Is this year’s team better than last year’s team? It might be. Slightly.
Take a look at the infield. While three of the four are the same—Beltre, Andrus and Odor—Napoli replaces Moreland, which puts the offense miles ahead of last year’s. Defense, not so much.
Moreland drove in 60 runs; Napoli, 101. The defense will struggle a bit more because Moreland was gold-glove caliber, although Napoli is no slouch at first, so expect more throwing errors this year over last year. That’s not a good thing. According the Evan Grant in The Dallas Morning News, the Rangers made more errors at second base than any other team in baseball in 2016. In Odor’s defense, he is not playing his natural position, which is DH.
Which Elvis will we see? Last year’s would be a welcome return. When does Beltre’s programming run out and he turns back into a mere mortal?
The outfield last year was Gomez, Desmond, and Mazara. This year it will be some combination of Rua/Profar/DeShields, Gomez, and Mazara. You have to think Mazara will improve over the second half of last season. Gomez, when he gets healthy, is a better defensive center fielder than Desmond. The question is, was last year’s offensive revival a fluke? We shall find out. Overall, the outfield is a tick better offensively (taking into account Desmond’s second half return to Earth), and much better defensively (Desmond’s outfield play in Game One is still burned into my brain).
Having a full season of Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate is a huge improvement over last year. Maybe equal to the improvement at first base.
And Choo at DH should outperform what the Rangers got last year from Fielder (nothing) and Beltran (not a ton).
At first blush, you can say a rotation that has both Darvish and Hamels in it is better. But that overlooks how dominating Colby Lewis was last year before he got hurt. No matter how good Darvish-Hamels is this year, it will be difficult to be better than Hamels-Lewis last year. Perez is Perez. There’s no reason to think he won’t continue to be as disappointing as ever. So the top three in the rotation are the same.
Ross and Cashner are supposed to be the other two. They would replace Holland and Griffin. Ross is coming off injury. Cashner is coming off sucking. If both pitch like they are expected, Ross will be a legitimate-number three starter, Cashner will suck.
If Ross has any kind of season, and coming off his surgery that’s a huge if, the rotation will be improved.
Bullpens are impossible to handicap. They are as fickle as a Hollywood starlet. Last season the Ranger bullpen was horrible early, and a bit unreliable from then on. The bullpen this season could be just as good. It could crash and burn. You never can tell with bullpens. On the positive front, Matt Bush could turn himself into the Rangers’ version of Andrew Miller. Dyson looked unhittable in the World Baseball Classic. And Tanner Scheppers is having arm troubles.
Overall, the Rangers are better than they were last year, when they won 95 games. Most statisticians will say they that, with a run differential of only +8, they were lucky, and should have won 82 games. That didn’t take into account they are gifted 19 games against the Astros.
You can’t expect the Rangers to win as many one-run games. You can’t expect the Rangers to win as many come-from-behind games. You can’t expect the Rangers to continue owning the Astros (if recent history is any indication, they will; you just can’t expect it).
But this is a better team than last year’s 95-win team.
My prediction: Rangers will win 90 game, win the A.L. West, and get swept by either the Tigers or Blue Jays in the Division Series.