Greetings once again, baseball and fantasy fans! In this edition of DO’s And DON’Ts, we will be taking a look at the AL Champion Texas Rangers. Coming off a stellar run in the 2011 Regular Season, the boys from Arlington ran into the tenacious St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic. Playing tooth and nail with their opponents, the Rangers ended up just short of capping a season of hope and promise with the World Series title they failed to nab in 2010.
The Rangers have made some interesting moves in the off-season, and some pieces of their puzzle have shuffled off to elsewhere (apparently C.J. Wilson, pictured above, didn’t find enough to like about Texas). But we are hoping to sort through the craziness and give you some people to play, and people to maybe not like so much:
- DON’T look for Yu Darvish to be the next Cy Young (instantly).
The Japanese phenom was the Rangers’ biggest pick-up in the offseason as they tried to offset the losses of Wilson and Brandon Webb to free agency. The (Hokkaido) Nippon Ham Fighters’ ace put up straight amazing numbers in his Pacific League career, tallying over 1000 Ks in five years, winning no less than 12 games, and averaging an ERA of 1.72 and a WHIP of 0.890. Numbers like that would be enough to make any team thrilled to have his services, and Texas got the luck of the draw. However, the track record for pitchers coming over from Japan is spotty at best. Darvish has the raw talent and seasoning to be a multiple All-Star caliber talent. The thing he does NOT have is Major League experience. The talent levels ARE different from Japan to the States, and it will take Darvish some time to establish a repertoire against MLB-style batters. The Rangers will likely throw him into the rotation immediately out of need and talent, and he will struggle to start as he gets into the groove. If someone has the stomach to handle the downs as well as the ups (especially in a keeper league), Yu Darvish will come into his own and be a major boon for them.
- TENTATIVELY DO count on Josh Hamilton to turn himself around.
This one is a little hard to read, but there are several facets to Josh Hamilton’s potential year. He dealt with a broken arm (ouch) in April and May of last year, but recovered well. He had surgery to repair a sports hernia (again ouch) this past November, but stated at Rangers camp recently that the rehab went well. He is coming off of a second relapse in his substance abuse recovery earlier this year, but seems to have found renewed strength, drive, and determination. Plus, he is coming into his free agency season, but has stated that he will not discuss his contract once the Regular Season starts. It’s not hard to cheer for a guy to succeed in the face of so much chaos, but it is hard to see where there might be a bright side. Purely stats-wise, Hamilton’s numbers in 2011 were a few shades lower than his career averages, but were certainly no low water marks: Sporting an OPS of .882, a BAbip (Batting Average on balls in play) of .319, and slugging 25 HR in a year where you miss the majority of the first two months is nothing short of eye-catching. You have to dig deep to find a statistical flaw in Hamilton’s game; his infield pops have been on a consistent rise in his career (7% last season, up from 5% in 2010), and his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 3.6 and RAR (Runs Above Replacement) of 38 were nearly halved from 2010, a campaign that saw him have only a handful more plate appearances (571) than 2011 (538). Stats like those are a long way to go to find a vulnerability in someone’s game. The bigger deciding factor this year for Hamilton’s performance will be his mental character and toughness. Will the off-field distractions upend him? Will he be able to keep his focus on baseball with contact talks looming? I will be pulling for Hamilton to persevere, but I have seen stranger things happen.
- DON’T expect a big year from Ian Kinsler, but DON’T be too surprised by one either.
Kinsler is one of those talents that you feel hasn’t come into his own, mostly due to injuries suffered in almost each of his six seasons in the Majors (he wasn’t put on the DL at all last year, but was on paternity leave briefly in June for the birth of his second child). The surface number of a .255 BA from last year did not show that he took advantage of being on the field for the most games in a season (155) in his career, but career numbers in runs (121), total bases (296) and walks (89) show some promise. Kinsler is tough to pin down; he has not put together two back-to-back seasons where he has played over 125 games. His power numbers seem to peak when his average is low, and when he bats better, he has less punch. His game is very Jekyll / Hyde, or maybe more appropriately Bruce Banner / Incredible Hulk, and there seems to be very little consistency. However, digging deeper, his OPS has stayed relatively steady (anywhere from .794 to last year’s .832, with the .893 from ’08 as the outlying stat), and his WAR / RAR numbers have been largely similar after his rookie year. It is hard to say which Kinsler we’ll get this year (by the stats, he’s due for a higher average / lower power season), but last season proved that he can play just about the entire year. Another full, DL-free season could start normalizing his numbers and give a more accurate fantasy picture of Kinsler’s worth. All that being said, he’s a definite draft in the earlier rounds, and will provide some statistical boosts. He might hurt you in some categories, but it is that hint and hope of the five-tool player that makes him an attractive draft target.
- DO take a flyer on Adrian Beltre, but DON’T mortgage the farm on him.
Beltre is one of those players that has shown consistency in the past, scattered with flashes of astounding brilliance and holes in his game that people learned to accept. Blessed with B+ / A- power with 310 career HRs, he’s also shown little patience as power hitters tend to, “sporting” 1219 Ks and a K/BB ratio of 2.24 through his 14 seasons. His early career showed glimpses of secondary tools in his arsenal with his above-average speed, though that is starting to fade later in his career. His defense is a relative liability, though that won’t factor in most fantasy leagues. The bigger concern in my eyes is an inconsistent batting average. His career average is .276, but he’s hit below that in nine out of 14 seasons, including six seasons of .265 or below. Your heavy power hitters still should have an above-average… Uhm… Average; a consistent .275 makes just that many more opportunities for good things to happen. At a 38% XBH career clip, Beltre has a very good tendency to turn hits into big trouble for opposing pitchers. If he could perform like he has the past two seasons in average (.321 in 2010, .296 in 2011), Adrian Beltre will be a HUGE boon for the Rangers. Age and durability are a key, but he has said he’s feeling good, with no lingering effects from the bruised knee that he sustained in last year’s postseason. If the Rangers have Beltre’s services for over 135 games this season, they will be a beast to handle in the AL.
- DO nab Joe Nathan in the early rounds.
Ulnar Collateral Ligament reconstruction used to be a fickle thing. In 1974, when Dr. Frank Jobe first performed the procedure on the slick, sinker-balling southpaw known as Tommy John. The chances of a pitcher recovering enough to ever throw again were 1-in-100. As of ’09, the procedure has a complete recovery rate of anywhere between 85 and 92 percent. With a combination of increased conditioning and the pure fact that there is a strong ‘ligament’ in place as opposed to the degrading UCL, most pitchers find that they’re able to throw close to what they could at the peak of their careers after the approximately year-long recovery. Joe Nathan is now 2 years out, and he is ready to get back to business. Last year was obviously an off year for Nathan, the months of April and August being rather damning in the final picture. But still, the (career-wise) anomalous 4.84 ERA was netted with 14-17 saves converted, 43 Ks, a .222 average against, and only walking 14. Looking into the deep stat lines, you can see a 79% contact rate (that includes hits AND fouls), a sharp jump from the 67% rate in ’09. Also evident are a dip in his K ratio (32.8% to 22.5%), a jump in his extra base ratio (6.3% to 9.4%), and also his balls-in-play ratio (55% to 64%) is elevated. This seems to indicate that Nathan was still finding his stride after recovery, or that maybe he was coming back too soon. I firmly believe that Joe Nathan is in-line to get back to his better days; going to a team where he has already been told that he’s the closer without a shadow of a doubt is good for one’s psyche. He has the tools and experience to pitch lights out. With the Tommy John well-behind him, and a full off-season and Spring Training in the realm of “normal”, I expect Nathan to hit the Arlington mound running and not look back.
As I stated in my last article about the Indians, don’t look at this as a Bible to evaluate the talent of the Rangers for your own fantasy roster. Only the fantasy GM knows best what their needs and play style are. However, look at this article (and the other DO’s And DON’Ts articles our excellent writers have published) as “food for thought” and a general guide of insights.
Did I miss a spring stud that looks to bust out in a big way? Did I tout someone that is looking to hit the skids, or worse: the waiver wire? Go ahead and hit the comments below, or find me on Twitter at @JCPronkFan48.
(As a side note, I would like to send my heartfelt sympathies and blessings to the victims of last Friday’s rash of storms and tornadoes. I managed to volunteer in Henryville, IN as a representative of the Air Force Reserves on Saturday the 3rd, and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Baseball fans, if you can help these unfortunates in any way at all, please do so… Any little bit helps.)