After Cole Hamels, Rangers Pitching Looks Shaky at Best

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Cole Hamels /

Many Rangers fans are wondering who will back up Cole Hamels in the rotation this season — and, furthermore, what, exactly, should be expected from them?

In recent articles, I have been, some might say, hard on the Texas Rangers as they prepare for 2018. Perhaps I’ve been mean, even, or, hell, maybe I’m just a big ol’ pessimist.

Having recently written on Cole Hamels and his future with Texas, I have decided to turn my attention to the remaining four (or five, or six, or seven) members of the Rangers starting rotation. I speculate that, after reading this, you might think of me less as a pessimist, and more as a Rangers-loving realist who’s preparing for some heartbreak this season.

Let’s be frank: it doesn’t sound like anybody in Rangers camp knows what they’re doing with the starting pitching. Five man rotation? Six? Hell, the Rays might use four, so perhaps Texas will roll that out, too. It’s anybody’s guess — and, honestly, that’s fine — it’s Spring Training, and this is the time for these kinds of ideas. It’s a time to tinker (Aaron Judge batting leadoff?), and, for the most part, it’s not harm done if these experiments fail.

The Rangers don’t know how many starters they’ll have come April, nor do they know, entirely, who those starters will be. They know that Cole Hamels is penciled in, and that Martin Perez, if healthy, will be there, too. Doug Fister wasn’t brought in to be a ‘pen arm, nor was Matt Moore. Likely, that’s four of the Rangers five (or six) man rotation. After that, all bets are off.

Matt Bush, Bartolo Colon, Jesse Chavez, Clayton Blackburn, Mike Minor, and Yohander Mendez have all made starts thus far this spring. For most teams, this is neither here nor there — but, as we know, the Rangers in 2018 are not most teams. Tim Lincecum arrived to camp this week, and though he’s likely going to be used as a reliever, it’s no sure thing that he won’t find himself starting at some point.

The Rangers need starting pitching — effective starting pitching — more than any team in baseball.

Rounding up the suitors

I wrote about Hamels last week, and the Rangers should (and do) feel good about him leading the charge this year. Perez is recovering from a broken elbow (non-pitching arm), but has his sights sent on starting the season with the club.

Once a top prospect in all of baseball, Perez has been a staple in the Rangers’ rotation since 2012. He’s never been an especially durable pitcher (never hit 200 IP), and while he’s shown flashes of brilliance, his career thus far could only be described as average: 4.43 lifetime average, 100 ERA+, 1.441 WHIP. Definitely, definitively, average. Perez has only pitched once in the postseason; certainly an indicator of his place amongst his peers.

On most teams, a pitcher of Perez’s caliber might occupy the fourth, or fifth, spot in a rotation. on the 2018 Texas Rangers, he’s the #2 — same spot in the rotation as guys named Keuchel, Tanaka, Hill, or Quintana, for reference.

Now, I’m not prone to making big judgments about players during Spring Training. Particularly for pitchers, it’s often a time to try new things without fear of the results. I truly believe that Spring Training stats mean almost nothing in the grand scheme of baseball.

In the case of the this Rangers group, especially, it seems more prudent to look at the numbers over the last couple of seasons. So, let’s.

2016-2017 totals/averages:


47 GS, 270.2 IP, 282 H, 142 ER, 100 BB, 198 K

Avg: 4.76 ERA, 1.405 WHIP, 89 ERA+, 9.2 H/9, 3.5 BB/9, 7 K/9 (34 years old)


63 GS, 372.2 IP, 384 H, 197 ER, 139 BB, 326 K

Avg: 4.80 ERA, 1.412 WHIP, 87 ERA+, 9.3 H/9, 3.4 BB/9, 7.8 K/9 (28 years old)


0 GS, 114 IP, 101 H, 39 ER, 33 BB, 119 K,

Avg: 3.08 ERA, 1.175 WHIP, 151 ERA+, 9.8 H/9, 3.3 BB/9, 10 K/9 (32 years old; all stats in relief)


61 GS, 334.2 IP, 392 H, 176 ER, 67 BB, 217 K

Avg: 4.96 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 92 ERA+, 10.8 H/9, 1.9 BB/9, 5.8 K/9 (will turn 45 in May)


21 GS, 205 IP, 219 H, 115 ER, 63 BB, 182 K,

Avg: 4.89 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 87 ERA+, 9.6 H/9, 2.7 BB/9, 8.1 K/9 (34 years old; spent 2016 as reliever, 2017 as starter)


42 GS, 259.1 IP, 247 H, 119 ER, 61 BB, 180 K,

Avg: 4.67 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 9.6 H/9, 2.4 BB/9, 7 K/9 (25 years old; all stats from AAA. Has not debuted in MLB)


0 GS, 77.2 IP, 57 H, 22 ER, 22 BB, 88 K, 2.55 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, 176 ERA+, 6.6 H/9, 2.5 BB/9, 10.2 K/9 (30 years old; didn’t pitch in ’16, all stats in relief)


45 GS, 249.2 IP, 186 H, 85 ER, 84 BB, 237 K

Avg: 2.99 ERA, 1.079 WHIP, 6.7 H/9, 3.1 BB/9, 8.7 K/9 (23 years old; all stats from minor leagues)


In 2017, the entire league’s averages looked like this (mind you, this is starters and relievers, but, so is this Rangers group):

4.35 ERA, 100 ERA+ (shocking!), 8.8 H/9, 3.3 BB/9, 8.3 K/9

Give yourself a minute to digest all of that. It’s a lot of numbers, I know.

What do you see?

I see zero Rangers starting pitchers who are even league average. Zero!

The only two with an ERA+ over 100 are Minor and Bush — both of whose statistics are entirely based off of their work as relievers.

I see that every pitcher with Major League experience on this list has a higher H/9, and a lower K/9, than a league-average arm.

None of these guys walk many hitters (certainly something Jon Daniels was aware of in signing them), and a few of these guys are great at eating innings — namely, Moore and the nearly-half-a-century-old Colon.

As a reference point, last years Astros club had one pitcher make more than 20 starts, and perform at a worse than league average level: Mike Fiers, who, you’ll remember, wasn’t a member of the playoffs roster.

Their World Series opponent Los Angeles Dodgers had zero pitchers roll out a pitching line that was worse than league average; even with Kenta Maeda’s struggles and move to the bullpen, he still managed an ERA+ of 100.

The point isn’t that good teams have zero league average pitchers; it’s that they don’t have a stable of them. They certainly aren’t relying on them, either — Fiers and Maeda (as a starter) are evidence of that.

I remember when Matt Moore was absolutely smoking fools…in 2014…before Tommy John surgery.

I remember when Doug Fister was ground-balling dudes into their coffins…in 2014. For what it’s worth, I think Fister might be the best of the Rangers roundups this season; his pitching style is one that might age well enough to stick around for a few more years. He’s never walked many, and is a strike-thrower and ground-ball-inducer. I’m not optimistic that he’ll reproduce his Detroit years, but, as a 4 or 5, why not?

The problem is, he might be the Rangers #2 if Perez isn’t ready by Opening Day.

As for Colon — who doesn’t love this dude? My friends and I have loved him for years; he’s a freak of nature; an anomaly, a unicorn, a specimen, an ageless wonder, you name it. He’s fun to have around…as a fifth starter…surrounded by four other better-than-league-average starters. The Rangers will benefit from his innings (assuming he breaks camp in the rotation), but those innings might also be littered with lots and lots of hard contact.

This can go on for all of these guys — Chavez seems like he’s made a career out of being a journeyman, Blackburn was a highly-rated prospect in San Francisco who never seemed able to put things together. Of course, he’s had arguably the best spring of any Rangers pitcher thus far.

Bush and Minor are exciting, exciting guys, and for different reasons. Before he broke down, Minor looked like he was on his way to a very steady career in Atlanta. The Rangers signed him through 2020, and given his performance last year in Kansas City, it’s completely reasonable to think that he will be an effective ‘pen arm for Texas.

Bush, of course, has a story that is well-known, and the Rangers would love for him to blossom as a starter, a la C.J. Wilson in 2010. Rumor has it that Bush wants the starting job, but the Rangers have failed (Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando come to mind) more than they have succeeded on this front.

UPDATE: Just yesterday, Bush was told he was out of the competition for the rotation.

Perhaps the most interesting player on this list is the one least likely to get a serious look: Yohander Mendez.

Mendez has been the Rangers top pitching prospect for several years now, and while his MLB results aren’t attention-grabbing, the sample size is very, very small. Mendez is a lefty who has shown great command and a very good off-speed pitch throughout his professional career, and the Rangers have, at times, seemed dangerously close to relegating him to relief duty as a pro. All nine of his MLB appearances have come in relief.

Mendez’s minor league numbers are fantastic, as shown above. There are obviously no guarantees that it carries over the show, but it does seem strange that a rotation spot which could go to him is being given, instead, to one of seven other guys who Mendez has a very realistic chance of being better than in the future, and also as good as, currently.

Surely he will be up at some point this season, but the question still remains as to why he hasn’t been given a realistic shot at competing for a spot this spring.

What should you expect?

More from Texas Rangers

I would love for Mike Minor or Doug Fister (or Tim Lincecum or Bartolo Colon or Jesse Chavez or Clayton Blackburn or Matt Moore) to blow the doors off this year; I would love for any of those guys to reinvent (or rediscover) themselves in 2018, and lead the surprise Rangers into some meaningful September baseball!

It’s just not likely, and I can’t simply find a way around that, no matter how much I adore this club.

The Phillies announced today that they have signed Jake Arrieta to a three-year, $75m deal with options that could stretch it into a five-year. He was loosely linked to Texas this off-season, and obviously, for the right price, would have been a welcomed addition.

3 and $75m is, apparently, not the “right” price, but, hey, with our assortment of terrible contracts right now, who can blame Jon Daniels for passing on Arrieta. We’re also not a team on the verge of competing for league titles, as Philadelphia believes that it is right now, and surely that factors into how much an owner is willing to spend.

Arrieta will make $30m this year — a lot for a pitcher seemingly in decline. The Rangers will pay Minor, Lincecum, Moore, Chavez and Fister a combined $24m this season. While that’s obviously more arms, and thus, theoretically, more innings, than Arrieta could possibly log on his own, it might be interesting to compare the one versus the five this season in terms of output.

Nobody wants to admit it — certainly not the Rangers or anybody on their payroll — but pitching is a huge, huge area of concern in Texas this season. A few guys have shown glimpses of their former selves over the last couple of weeks, but, it’s important to remember that Spring Training means almost nothing, statistically speaking. I mean, truly. Nothing.

It’s looked like straw-grabbing time all off-season in Arlington, and while I’m not going to stop believing that Jon Daniels is a smarter human being than I am, I am going to continue being wary, and curious, and terrified of the Rangers current trajectory.

Next: Rangers profile: Who's the real Roogie?

I will, also, root like hell for Jesse freaking Chavez if he’s on the bump every fifth or sixth or eleventh day, and the same can be said for Matt Moore or Bartolo Colon or Chan Ho Park if he’s feeling like pitching again, as well. I hope that all of these guys prove that the Rangers saw something other clubs didn’t. Just don’t ask me to bet on it.