Gil LeBreton

Forget sabermetrics, Rangers should be much-improved team

Shin-Soo Choo was one of baseball’s better hitters before the was sidetracked by injuries.
Shin-Soo Choo was one of baseball’s better hitters before the was sidetracked by injuries. Star-Telegram

Somewhere in the bleak preseason magazine forecasts and the dire online predictions sit the real 2015 Texas Rangers.

“Too many ifs,” read one national publication.

“Too many unknowns,” said one major website.

The latter, the ESPN online site, had the Rangers pegged as the impending sixth-worst team in baseball.

Really? Worse than the Marlins, the Astros, the dismantled A’s and the Joe Maddon-less Rays?

With the newsstand costs rising to $7.99, of course, most of the preseason periodicals truly are no longer worth the paper they were printed on. Yet, their popularity persists, because with the rise of fantasy baseball has come a surge of championing preseason projections, the fair-haired child of the game’s shotgun analytics marriage.

Spare me the emails. I enjoy baseball’s new math, and even agree with most of it.

But the projection algorithms are where I get off the sabermetric bus. If they were such good predicting tools, why didn’t you win your fantasy league last season?

Better still, why aren’t all the projection algorithm dudes raking in the cash in Las Vegas?

Because — to quote Billy Beane/Brad Pitt in Moneyball — you don’t know. The future doesn’t always repeat the past. Ask the local TV weathermen if you don’t believe that.

The 2015 Rangers, therefore, find themselves mired among the projected also-rans, caught between “ifs” and “unknowns.” The ESPN guy predicted them to go 70-92.

The local team’s fall from their back-to-back World Series years, granted, is well-documented. The Rangers’ win totals have dropped from 96 to 93 to 91 and 67.

A trend? Not at all. Even the East German judge could look at those numbers and toss out the 67.

The Rangers’ injury losses reached a historic high, and the 2014 season turned into a glorified tryout camp. The algorithms seem to fail to account for that.

Lacking hard data, the rest of the preseason criticism has resorted to old presumptions and half-truths, ranging from Prince Fielder’s girth to the apocryphal “jet stream” at Globe Life Park.

Maybe Fielder, coming off neck surgery, is one hotel pillow away from another cervical fusion surgery. But he remains only 30 years old, he hadn’t missed a game in four seasons before last year’s injury, and the club expects Prince to hit the ground swinging in Arizona.

Shin-Soo Choo, the other whipping boy of the preseason magazines, finished with the worst numbers of his nine-year big league career. But for the first two months of the season — when he was healthy — Choo was one of the league’s best players.

High grades in injury rehab don’t factor into the projection algorithms. And the math clearly doesn’t know what to make of Colby Lewis.

At age 34 and coming back from an unconventional hip replacement procedure, Colby’s makeover became the most understated story of the season. His numbers in the second half show it — a .251 average and .738 OPS allowed with a WHIP of 1.228.

It took three months for Lewis to grow accustomed to what amounted to a new set of legs. What he does after a full off-season will be one of the upcoming season’s keys.

He should be the Rangers’ No. 4 starter, and Yovani Gallardo, traded from Milwaukee, will be the No. 3.

Gallardo, said the magazines, will be hurt by the move to Texas, “where the ball flies out to right field.”

Oh, really? The ball flies out to right field? Who? When?

Get a new weather report. With the remodeling behind home plate, the so-called jet stream has quieted to a gentle breeze. It’s no Yankee Stadium.

The other variable that the projection equations appear to only be guessing on is what happens when a team’s youngsters suddenly grow up? Rougned Odor just turned 21. Elvis Andrus is still only 26. Leonys Martin is a young 26 in American baseball years.

Yes, the Rangers are laden with question marks. But there are a lot more could-be’s than probably-nots.

A good Einstein would see that.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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