corey Kluber adds another proven pitcher to the top of the rotation that already consisted of Mike Minor and Lance Lynn.

The disappointment that creeps in is from the front office failing to really add anything of impact on the offensive side. Sure, Robinson Chirinos will be back after spending 2019 in Houston, but that’s not going to move the needle significantly. The failed pursuit of Anthony Rendon in free agency seemed to be more of a publicity stunt than an actual pursuit. If reports are to be believed, the Rendon was telling teams he was seeking seven years, and had already turned down some six-year offers. That the Rangers went ahead and offered a six-year deal knowing that information just seemed to stink of a front office that knew he wouldn’t accept but wanted to be able to say, “See? We tried!”

After that, the Rangers struck out on essentially every other target, eventually settling for Todd Frazier to play 3B in 2020. If the Rangers struggle this season, it will likely be the offense, which feels like an awfully weird thing to say for someone who has followed the team for 25-plus seasons.

C70: What’s the feeling about our old friend Lance Lynn? Do you think he can have another solid season?

Christopher: I initially wasn’t big on the Lynn signing, mainly due to the types of contracts similar pitchers were getting last year and the fact that the Rangers went to three years when that didn’t seem like it was an offer he’d get otherwise. I was wrong, of course. Lynn ended having one of the better seasons in the last 30 years for a starting pitcher for the Rangers. Until Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole started lapping the rest of the league, he was a legitimate Cy Young contender. In the end, Lynn won me over as he evoked the kind of outings that allowed me to reminisce about old favorite Colby Lewis. I think it is unrealistic to assume he can replicate the kind of season he had last year again in 2020, but I think he will be a solid contributor to the rotation and if the team isn’t where they’d like to be heading into the summer, the extra year on his deal will make him an appealing trade option.

Brandon: Lance Lynn was quietly the best pitcher the Rangers had in 2020. Many will point to Mike Minor, but by fWAR, Lynn’s 6.8 was the second-best in the American League. Comparing his measurables to Minor’s, Minor topped him only in ERA (3.59 versus 3.67). Otherwise, there were a lot of things about Lynn’s season that were significantly better and made him the more reliable pitcher while both pitched the exact same 208.1 innings.

Lance Lynn Mike Minor
FIP 3.13 4.25
xFIP 3.85 4.60
K/9 10.63 8.64
BB/9 2.55 2.94
HR/9 0.91 1.30
HR/FB 9.9% 12.9%

Lance Lynn was a workhorse in 2019, and it seems like he should be able to at least come close to replicating it in 2020. He will be an integral part of what the Rangers are hoping can be, top-to-bottom, the best starting rotation in the American League.

C70: What are your expectations for 2020? Where do you think they’ll finish in the division?

Christopher: If there is another big move or two like a signing of Nicholas Castellanos or a trade for Starling Marte or Nolan Arenado, I think the realistic hope is that the Rangers can go into the final weeks of the season within striking distance of a wild card spot. I don’t believe they’d be favorites for either spot, and they certainly wouldn’t be favorites in the division, but they would be closer to October than in previous seasons. I don’t know how realistic any of those moves are, however, so if the current roster is the one the Rangers will be going with for the 2020 season, I think fighting with the Angels and Mariners to stay out of the cellar in the AL West is the most likely outcome once again for the Rangers.

Brandon: I know the Houston Astros are going to have a long, tough season. However, I still can’t see them losing the division. The Angels have made significant improvements, and the A’s are still the A’s. Texas finished with 78 wins in 2019, and while I think they’ll improve on that, it’s going to be tough for them to stay very far above .500 unless the offense finds some unexpected areas to produce. 85 wins seems very optimistic, and I think that’s the ceiling for this year’s club.

C70: What’s the main topic Rangers fans are discussing that maybe isn’t obvious to other teams?

Christopher: Even if contention is out of the cards for the Rangers in 2020, one thing that is exciting for fans is the fact that, for the first time in a generation, the Rangers seem to be a pitching-first org with the starting staff far and away the strongest group on the team on paper. Lynn was a winning signing last year and Mike Minor was one as well the season before him. If Corey Kluber comes back anywhere near where he was just a season before last year’s injury-filled year, the Rangers have the makings of one of the strongest groups in the league. Couple that with the under-the-radar signings of Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles and the Rangers also have depth throughout the rotation which is something they’ve rarely had in franchise history. The Rangers as a franchise are known, to a fault, for their hitting prowess. In 2020, it’s the lineup that looks like it could be the team’s downfall unless several contributors have turnaround or breakout seasons. Usually in Texas, that’s the hope for the rotation.

Brandon: I know for a certain subsection of us, we’re quietly wondering what kind of leash Rougned Odor will be given this season. It’s become and annual ritual at this point, and not in a good way. Odor has consistently been one of the worst hitters in baseball over the past few seasons. Sure, he’ll hit 30 over the fence, but he’s struggled to provide much value at the plate beyond that. The Rangers can’t afford to run him out every single day until July if he’s putting up a sub-50 wRC+ again. They need him to be capable of being at least an average hitter, otherwise they already have better options on the Major League roster that can step in.

Beyond that, Elvis Andrus has slipped mostly under the radar due to all of the attention Odor gets. Andrus posted up a wRC+ of 76 compared to Odor’s 77 in 2019. This following a 76 in 2018 as well, and you’re left to wonder if Andrus is on the wrong side of 30 to have a bounceback season at the plate. His best offensive season came in 2017, so he’s not so far removed from it that it seems unreasonable to expect something close, but at 31 years old, it’s not hard to start wondering if his defense will begin to erode just a bit as well.

C70: What are you looking forward to most about the coming season?

Christopher: There’s no guarantee that the Rangers will turn their rebuild into a team that contends, especially in 2020. So, for me, the thing I’m most looking forward to seeing is how Joey Gallo continues to blossom after starting his 2019 campaign off strong last year and becoming the MVP-caliber hitter that could elevate the lineup to a place where wild card hopes don’t seem as lofty. Of course, the main attraction in 2020 will be seeing how the team develops an identity within their new home, but for me, I hope that identity is Gallo taking aim at the new video board like target practice.

Brandon: Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing if Joey Gallo can put together a full season. The team faltered during significant portions of the 2019 season because Gallo was unable to stay healthy due to an oblique injury and a hand injury that required the removal of a hamate bone, the latter of which caused him to miss every game after July 23. Projections are low on him mainly because of playing time issues, so if he can stay healthy and put together a full season of raking with a wRC+ of 144, it’s going to help stabilize the lineup.

Other than that, it should be fun to go watch games in the new stadium, banging on my little trash can every time the Houston Astros come into town!

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