The Texas Rangers had arguably the most eventful offseason in Major League Baseball last winter. In case you've forgotten: the Rangers signed top free-agent infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien ahead of the owner-imposed lockout, overhauling their double-play combination and giving a sleepy franchise a jolt of excitement. Unfortunately for the Rangers, the splurging did not change their fate in Year 1.
The Rangers entered Tuesday with a 67-86 mark on the season, putting them on pace for roughly 70 wins. Should that projection come to fruition, they'll win 70 games or fewer for the fifth time in their last six seasons. (The exception, 2019, saw them win 78.) The Rangers are almost certain to finish closer to the tanking, last-place Oakland Athletics than they are to either the first- or second-place team in the American League West. That's not what anyone around the organization wanted, even if it was foreseeable that their roster remained too flawed to realistically compete this year.
The Rangers don't know for certain what lies ahead this winter. But we do think there are three reasons to think that next year will be different, and presumably better, for the reigning offseason champions.
1. Pitching help is coming
The starting rotation has been one of the downfalls for this Rangers club. Coming into Sunday, Texas' rotation had the seventh-highest ERA among starting staffs. Put another way, the Rangers have given at least three starts to nine pitchers this year, and three of them have an ERA+ of 90 or better; comparatively, four of those nine pitchers have posted ERA+ south of 80. Yikes.
The Rangers, who were tied to Clayton Kershaw last offseason, could theoretically make a play for him or another top free-agent starter this winter. They should also benefit from several homegrown arms who could reach the majors next summer.
The Rangers ended the season with three highly touted pitchers stationed in Double-A or higher: former first-round picks Cole Winn and Jack Leiter and former second-rounder Owen White. Alas, Winn (6.42 ERA) and Leiter (5.54) both struggled this year with their command and their results. White was quite good, though he made only four appearances in Double-A. All three could use some additional seasoning.
To think that's without mentioning Kumar Rocker, this year's first-round pick who should climb the ladder quickly, provided he stays healthy.
The Rangers would be foolish to rely entirely on those young prospects -- especially given the hiccups some of them experienced this year -- but they should have more and better depth at their disposal than they had this year.
2. Limited shifting
Improving a weakness (in this case the rotation) is often the easiest way to better a team; enhancing an existing strength can help out just as much, however.
Beginning next season, teams will be restricted in their defensive positioning. With every pitch, they'll be required to have two infielders on either side of the second-base bag and with their feet on the dirt. Extreme overshifts, with three defenders stationed on one side of the infield, will be tougher to pull off and seem likely to become endangered as a result. That's good news for one Ranger in particular.
According to an estimate from Sports Info Solutions earlier this month, Corey Seager had been robbed of 25 additional hits this season by defensive shifts. Now, Seager still had a good season this year (he owns a 119 OPS+), but the new restrictions could help set him up for an even better campaign in 2023.
3. One-run game performance
The Rangers have a majors-worst 14-32 record in one-run games. To contextualize things, that winning percentage prorated over a full season would have the Rangers winning 49 games.
Such an extreme performance in one-run games can usually be attributed to a combination of bad luck and poor relief pitching, among other factors. Seeing as how the Rangers' bullpen ranks 12th in the majors in ERA this year, we're going to place most of the blame on the luck aspect. That gives us the confidence to state they will not perform this poorly in one-run games again next year.
The Rangers don't have to become worldbeaters in this respect to reap the benefits, either. Think of it this way: if they had simply played .500 ball in one-run games this year, they would have won nine more games, putting them at a respectable 76-77 and no doubt improving the vibes around the organization heading into the winter.