On Wednesday, I projected how the Texas Rangers' revamped offense would look in 2014. Today is the second installment in the projection series: the rotation. Bullpen projections, the final piece of the series, will be coming soon.
As it stands now, Texas' rotation has four set starters. The Rangers' need for another quality starter is well-documented, and it is unknown what avenue the team will take to fill that need.
These projections will include the year I expect each of the four established starters to have. For purposes of simplicity, I will assume for now that the No. 5 spot in the rotation will be filled by committee, until and if the Rangers acquire another full-time starter. Therefore, I will project how that committee will perform as a whole.
32 GP, 32 GS, 19-7, 2.69 ERA, 217.2 IP, 151 H, 270 K, 77 BB, .186 opponent avg, 1.04 WHIP
2014 American League Cy Young Winner
Wow, does time fly when you have an elite pitcher or what?
Does it feel to you like the 2014 season will be Yu Darvish' third year with the Rangers already?
It's true, folks.
Darvish is entering his third season in a Texas uniform and his second as the rotation's ace.
He'll be even better this year than he was in 2013. With a truly elite offense behind him, he will win several more games that he should have won last year. Leads might be blown, but the Texas offense will be far more capable of handing Darvish the lead again.
Bold prediction: He will emerge as the victor in a very tight AL Cy Young race with Felix Hernandez, Max Scherzer and Jered Weaver, and of course, he will be an easy selection for the 2014 All-Star Game.
Take a look at the video above. Watch what he did to the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox. Two of those three runs came on Darvish's single bad pitch all afternoon. It was a David Ortiz two-run homer in the first.
Boston was the best team in the league almost all season. Try to tell me a Cy Young is out of Darvish's reach.
He's just about in his physical prime as a pitcher, and 2014 will be the first of Darvish's peak performance years. This season, I expect that he will learn to be more reliant on his mid-to-high 90s fastball.
He'll still throw the dazzling world-class junk, but he'll use just a tad more sparingly. Because of this, he'll strike out a handful fewer batters in 2014.
He won't make any more than the 32 starts he made in 2013. I don't expect him to sustain an injury that costs him more than a start or two, but he will need his rest. It is imperative that manager Ron Washington not burn him out like he did in the Boston game above in that video, even as impressive as he was.
Darvish is a true horse, but he can become a little more efficient with his pitches. If he does that, combined with this suddenly scary offense behind him, he could be primed for a glorious World Series win or two.
He'll still have a few "bad" outings, but overall, expect true greatness from Darvish this season.
Holland is the set No. 2 in the Texas rotation.
33 GP, 33 GS, 15-8, 3.34 ERA, 215.1 IP, 201 H, 181 K, 61 BB, .242 opponents' batting avg, 1.21 WHIP
One of the league's premier southpaws, Derek Holland will also greatly benefit from the Rangers' new league-class offense behind him. He'll have a career year in several categories, namely ERA, WHIP and innings pitched.
Knowing that the bats behind him can score runs quickly and in bunches, Holland will attack with his hard mid-90s sinker more than ever.
He has exceptional control for a guy who likes to come back in on the corners with his sinker. The ball will be in play a hair more often this season, as he'll both strike out and walk fewer batters.
Holland also has an overall great defense behind him, with the only real hole being Prince Fielder at first. This should make him feel more comfortable making the big pitches in key spots.
As his one major flaw, Holland will continue to give up long balls. But as long as he can hover around 20 and stay under 25, he'll be all right.
He has a World Series win under his belt and is no stranger to the big stage. If the Rangers make it to October this season, I expect Holland to lead by example.
Harrison is definitely a question mark in the rotation right now.
26 GP, 26 GS, 11-10, 3.59 ERA, 161.2 IP, 163 H, 119 K, 52 BB, .266 opponents' batting avg, 1.33 WHIP
Right now, Matt Harrison is a mystery in the Rangers' rotation. We just don't know how he'll perform in 2014 after missing all but 10 innings of the 2013 season with lower back surgery and rehab setbacks.
But one thing we do know for sure about Harrison: He's a bona fide gamer, a fierce competitor who always wants to take his turn every five days no matter what. He doesn't boast the most fantastic stuff in the world, but his fire on the mound often helps him overcome trouble.
The key with Harrison is to keep him fresh by easing him into his workload. He shouldn't be rushed. He'll need some time to get back into a rhythm, and I do think he'll eventually find it in mid to late season.
The above projections are just a baseline for him. It's very possible that he could exceed these projections, just like he can also fall short of them.
But knowing the competitor Harrison is, I'd give him a much greater chance to exceed than to fall short.
While he is on the mound this year, don't expect to see anything different than what he's done in the past. He'll get ahead in the count with a variety of pitches, mainly his low to mid-90s heater and his plus changeup, which is his best pitch.
He should remain very controlled as he always has. But early on in the year, expect him to give up hits. He won't be sharp in his first 10 or so starts, but he'll pick it up.
Assuming he stays healthy the whole year, I believe he can be a solid contributor to a deep playoff run, as he also has World Series starting experience, however negative it was.
The Rangers are expecting impressive leaps from Perez this season.
29 GP, 29 GS, 14-8, 191 IP, 179 H, 159 K, 65 BB, .251 opponents' batting avg, 1.27 WHIP
If Wash wanted to, he could probably start Martin Perez in the No. 3 spot in the rotation while Harrison gets comfortable returning from injury. Perez is a capable No. 4, although the ideal situation is to slot him in as the everyday No. 5.
Perez will turn 23 in the first week of the 2014 season. Right now, he's slated to start against the Rays in Tampa Bay on his birthday. Hopefully he'll start off his season with a bang, but regardless, I expect him to take significant strides in this rotation this season.
He is still a contact pitcher, but he'll improve his stuff and miss more bats in 2014. His changeup is already one of the best in baseball and is his go-to pitch. He'll accompany his change with a plus fastball in the mid-90s and a sneaky slider that he loves to backdoor hitters with.
The single biggest step you''ll see him take in 2014 is a huge increase in innings pitched. Relatively speaking, there isn't a ton of wear and tear on his arm, as he spent a good chunk of his early time in the minors in the bullpen.
Perez is on his way to becoming one of the best young pitchers in the game. 2014 is his next step.
For now, the No. 5 appears to be a possible committee job.
This is the most uncertain part of Texas' rotation. To keep it simple, I'm going to assume for now that the No. 5 spot will be a committee of Nick Tepesch and Colby Lewis, with something like a 60-40 ratio for Tepesch-Lewis.
Of course, this logjam clears up if/when the Rangers sign a solid starter to take the No. 3 or No. 4 spot. In that situation, Perez would take over the fifth spot. This needs to happen, but until it does, I'll project it in committee.
Combined 2014 Projection
28 GP, 28 GS (I'll estimate 16 starts for Tepesch and 12 for Lewis), 10-10, 3.92 ERA, 181.2 IP, 187 H, 158 K, 72 BB, .269 opponents' batting avg, 1.42 WHIP
Between Tepesch and Lewis, those projections might be a tad optimistic. Again, this whole complicated mess disappears if the Rangers acquire a full-time starter.
As far as what is needed from the No. 5 spot: Wash has always asked his pitchers to just keep the offense in the game. If these two guys can get anywhere close to these numbers, they'll be doing their job. Last year's offense wouldn't have been able to overcome these numbers, but this year it will.
This is a duo that just needs to eat innings and keep the bullpen as rested as possible. Darvish and Holland will work wonders to keep the pen fresh, but its workload will start to increase as Perez and Harrison make more starts.
Tepesch and Lewis will take their lumps, but they need to just keep going and pitch through them.
Each of them has good enough stuff to hold their own in a few starts, and combined, they should get the job done.
Let's just hope, though, that Jon Daniels clears this out and eventually has five set starters.