The Quest for Elite Pitching is Paying Off for the Rangers in October
In the history of baseball, one sentiment has stood the test of time; pitching wins championships.
One of the notable storylines from last offseason was the Texas Rangers’ quest to improve their pitching staff. It was incredible to see how many moves the team made to stockpile starting pitching and building a contending core that would complement a budding offensive core. Beginning with the start of the 2022-23 offseason the Rangers bolstered their starting pitching in the following manner as they have stormed through the postseason.
- Jacob deGrom (5-year $185 million)
- Andrew Heaney (2-year $25 million)
- Nathan Eovaldi (2-year $34 million)
- Martin Perez (1-year $19.65 million)
- Jordan Montgomery (Deadline trade with St. Louis Cardinals)
- Max Scherzer (Deadline trade with New York Mets)
In addition to the four-year, $56 million deal they made with Jon Gray prior to the 2022 season, and the continued rise of Dane Dunning in 2023, the Rangers have devoted themselves to building a rotation that can compete and even dominate the opposition.
In 2022 the Rangers had the sixth-highest starter ERA in all of baseball at a 4.63 clip. In 2023 that number improved to a 3.96 ERA, the seventh lowest in MLB for starting pitching, and posted an fWAR of 12.6, which again was the seventh best for starting pitchers. They excelled in getting strikeouts, limiting walks, inducing ground balls, inducing soft contact, and keeping opposing batters to a .243 AVG.
When Jacob deGrom was signed, it was with the intention that the Cy Young award-winning pitcher would anchor and lead the rotation as the ace. Unfortunately, the injury bug limited him to just 30.1 innings at the start of the season, but boy did he make the most of that time. Over six starts with the Rangers, deGrom posted a 2.67 ERA with 45 strikeouts to just four walks. When healthy, deGrom is the most dominant pitcher in baseball, and when he went down with an injury the season could have easily gone sideways for the Rangers, but their other investments proved worthwhile.
Nathan Eovaldi was able to dispel any concerns about performance or health and became a legitimate ace for the team throughout the season. He went 12-5 on the year, posting a 3.63 ERA in 25 starts across 144 innings. A key to his success this season was his ability to cut his home runs allowed in half. He was able to do this by living by the ground ball in which he induced a ground ball 51% of the time, the highest rate of his career since 2015 with the New York Yankees. As injuries popped up throughout the year for everyone, Eovaldi was able to be a staple and leader in the rotation. He’s taken that to the next level in the postseason. In three starts, he has posted 2.29 ERA in three starts with 24 strikeouts and just one walk in 19.2 innings.
Dane Dunning had a surprising emergence for the Ranges in 2023. After he was acquired by the team prior to the 2021 season in a trade that sent Lance Lynn to the Chicago White Sox, Dunning was just a helpful, reliable starter who could regularly take the ball every five days. With so many starters added to the roster prior to the season, Dunning would likely be nothing more than a fifth or even sixth starter. Fate would have it after the deGrom injury that he would make 26 starts in 35 appearances with Texas. Dunning registered 10 wins this season, pitching to a 3.70 ERA, the best of his career, over 172.2 innings with 140 strikeouts to 55 walks. He improved in just about every category and emerged as a dependable and legit starter to anchor the back of the rotation.
Andrew Heaney also found new life in his first season with the Rangers. He appeared in 34 games, including 28 starts, this season posting a 4.15 ERA in 147.1 innings of work. Heaney hadn’t seen this much of a workload since 2018 when he made 30 starts for the Los Angeles Angels. He tallied 151 strikeouts this season and while he did struggle with walks to a degree, was able to return to a groundball-dominant approach that enabled him to induce weaker contact with his reduced arsenal.
Jon Gray was once again a workhorse for the Rangers as he navigated some injuries and ineffectiveness over the year. Still, he made 29 starts with a 4.12 ERA in 157.1 innings and wracked up 142 strikeouts. While he has never achieved his potential as a third-overall pick by the Colorado Rockies in 2013, Gray has carved out a career of reliability that the Rangers are now benefiting from. In Texas, Gray has been relieved of that pressure and granted a place to grow and be himself with the Rangers and continues to be a steady presence in the rotation, capable of tossing a strong fastball and wielding effective secondary pitches.
Martín Pérez converted an incredible 2022 season in which he posted a 2.89 ERA in 32 starts and was an All-Star for Texas, into a Qualifying Offer for the 2023 season. While the results weren’t the same for Pérez this season, 4.45 ERA over 141.2 innings, he still served an important role for the team. Pérez appeared in 35 games, including 20 starts for the team. The flexibility to be a long man out of the bullpen or make a start was huge for the Rangers as their bullpen fluctuated throughout the year. His veteran presence as a holdover from years past makes him a quintessential pitcher who made his big league debut with the Rangers in 2012. What’s more, it means something when a guy has been consistent and effective over the course of his career.
Jordan Montgomery‘s addition to the team at the deadline was a godsend for the Rangers. Down the stretch, Montgomery made 11 starts and posted a 2.79 ERA over 67.2 innings. He had nearly 60 strikeouts in that time and carried over the success he was having in St. Louis. His greatest contributions have been in the postseason where in three games, he has gone 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA in 17.1 innings. Additionally, he has 14 strikeouts to just 2 walks and has two scoreless outings in which he threw at least six innings. The acquisition of Montgomery is perhaps the best move of the season by any team in terms of pitching and he is set up for a nice payday in free agency.
The shocking acquisition of Max Scherzer at the deadline came out of nowhere, by the Rangers maintained an aggressive nature and got their man. It wasn’t the best of years for Scherzer with the Mets, but joining the Rangers helped him return to form down the stretch. In eight starts this season, Scherzer tossed 45 innings and allowed 16 runs over that stretch. He still maintained his strikeout numbers and walk rates, but provided a veteran boost of a competitive gamer and psycho on the mound. At the time of writing, he is lined up to start Game 3 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros in a stunning return from injury that threatened to keep him from pitching in the playoffs. When you’re Mad Max, however, there is no chance he was going to let something as silly as an injury to keep him from pitching on the biggest stage. Plus, he waived his opt-out clause and will be part of the Rangers in 2024 as well.
The turnaround with the rotation was a result of two things, an upgrade in talent, and an upgrade in the personnel tasked with helping them. Mike Maddux, the older brother to Greg Maddux, made a triumphant return to the Rangers as their pitching coach in 2023. He was the team’s pitching coach from 2009-15 under manager Ron Washington and during his stint with the team, the Rangers reached the 2010 and 2011 World Series. He also helped develop young arms like C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison. He was also the pitching coach in Washington for Scherzer’s two Cy Young seasons. By bringing that pedigree back to the Rangers with an established group of talent, the Rangers put together a season that is getting even better in the postseason.
The Rangers went all in on starting pitching and they are now reaping the rewards from that fact. When starting pitching is dominant, it takes some pressure off of an already excellent offense and a shaky and overused bullpen. The Rangers have won five straight games to remain undefeated headed into Game 3 of the ALCS. If they hope to finally win that elusive World Series title, they will do so on the back of incredible starting pitching.