Source: Darvish TRADED.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2017
It’s been nearly a month since this fateful tweet, sent minutes after the non-waiver trade deadline from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, that shook the foundation of the Texas Rangers Community to its very core. Here, the face of the pitching staff for the last six years, the first true, full-time ace the Rangers have had in quite some time, was being sent away. It was symbolic. If Jon Daniels held on to Darvish, the Rangers would be going for that Wild Card spot, full bore. By jettisoning the right-hander, it was the start of what could be a long rebuilding process, gearing up for the new Globe Life Field.
Or does it have to be that way?
By and large, Yu Darvish hasn’t changed much of what he’s been doing since going to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s not really surprising. He uses his four-seam fastball a lot and just by watching him pitch, we can confirm that he loves using the slider. For the most part, the above information isn’t meant to be stared at for a long period of time, trying to decipher anything. If you go look at Darvish’s career pitch usage, it's fairly constant. (the exception is 2012, the year he debuted, when he was trying to showcase all of his pitches a lot more).
The idea is that Darvish will keep doing what he does. That’s great. Darvish is great at pitching like Darvish and he shouldn’t try to be someone else when going to Los Angeles or pitching on a contending team. What changes is what’s behind him and on the other side of the baseball.
Going into Sunday, Darvish’s final start in August, the Dodgers’ team batting average sat at .256. The Rangers came in at .246. That’s not a stark contrast. Within all of MLB, LA comes in ten spots higher than Texas in this category. Even in slugging, the difference in LA’s .449 and Texas’ .436 isn’t outstanding (Dodgers are third and the Rangers are tenth). The difference, as any good Joey Gallo fan will tell you, is the on-base percentage. Here, the Dodgers are second in all of baseball at .341, right behind the Houston Astros who are at .348. The Rangers? They’re down at .323, in seventeenth place.
That’s where Texas has actually stayed in terms of on-base percentage, except for Darvish’s first year, when they were fourth in all of baseball with a .334. But it’s not just the OBP. In 2012, Texas led the majors with 808 runs scored. This year, the Rangers are sitting near the bottom of the stack with just 648 runs. Where is this going? If a championship matters to Darvish, and saying that he wants to be the number one pitcher in the world would lead you to believe that, then you have to convince him that you’re going to field a team that can support that. Right now, the Dodgers not only have the best pitcher in the world in Clayton Kershaw, but also field a lineup that can make every pitcher look like world-beaters. The thing with the Dodgers is that it’s not just their superstars. It’s not just Adrian Gonzalez, or Joc Pederson, or Yasiel Puig, or Kenley Jansen. The Rangers have superstars. They have pieces that can perform at that level. The Rangers at full strength in 2017 are a fearsome roster.
It’s the role players and the depth that have led Los Angeles to the road that may see them break the record for most wins in a regular season. It’s incredibly difficult to believe that your best players are going to play 158-162 games year in and year out. But for the Dodgers, they’ve had a Chris Taylor, a Cody Bellinger, or they’ve gone out and gotten a Tony Cingrani, a Logan Forsythe, or a Curtis Granderson. The Rangers’ bench squad is fronted by Drew Robinson, but this year, has consisted of Phil Gosselin, Joely Rodriguez or a Pete Kozma. In short, the Dodgers are consistent because their lineup can produce consistently, no matter who Dave Roberts inserts into the lineup. For Jeff Banister’s crew, if Adrian Beltre or Joey Gallo suffers an injury, inserting a Kozma- or Gosselin-caliber player is almost as harmful as trying to let a regular play through a slump or injury.
This isn’t a raging condemnation on general manager Jon Daniels. It’s more an acknowledgement on how the Dodgers are changing the bench player game. Much in the same way that Ben Zobrist changed the super-utility player dynamic, the Dodgers are utilizing platoon and part-time players exactly how they need to be used – on top of that, those role players have come from teams where they played bigger roles or could have played bigger roles. They’re veterans with a track record and without egos. No offense to Pete Kozma or Phil Gosselin, but they’re missing the track record part. That’s not to say they’re missing longevity – they just haven’t done much with their time.
Pursuant to Evan Grant’s piece about the Rangers’ new approach to cultivating pitching, it’s not simply enough to have bodies to fill positions. In 2014, yes, that would work, as most of the regular roster was decimated by injuries and you simply needed to fill a position. Additionally, the Rangers are going to have their reclamation projects. Not only does just about every team have at least one, this is something of a signature of the Rangers. A.J. Griffin this year and Wandy Rodriguez in 2015 qualifies as such. Other timelines are going to be sped up by necessity, a la Nick Martinez. However, for long-term success, the Rangers can’t just fill roster spots with journeymen minor leaguers – just-acquired Paolo Espino has been in professional baseball for ten years, having turned 30 at the start of this season; Joely Rodriguez has pitched in 38 Major League games since his professional debut in 2009. Certainly, Grant’s pieces shows that the Rangers are on their way with a change in recent philosophy as far as pitchers go – perhaps that needs to extend to position players as well.
On a contending team, on an entertaining team, it can’t be about just quantity of depth. That depth must be quality. On top of money, if you want to re-sign Darvish, you can’t just show him a great potential 25-man Opening Day roster – show him that you can contend with any 25 players on any given day. That just hasn’t been the case since Darvish joined the club.