Rangers Review: Starters

This year the Rangers used fifteen different starters.  This continues a trend of the last several years, 2000 was the last time they used less than ten, and they’ve been as high as seventeen in that time.  The idea of stability in the rotation is not one that the Rangers have grasped recently.  Now, this year they were beset by injuries, but still, towards the end they pretty much were just randomly bringing guys up for a start.  There were few plans to be found, as soon as the front five fell apart they began cycling guys through, at one point they even sent Kam Loe down just to bring him back two days later.  The impression anyone would get from this team is “if we try enough guys, sooner or later some of them will work out”.

Millwood’s 172 innings led the team, the worst this century, with Kenny Roger’s 195 the next worst from a couple of years ago.  Plus there was a huge falloff, okay four guys ended up over 100 innings, but just barely.  Again, blame injuries all you want, but there is no-one on the team right now you could count on to lead them to the playoffs.   There was not a single complete game, which was supposedly the first time an American League team did not complete a game since the league began in 1901.  I haven’t counted the number of quality starts, but I bet it was close to if not definitely a record low for the team.  One of the themes of this blog during the year was how unprepared the team was.  They started the season badly, and they started games badly.  If they do it again like this next year, the Rangers will be out of it in May, again.  And right now there is little hope that the rotation will improve.

Kevin Millwood summary:  A season beset by injury, or at least that’s what the Rangers will tell you.  How frustrated is he getting?  His last season with the Indians, he won the ERA title, but didn’t get any support so didn’t win much.  Now, he’s with the Rangers, where he has the run support (usually) but has a bad ERA, so he’s still not winning.  And he’s got three years on his contract.  There was talk in the middle of the year that the Rangers should trade him, which gives him a chance to win something and gives us some prospects.  Problem is his contract, which means we’d have to add a bunch of money, his performance here, which leaves a lot to be desired, and his health.  Isn’t there something about him pitching really well every three years?  Next year is the third year.

Kameron Loe summary:  Injured and ineffective would be one way to describe Loe, but that would also help describe everyone else.  Had a good stretch in June/July, after being sent to the minors for two days, but otherwise was pretty bad.  Just had surgery, should be healthy in the spring, but I think he’s given up his chance at a rotation spot.  Back of the bullpen work beckons.

Vicente Padilla summary:  Injury may explain much of his first half, where he tried to pitch through the pain.  He ended up missing a couple of months because of it, and came back fairly strong at the end, helping to improve his numbers.  What didn’t help was his attitude, which many will tell you stinks, both within and outside the team.  He doesn’t talk to reporters, so you don’t get to hear what he is thinking.  He apparently doesn’t talk to his teammates either.  And then he does things like throw at a batter, which at the end of the season got him suspended for a week.  Now, a teammate like that can be a problem, but the bigger problem is his performance on the field and the two years remaining on his contract.  The Rangers knew what his attitude was when they gave him the three year deal, so they can’t go bailing out because of that.  They can be worried by the way he pitched, and they will be asking themselves whether the 2006 or 2007 version of Padilla will show up in 2008.

Brandon McCarthy summary:  Started badly, in part because of pressure from the John Danks trade.  Turned it around after May 1, and became arguably the Rangers best pitcher from then on.  Another one hit by injuries, he lost large swathes of the season on the DL, first with blisters on his fingers then with a broken shoulder blade, of all things.  If he ever gets healthy, he certainly looks like he could be an excellent pitcher, potentially a number two (on a staff filled with fours and fives, that’s pretty good).

Robinson Tejeda summary:  Chance after chance after chance was given to Tejeda, and every time he dropped the ball.  He should really have been sent down a month before he finally was, but there wasn’t anyone ready to replace him while everyone else was hitting the DL.  When they finally gave up, it was a mercy killing more than anything.  Needs to work hard to make his way back, but I don’t know if he has the attitude to do it.  He has great stuff, at times.  May be more suited to a bullpen role than starting, because with his speed he could very well blow people away.

Kason Gabbard summary:  Beat the Rangers in May, while pitching for the Red Sox, then came over in July in the Gagne trade.  From a marginal prospect, he turned out pretty good.  Big things will be expected of him next year, but that should be tempered with the thought that he really probably will fit in somewhere as a fourth starter, not necessarily a star.

Edinson Volquez summary:  This is definitely a case of being knocked down and proving that you can stand up again.  Sent all the way down to A ball, Volquez worked his way back to the majors during the year, and ended with some good starts, pushing himself back into strong contention for future consideration.  He is right now leading the race to be the fifth starter, but there are still five months to go.

Jamey Wright summary:  Did pretty much what was expected of him, which was not much.  Split time between the rotation and the bullpen, and was outstanding enough as a reliever (2.05 ERA) that they should leave him there.  Said at the end of the season he preferred starting, but he’ll go in the bullpen if he has to.  Since he’s a free agent, likely to go somewhere that will start him, but that’s likely to be a really bad team (as opposed to the Rangers, who are just bad).

Luis Mendoza summary:  He’d been going backwards until this year, when suddenly he rattled off a 15-4, 3.93 record at AA.  For some reason he was one of the guys dragged up for a start in Arlington, and ended up doing enough in a short time to slightly impress.  Will be back down to AAA next year, but he’s still on the fence regarding whether he can keep it all together.

John Koronka summary:  Couple of starts near the start of the year, nothing worth talking about, and was waived, claimed by Cleveland, where he did nothing in their minors and I think was released in September.  Career over?  Not likely, everyone wants pitching, but look for him to show up somewhere that has zero chance of contending (and I’m not necessarily talking about the Rangers).

Armando Galarraga summary:  A reward at the end of the season for going 11-8, 4.28 in the minors.  Like Mendoza,  probably shouldn’t have been near the Rangers, but at least he had been at AAA.  Also like Mendoza, could go either way in his prospecthood.  Mendoza is two years younger though, so more likely to succeed.

Relievers who started:
Willie Eyre, Mike Wood, John Rheinecker and AJ Murray started fifteen games between them (Rheinecker accounting for seven of those) but will be covered with relievers, as they either were mostly relievers just making spot starts, or started badly and relieved well (Rheinecker).

Minor league starters:  There are too many pitchers in the minors to deal with in a paragraph or two, so a full review of pitching in the minors will come separately.

2008:  Millwood, Padilla and McCarthy are locks for the rotation.  This is a problem because this season they pitched more like #3 and #4 starters, rather than top of the rotation guys the Rangers need.  A bunch of guys are battling for the end of the rotation, with Gabbard in the lead, and probably Volquez getting his chance again.  Can the Rangers attract any free agents to start?  Certainly not top-tier ones, they’ve proven that again and again.  Frankly, 2008 is a holding year anyway, so signing someone long-term will be a waste of money.  Keep growing the kids, and hope one works out.  Eric Hurley will lead the charge of the minor leaguers, there is some thought that he may make the big club out of spring training, but more likely he’ll be up later in the year.

2009 and beyond:  We’ll be in year four of Millwood, and the third (and final) year of Padilla.  McCarthy will of course be there.  Hopefully someone else will have stepped up and established themselves, working on experience for the team’s renaissance in 2010 or so.  Erik Hurley will probably get his first full season in 2009, which should be the start of a small trail of good minor league prospects.  Unfortunately they’re all in Low-A or below right now, so by the time 2010 comes around, many of them will have topped out or been traded already.  The odds of the Rangers growing good pitchers are just a little better than buying them.

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