A strange new world: Rebuilt pitching staff has potential to be Rangers’ strength and one of the best in their history – The Dallas Morning News


SURPRISE, Ariz. – The story goes like this: Back in the spring of 1972, before the Rangers had ever officially played a game in Texas, a bunch of coaches and players got involved in a very animated debate about a relay play or pitching or some such.

Into the midst of all this commotion stepped the manager, Ted Williams, who smote the ground and waved them all off and decided the conversation thusly: “Ah, hell, let’s go hit.”

Who knows if the actual story is true, but it sure rings true.

When all else failed – and it often has – the Rangers could hit.

Welcome to a strange new world.

On Wednesday, a different manager, greeted a group of 46 pitchers and catchers for the first day of spring and laid out a new chapter for the Rangers. Chris Woodward told his rebuilt pitching staff that they were the strength of a team capable of winning.

“He told them ‘I know this organization hasn’t been known for being led by the pitching staff, but my feeling is that’s what the opportunity is here for this group’,” general manager Jon Daniels explained. “He challenged them to take it, embrace it and run with it. We have a chance to be one of the better pitching staffs in the game.”

In particular, one of the best starting rotations. That’s a high bar. It will be a lot easier to clear another bar: Being one of the best in Rangers history.

Consider that since Williams and his band of batsmen arrived in 1972, the Rangers have the highest starting rotation ERA (4.53) in this stratosphere. Among MLB franchises, only Colorado, which plays in a different atmosphere entirely has been worse.

It’s a vastly different feel than a year ago when the Rangers rotation going to spring was made of Mike Minor, Lance Lynn and some medical experiments. Minor and Lynn thrived. The rest failed miserably. Even with Minor and Lynn each receiving some down-ballot Cy Young Award votes, the Rangers finished 25th in the majors in rotation ERA. Take Minor and Lynn out of the mix and the “starters” averaged barely four innings per outing with a 7.22 ERA.

It made starting pitching a priority for the Rangers going into the winter along with acquiring a big bat. Well, the big bat thing didn’t quite work out, but the Rangers acquired three established starters, including two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber. It gives them five starters capable of at least 150 innings apiece. In this day and age that’s workhorse stuff.

“And if you tell them they are capable of that, they’d tell you are full of it,” Lynn said. “We’d all say ‘We’re going to go 200 innings.’ We all have that mentality. You have to. And if you do that, it passes on to the younger guys, too. They will want to be capable of going six or seven innings. You look at the depth of our rotation now – we are probably eight or nine deep – and you couldn’t be happier. Last year, we were just trying to find guys to make starts.”

Wednesday marked the first time the entire rotation was all together since they’ve been acquired. This is what they look like: Innings-eaters. You can take all the analytic formulas you want to quantify pitching value, but nothing is as simple to understand as innings. Get six innings from the starter and the chances of winning increase dramatically. And it keeps the workload for relievers more manageable, which pays more dividends on the nights a starter doesn’t get through six.

Take the numbers from a year ago: When the Rangers got six innings or more from a starter, they were 41-28. When it was between five and 5 2/3, they were 13-19. And when it was less than five, they were dreadful.

Or make it even simpler: In the history of now baseball-defunct Globe Life Park, Rangers starters averaged six innings per outing in four of 26 seasons. In those four seasons, they averaged 93 wins, won a pair of AL West division titles and went to a World Series.

“We have a quality pitching staff,” Woodward said. “My challenge to them was to be the best in baseball. I know there is a lot that goes into that, but let’s set the bar high. Let’s take ownership of it.”

That’s pitching talk that even the late, great Ted Williams could get behind.

Simple analytics

Innings for starters equal team wins. It’s that simple. Consider the Globe Life Park Era (1994-2019). In the five years the Rangers got the most innings from their starting rotation, they averaged 92 wins per season. A look at the five most durable rotations in the Globe Life Era:

Year Rotation innings Primary starters W-L Postseason
1996 1,015.2 Ken Hill, Roger Pavlik, Bobby Witt, Darren Oliver, Kevin Gross 90-72 AL West champs
2011 994.2 CJ Wilson, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando 96-66 AL champs
2012 984.2 Harrison, Yu Darvish, Holland, Scott Feldman, Lewis 93-69 AL Wild Card
2013 971.2 Holland, Darvish, Martin Perez, Ogando, Justin Grimm, Nick Tepesch 91-72 Lost play-in game
1998 965.2 Rick Helling, Aaron Sele, John Burkett, Oliver, Esteban Loaiza 88-74 AL West champs

FILE - Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor (12) stands ready during the first inning of a game against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, at Globe Life Park in Arlington.

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