2014 Texas Rangers: Not so big anymore

Bobby Witt

Bobby Witt was a wild right-handed pitcher who won 142 games and retired as a World Series champion. Witt won 104 of those games for the Rangers after being the third pick of the 1985 draft (B.J. Surhoff and Will Clark preceded him; Barry Larkin at No. 4 or Barry Bonds at No . 7 might have been better; Pete Incaviglia at No. 8 and Rafael Palmeiro at No. 22 both became Rangers). Witt was promoted after just 11 AA games, despite being 0-6 with a 6.43 ERA and 44 walks in 35 innings. Evidently the Rangers were desperate for pitching. Witt was 11-9 in 1986 as a rookie despite a 5.48 ERA. He led the AL in walks in three of his first four seasons and wild pitches in two of his first three. He walked 143 in 157.2 innings as a rookie and 140 in 143 innings in ’87. We’re talking some high pitch counts. His best season was 1990 — 17-10 with a 3.36 ERA and just 110 walks and 221 strikeouts in 220 innings. Witt was known as Witt and Wild and had two stints with the Rangers, going to Oakland in 1992 as part of the package for Jose Canseco and returning from Florida in ’95 to go 16-12 in ’96. Witt’s final season was with the Diamondbacks, his seventh team, in 2001, for whom he pitched in 14 games. He pitched a scoreless inning in Game 6, trusted with a 15-2 lead. Final numbers: 142-157, 4.83 ERA, 2465 innings, 1,375 walks, 1,955 strikeouts, 91 ERA+, 128 wild pitches, 11 shutouts, 47 complete games, 14.9 WAR.

I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The NBA has had two Luke Jacksons, the first a power forward in the ’60s, the second a smaller forward in the first decade of the 21st century. Baseball’s Luke Jackson is a power pitcher for the Rangers who fanned 134 in 128 innings last year, allowed only 92 hits and had a 2.04 ERA. He did his best work after promotion to AA, where he had an 0.67 ERA in six appearances. Jackson was named the Rangers’ minor-league pitcher of the year, an award named for Nolan Ryan, which is fitting in that Jackson’s top speed approaches the upper 90s. The Rangers acquired Jackson with a supplemental pick in 2010 draft, compensation for 38-year-old Ivan Rodriguez leaving as a free agent. Sounds like the Rangers were overcompensated.

Trivia: Since moving to Texas, Rangers have won six MVP awards (one player won two). Name them. Answer below.

What he said: Rangers GM John Daniels on the trade for now departed Matt Garza: “I thought way too short-term with the Garza deal last year. That one’s got a chance to haunt us and haunt me.” What he meant: “I only hope it’s not as bad as Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi.”

Outlook: The Rangers have had five straight winning seasons and four straight with 90 wins or more, their longest period of success in the franchise’s history (the original Senators’ franchise moved to Minnesota; the expansion Senators moved to Texas in 1972).

Of course, that’s not saying much, given that the longest previous stretch of winning seasons was three.

Still, it’s hard not to think that the Rangers won’t be as near anytime soon to a World Series title as they were in 2011 when Nelson Cruz short-armed David Freese’s long fly. And that Cruz didn’t just drop the ball but the World Series trophy, smashing it into hundreds of pieces like a splintered bat.

The Rangers showed more courage than sense in the offseason, taking on eight years of Prince Fielder’s contract in a desperate search for power. The last time they traded from such a frantic need, they made the deal for Matt Garza that GM John Daniels already regrets.

The Rangers have gone from that Game 7 loss in 2011 to losing a wild-card game in 2012 to losing a playoff to get into the playoffs in 2013. They may not do as well this year.

Some of that is injuries — Matt Harrison, Jurickson Profar, Derek Holland and Geovany Soto were all lost for large portions of the season before it began. That’s bad luck.

But some of the Rangers’ problems are bad planning. Mitch Moreland had almost 1,400 plate appearances in the last three seasons and produced a .749 OPS at first base and in the outfield, worth not quite 0.5 WAR per season. The Rangers could play pin the tail on a AAA player and do as well.

David Murphy had more than 1,400 plate appearance in the last three seasons and produced a .750 OPS in the outfield (Murphy’s .304/.380/.479 2012 was very good, which puts even more emphasis on how bad he was in 2011 and ’13).

Moreland is still out a Ranger even as Murphy is not. But what good does it do to get Fielder — assuming he improves on a tepid 2013 — if Moreland is still producing .730+ of OPS in 400 at-bats?

The Rangers were fourth in ERA in the AL last year, but seventh in runs scored. And while they overpaid to get Garza, they kept running Moreland and Murphy four times a game six games a week.

In the spirit of unproductive Murphys, the Rangers added Donnie, who won’t do for the infield won’t David didn’t do for the outfield.

The Rangers have had a good stretch in the last half decade but the sense is they’re closer to the end of it than the beginning. It’s going to be a while before Nolan Ryan’s new team is better than his old, but this is the year the gap begins to close.

Trivia answer: The Rangers’ six MVP winners are Josh Hamilton (2010), Alex Rodriguez (2003), Ivan Rodriguez (1999), Juan Gonzalez (1998 and 1996) and Jeff Burroughs (1974).

Team song: Buddy Holly: That’ll be the Day

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