For the first article in my Retired Number Series, I started with a team I knew well. For the second one, though, I wanted to do a team that I didn’t know as much about. The Ballpark in Arlington was the last stadium I visited, so the Rangers kind of stood out.
As it stands, the Rangers have only retired two numbers; what I’m going to do with this article is look at the numbers they’ve already retired, compare the Ranger’s process to other teams, and guess which numbers might be next.
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Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.
There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summery of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summery, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1980, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.
Being a relatively new team, the Rangers don’t have many retired numbers. As of right now, only 26 and 34 have been retired. Manager Johnny Oates got his number retired after managing the Rangers for seven years, leading them to their first three playoff appearances.
Nolan Ryan’s 34 is a bit more interesting a case. The Rangers were Ryan’s fourth team, and he didn’t join them until 1989, at the age of 42. Still, he played five seasons with them, and spent more time there than he did with his first team, the Mets (1966, 1968-1971). Being from Texas undoubtably helped his case. And it’s not like he was bad in his time as a Ranger: he had 13.8 bWAR and 22.6 fWAR (granted, I didn’t use fWAR for pitchers in my study, but that’s still an impressive side note). I suppose I’m not surprised his number is retired by Texas; I guess what’s more surprising is they waited to make him their first retired number.
I suppose there’s a reason Nolan Ryan is the only player with his number retired three times. For his career, he has 85 bWAR.
There are eight main ways I looked at a team’s selectivity in retiring numbers; the two main groups are averages and medians. For each of those, I looked at the teams average of median career fWAR, career bWAR, fWAR with the team, and bWAR with the team.
Really, though, I suppose this method is slightly flawed for a team like the Rangers, where they only have one retired number. They rank second to last in both Average bWAR with the Team and Median bWAR with the Team (which, in this case, is a little redundant). The only team below them is the Rays (who have their own... special case) However, they rank third in both Median and Average Career bWAR, behind only the Braves... and the Rays.
This is the more important question for a team like the Rangers: where do they go with their number selection from here?
Both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference are fairly unanimous in their top three Rangers without a retired number. Both rank Ivan Rodriguez first, with 48.6 bWAR and 53 fWAR with the team. In Pudge’s case, I think it is not really a question of if, but when. They obviously won’t retire his number while he is playing (especially with other teams), but he is unquestionably a Ranger (13 of his 21 seasons have included time with them). On top of that, once he is retired, do they honor his number right away, wait until he’s in the Hall of Fame, or do something else entirely? Since I’m unfamiliar with how decisions like these are made, I cannot honestly answer that question.
Rafael Palmeiro and Buddy Bell are next, in both cases. However, there are other issues at work in both cases. Palmeiro’s 40.1 bWAR and 44 fWAR as a Ranger may not be enough to overcome his time with other teams (only 10 of his 20 seasons came with Texas) and his ties to steroids. I think he will be honored eventually, but it might not be until Hall voters get over their steroid aversion.
Bell has the “other teams” problem turned up to 11. He did play most of his seasons with the Rangers (barely, with 8 out of his 18 seasons in Texas, and 7 in Cleveland), but actually played in more games as an Indian. Also, seeing as he’s been retired since 1989, I doubt there’s significant momentum behind his case. He has 37 fWAR and 34.3 bWAR with the Rangers.
After that, Jim Sundberg, Toby Harrah, and Charlie Hough are all cluttered up around 30 bWAR and fWAR, which doesn’t really help them stand out. Frank Howard is also right by them in the franchise standings, but his best days came in Washington (and he already had a statue at Nationals Park, anyway). Again, they also lack momentum, like Buddy Bell.
Clearly, more recent players are the more likely choice. Kenny Rogers is the only other pitcher with much of a case, but again, he’s right in that 30 WAR range (28.9 bWAR, 31.7 fWAR) that makes it hard to stand out. Juan Gonzalez is right there with him in the 30-range (28.5 bWAR, 33 fWAR as a Ranger). However, he is the franchise leader in home runs, played with them during their first run of postseasons, and was quite famous at his peak in the 1990s. On the down side, he also has steroid connections, which will likely hinder any chance at recognition.
Really, most of the next best candidates come from the current team. C.J. Wilson is the current team ace, but got a bit of a late start, which might hurt his chances. For the managerial side, Ron Washington led the team to their first pennant, and the team looks poised for another playoff run this year. Just based on Johnny Oates’ career with the Rangers, I’d say Washington has a good chance at recognition.
Among the hitters, there’s a trio of strong candidates. Michael Young has already broken into the Rangers’ top ten in both fWAR (29) and bWAR (26.5). This is on top of being the franchise leader in hits and a seven-time all-star in a Rangers-exclusive career. Ian Kinsler has already reached tenth all-time in team bWAR (22.7) and stands just outside in fWAR (21, twelfth). And Josh Hamilton has already made a strong impact on the franchise, despite only four seasons with the team (and only 16 fWAR and 15.7 bWAR with them so far). All three are faces of the franchise, to some extent. If they stay with the team over the next few years, they could likely see their numbers retired (although Young may have already reached that point).
The players that I think are most likely to see their Texas Rangers numbers retired as of right now, in order:
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