Like Nate Silver's PECOTA system, Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections reflect a similarly uninspiring Texas Rangers baseball club in 2015. Obviously, for reasons that don't make much sense, we would prefer any projection of the Rangers to be favorable -- in the same way we would rather see the Rangers have a winning record in spring training rather than a losing one -- even though it doesn't matter once the regular season gets underway. When the projections stink the sports fan in us still clings to the idea that baseball games are played on the field and not on computers; when the projections are better, we like to believe they are spot on and the Rangers are destined for greatness.
And for the most part, Texas has rewarded its fans by being one of the most successful franchises in baseball during the 2010's decade.
2015 is a different bird, however. There is enough talent for this team to win 90 games if everything clicks right -- like, everything -- but there are also enough question marks surrounding the depth in the organization that makes it relatively easy to envision a 75-win season. According the the "rough" depth chart, as Carson Cistulli notes, the Rangers current 25-man roster is worth around +28.0 ZiPS WAR (zWAR) in '15. In theory, added to a 47-win replacement-level club, that is a 75-win team.
So now let's look at how ZiPS arrived at that figure.
Yu Darvish is slated for +5.0 zWAR, posting a 3.06 ERA in 173.2 innings on the bump; Derek Holland, Texas's de facto #2, is projected for +2.2 zWAR in 131.1 IP; Yovani Gallardo is expected to generate +2.8 zWAR on a staff-leading 179 IP. Behind them are mostly replacement-level options in Colby Lewis (+0.3 in 101 innings), Ross Detwiler (+0.8 in 85 IP) and Nick Tepesch (+1.2 in 138 IP).
In other words, behind Darvish: bleh.
One thing to keep in mind out of the rotation is that -- in spite of a lower overall win projection than Yovani Gallardo, for instance -- Derek Holland has every chance to be a 4-win pitcher if he stays healthy all year. ZiPS agrees, for the most part, as on a rate basis he would earn around +3.5 wins if he threw 200 innings; likewise, if Yu throws 200 innings he is projected be worth an extra Platonic Win, which would make him a six-win pitcher. For the Rangers to make it to the postseason in 2015, I'm under the impression its top two starters will need to account in the neighborhood of ten Wins Above Replacement, a reachable goal for a tandem as talented as they are.
The way ZiPS sees it, unless a guy like Colby Lewis, Ross Detwiler or one of the Nick's comes out and has a breakout season in a MORP-type of way, this is a collection of mostly average to fringe-average starting pitchers behind the more recognizable front three. The Rangers are banking on some kind of breakout, unless they have more confidence than the general public in Martin Perez and/or Matt Harrison making meaningful contributions.
More troubling than the back of the rotation, however, are the unsurprisingly conservative projections for Prince Fielder (+1.2 zWAR) and Shin-Soo Choo (+1.8 zWAR). Both are coming off injury, so there's reason to be optimistic inasmuch as pessimistic, but you have to figure they both need decent-sized bounce-backs for the Ranger lineup to give its pitching staff enough support to compete in a wide open AL West.
Ageless wonder Adrian Beltre is projected for +4.2 zWAR -- Texas's most valuable position player according to ZiPS. In the middle of the infield, Elvis Andrus (+2.3 zWAR) is expected to improve by a win from a down 2014 (+1.3 fWAR), while Rougned Odor (+1.8 zWAR) is projected to hit a robust 17 HRs. ZiPS really likes Roogie.
Jurickson Profar, for what it's worth, is set to generate +0.9 zWAR in 402 plate appearances.
One problem with ZiPS, even though it doesn't materially change the Rangers roster, is their inclusion of Jake Smolinski (+0.1 zWAR in 468 PAs) as the team's everyday left fielder, when organizational draft-and-develop success story Ryan Rua (.237/.292/.368, +0.4 zWAR) is the odds on favorite to be the third Opening Day outfielder. Either way, we're probably talking at the absolute maximum of a one-win difference in the two players.
Leonys Martin (+2.7 zWAR) is projected for a promising .273/.325/.397 (96 OPS+) 2015 campaign.
Simply put, the lineup is going to have to outperform its collective 15-win expectation, per ZiPS, if Texas is going to the postseason. There's no getting around that. Per ZiPS, even if Darvish has a Cy Young-caliber season, Holland has a 4-win year, and Fielder and Choo account for double their combined 3-win projection, that's still only seven extra theoretical wins, bringing the club up to 82-80, according the the ZiPS.
For the Rangers to get up to the 90-win territory, that would mean players like Beltre, Andrus, Odor, Martin and Profar would need to make up another 5-7 wins on top of what was listed in the paragraph above.
The computers say that is a longshot.