The Atlanta Braves will be facing the Texas Rangers again in 2023, so let’s take a look at the Rangers, shall we?
The Texas Rangers were about on par with what PECOTA had them projected for in 2022 — a 70-92 projection, and a 68-94 final record, good for fourth place in their division. They undershot other projections, like the Fangraphs one (75-87) by even more. Now, depending on how much weight you put into the Pythagorean Expectation, they were a bit unlucky. The Expectation had them at 77-85, which would have boosted them to third place in their division, although they still would have missed the playoffs. The Rangers struggled terribly in one-run games. They had a record of 15-35 in such games, which was the worst such record in MLB.
Expectations for 2023
It is easy to see that the Rangers have a brighter outlook than they had at the start of 2022. They have a complete overhaul of their starting rotation, led by one of the best pitchers on the planet in Jacob deGrom. The Rangers were 26th in MLB in fWAR with their rotation in 2022, and weren’t really helped by their defense, as they finished 25th in ERA and 27th in park-adjusted ERA. This alone should result in a significant increase in wins.
The current ZiPS projection has the Rangers going 79-83, a Steamer-ZiPS blend has them slightly above .500 with 82 wins. This makes sense, with the massive upgrade in their rotation. If we look at how unlucky they got last year in terms of the Pythagorean Expectation and one-run games, this also explains the 11 game jump in wins. Their overall production last year was in line with a 76-win team, something they seriously undershot as well.
While the Rangers don’t have much of a chance of unseating their cross-state rivals from the top of the AL West, the rest of the division is open. The gap between them, the Angels, and the Mariners doesn’t seem huge at this point — but it might be hard for the Rangers to make the playoffs in 2023 unless a lot breaks right.
According to Roster Resource, this is how the Rangers roster will be at the start of the season.
- Marcus Semien - 2B
- Corey Seager - SS
- Nathan Lowe - 1B
- Adolis Garcia - RF
- Jonah Heim - C
- Josh Jung - 3B
- Brad Miller - DH
- Leody Taveras - CF
- Josh H. Smith - LF
Mitch Garver - C
Ezequiel Duran - INF/OF
Mark Mathias - INF/OF
Bubba Thompson - OF
Jacob deGrom - RHP
Martín Pérez - LHP
Jon Gray - RHP
Nathan Eovaldi - RHP
Andrew Heaney - LHP
José Leclerc - RHP
Jonathan Hernández - RHP
Brock Burke - LHP
Joe Barlow - RHP
Taylor Hearn - LHP
Josh Sborz - RHP
Danny Duffy - LHP
Jake Odorizzi - RHP
Odds are that should the Rangers stick to a traditional five-man rotation, Jake Odorizzi will make spot starts and be the first in line to take over a rotation spot should the Rangers lose an arm to a long term injury.
The Rangers did a good job of taking a weakness and turning it into a strength. If we look at projected fWAR for their rotation, it is a combined 15.5. For reference, 15.5 fWAR would’ve been fifth-best in MLB in 2022, and that’s among teams who had real results, some of whch outpaced projections. As stated earlier, in 2022 the Rangers were 26th in MLB in fWAR.
Of course, they took gambles on pitchers who struggle to stay healthy, but if Eovaldi and deGrom can stay healthy for extended periods of time, this could be a formidable group.
But, this team isn’t a one-trick pony. Marcus Semien had a good year last year and projects to be one of the best second-sackers in the game once again, despite an unimpressive 2022 xwOBA. Corey Seager was one of the most unfortunate hitters in baseball last year and still put up 4.5 fWAR while playing above-average defense at shortstop for only the second time in his career. If he does that again with even average batted ball luck, he could deliver a monster year.
As most Atlanta Braves fans know, the Braves struggled in left field. The Braves were 29th in MLB in LF. The one team that they were better than from that position? The Texas Rangers. The Rangers were 30th in MLB with an fWAR of -0.8.
Josh H. Smith is slotted to start for the Rangers in LF in 2023. He played seventy-three games (started sixty) for the Rangers in 2022. He had twenty-one starts in LF, and thirty-two at 3B. Can you guess which position for the Rangers placed the second lowest in fWAR in MLB? 3B.
Smith, in 253 plate appearances in 2022, had a slash line of .197/.307/.249, which equated to a 68 wRC+ (32 percent below average) and 0.0 fWAR. Josh Jung is slated to take over 3B duties, leaving LF to be a major area of concern for the Rangers. Bubba Thompson (0.4 fWAR in 2022 driven almost entirely by defense, with an xwOBA barely above .200) and Brad Miller (-1.1 fWAR in 241 PAs in 2022 for the Rangers, one of the worst MLB seasons of 2023) also figure to be in the left field mix, but there are no good solutions here. Like many teams, the lack of a useful left fielder also spills over to a problematic DH situation, where backup catcher Mitch Garver is one option, but the other choices are pretty uninspired.
Reinforcements from the Farm
Josh Jung, who is the 34th ranked prospect according to MLB.com, is technically still a prospect, even though he played in a limited cameo of ninety-eight at bats in 2022. As mentioned earlier, 3B was a weakness for the Rangers, and if Jung can live up to his prospect ranking, he could be a boon for the team. In his limited action he was 19 percent below league average in terms of wRC+, but that was still limited action, and even a league-average player manning 3B would be an upgrade.
Given the Rangers’ issues with LF, Evan Carter, a top-ranked prospect that reached Double-A last year, might get rushed if the Rangers are anywhere close to contention. While Carter has only played in six Double-A games so far, it would be silly to count him out given what the Braves have seen by running Michael Harris II and Vaughn Grissom to the majors with all deliberate speed.
While the Rangers have a stacked rotation, they also have a stacked bevy of near-ready starting prospects. 2021 second overall pick Jack Leiter, Owen White, and Cole Winn are all top prospects that can easily slide in and get their feet wet should the Rangers’ now-vaunted rotation falter. Leiter struggled in Double-A in his first pro season, while Winn got blasted in Triple-A; White made it to Double-A last year and hasn’t yet hit much of a rough patch.
Justin Foscue, a defensively-limited “second baseman” who hit well in Double-A last year, and Dustin Harris, a little-field corner bat with massive power that obliterated the low minors and took a step back in Double-A in 2022, are plug-and-play pieces that could provide depth, but might not be able to fix the LF/DH void on the roster.
Braves recent history/outlook against the team
In 2022, the Braves only played the Rangers three times from April 29th – May 1st. The Braves went 1-2 against the Rangers. However, to be fair, the Braves were not exactly stacking the odds in their favor with starting Ian Anderson, Bryce Elder, and Kyle Muller down in Arlington. The Braves won the first matchup in which Ian Anderson (pre-demotion) started the game.
The Braves only scored seven total runs against the Rangers in that three game stretch, in which the Rangers started Garrett Richards (5.27 ERA in 2022), Dane Dunning (4.46 ERA), and Taylor Hearn (5.13 ERA), so it is not like the odds were totally stacked against the Braves. Braves fans might remember this series as the first series back for Ronald Acuña Jr., in which he went 2-13 with six strikeouts.
In 2023, the Atlanta Braves only play the Rangers three times again, and those games will once again take place at Globe Life Field. These games will be May 15th – 17th, right after they finish visiting Toronto for a three game series.
Here’s to hoping the Braves have more success against the Rangers in 2023.