Surprise, AZ, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Neftali Feliz pitches during the second inning against the Colorado Rockies at Surprise Stadium. Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE
The Rangers are likely to start the season with two starting pitchers who have never started a game in the major leagues. Is this a concern?
There's something about those known quantities, the players with which you have a pretty good idea what to expect. It's a tough call to make before his first major-league pitch, but I'm confident that Yu Darvish is at least slightly better than C.J. Wilson. I don't know if he'll be $33 million better, but I think he'll be better.
If I were betting with my own money on which of the two was more likely to have a very good season, though, I'd put it down on Wilson. He's done it before, and he's done it at the Ballpark at Arlington, a place that's been masticating pitchers alive for almost two decades. Darvish could be better, but I trust C.J. Wilson to be C.J. Wilson, which is plenty good for a team looking for its third-straight pennant.
So while it's not like the Rangers are taking a huge risk -- it's not like they signed Rick Ankiel and asked him to return to the mound as Wilson's replacement -- it's still a risk. And that's kind of the theme of the Rangers' rotation: unknown quantities, ahoy. The rotations will be bookended by Darvish and another supremely talented unknown, Neftali Feliz. From Jeff Wilson:
Right-hander Alexi Ogando threw 90 pitches Wednesday afternoon against the Dodgers' Triple A team, and afterward said the he knows that he's likely going to open the season in the Rangers' bullpen.
Ogando would rather start, but he said he will do whatever is asked of him.
The Rangers were stretching Ogando out in the spring, juuuust in case something happened with Feliz, who has never started a regular-season game. But Feliz did well enough (eight innings, two walks, seven strikeouts, four earned runs), and he'll get the job. But to put the risk in simpler terms:
Combined 2011 Innings as a Starter In Major League Baseball:
And most of those innings for Wilson and Ogando were pretty danged good. The Rangers have spend the better part of the last two decades searching for pitchers who could pitch in Arlington, and when they finally get two of them, they're replaced rather quickly. That isn't to say that the Rangers aren't better. That isn't to say that they aren't much better. But it's a bold risk. Feliz's career high in innings as a starter in the minors, for example, is 127.
Wilson wasn't a dominant, Roy Halladay-type pitcher in October and November. Whether that's because of sample-size shenanigans or some sort of deficiency, we don't know. Considering how good he was in the regular season, I'm going with sample size, but I'm not the one trying to build a team that can finally win the World Series. Darvish sure seems … let's see … gotta find the right adjective … acier. Yes, that will do. Darvish seems acier. So you can understand the move.
Ogando was good last year, bringing his plus control to the rotation, but Feliz has a chance to be transcendent. Even if he loses a few ticks off his fastball as a starter, he'll still be one of the hardest-throwing starting pitchers in the game. His wonky control last year was something of a early-to-mid-season hiccup, and if the 24-year-old can continue to throw strikes with his plus-plus stuff, he'll be an unhittable long-term asset for a team that already has a good bullpen. And even thought the reliever-to-starter gambit is a tricky on to pull off, the Rangers seem to be pretty adept with it, considering that they shepherded both Wilson and Ogando through a successful transition. So you can understand the move.
Together, though -- 40 percent of the rotation for a team built to win now like few others -- it's a little scary. Not bad, necessarily. It's like the Rangers are sitting in the audience of a play they wrote and think is going to be a huge success. Maybe it's Streetcar Named Desire. Maybe it's Springtime for Hitler. They think it's going to be the former. They've had smart people read it over, and they've been assured it's the former.
But they won't know until that curtain rises. And now they kind of have to pee, so they're anxious. And isn't that beer vendor coming around any time soon? What do you mean there aren't beer vendors at plays? Man, the theatre sucks. Let's get some baseball going.