It's nearly that time of year. January is coming to a close, and February will approach with a sense of optimism for baseball fans everywhere, as pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training before March. For us, that means we get to start looking at a more realistic view of what we (think we) can expect from the Texas Rangers.
Yesterday, the annual PECOTA projections were updated over at Baseball Prospectus. They always seem like the best starting point for any of these conversations because, well, they have a lot of people smarter than myself that put these types of things together. Quite simply, there's probably a reason BP hasn't hired me -- at least yet, since it'd be a fun gig to take part in -- to do these types of things for them.
The PECOTA projections have Texas finishing the 2015 season 83-79, and 4th in the American League West behind Los Angeles, Seattle, and Oakland, respectively. Interestingly, the projections have the Angels as the only 90 win team in the American League.
For Texas, the projections have the Rangers scoring 707 runs and allowing 693. Running that through the formula for Pythagorean winning percentage, that puts the Rangers at around 82 wins. In other words, the projections expect Texas to fare about as well as their run-scoring and run-prevention will allow for.
So, how can Texas improve on the projections to increase the chances of playoff baseball in 2015? For starters, it's interesting to note that after the Angels, the next closest AL team in the projections is Seattle at 87 wins. After that, Boston and Tampa Bay -- surprisingly -- both come in projected at 86 wins apiece. PECOTA isn't too fond of the American League this year, likely due to the amount of talent that has shifted to the National League in recent months.
Nonetheless, it's also worth noting that PECOTA is often somewhat conservative in certain areas. For example, Derek Holland is projected to put up 1.0 WAR in 24 starts an 144 IP. Barring something unforeseen happening, Texas should hope to get more innings -- and production -- out of their #2 starter in 2015. For left field, Ryan Rua is projected to be worth 0.1 WAR. He put up 0.6 fWAR in limited playing time in 2014. Yeah, small sample sizes and all that other stuff, but still. It's an area Texas seems to feel confident they can get some excess value from.
From an offensive standpoint, I can't say I'd be too upset with Texas scoring 707 runs on the season. It'd be a 70-run improvement over 2014, and going by Pythagorean winning percentage, would figure to be worth about 7 wins from 2014 to 2015. Again, projections, but bear with me.
From a pitching/defensive standpoint, the projection of 693 runs allowed will likely be where Texas can make up some ground. The team allowed 773 runs in 2014. While 693 would certainly be an improvement on that -- and worth about 8 extra wins between 2014 and 2015, all other things being equal -- having a healthy and effective Derek Holland outplay his projection alone could help things on that front. If Texas were to get closer to something like 680 runs allowed, that would put them at around 84 projected wins in 2015.
One other issue I have with PECOTA in this instance is with the projected winner of the AL West. I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday, and I may be alone in thinking so, but I don't exactly envision the Angels having the pitching to only give up 646 runs. Garrett Richards will be coming back from injury, Matt Shoemaker is still young, and Jered Weaver's velocity isn't coming back. Oh, and then there's C.J. Wilson. He was so ineffective in 2014 that the Angels were reportedly looking to ship him away -- with some reports saying that they tried luring Texas into talks -- during the offseason. That's how confident they are in him having a bounceback season.
At the end of the day, it's all projections, and that's all we're really doing. Last season, injuries quickly derailed any attempts to project what the Rangers might do. While the hope is that won't be the case this season, we can at the very least entertain the idea that the American League is as wide open as it has been at any time in the past decade. Given where Texas stands with top-tier prospects not quite being ready to, and not wanting to empty the farm to make a big splash, the timing couldn't be more perfect.
The Texas Rangers may not dominate the baseball world during the 2015 regular season, but with a few good breaks and some consistency in the starting rotation -- not to mention bounce-back seasons from Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, and Elvis Andrus -- they could still find themselves in the thick of a playoff race down the home stretch of the season. Oh, and I still wouldn't rule out Jon Daniels finding a way to get Cliff Lee back in Texas, if he proves to be healthy.