Take a quick look at the list of pitchers in competition for the Rangers starting rotation and there is a noticeable absence and I’m not talking about a specific pitcher either.
The pitchers competing for the rotation include:
A quick glance at the list and you’ll see one very important distinction; there are no non-roster invitees in the group. No washed up veterans or guys who had their chance and didn’t make it.
There are not any roster fillers with opt-out dates in late March taking innings away from the guys who will actually make the Rangers roster. Each one of these pitchers will be in the Rangers organization whether they crack the rotation or not.
The only possible defection would be Brandon McCarthy who still has options, but has to be exposed to revocable waivers before being optioned to the minor leagues since he’s considered a major league veteran. The odds of a team claiming McCarthy are slim as one of baseball’s many unwritten rules dictates teams don’t use such a technicality to hit a rival.
Another knee-jerk reaction after looking at this list of pitchers is the fact they all could start for most of the teams in baseball this season. It’s a mix of upper and lower rotation starters who provide the Rangers considerable depth. The Rangers maxed out their depth last season and added more for 2010.
Now for who wins spots in the rotation and why they belong in each spot.
With everyone focused on who wins the fifth spot in the rotation, who leads off is getting overlooked despite being just as tough a decision. Under normal circumstances teams would go with the veteran Rich Harden over the younger Scott Feldman, but these are not normal circumstances.
Considering Harden’s health history and Feldman’s body of work in both 2008 and 2009, the Rangers should take a long look at Feldman to be the opening day starter.
Feldman won 17 games last season, had an ERA of 4.08 with a WHIP of 1.28. Numbers that justify placing Feldman at the top of the rotation once placed in conjunction with his durability throughout his career. In fact the only real argument to be made against Feldman being the number one starter is his inability to go deep into games.
That being said, last season the Rangers could count on 6 innings and 3 runs or less from Feldman. With the Rangers bullpen, the team can afford the same performance from Feldman at the top of the rotation.
Once the Rangers decide on the top of their rotation, the final three spots should fall into place relatively easily. Tommy Hunter and Colby Lewis will fight for the third spot and the remaining starters will fight for the final spot.
Scott Feldman: As I mentioned earlier, Feldman is durable and consistent. Everything a team wants from their top starter.
Rich Harden: Harden is an ace when he stays on the mound, but the Rangers cannot count on him taking the ball every fifth day. There is already talk about the Rangers planning breaks throughout the season for Harden to keep him from missing extended time.
Tommy Hunter: This one was relatively easy to project since Colby Lewis hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2007; especially when considering Hunter was the guy who stabilized the rotation last year when Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy both went down with injuries. The only concern in regards to Hunter is how he closed the ’09 season, but that can be attributed to pitching a full season for the first time.
Colby Lewis: There is no more unknown in Rangers camp right now than Colby Lewis since he’s been pitching in Japan for the past two seasons. What is most encouraging about Lewis’ numbers in Japan was his accuracy and ability to pound the strike zone every night. With the Rangers defense behind him all Lewis has to do is attack the hitters in the major leagues the same way.
Derek Holland: I mentioned McCarthy’s option situation earlier because I believe the Rangers will attempt to send him to AAA with Matt Harrison to provide rotation depth. The Rangers cannot afford to have both Harden and McCarthy in the rotation together; the injury risk for one of them is bad enough. If Holland shows he has made the necessary adjustments from his rookie season the Rangers will not hesitate to put him in the rotation because he does have the best raw ability among his competition. With McCarthy and Harrison in the fold as insurance I expect the Rangers to roll the dice and see if Holland is ready to take the next step.
Neftali Feliz and CJ Wilson will likely begin in the bullpen giving the Rangers what could be the best bullpen in the American League. With Darren Oliver and Darren O’Day already in the pen, Feliz and Wilson provide a lights out set-up tandem for closer Frank Francisco.
No matter which direction the Rangers choose to go with their rotation, they really can’t go wrong. The depth of talent is considerable enough to overcome poor performance or injury throughout a 162 game season.
Like other teams throughout baseball who are built to win in 2010, the Rangers can sit back and let their rotation sort itself out; a luxury this team had better get used to.