When reading the MLB.com transaction page for the Rangers’ December, it almost feels as if it could be out of a video game. Within a four-week span, the Rangers added three starting pitchers coming off of 2022 seasons of varying levels of success, but all of whom have demonstrated tremendous, sometimes elite, upside in recent years. Jacob deGrom and Nathan Eovaldi were certainly the headline-makers in GM Chris Young’s 2022-23 offseason, but to look past Andrew Heaney (and some other small additions) would be a mistake. After bringing together one of the most offensively potent infields in baseball for 2022, the Rangers reinforced their commitment to spend and compete in 2023 and beyond by creating a top flight rotation. After a 68-94 4th place finish in 2022, what can fans expect of new manager Bruce Bochy’s 2023 group?
2022 In Review
Record: 68-94, 4th Place in AL West
Team MVP: SS Corey Seager
Team Cy Young: LHP Martin Pérez
Martin Pérez was the success story of the 2022 Rangers. He posted the best season of his career by virtually every metric, posting a 2.89 ERA and 3.27 FIP over 196.1 innings, good for 3.8 fWAR and his first ever All-Star selection. His rotation mates – Dane Dunning (153.1 IP, 4.46 ERA), Glenn Otto (135.2 IP, 4.64 ERA), and Jon Gray (127.1 IP, 3.96 ERA) – were durable enough, but nowhere near dominant. Elsewhere on the pitching staff, the emergence of LHP Brock Burke as a multi-inning relief ace and Matt Moore’s late-career resurgence buoyed a bullpen that was otherwise painfully mediocre. As a whole, the pitching staff ranked in the bottom third of MLB in most pitching metrics.
On the other side of the ball, SS Corey Seager returned to form at the plate, staying healthy and playing the most games since his 2016 NL Rookie of the Year campaign while posting a 117 wRC+ and a career-high 33 HR. 2B Marcus Semien again led the league in plate appearances. While he also posted his worst full-season wRC+ since 2018, that mark was still 108, and he finished the season strong after struggling to a 26 wRC+ in March/April and a 78 wRC+ in May. 1B Nathaniel Lowe and switch-hitting C Jonah Heim both had huge breakout seasons. Lowe slugged 27 HR on the way to a 143 wRC+ across 157 games, tied for third-best among all MLB 1B, tied with Pete Alonso and trailing only two recent NL MVPs in Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt. Heim, in his first full season, pounded left-handed pitching to the tune of a 137 wRC+ while finishing second in MLB in catcher framing runs. OF Adolis García improved on his 2021 All-Star rookie campaign, decreasing his K% by more than three points, and increasing his wRC+ from 99 to 112.
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The rest of Texas’ position player group was much less inspiring. Texas’ third basemen and left fielders were two of the worst position groups in all of baseball; it didn’t help that 16 total players saw time across those positions. Of that group, Ezequiel Duran (82 wRC+ across 220 PA) and Nick Solak (89 wRC+ across 95 PA) were the most successful. These positions, as well as the DH spot were the most glaring offensive needs going into the 2022-23 offseason.
As with the pitching staff and offense, the Rangers’ defensive metrics graded out as firmly in the bottom third or so of the league.
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Understandably, the revolving doors of 3B and LF did not perform well. In the infield, Lowe struggled greatly at 1B, but Seager and Semien were solidly above average up the middle. CF Leody Taveras took a step back defensively, but still provided some value in the form of 4 OAA, on par with other advanced defensive CFs such as Micahel A. Taylor and Adam Duvall.
Defensively, Jonah Heim was a bright spot for the 2022 Rangers. As already mentioned, Heim finished second in MLB in Statcast framing runs, but he also improved upon his blocking statistics from 2021, finished second among qualified MLB catchers with 5 runs saved via catcher ERA, and finished fourth among catchers in Baseball Prospectus’ Deserved Runs Prevented.
Key Losses from 2022: Matt Moore
Notable Free Agent Additions: RHP Jacob deGrom, LHP Andrew Heaney, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, LHP Will Smith, OF Robbie Grossman, OF Clint Frazier
Notable Trades: Nick Solak to Reds for cash; Kolby Allard to Braves for Jake Odorizzi and cash; Dennis Santana to Braves for cash
The 2022-23 offseason saw the Rangers continue a spending spree they started in December 2021. Between deGrom, Eovaldi, and Heaney, Texas’ three largest signings this winter, they committed to $244 million in guaranteed salary; add in the Qualifying Offer accepted by Martín Pérez, and that figure grows to well over $260 million. Despite these acquisitions, questions remain on the level of talent on the Rangers’ roster.
The biggest question mark for the Rangers’ rotation will be health. deGrom has a long history of injuries, and 2022 was no different. A shoulder injury held deGrom out until August, and he only made 11 starts. While he was quite effective in those appearances, posting a 3.08 ERA and 14.3 K/9 across 64.1 IP, deGrom is 34 and there are already reports of an ailing side coming out of Spring Training. Eovaldi was limited as well last year due to a shoulder injury, and has been reported as suffering from the same soreness in camp as deGrom. Their health, and the sustained effectiveness of Gray and Heaney will be vital to the team’s success in 2023 and beyond.
Brock Burke had by far the best 2022 of any remaining Rangers relievers. The team will look to José Leclerc to make a return to his 2018-2019 self, which he showed flashes of in his 47.1 IP in 2022. New Ranger Will Smith will probably see some high-leverage appearances, but righty Jonathan Hernández is projected to compete for those as well.
Heim, Lowe, Seager, Semien, and Garcia will start in their respective positions as long as they are healthy. Obviously, the positions of priority for improvement are 3B, LF, and DH. At the hot corner, top prospect Josh Jung is likely to take the reins full time after getting 102 PA in 2022. ZiPS projects Jung for a 114 wRC+; to reach this mark would certainly necessitate that he slash his 38% K rate from 2022 and improve his 4% walk rate. In my opinion, he is more likely to be around the 95-100 mark projected by Steamer and Fangraphs. Jung certainly demonstrated a high ceiling at the plate in AA and AA in 2021, but struggled at the AAA and MLB level in 2022. Regardless, it goes without saying that anything Jung can provide offensively will be an improvement from 2022.
In February, Texas signed Robbie Grossman to compete for the starting LF job with the likes of Bubba Thompson and Josh H. Smith. Grossman is an OBP machine coming off a down year after posing career highs in HR, RBI, SB, and fWAR with Detroit in 2021. Much like at 3B, even a repeat of 2022 for Grossman, a year in which he struck out at a career-worst clip (27%) and posted a wRC+ of 82, would be leaps and bounds better than the Rangers saw at the position last season.
C/DH Mitch Garver played only 54 games in 2022 due to injury, so the DH position was a cobbling of extra position players. A mind-boggling 21 different players appeared at the position, with UTL Brad Miller, Garcia, and Kole Calhoun leading the way. Others included regular starting position players on rest days and fringe major leaguers such as Mark Mathias, Willie Calhoun, and Charlie Culberson. Of the players I mentioned here by name, only Garver, Miller, and Garcia are still in the Rangers organization. I suspect that the Rangers will primarily employ a platoon approach at the DH spot, with Garver (career 134 wRC+ vL/111 wRC+ vR) starting against left-handed pitching and some righties, and Miller (career 109 wRC+ vR) against all other righties.
The new rule changes are also set to help some of the Rangers’ best hitters. In 2022, Corey Seager was the seventh-most shifted against player in baseball. In 92.8% of his plate appearances, the defense lined up three infielders on the right side of second base. In his shifted plate appearances, Seager had a wOBA of .326, 135th best of the 351 hitters with 200 or more PA in 2022. In his non-shifted PA, his wOBA was .397, 17th among that same group. Marcus Semien and Mitch Haniger were also the sixth and seventh-most shifted against right-handed hitters.
Projections and Predictions for 2023
PECOTA: 79-83, 4th AL West, 15.7% chance to make playoffs
ZiPS: 79-83, 4th AL West, 23.4% chance to make playoffs
FanGraphs: 81.8-80.2, 4th AL West, 36.7% chance to make playoffs
The three main projection systems all have the Rangers finishing around .500, more than a 10 game improvement from 2022. Unfortunately, the newfound strength of the AL West has the Rangers stuck in fourth place, with middling odds to reach the playoffs.
Using FanGraphs’ RosterResource Depth Chart projections, the Rangers are slated to have the second-best rotation in baseball by fWAR, trailing only the Yankees and tied with the Mets. On the strengths of their stars, they are also projected to finish in the top five of fWAR for 2B and SS, and within the top ten for C and 1B. The outfield, DH, and 3B spots project to be the weaknesses of the 2023 squad as they were in 2022.
I can admit that I am slightly more optimistic than the projection systems. I predict that the Rangers will win 83 games and finish in third place in the AL West – I am hesitant to expect anything from the Angels and can easily see them finishing under .500 (again).
Here’s how I predict the Rangers’ roster will look on Opening Day:
- 2B Marcus Semien
- SS Corey Seager
- 1B Nathaniel Lowe
- RF Adolis García
- C Jonah Heim
- DH Mitch Garver
- 3B Josh Jung
- LF Robbie Grossman
- CF Leody Taveras
SP Jacob deGrom
Bench: OF Clint Frazier, UTL Josh H. Smith, UTL Brad Miller, OF Bubba Thompson
Rotation: RHP Jacob deGrom, LHP Martin Pérez, RHP Jon Gray, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, LHP Andrew Heaney
Bullpen: RHP José Leclerc, RHP Jonathan Hernández, LHP Brock Burke, RHP Josh Sborz, RHP Jake Odorizzi, RHPJoe Barlow, LHP Taylor Hearn, LHP Will Smith
Outside of those listed here, you can probably expect to see players like RHP Dane Dunning, RHP Glenn Otto, LHP John King, LHP Danny Duffy, RHP Spencer Howard, IF/OF Yoshi Tsutsugo, C Sam Huff, and OF Joe McCarthy at some point this season.
Regardless of 2023 goes for the Rangers, 2024 will likely see the debuts of top prospects such as Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker, and the opening of the team’s next competitive window. For Rangers fans, exciting times are ahead.
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