Texas Rangers 2017 preseason preview: A.J. Griffin

Texas Rangers starter A.J. Griffin has a lot left to prove in 2017. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Texas Rangers starter A.J. Griffin has a lot left to prove in 2017. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

Texas Rangers starter A.J. Griffin could be this season’s dark horse for a rotation spot. However, he still has plenty of work to do to get that spot.

After a great 2013 season in Oakland, Texas Rangers pitcher A.J. Griffin underwent Tommy John surgery and began a long comeback. While he did have a full two seasons to recover, he clearly wasn’t the same in 2016. The move to a hitter-friendly park didn’t help things, but it wasn’t his only concern.

What did we learn in 2016?

Believe it or not, Griffin had a tougher time on the road in 2016 than he did at Globe Life Park. Opposing hitters finished the season with an BA/OBP/SLG slash line of .257/.325/.490 in Arlington, compared to .255/.338/.510 away. While they got a handful of extra hits, they reached base far less and had fewer extra base hits.

For comparison’s sake, that’s a .233 isolated power against him at home and a .255 elsewhere. While both numbers were well above last season’s AL average of .166, the home/road split is pretty significant.

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The biggest takeaway from Griffin’s third MLB season was that he started really strong. It was pretty much a tale of two halves for the Texas Rangers right-hander.

Prior to going down for a while with shoulder problems, Griffin was 3-1 in ten starts with a respectful 3.81 earned run average. His opposing slash line was .234/.311/.406 and on April 26, he dominated the Yankees in an eight inning, four hit victory where he allowed just one run on 98 pitches. Five days later, he out-dueled Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey by allowing just one run in six on 107 pitches.

Then, the shoulder stiffness started and knocked him out early in Detroit on May 7. He came back over a month later, but wasn’t quite the same. His second half slash against him was .273/.348/.574 with a massive second half ERA of 6.04. If he wants to remain a starter this season, he’ll have to start strong again and remain consistent.

What will we see in 2017?

Perhaps the biggest for Griffin last season wasn’t as much about health, but more about longevity. Considering he missed two full seasons, it’s quite possible overall fatigue set in. His biggest credit to him is that he finished the season healthy in 2016. That’s a great springboard for the upcoming season.

There stands a chance that he could wear down again this season. But, the key will be delaying that as long as possible. This might call for a role change for Griffin.

The first possibility is a long relief role with spot-starting duties. He did show last season that he’s an innings-eater by going at least five in 15 of his 23 starts. That brings big value out of the bullpen or for a guy that needs to come in as a fill-in for either an injured starter or to provide someone with extra rest when needed.

The second possibility is a role as a sixth starter. Baseball experts have mixed feelings on the idea of a six-man rotation, but it’s worth considering for the Rangers. In fact, C.J. Nitkowski, the newest member of the Texas Rangers TV broadcast team, actually has some ideas about it. With Griffin and Yu Darvish both coming off health issues and the way the pitchers wore down in the postseason last year, a six man rotation could extend everyone’s health.

Next: Rangers preview: Cole Hamels

If he stays relatively healthy, expect Griffin to start about 15 games and finish with a record of 6-3. He’ll see more opportunities out of the bullpen than he will as a starter, but has potential to steal some wins in long relief. Griffin will still struggle with giving up the longball, but will be effective. He should see an improvement in his ERA to about 4.30 and an opposing batting average of .240. It all hinges on his ability to stay consistent all season.