Work for the Texas Rangers’ 2018 season started well before the 2017 season ended Sunday, with general manager Jon Daniels and manager Jeff Banister holding exit interviews over the final 10 days.
The two also met to discuss the coaching staff and which players should get a look to end the season once the Rangers were eliminated from postseason contention.
Their meetings resumed Monday, including one with the coaching staff.
The Rangers haven’t had this much off-season work to do since following the 2011 season. Even the dismal 2014 didn’t produce a hectic off-season, aside from hiring Banister to replace Ron Washington.
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Injuries, more than anyone with the club could remember, helped send the Rangers to the American League West cellar in 2014. Those injured players returned to the lineup in 2015, and the Rangers won the division.
They finished third this season, thanks in large part to underperformance. Yes, there were injuries, though nothing on the scale of 2014.
Rebounds by those who struggled won’t fix solely fix the Rangers in 2018. They will have to go outside the organization to address the areas that need the most work — the starting rotation and the bullpen.
The rotation wasn’t a weak link in 2017. The bullpen was, unquestionably, the weakest.
When the season is recounted, that’s where the most blame will fall.
Here’s a look at what and who, who and what, delivered the key blows to the Rangers’ bid for an AL West three-peat and sent them home Sunday without another trip to the postseason.
The numbers are difficult to stomach, especially since largely the same group that was so good in 2016 returned to spit the bit in 2017.
Try these on for size:
Bullpen ERA of 4.76 was the second-highest in the AL.
▪ 39.5 percent of inherited runners scored was worst in MLB.
▪ Tony Barnette allowed an MLB-worst 51.2 percent.
▪ Their 227 walks ranked fourth-most in the AL.
▪ Returning closer Sam Dyson was 1-6 with a 10.80 ERA and four blown saves in 17 appearances before his June 2 release.
▪ The Rangers had only 29 saves, second fewest in MLB.
Need anyone say more?
He was an out 80 percent of the time, often from the middle of the lineup, in the first year of a six-year, $49.5 million contact. While he hit 30 home runs, he struck out 162 times and posted an on-base percentage of only .252 and an on-base plus slugging percentage of .649.
That OPS is well below what is considered a decent season (.750), and Odor also had a -0.1 WAR.
Here’s another ugly number: Odor stranded 265 runners, third most in the majors and second in the AL to Albert Pujols. Odor stranded 227 runners in 2016, 30th in baseball and 21st in the AL.
There were three significant injuries to Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman. Believe it or not, the Beltre injury wasn’t the biggest.
Beltre strained his right calf just before the season and didn’t play until May 29. In that time Joey Gallo was his replacement and was too good for the Rangers to send down. But had Beltre not been injured, Gallo might have spent much of 2017 at Triple A.
Hamels’ injury, a strained right oblique, cost him nearly two months and then a few starts to find a groove. He was injured before his May 2 start at Houston and didn’t come off the disabled list until June 26, and the Rangers went 25-25 in that stretch.
Surely the Rangers would have won four of his the seven starts he missed.
While the bullpen was languishing, Diekman was unable to do anything about as he tried to rid his body of ulcerative colitis. Judging by how he pitched in September, he could have been a steadying force in the bullpen early on when things were so unsteady.
A few things about the star right-hander who was traded just before the July 31 trade deadline:
He’s an amazing talent.
The Rangers lost 10 of the final 12 games he started for them before heading to the Dodgers.
Darvish was hardly a bum in the majority of those starts, as he posted eight quality starts, and his 5.03 ERA over those 12 games includes the 10 runs he allowed in his Rangers swan song.
The win is often not in a pitcher’s control, but something went screwy for him at the end of his Rangers stint. Maybe the offense was too confident in him. The bullpen certainly didn’t help him on a few occasions.
Whatever. If he wonders why he was dealt, the Rangers’ failure to win games he started contributed.
The failed season isn’t all on the players.
What if club brass had decided to reduce Odor’s playing time in favor of Jurickson Profar?
What if they had acquired a reliever to replace Diekman, who decided in December to undergo his treatments?
What if they hadn’t traded Darvish?
Would the Rangers be playing Tuesday in the AL wild-card game?
The declines of Dyson, Barnette, Jonathan Lucroy and Mike Napoli, all coming off excellent seasons, were completely unexpected and difficult to overcome. It’s not like other teams were just sitting by the phone waiting to unload suitable replacements.
A lineup full of high-strikeout hitters limited the offense’s versatility. The pitching staff, starters and relievers, walked too many hitters. The team defense either declined or was only marginally improved.
The Rangers never got better during the season. Is that all on the players?