When the projected win totals for the 2017 season were released, be it from Vegas odds or Baseball Prospectus or Fangraphs, it may have been a surprise to some to see the Rangers projected to win around 85 games, the third highest total in the division behind the Astros (89 games) and Mariners (86 games). After all, the Rangers have won consecutive division titles, and are bringing back many of the same characters for the 2017 season.
To others, those projections weren’t a surprise at all. By the numbers, the 2016 Rangers were a bit of a fluke to be able to win 95 games. No team can be expected to sustain the kind of success they did by winning 36 out of 47 one-run games, or by winning 15 of 19 games against a similarly talented Houston team. The 2017 Rangers will naturally come down to earth, simply because 2016 was an outlier year.
However, over the last eight seasons, the Rangers have exceeded their projected win total six times. The two times they didn’t was in 2012 when they were projected to win 94 games and won 93, and the other was in 2014 when a catastrophic number of injuries wiped out their season.
I am not saying the Rangers are a lock to surpass their projected win total in the 2017 season. The majority of teams and fans think their team will win more than their projected total in most seasons. But if the Rangers do beat their win total in 2017 like they have been able to recently, here’s how they might pull that off.
Adrian Beltre is a demi-god. A projection system will look at a 38-year old player and expect a decline in production year-over-year, and rightfully so. But that projection system doesn’t know that Adrian Beltre is a 38-year old unlike most others. In his last seven seasons, since turning 31 years old, he hasn’t shown any decline.
Beltre has consistently produced both offensively and defensively. Older players are supposed to get worse on defense; Beltre hasn’t. Older players are supposed to get hurt more and recover slower or not at all; Beltre gets hurt once per year and plays better while injured.
The Rangers’ clubhouse breeds success. The Rangers had a quiet offseason. There was no big trade and no really big free agent signing. The front office filled a couple of holes, and that was about it. But the guys they did get? Mike Napoli, amazing reputation as a clubhouse leader. Tyson Ross, also with a sterling reputation as a teammate.
The Rangers invested in keeping their culture intact that has yielded results better than expected, particularly recently. They even brought back Carlos Gomez, who is one of the biggest testimonies to what the Rangers have cultivated in the room.
Gomez looked like a lost cause while with Houston last season, before coming to Texas and seemingly instantly rejuvenating his career, and he is not shy about giving credit to the culture created by the coaches and the players.
Jon Daniels & Co. are never quiet at the trade deadline. I’m not sure how all the math of the projections work, but I don’t think that the in-season management of a front office is weighted too heavily. And Jon Daniels has shown season after season that if the Rangers are in the running, he is not afraid to pull the trigger on a trade or two to give the club a boost for the race to the end.
In other words, the team that the projections are built on today will not be the team the Rangers take to the end of the year.
A full year of Jonathan Lucroy. When the Rangers’ traded for Lucroy last season, he had a few particular moments that displayed the value he provides behind the plate, managing the game and the pitching staff. Now he will have gone through half a season and Spring Training with the team. I expect watching Lucroy as a backstop will be a real treat this season.
The influence of Jeff Banister. When Banister accepted his first MLB managerial position, all he did was take a 67-win team to an 88-win team, then an 88-win team to a 95-win team. That was not all his doing, but he does seem to have a very good feel for balancing several aspects of his job.
He can relate to and lead his players while continually learning more about the game and trying to improve the team in every area. He’s not going to lose games with his in-game management, but I would argue his traits as a motivator and analysis-based decision maker give the Rangers an additional advantage.
A fully armed and operational Yu Darvish. I just wrote about this, but I don’t think it can be said enough: This is the Year of Yu. Even the Rangers’ owner Ray Davis spoke publicly saying the same thing, that he thinks Darvish will win the Cy Young. He’s in the final year of his contract, he’s grown and developed each year, and he’s healthy. All the stars are aligning for this to be a really exceptional year for Darvish.
The Rangers may need all of this to go right just to reach their 2017 Vegas win total of 85 games to overcome some of the regression coming their way from last season. Winning one-run games is hard, Nomar Mazaras don’t grow on trees, the Astros are in fact a good team, and if Hamels and/or Darvish goes down there are real concerns about the depth of the rotation.
In the end, I put more confidence in what we know about the nature of this Rangers club than what might go wrong. They’ve been a perennial under-promise and over-deliver kind of club in the eyes of Vegas, which is a fairly endearing characteristic. There is no doubt that 2016 was a very special year for the Rangers, nearly impossible to repeat. But 2017 looks like it could shape up to be pretty special too.
How many games do you see the Rangers winning in 2017? Share your own projections with Peter on Twitter @FutureGM.