I'm a Red Sox fan—I already established that when I started this series (and subsequently followed it up with the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox). They're my hometown team and my devotion to them has rarely wavered (most notably, I lashed out a bit following the abrupt release of Mike Stanley—one of my favorites to ever don the uniform). It is very rewarding to follow a single franchise closely through tough times (many of them) and then the great times (2004 and 2007, of course). But sometimes, as a baseball fan, you crave a bit more than just one team can offer.
When I was a kid, I loved my Red Sox. But being a new fan who consumed everything he could (which was much less than a kid could get nowadays), I needed more than one team to follow. On December 7, 1988 (at the age of ten) I decided to not only be a fan of the Red Sox, but also an adopted fan of the Texas Rangers. Why that date and why that team? That is the day that my favorite pitcher, Nolan Ryan, inked a deal in Arlington. See, I was a bit enamored with strikeouts then (as I still am). I love them. I love pitchers that pile 'em up but I also love hitters who can succeed despite a closet full of golden sombreros. So, on that December day, my favorite strikeout pitcher (Ryan) was united on the same club as my favorite strikeout "hitter"—Mr. Pete Incaviglia.
The Rangers were my #2 until 1993. Ryan was in his final season and Inky had joined fellow former Ranger and strikeout wizard Mitch Williams with that insane cast of characters in Philadelphia. But for three solid seasons, I rooted for the Rangers. Mike adoration for the strikeout caused me to fall for the likes of Dean Palmer and Bobby Witt. I developed a respect for the knuckleball thanks to Charlie Hough. I thought that Jack Daugherty, Kevin Reimer, Monty Fariss, Donald Harris, and Scott Coolbaugh were most certainly going to be superstars. But best of all, nobody wanted baseball cards of Texas Rangers. I was able to get a ton of them on the cheap, read the backs of their Score cards, and get an attachment to the players. It was fun.
I really enjoy this series, but I have to admit that this franchise might be my favorite one to cover. With that, today I bring you the Texas Rangers. (All numbers come from Rally's WAR database.)
By total WAR:
One thing that jumps out to me immediately is that the Rangers haven't really had those "longtime" players that other franchises had. The White Sox, for example, had a ton of guys who spent a really long time with the team (they must have been trapped). The second thing that jumps out to me is the catching. I'm pretty sure you won't find another franchise who has two catchers in the Top 5. Because they don't tend to play anywhere near 162 games, it's tough for catchers to accrue WAR on par with other positions. But Pudge Rodriguez and Jim Sundberg did it. Speaking of Sundberg, a third thing that jumps out at me is three guys in the Top 5 who clearly have to be on this list primarily for defense (Pudge, Sundberg, and the vastly underrated Buddy Bell). Also of note is the ridiculously low value of Juan Gonzalez, but I'm guessing that will be an ongoing theme here. Michael Young also doesn't look so hot here while Ian Kinsler looks poised to climb quite a few rungs on this list.
I know, no Pete Incaviglia. Can you believe it? WAR simply cannot capture the awesomeness that is a guy like Inky. Speaking of Inky-era guys, Ruben Sierra ranks much lower than I would have expected while Scott Fletcher looks pretty good in limited playing time. I'm looking forward to the WAR/700 PA table.
Yeesh. These are the best pitchers in team history. The Rangers did happen to have some incredible pitchers like Fergie Jenkins, Kevin Brown, Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan, and Bert Blyleven, but they either didn't keep them long or had them at odd points in their career (like Brown breaking into the majors and Ryan finishing up). Again, it's tough to find many 1000 inning guys. I just can't believe only fourteen pitchers in franchise history have posted a total of 9.0 WAR in their time with the club. According to Rally's WAR, Zack Greinke was worth 9.0 last year alone.
By WAR used as a rate stat
The Red Sox had seven offensive players average 6.0 WAR per season (a level I like to refer to as MVP-level). The Twins and White Sox had just three. The Rangers rank even worse, with just two. Of those two, one only had 2100 PAs (Alex Rodriguez) and one barely cleared the threshold (Buddy Bell).That is no knock on Buddy Bell. Averaging 6.0 WAR a season is a hell of a feat. In fact, if there's one guy this process opened my eyes up to even more, it was Bell. For Pudge to average over 5.5 WAR/700 is remarkable. Sundberg also just barely misses 4.0 WAR. Think about that, (however slightly) Sundberg finishes ahead of guys like Mark Teixeira, Toby Harrah, and Will Clark. He finishes way ahead of Juan Gonzalez. Yes, Scott Fletcher was worth more WAR/PA than Juan Gonzalez. Yet Gonzalez won a pair of MVPs.
What made Fletcher a valuable player? His Total Zone was worth 80 runs for his career, but only 12 of that came with Texas. He hovered around league average offensively with Texas, and that did the trick. A league average offensive shortstop who also has a good glove is going to be worth plenty. In fact, in 1993 with the Red Sox—I swear I don't even remember Scott Fletcher playing with the Red Sox—he combined 19 runs in total zone and –3 runs on offense for a 4.4 WAR season. 1986 with Texas was his best—8 runs on offense and 8 runs on total zone. That came out to 4.5 WAR. Scott Fletcher was worth 27 WAR for his career. Rally's Top 500 goes down to 27.7 WAR, but you can see that Fletch was in the ballpark with guys like Darin Erstad, Mickey Tettleton, and Elston Howard. Really not bad at all.
In this list, lower PA guys like Ian Kinsler and Julio Franco start to bubble up to the top. It's probably time to ask "Who is Ken McMullen?" McMullen was a league-average-hitting third baseman for Washington in the 1960s. He posted some fantastic range numbers (including seasons of 16, 15, and 10 runs) en route to some nice WAR seasons (6.2, 4.8, 4.3, and 4.0 were his best). Very valuable guy to have around.
Like with other franchises, a few relievers top the list. Zimmerman pitched just three seasons. Two of them were fantastic. His career progression went 3.6 WAR, 0.2 WAR, 3.4 WAR, then out of the game. 3.6 and 3.4 WAR for a reliever is pretty darn impressive (particularly the 3.6 in a non-closing 1.4-LI role). John Wetteland was a very consistent closer (a rarity) who performed well in three of his four seasons in Texas (the last four of his career). Francisco Cordero also had a nice stretch with the club, posting 4.2 and 2.8 WAR seasons (among others) during his tenure. Jim Kern, on this list at #5, had one of the best WAR seasons among pitchers who exclusively worked out of the pen in 1979 (5.0 WAR thanks to a 264 ERA+ in 143 IP). Just before Kern we get our first starting pitcher, our friend Bert Blyleven. Bly threw just 437 innings in Texas, but he threw them well. Ken Hill also only pitched briefly, but effectively. Gaylord Perry's 827 innings and Nolan Ryan's 840 innings are low totals compared with other clubs, but high ones here. It isn't until Kenny Rogers at #16 that we get a 1000 inning guy—and his WAR/200 is just a hair over 3.0.
This is just a long way of saying the obvious—starting pitching has not been the forté of the Texas Rangers over the years. I pity the fool who will have to choose an All-Time Team from this staff.
Oh wait, that's me. Stay tuned.
By WAR components (for position players)
Back to the offense. No Ted Williams here, but a nice cast of players. Frank Howard and Juan Gonzalez provided very little beyond offense, but their bats were clearly worth some runs. Time for a bonus table (yay, I love those!). How much were the bats of the top 4 here—nah, let's make it top 5 (I'm surprised to see Greer that high, so let's roll with it)—worth per 700 plate appearances?
I want to avoid being known as "the guy from Boston who consistently rails on Jim Rice", so today I'm going to also pick on Juan Gonzalez. The guy's defense was awful and he hit into a ton of double plays while playing a low-value position. His bat is what made him a "great" "2-time MVP" type player. So, it should be awesome. It was pretty darn good—26.4 Bat/700 isn't anything to complain about. But he's no Raffy Palmeiro. And hey, Raffy was a good enough 1B that just 28 games there could convince baseball men he was a Gold Glover. A-Rod, of course, is other-worldly with the bat. But let's not forget about our buddy Frank Howard. I'm convinced Howard would have been my favorite player if I was a kid in his day. Look at those numbers from that bat. Awesome.
But Juan Gonzalez? Yeah, would you guess he was worth fewer batting runs than Julio Franco (26.9 Bat/700)? It's true. This is without any position adjustments, baserunning, or anything extra. This is just offensive output. With 33.5 career WAR, Juan Gonzalez ranks with baseball immortals like Brian Jordan, Ron Gant, Jose Valentin, Ken Caminiti, and Dwayne Murphy. All had excellent careers. But I've even heard some folks hint that Juan Gonzalez might be a Hall of Fame player. Now that type of statement is even a slap in the face to Jim Rice. Give me Frank Howard any day.
It's the bloodlines, baby. How could Bump not be #1? But hey Bump! Look out for Ian Kinsler! I feel as though one of today's themes will be "Ian Kinsler is freakin' good". He's good at a lot of things. I would point out that Oddibe McDowell is on this list, but that's much more fun to say out loud than to type. Rest assured, I'm saying it out loud right now. Also, don't mind if I point out that Julio Franco ranks nicely on this list (and don't mind if I ignore that A-Rod is on this list).
Buddy Bell. I mean, hot damn. Buddy Bell is in that rare 60-WAR area that few players achieve. In fact, he ranks 104th all time. BONUS TABLE!
That list has many of my favorite players to write about. Six of these guys are actually on the ballot right now (three of them were new this past season). So, if you looked at this list a few years ago, Buddy Bell would have been much higher than #16. But still, ranking that high on this list means a lot. These are the guys who should receive the most debate for the Hall of Fame. I hear hardly any for Buddy Bell.
When I covered the White Sox, I picked on them saying "No Yaz or Evans in this crew". At least they had three guys in double digits. This list is headed by a couple guys I'm glad to see—one is Bobby Bonds (for the record, my favorite Bonds) and the other is Kevin Mench (who I was briefly convinced was some sort of reincarnation of Pete Incaviglia). Otherwise, notables include Ruben Mateo (only because he want on to be a Hall of Famer in my sim league) and… well… Oddibe.
Oddibe. Oddibe. Go ahead, try it!
For a team with such a short franchise history, they have two of the best defensive catchers of all time. Ivan Rodriguez and Jim Sundberg create a duo that simply cannot be matched throughout history. You may find teams with tandems that had great defensive repuations, but none had the numbers back it up like these two. I would just like to point out that Jim Sundberg (34.8) was worth more career WAR than Juan Gonzalez (33.5). And he did it while being worth –80 runs at the plate. Jim Sundberg was so good defensively that in 1975 he was worth –30 runs at the plate (due to a slash line of .199/.283/.256) and he still finished above replacement level (0.5 WAR).
Sundberg reached double digits in "catcher" (needs a better name) six times (five with Texas), with a high of 17 in 1978. Pudge Rodriguez reached double digits eight times (six in Texas) and cleared 20 runs three times. In 1996, he was worth 25 runs behind the plate. 1997 through 1999, he paired 12, 18, and 17 batting runs with 21, 19, and 20 catching runs. When you do that, you get WAR totals of 6.3, 6.6, and 6.0. You also get one of the best catchers of all time.
By WAR in a single season
A-Rod appears three times (with the three top spots), as does Ivan Rodriguez. Rafael Palmeiro, Julio Franco, and Frank Howard all appear twice. But who appears the most? That'd be Buddy Bell, who has four seasons in the Top 15. It's surprising to see Juan Gonzalez here just once, but more surprising is that it wasn't one of his MVP years. In those seasons (1996 and 1998), he was worth 2.8 (yikes!) and 5.1 WAR, respectively. Worth noting is that #9 through #21 on this list is only separated by 0.6 WAR. It makes those Top 8—3 by A-Rod and individual seasons by Raffy, Bell, Juan Gone, Toby Harrah, and Pudge—stand out a bit more.
It takes a special kind of season to be worth –4 wins. George Wright started his career well with 1.7 and 2.7 WAR seasons. He regressed in 1984, worth –1.5 wins. The came the negative quatro. Wright was below average in the field (–3), on the bases (–4), and even in inducing errors (–2). But the real whammy is his –37 batting runs. Oof. In 393 plate appearances, he hit .190/.241/.242 for an OPS+ of 33. How bad was Wright's season? Quite legendary in fact. No hitter has had a worse season since. And you have to go back to 1977 to find a season that bad (Jerry Royster was also worth –4 wins for the Braves in 1977 thanks to –32 batting runs and –23 total zone runs—ouch).
In fact, just one position player in Major League history has been worse than Wright and Royster. A guy named Jim Lillie played for the 1886 Kansas City Cowboys (in the NL) and holds the record with a –4.2 WAR season. Lillie played left field and was a bit below average at it (–3 runs). But his bat… oh my, his bat. He was worth –49 runs at the plate. Lillie hit .175/.197/.197 for an OPS+ of 17. Good lord.
Position player WAR tends to run a bit higher than pitcher WAR. But, not this much. Last on the hitter WAR list was Frank Howard and Ruben Sierra tied for 20th with 5.7 WAR. A 5.7 WAR season from a Texas pitcher ties him for 4th all time in franchise history. So, there's that. Jim Kern's all-relief year places 9th. That means there were only nine 5-WAR seasons by pitchers in Texas/Washington history (and only eight of those by starting pitchers). Those seasons go to Fergie Jenkins (in 1st place by a full 1.1 WAR), Ken Hill (what?), Jon Matlack, a pair of seasons by Bert Blyleven (his only two in Texas, how about that?), Charlie Hough, Gaylord Perry, and Kenny Rogers. That's it. Rogers appears four times overall, followed by three for Hough.
Lloyd Allen was actually even worse than that in 1973. He was worth –0.5 WAR (in just 8.2 IP) for California before being traded to Texas on May 20. He then proceeded to be worth –3.1 WAR the rest of the way for a combined –3.6 WAR. In just 41 innings for Texas (23 games, 5 starts), he was 0–6 with a 9.22 ERA and an ERA+ of 41. His totals for the season were an 0–6 record with a 9.42 ERA.
Luis Mendoza looked good in his short 2007 stint, earning 0.5 WAR in just 16 innings. 2008 was a different story. In 25 games (11 starts), he threw 63.1 innings with an 8.67 ERA (52 ERA+). That'll make you worth –3.1 WAR in a hurry.
All Time Team
- Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez (48.6 WAR, 5.6 WAR/700)
- First Base: Rafael Palmeiro (40.1 WAR, 4.2 WAR/700)
- Second Base: Julio Franco (19.5 WAR, 5.1 WAR/700)
- Third Base: Buddy Bell (34.3 WAR, 6.0 WAR/700)
- Shortstop: Alex Rodriguez (23.9 WAR, 7.8 WAR/700)
- Outfield: Frank Howard (29.5 WAR, 4.4 WAR/700)
- Outfield: Juan Gonzalez (28.5 WAR, 3.4 WAR/700)
- Outfield: Rusty Greer (19.8 WAR, 3.2 WAR/700)
- Starting Pitcher: Gaylord Perry (14.8 WAR, 3.6 WAR/200)
- Starting Pitcher: Kenny Rogers (28.9 WAR, 3.0 WAR/200)
- Starting Pitcher: Fergie Jenkins (20.3 WAR, 2.9 WAR/200)
- Starting Pitcher: Charlie Hough (31.1 WAR, 2.7 WAR/200)
- Relief Pitcher: John Wetteland (7.9 WAR, 6.3 WAR/200)
- Relief Pitcher: Francisco Cordero (11.0 WAR, 5.5 WAR/200)
There were a few tough choices here. It hurt really bad to keep Jim Sundberg off—especially since he had more career value than every member of the pitching staff and most of the offense. Also, in relief, I went with Wetteland and Cordero over Zimmerman. Zimmerman had the best WAR/200 but the others put in more time with the club. Picking a third outfielder was tough. I couldn't believe Rusty Greer, a sub-20 WAR player, would make the list. But he gets the nod for spending his entire career with Texas. Also in the running were Mike Hargrove and Ruben Sierra, among others. Then there's the rotation.
Really there was nobody good to choose from. Bert Blyleven had the best WAR/200, but he pitched so little with the club I couldn't include him. Charlie Hough had the most WAR, but his WAR/200 was the worst among pitchers I considered. But, he was #1 in total WAR, so I figured I had to include him. There's one. Kenny Rogers was probably the best choice for this rotation, as he finished 2nd in total WAR and 3rd in WAR/200 (among pitchers with 800+ innings. He's on the list. The two pitchers ahead of him in WAR/200 were Gaylord Perry and Nolan Ryan. Perry's 3.6 WAR/200 was best among starters not named Blyleven. He's our third guy. You'd think the last spot would go to Ryan (13.8 WAR, 3.3 WAR/200) but there's also Fergie Jenkins (20.3 WAR, 2.9 WAR/200). The final spot would go to one of them. It hurt to do it, but I picked Jenkins because he put in more time.
What's the total WAR for this club? 63.7 WAR. That's actually closer than I thought they'd get to the White Sox, but last so far nonetheless.
- Red Sox (88.9 WAR)
- Twins (71.6 WAR)
- White Sox (68.5 WAR)
- Rangers (63.7 WAR)
That's it! So, who's up in the queue?
- New York Mets
- Chicago Cubs
- Detroit Tigers
- Atlanta Braves
- St. Louis Cardinals
You guys are seriously going to make me write about the Mets? *groan*