The addition of Darren Oliver pushes the Texas Rangers' major league roster to 39 players, 23 of whom are pitchers. The club also has Geoff Geary, Clay Rapada, Willie Eyre, and an interesting group of pitching prospects who are not currently on the team's 40-man roster but who could contribute to the Rangers' 2010 season.
If everyone is healthy, then it is probable that the Rangers will have more quality pitching depth than at any time in the past 20 years. Provided in the tables below are the pitchers who figure to begin 2010 at Triple-A Oklahoma City or on the major league team.
The columns include each player's 2009 FIP (fielding-independent ERA); 2010 ERA projections from CHONE, Bill James, and an average of the two; player ages; minor league option status; and my prediction for how many major league innings each player will pitch in 2010.
PROJECTED MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHING STAFF
PROJECTED TRIPLE-A PITCHING STAFF
A FEW NOTES
● Asterisks in the FIP column indicate that the numbers derive from minor league performances. Eric Hurley's FIP is from his 2008 minor league season.
● The CHONE and Bill James ERA projections are for the major leagues.
● C.J. Wilson's ERA projections assume that he is a reliever. Neftali Feliz's ERA projections assume that he is a starter.
● Although he has three minor league options remaining, Benjamin Snyder cannot be optioned in 2010 without being offered back to the Giants since he was selected in the Rule 5 draft. It wouldn't surprise me if the Rangers chose Snyder over Rapada coming out of spring training so that they could determine Snyder's effectiveness against major league lefties before offering him back to San Francisco.
● Assistant general manager Thad Levine recently suggested that in order to limit Feliz's innings pitched in 2010, the right-hander will likely begin his season in the Rangers' bullpen before being transferred to the starting rotation in mid-season.
AND NOW FOR THE FUN STUFF ...
Replace Kasey Kiker with Kevin Millwood and Eric Hurley with Francisco Cordero and the Triple-A pitching staff looks remarkably similar to what recent Rangers' teams have introduced in Arlington on Opening Day. Actually, the 2010 RedHawks pitching staff might have more talent than the pitching staffs that the Rangers' major league team fielded in 2005 and 2008.
The average age of the projected 12-man pitching staff is 27.4 years. Take out Darren Oliver and it becomes 26.4 years. The Rangers will likely compete with the Athletics and Marlins for the title of "Youngest Pitching Staff" in 2010.
The combined 2010 salaries for the Rangers' pitchers will likely be less than $21 million. That's less than what C.C. Sabathia and Johan Santana are slated to make in 2010 and only slightly more than what Carlos Zambrano, Barry Zito, Jake Peavy, A.J. Burnett, and John Lackey will each be paid for the coming season. $21 million is also less than what the Rangers paid Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla for 316 innings in 2009.
Brandon McCarthy has just over four years of major league service time and is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2012 season. If he spends half of the 2010 season in the minor leagues, then his first year of free agency would likely be postponed to 2013.
In years past, Geoff Geary and Warner Madrigal would have likely been shoe-ins to make the major league team out of spring training. This year, they are likely behind at least five other pitchers. In addition, prospects like Kasey Kiker, Omar Poveda, Danny Gutierrez, and Eric Hurley appear unlikely to receive even major league auditions unless the Rangers' staff gets hit hard by injuries or ineffectiveness.
Both the CHONE and Bill James algorithms are projecting a solid season from Willie Eyre. Don't be surprised to see the right-hander pitching well out of the Rangers' bullpen at some point in 2010.
Assuming the CHONE/Bill James predictions and my estimates for innings pitched are reasonably close, the Rangers' pitching staff should post an ERA of approximately 4.18 in 2010. That will better the staff's 2009 performance (4.38 ERA) and provide a substantial improvement over the team's average performance from the past five years (4.93 ERA).
The benefit of having a bunch of talented, pre-free agent pitchers in the organization can be illustrated by considering how the team might deal with injuries and ineffectiveness. Assume for a moment that Rich Harden, C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, Frankie Francisco, Chris Ray, and Dustin Nippert all miss the 2010 season. If they were replaced by Brandon McCarthy, Guillermo Moscoso, Matt Harrison, Pedro Strop, Willie Eyre, and Doug Mathis, the team's projected ERA would jump from 4.18 to 4.39. That would be an increase of roughly 34 runs over the course of the season, which would likely result in only 3-4 fewer wins. How many other teams in the league could lose half of their top 12 pitchers for the season (including three starters and their closer) and be projected to give up fewer than 35 extra runs?
A 4.18 ERA plus 60 unearned runs (the league average was 55 unearned runs per team in 2009) would result in 771 runs against for the Rangers in 2010. Take away the team's 901-run outburst in 2008, and the Rangers have scored an average of 825 runs per year over the last five seasons. If the team scores 825 runs and gives up 771 runs in 2010, then they would be expected to have a win-loss record of 90-72.