Computers (Still) Don't Like The Rangers

Listen, I like projections. I like playoff odds. I like what computers have to say, because computers are the closest we can get to objective truth in baseball. There, I'm guilty.

The fact is that computers haven't been impressed by the Rangers over the last couple of years. They still are not impressed. 

Before the year I wrote that FanGraphs and PECOTA projected the Rangers at 81-81 and 80-82, respectively, and a 3rd place finish in the American League West. At the moment Texas is 12-10, and both sites now project a 79-83 final record.

I know, let's all cry foul at the bias. Clearly these emotionless statistical machines are against us. Right?

Probably not. PECOTA and FanGraphs both predict, as of April 29th, the Mariners to win the AL West, but only at 84 and 82 wins, respectively. That's either 5 games better than the Rangers or just 3, a meaningless difference with 140 games left to play. 

It's also to say Texas hasn't exactly set the world on fire to open the year. Out of 15 American League teams, the Rangers rank 14th in strikeout rate (18.3%), 12th in walk rate (9.2%), and 13th in HR/FB rate (15.7%). That's the formula for Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) -- the three things pitchers can control -- and Texas has suffered in every category.

Fortunately, the Rangers team ERA is only 3.75, which ranks in the middle of the pack. As always, we can look at such good fortune in two ways: Either expect them to fall off a cliff at some point, performing closer to the projections (4.51 xFIP), or take it as banked production and move on. Texas pitchers have combined for -0.3 fWAR on the season, the worst mark in the AL.

The offense, meanwhile, has been a little better. They rank 11th in walk rate (7.4%), 8th in strikeout rate (20.7%) and next to last with 18 HRs. As a team they are slashing .250/.313/.385, and their 90 wRC+ is tied for 12th in the league with the White Sox. 

I think I need to change the thesis of this article to How The Hell Are The Rangers Above .500 Right Now.

In spite of the poor rankings on both sides of the ball, Texas ranks 4th in the AL in runs scored (95) and 8th in runs allowed (86). Their +9 run differential is 5th-best in the league, behind Chicago (+21), Baltimore (+20), Seattle (+17) and Boston (+11). Oh and did I tell you there are 140 games left in the regular season?

Intuitively, Rangers fans have good reason to like their club's chances this year. Houston, the presumed biggest threat to Texas's odds of winning the West, has spotted the Rangers a five-game advantage through 22 contests. With Yu Darvish's return looming over the next 3-4 weeks, conflated by an offense that hasn't yet fully clicked, Texas is a while away from reaching its ceiling. 

Computers don't possess that intuition, or those feelings. Right now they see a team who has overachieved to this point, and overachieved they have. The fact is, over the course of a season the Rangers won't be able to win consistently with the rates they've generated thus far. They have to improve. 

It seems like FanGraphs has generally slanted against the Rangers and for the Mariners, which kind of makes sense since Dave Cameron and Jeff Sullivan came from the U.S.S. Mariner. (Sullivan, for what it's worth, is great.) But PECOTA says the same thing as FanGraphs, because the lukewarm data hasn't changed.