Remember when the Rangers were, like, really good? 'Twasn't that long ago — from 2010 to 2013, they averaged 92.5 wins per year, went to the playoffs thrice, and took home two pennants. Their strong major-league club supported by a never-ending stream of prospects, it seemed that things would never again go dark in Texas.
And then came 2014. Last year, the Rangers' departed right fielder apparently exercised his law, as every conceivable ailment befell the starting staff. Matt Harrison? Gone, to a career-threatening spinal operation. Yu Darvish? Lost to an inflamed elbow. Derek Holland? Taken out by a knee injury. Along with the poor play of Colby Lewis and a cast of thousands, this laid waste to Texas's once-vaunted starting pitching.
Yes, that's right. While the Rangers had a reputation as a bat-first club, much of their excellence came as the result of the men on the mound. Likewise, regression from their hurlers precipitated their fall from grace:
That's a pretty significant dropoff in 2014, and one that the club wouldn't like to repeat. For that reason, they've reportedly brought in Yovani Gallardo. Will he be up to the task?
A few years ago, the Rangers would have traded for Gallardo in an instant. From 2009 to 2012, he ranked 19th in baseball with an xFIP 14% better than average. That owed largely to his 24.5% strikeout rate (6th in the majors), which in turn owed largely to the respectable velocity he held: A 92.3-MPH four-seam fastball, together with an 86.9-MPH slider and 80.2-MPH curveball, continually left hitters guessing.
Over the past two seasons, though, that velocity has declined, and the results have declined with it. A 90.9-MPH fastball and a 78.5-MPH curveball didn't fool hitters as much, leading to a much lower strikeout rate (18.2%, 50th in baseball) and much higher xFIP- (99, 38th in baseball). So if Gallardo stays at this level — and based on aging curves, I'd say he probably will — temper your expectations.
With that said, an average starting pitcher still has value, especially if he doesn't get hurt. And while all pitchers are at risk of injury, Gallardo — who has hit the DL twice over the past six years — has as good a chance as anyone to remain able-bodied. Should he accrue a solid amount of innings, with results to match his peripherals, he could give the Rangers two wins above replacement for their troubles.
Of course, that alone won't bring the Rangers' pitching back to dominance (or the team back to contention). But a resurgent season from some old faces could do the trick. Darvish and Holland appear to have regained their health, and the club can probably count on them for solid production. They re-upped Lewis, whose abysmal 2014 looks rather fluky — he didn't lose velocity, make major changes to his repertoire, or deal with any injuries. And Harrison, who faces the most adversity of the group by far, wants to come back too.
These five might not be alone. Alex Gonzalez has scouts salivating, and Jake Thompson isn't far behind. Neither of them will do anything significant in 2015, obviously, but they can definitely provide respectable fallback options.
Put it all together, and you have a mixed bag, with which Gallardo fits perfectly. This man and this team have seen better days, and they'd both like to get back there; while that's fairly unlikely, they'll have to try and hope for the best.
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Ryan Romano is an editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles on Camden Depot and on Camden Chat that one time. Follow him on Twitter at @triple_r_ if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.