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The Texas Rangers are currently sitting pretty atop the MLB standings, and through games played on Monday stood one win ahead of the ever-popular, ever-publicized Chicago Cubs. Both teams currently lead not just their divisions, but their leagues, and by wide margins at that.

But things aren’t all rosy in Arlington. The Rangers are currently running out an ailing rotation that can’t seem to catch a break, the numbers suggest that that they have one of the worst bullpens in baseball, and they’re middle-of-the-pack offensively.

Taken in isolation, that combination of facts leaves you scratching your head, wondering how the Rangers have gotten to this point and how they’ll manage to make it any further.

So let me start by saying this—the Rangers are fine. Here’s why.

The bullpen is much better than the numbers suggest

Numbers need context, and that sentiment couldn’t be demonstrated better than by the Rangers’ bullpen numbers. By ERA (4.73) and DRA (4.51), the Rangers currently have the third- and fourth-worst bullpen in baseball. Statistically speaking, that’s true. That is, literally, what the numbers say. But digging a little further into the nitty gritty of it, that’s not the full story. Not by a long shot.

The Rangers have actually had one of the best bullpens in baseball this season. (Have I confused you yet? Stay with me.) So why the poor numbers in aggregate? There’s a simple answer.

The aggregate bullpen ERA for Texas has been heavily skewed by the inclusion of now-former closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who was posting an egregious 10.55 ERA during his time in Texas before shipping back to Seattle. The aggregate number also includes closer Shawn Tolleson, who’s currently posting an ERA of 6.80. Tolleson’s ERA is still suffering scars from a particularly poor month of May (15.14 ERA in May), but he’s gotten back to his old form in June and has posted a 1.00 ERA this month while holding opponents to just a .103 batting average.

So when you remove Wilhelmsen and the poor performance of Tolleson from the equation, things don’t looks so dire. Take a look at the Rangers’ bullpen numbers (min. 10 IP) with and without Tolleson and Wilhelmsen:

ERA

FIP

BABIP

HR/FB%

LOB%

Full Bullpen

4.73

4.67

.308

15.1

73.1

Without T & W

2.92

3.38

.294

8.5

79.0

So, before you go crying in your Flaming Hot Cheeto Dog at Globe Life Park because the Rangers’ entire pitching situation is going up in flames, remember that this bullpen has been really good—without Wilhelmsen and a struggling Tolleson, it’s actually third-best in baseball by ERA. Yes, you read that right.

Sure, you can make any bullpen (or any team, really) look better by removing its worst performers, and when you do it’s usually the worst kind of statistical sleight of hand. But in this case, the Rangers appear to have actually solved the problem: Wilhelmsen is Wilhelming in Seattle now, and Tolleson hasn’t had a bad day in a month. Removing their poor performance from the equation does, in fact, get us closer to an accurate contemporary picture of the Rangers’ bullpen situation.

Getting Tolleson back into shape and parting ways with Wilhelmsen didn’t only help clear a road block for the Rangers, but it added depth to both the bullpen and starting rotation—and coincidentally at the perfect time, too. After the departure of Wilhelmsen, the Rangers called up starter/long reliever Nick Martinez, and Martinez slotted perfectly into the rotation spot that Colby Lewis left vacated last week (more on that later).

Their offense is very average… or is it?

The Rangers’ offense is average, but who ever said average was bad? Currently ranked 14th in baseball in TAv at .267, the Rangers’ overall offense is a little better than league average. But when you look at the American League by itself, the Rangers suddenly have the fifth-best offense by TAv. The truth is that not only are the Rangers playing in a weak division, but they’re also playing in the weaker league in baseball this season, so while their offensive numbers look as though they’re nothing more than average surrounded by the noise of all the hot-hitting National League teams, the fact is that in their division, and in their league, they’re upper echelon status. Again, numbers always need a bit of context.

The one concerning aspect of the “average” line the Rangers are posting is their power numbers. The Rangers are currently posting an ISO of .163 (good for 9th in the AL) paired with just a .430 SLG average, but hey, it seems to be working out so far. The important part is that the Rangers are scoring more runs than they’re allowing, and a lot more—the Rangers currently have a run differential of +49. So again, the Rangers “average” numbers are all about the context in which you see them as average.

The rotation is equipped to suffer the blows that will inevitably come

The Rangers’ rotation has suffered a barrage of injuries in 2016, including Yu Darvish hitting the DL just three starts into his return from Tommy John surgery. To make matters worse, last week the Rangers announced that Colby Lewis would be out for 8 weeks with a right lat strain, and that Derek Holland would be hitting the DL with shoulder inflammation.

In fact, so far in 2016, the Rangers have only had one pitcher, Nick Martinez, who has not missed a start this season. So how are they holding the fort down so well?

Cole Hamels. That’s how.

The one consistent aspect of the Rangers’ rotation—the aspect that has kept them in business this season—is Hamels, who has a top five ERA in the American League at 2.79 and, thankfully for Texas, doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.

The Rangers have won 11 of the 15 games that Hamels has started this season, meaning that 22 percent of the games in the W column for the Rangers are games Hamels started. That’s not to say these wins are entirely on the back of Hamels, but it would be foolish to discount the fact that he’s been a large contributing factor to those wins.

Now, with Darvish set to return soon (he threw a successful bullpen session on Sunday), if the Rangers can just sit tight, the rotation won’t be in such turmoil after all. The internal options that the Rangers have as stopgaps at the back end of the rotation are at least replacement-level or better. We’re talking about A.J. Griffin, the aforementioned Martinez, and Chi Chi “I Get Bonus Points For My Name” Gonzalez kind of stuff here. It could be a lot worse.

It’s now more than ever that the Rangers will need Hamels and Darvish to produce their most efficient work. They’ll need to be consistent and, more than anything, reliable, in order to rest the bullpen that will likely be facing its biggest challenges now. The options that the Rangers are able to employ in the back end of the rotation have the potential to make a world of difference during this transient time, but they don’t come without their share of unknowns, and the bullpen will need to be ready to get into action to clean up any potential messes that these pitchers leave behind.

It’s a crucial time for the Rangers, and they will need to keep a straight face, not letting their struggles determine the market that they’re in at the deadline. If the Rangers can keep things together for the next month and add a strong piece at the deadline, they’ll have Colby Lewis returning in August, and could potentially become even more dangerous in the second half than they seem now. So really, there’s no need to worry—the Rangers honestly are fine.

Thank you for reading

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mattrhodes
6/29
Just a typo noticed, Martin Perez is the pitcher who hasn't missed a start this year.
SChandler
7/02
You say that the Rangers are playing in the weaker league this season, but the American League is 92-76 vs. the National League in inter league play as of the end of Friday's games. I'm hard pressed to say that the American League is the weaker league.