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“If you lose the last game of the season, nobody gives a shit.” – Billy Beane, Moneyball

Twice. Two years in a row, the Rangers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the Blue Jays. The sadness would have swept over me if I hadn’t had an ominous feeling about the Rangers chances in October from the start. It wasn’t all about the Blue Jays–the sweep stings more considering it was at the hand of the Toronto–but that wasn’t what the apprehension was totally about.

It was about the inevitability. The understanding deep down inside that the heartbreak would have eventually come at the hands of nearly any of the teams the Rangers faced in the postseason. This team was built for success during the season, but success in October is a different animal. Teams aren’t handed matchups against rivals with sub-.500 winning percentages in October. They aren’t facing starters with ERAs above the 4.00 mark very often in October. They don’t face many lineups with holes in them in October, either. They face the best, who are putting forth their best, and they are expected to be prepared to mirror that sentiment.

The Rangers simply were not a team prepared to do that. Before the jaded, heartbroken people of Texas try Google Earthing my house so they can come ambush me, they must remember that, like anyone who loves a good baseball story, I wanted to see Texas succeed. When a team strings together the type of season that the Rangers meticulously did each night over the course of 162 games, the narrative becomes how that team should also parade through October to a storybook ending they worked so hard on–162 games, 95 wins, what’s a handful more?

The numbers don’t lie. And yes, the Rangers did win 95 games, nine more than their rival Astros, whose sudden fall off was an example of the Rangers capitalizing on everything going their way. But the win-loss record in this case cannot be taken at face value. The Rangers were 36-11 in one-run games, had 49 comeback victories, and were 53-28 at home. We’ve seen the numbers, even the ones that boast that the Rangers were 60-31 against teams with a .500+ winning percentage. But didn’t all that luck–the one-run wins, the comebacks, the home games–tie into those wins against the good teams?

The best teams in baseball don’t always march through October the way they do the regular season. That’s just October, it’s the home of small-sample-size theater. A team makes it, and nothing that happened before the postseason really matter anymore. What happened to the Rangers were all baseball’s small miracles, strung together into one season. Unfortunately, miracles in baseball, as in life, are often outliers. If everything went miraculously well every day these wouldn’t be miracles, it would be real life, and we would all be living in a futuristic utopia. But we don’t, so allow me to share something very realistic with you—numbers.

Take a look at the Rangers' offensive marks this season:

Total

MLB Rank

Average

.262

5th

OBP

.322

15th

SLG

.433

6th

K%

20

8th

BB%

7.2

28th

TAv

.258

19th

Judging from these numbers, the Rangers' offense wasn’t too bad. An exception was being middle of the pack in OBP, which has to do in part with their atrocious walk rate. Having a 19th-ranked TAv is the concerning part, as this number runs on the same scale as batting average and is the closest metric Baseball Prospectus has to an all-encompassing, quick-evaluation tool.

The issue the Rangers ran into was something that becomes so drastically important in the postseason—pitching. The Rangers dropped their run differential from +49 at the time I wrote this piece at the end of June to just +11 at season's end. Also, let’s forget for a second that the only stalwarts the Rangers possessed, Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, had meltdowns in the ALDS.

For the first two games of any series, given that they were on their A-Game (which they clearly were not) the Rangers should have had a win locked down with ease, but things happen, and there just wasn’t room for error in the back of the Rangers rotation. This team was, simply stated, not a postseason-caliber staff, which was proven when they were running out 37-year-old Colby Lewis in a win-or-go-home game.

Take a look at the starting rotation’s numbers in 2016:

Total

MLB Rank

ERA

4.38

16th

FIP

4.69

25th

DRA

4.40

18th

K%

18.4

23rd

BB%

8.7

25th

These aren’t marks that will bode will in postseason situations, and what’s more, take a look at what the Rangers' bullpen was like in 2016:

Total

MLB Rank

ERA

4.40

25th

FIP

4.38

26th

DRA

4.25

17th

K%

19.1

29th

BB%

8.5

13th

So even when Darvish or Hamels had a bad outing, or the Rangers' makeshift starters could only go five successful frames, there wasn’t much solace in leaving the remainder of the situation up to your bullpen with those marks. No other team in the postseason had a bullpen post worse marks in these categories except for the now-eliminated Giants (worse DRA) and the Cubs and the Indians (higher walk rates).

But enough with the past–what’s over is over, and hopefully the Rangers have procured a bounty of useful information to learn from for next season. That’s what a sweep in the first round of the playoffs will do for an organization.

In 2016, the Rangers had the eighth-highest payroll in the majors, standing at $169,420,990 (what a nice/fun number!). In 2017, after eight players who are arbitration eligible are added in, we can say that the Rangers will stand around $125 million in payroll. The team is losing a significant number of players to free agency, including Carlos Gomez, Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond, Colby Lewis, and Mitch Moreland. That’s a good, sturdy chunk of their lineup.

The Rangers face a big decision on whether or not to pick up Derek Holland’s $11 million option in 2017, and after the poor and injury riddled season he had (4.95 ERA, 107 IP), declining that option and settling for the $1.5 million buyout seems like it would be in the team’s best interest. This is not the time to overpay for a shoddy, now banged-up starter when the Rangers’ main issue entering the offseason is a weak back end of the rotation.

Now let’s talk about Jonathan Lucroy. Of course, one of my favorite things to do is praise Jon Daniels' business savvy for being able to not only trade for one of the most coveted pieces that was being moved at the trade deadline that fit so perfectly into the Rangers plan, but also his ability to keep Joey Gallo in his possession while doing so.

Gallo turning in a disappointing season still riddled with strikeouts at Triple-A Round Rock is less than optimal for the Rangers, seeing as his value could potentially be lowered on the trade market. Now, the Rangers are left with a barren farm system, a minimal budget in a free agent market that’s sure to reach new levels of absurdity this winter.

The Rangers still have a window of opportunity, though they’ll be facing an offseason that will feel a bit like a game of Minesweeper did in 2001. Everything must go perfectly for them to capitalize in 2017, and hopes that the Astros will not rebound after a poor effort can’t be too far in the periphery. Lots of luck was on Texas’ side in 2016, but this team still has potential to contend in 2017 if they don’t click the wrong square on the offseason Minesweeper board.

Thank you for reading

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bhacking
10/13
Good analysis on offense and pitching, can you help me understand the Rangers defense?

Looking at the small sample size of the playoffs it appeared to the naked eye that defense was a liability (errors and range, Desmond in center?) and this would adversely effect the pitching. Are there defensive metrics that back up this theory or disprove it? Thanks.
lmarighi
10/13
Looks like overall team defense was middle of the pack, although that isn't broken out by OF/INF or anything.
http://www.baseballprospectus.com/sortable/index.php?cid=1906760
PeterCollery
10/13
With sixth best slugging and 15th best OBP in baseball, I'm guessing that the Rangers' OPS probably came in around ninth or tenth. What does TAv pick up that OPS doesn't that makes the Rangers so much worse in the former category?
mentalmeat
10/13
TAv is park adjusted.
bhacking
10/13
If you click on TAv you can see the definition, as previously pointed out park adjustment would be the big difference.