Player Profiles 2020: Texas Rangers Starting Pitchers

Michael Ajeto analyzes the Texas Rangers rotation for 2020 with in-depth player profiles.

Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.

 

Rangers At A Glance

I love this rotation. Lance Lynn reformed himself in 2019, Mike Minor had his best season since 2013 (or ever), and then they added Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson, and Jordan Lyles. They have the opportunity to help improve the latter two, while they hope to see Kluber get back on track after a lost 2019. They’re currently ranked eighth in starting pitcher WAR, so they’re quite a formidable group. Their best collective trait is probably their floor, but they’re not devoid of upside, either.

 

 

Corey KluberLocked Starter

Nickname: The Klubot

 

2019 In Review

Kluber wasn’t right in 2019. His command was off, and the walks were up, so it’s reasonable to think that he was pitching hurt. Along with these concerns, his velocity is also continuing to dip. With just 35.2 innings to work with, it doesn’t feel fair to make any bold claims.

 

Fastball (40% usage)

Our own Alex Fast, Bubba, and I all discussed the implications of Kluber’s diminishing sinker velocity. For how infrequently he throws it relative to other pitchers and their fastballs, I think Fast is right that his velocity dip is perhaps overblown.

Although, I will note that Kluber was in the 90-92 mph range in 2019. That’s not good:

At one point in his career, Kluber probably would have benefited from throwing his four-seam fastball instead of his sinker. With his velocity where it is, that time has probably passed. I’ll, of course, get to it, but Kluber has been dealing with a bad sinker forever. He can deal with it, but he’s going to decline because of it.

 

Cutter (29% usage)

Kluber’s cutter was mostly in line with his career numbers. The most notable thing is a drop in zone percentage—Kluber started running his cutter off the plate to his glove-side. I’m not sure if this was by design or not, but his walk percentage on his cutter more than doubled from its career average, so it seems like something that was either unintentional or just a bad change.

Statcast only goes back to 2017 for Kluber’s cutter, so I’m combining his slider and cutter here, but Kluber’s 29.9% CSW on his cutter was his worst CSW in the Statcast era. His 32.0% in 2018 is his second best, so it seems like something that can be remedied. It’s still a Money Pitch, it just returned an atypically low -0.4 pVAL and got hit around more than usual. No reason to worry for now.

 

Curveball (23% usage)

Curveball, slider, slurve, who cares? It’s a devastating pitch. He’s accumulated a 123.0 pVAL with it over his career, and for the most part, it’s the same pitch it’s always been. With a 46.0% O-swing rate, 37.9% zone rate, and 19.3% swinging-strike rate, it was a quasi-Money Pitch and all three categories were within striking distance of his career averages.

This pitch is Kluber’s everything, and he continued to do a great job of locating it at the bottom or below the zone to his glove-side. He threw his curveball more than ever in 2017 and had a career year. Maybe he should do it again.

 

Changeup (9% usage)

This is another offering that, over his career, has been a quasi-Money Pitch. It’s hard to make any generalizations about it since he only threw it 51 times in 2019, but this is still an underrated pitch, and I think he would benefit from using it more. His 30.8% CSW since 2015 ranks in the 95th percentile.

 

2020 Outlook

There are several red flags, but Kluber isn’t far removed from his 2018 where he put up a 2.89 ERA and 3.12 FIP. His health is certainly concerning, but if he’s on the mound, he should be somewhat in the range of what he’s always been. There’s always the outside chance that he goes as bananas as he did in 2017 with the change of scenery. Let’s go with a 3.70 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 25 K%.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 24% K rate in 150 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 2.90 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 30% K rate in 210 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Corey Kluber 2020 projection:

3.40 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 26% K rate in 200 IP

 

 

Mike MinorLocked Starter

Nickname: Major

 

2019 In Review

Minor put up his best K% ever as a starter and his best K-BB% since 2013. While his ERA- and FIP- are career bests, his xFIP- and SIERA indicate he’s more league-average than above-average.

 

Fastball (45% usage)

Minor has a pretty weird fastball—average velocity, plus-plus spin rate. The hangup, though, is that his active spin rate is 67.8%, which places him in the 13th percentile. As a result of his active spin rate, it doesn’t have much arm-side movement, and it gets sink instead of rise. In spite of this, Minor’s fastball plays well at the top of (or above) the zone, but he chooses to throw it to his glove-side in the vertical middle of the zone, for the most part. His 2019 fastball CSW of 29.1% puts him in the 55th percentile. Could be better, could be worse, but it doesn’t get beat up too badly, as its .426 xwOBAcon in the past two years is just above the league-average of .409.

 

Changeup (25% usage)

There aren’t many pitchers who induce more favorable contact on their changeups than Minor. Since 2017, the list is Mike MontgomeryStephen Strasburg, and Daniel Norris, in terms of xwOBAcon. If we restrict our query to 1,000 pitches since 2017, this list is just Strasburg. Paired with a 26.8% CSW—which ranks in the 59th percentile, tied with Chris Paddackit’s no wonder the pitch has accumulated a 45.5 pVAL over his career, despite not being an elite swing-and-miss pitch.

2019 treated his changeup well, as it contributed a generous 22.3 pVAL for Minor. I generally don’t want to bet on pitches that depend on contact suppression, but it gets enough whiffs and has been suppressing hard contact for long enough that I think this may be sustainable—just not necessarily to the extent of 2019.

 

Slider (19% usage)

Minor’s slider isn’t great, but it’s not bad, either. In 2019, it amassed a -9.3 pVAL with a 35.2% O-swing rate, 44.9% zone rate, and 11.3% swinging-strike rate. His .436 xwOBAcon on his slider was far above his .370 xwOBAcon since 2015. While it would be easy to say that that’s unsustainable since it’s far above his career average, that’s not necessarily true in this case.

Minor saw his slider’s velocity and active spin rate dip, and its horizontal and vertical movement increased—so it’s a different pitch. Perhaps it was the ball, but it’s clear that he had a better slider before.

 

Curveball (11% usage)

Minor’s curveball has historically been his best secondary pitch, outside of his changeup. In 2019, though, it mirrored the zone percentage and swinging-strike percentage of his slider, except it had a much lower O-Swing rate. That’s not ideal since his slider wasn’t good in 2019, but it did get hit around as much as his slider—his curveball’s .328 wOBA was much better than his slider’s .363 wOBA.

 

2020 Outlook

I’m skeptical that Minor can fully repeat his 2019, but there are reasons to believe part of it is sustainable. My skepticism revolves around repeating the contact suppression he did in 2019, but I don’t think anyone is expecting him to repeat his 3.59 ERA anyhow. His swinging-strike rate improved from 2018 to 2019, and Alex Chamberlain’s beta Tableau has him with a higher xK% than K%, so I believe in the bump in strikeouts. I’m seeing a 4.30 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 24 K%. The new ballpark should help, too.

 

Realistic worst case projection: 4.60 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 20% K rate in 180 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 23% K rate in 200 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Mike Minor 2020 projection:

4.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 22% K rate in 190 IP

 

 

Lance LynnLocked Starter

Nickname: Hockey Sticks

 

2019 In Review

At the age of 32, Lynn had himself a breakout year. He bumped his K% up to a career-high 28.1%, reduced his BB% to a career-low 6.7%, and maintained his home run rate. He made several changes, which I wrote about in June, and I think they have helped him optimize his skillset.

 

Fastball (69% usage)

For what it’s worth, Lynn’s 69% fastball usage—which includes four-seam fastballs and sinkers—is actually down from his 77% usage in 2018. If you count his cutters, fastballs made up 87% of Lynn’s repertoire in 2019. Here’s one of the key changes:

2018, fastball usage: 44.9%

2019, fastball usage: 52.3%

2018, sinker usage: 32.5%

2019, sinker usage: 16.6%

Lynn bumped up his fastball usage by nearly 10%, but most importantly, he almost cut his sinker usage in half. The reasoning is simple. His career fastball pVAL is 99.6, while the rest of his pitches have negative career pVALs. By pVAL, his fastball’s 25.7 was a career-high. By pVAL/C, his 1.4 is bested only by his 2013’s 1.5 pVAL/C.

Lynn’s average vertical fastball location was a career-low, which is interesting because it plays best up in the zone. That itself is peculiar, as Lynn’s fastball doesn’t have much rise—it gets more sink. Regardless, he added velocity to it for the second year in a row, and it got more whiffs than ever with an obscene 14.1% swinging-strike rate.

 

Cutter (16% usage)

By swinging-strike rate, Lynn had one of the best cutters in the league, for starting pitchers. By xwOBAcon, he had one of the best too. In terms of suppressing hard contact, it’s unclear how sustainable his .318 xwOBAcon is, considering the league average is .356, but his career average is .308, so it seems reasonable enough. If anything, his .325 BABIP is elevated.

He does a good job of throwing this to the bottom corner of the zone on his glove-side. Hitters can make contact with it when it’s in the zone, but they have trouble doing anything with it.

 

Curveball (9% usage)

Relative to his career average, Lynn barely raised his curveball’s O-swing rate, and he lowered his zone rate a touch, but he increased his swinging-strike rate from his career 9.9% to 14.3% in 2019. Hitters missed when they chased his curveball out of the zone more than ever, his K% went up, and he didn’t walk a hitter with it.

 

Changeup (3% usage)

He barely throws this, and it’s not good.

 

2020 Outlook

All of his ERA predictors forecast a sub-4.00 ERA next year, and I see no reason why he would regress. I desperately want him to start elevating his fastball more, and I wish he had a plus secondary, but it’s hard to complain about much here. He’s moving to a more favorable home park, too. I’m on board for a 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and another 28 K%.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.30 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 23% K rate in 180 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 28% K rate in 210 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Lance Lynn 2020 projection:

3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 26% K rate in 200 IP

 

 

Kyle GibsonLocked Starter

Nickname: The Tone

 

2019 In Review

Gibson has historically underperformed his ERA predictors because he has a really bad fastball. He still had that bad fastball in 2019, and so he underperformed his ERA predictors yet again. He flashed a really stellar set of secondary pitches and a serviceable sinker.

 

Fastball (50% usage)

Seriously, Gibson’s four-seam fastball is a travesty. By wOBA, Gibson’s fastball has been the second-worst of its kind, bested only by Jorge De La Rosa‘s .436 wOBA—and he played at Coors Field. That is so, so bad. Worse than Nick PivettaJon Gray, and Dylan Bundy. Bad bad bad. He threw it 18.2% of the time, which is down from his 23.3% in 2018, but he should throw it less. Over his career, it has accumulated a -59.5 pVAL, and it put up a -12.1 pVAL in 2019. Just ditch it!

Like, for real. Its career 181 wRC+ is like 2019 Mike Trout (180 wRC+). When he throws his fastball, hitters hit like Mike Trout against it. Stop it, Kyle!

His sinker is perfectly fine. It has amassed a much more respectable 17.9 pVAL over his career, and it tacked on 3.1 in 2019. He throws it 32.0% of the time, which is his most-used pitch, and that’s okay.

 

Slider (29% usage)

According to Baseball Savant, here are the four lowest pitches, by zone percentage: Jake Arrieta‘s changeup at 25.3%, Strasburg’s changeup at 25.9%, Eduardo Rodriguez‘s changeup at 26.1%, Max Scherzer‘s changeup at 26.9%. Then there’s Gibson’s slider at 27.6%. Per FanGraphs, it’s even lower, at 22.2%, but other than Sonny Gray, Gibson’s slider stands alone as one of the only non-changeups in this general vicinity. He hardly throws it in the zone, but he doesn’t need to. Baseball Savant and FanGraphs differ on the exact number, but Baseball Savant has Gibson’s slider with the eleventh-highest O-swing rate of all pitches. It actually edges out Luis Castillo‘s changeup.

His zone rate has been steadily dropping since 2015, but there hasn’t been a reason to throw it in the zone, because hitters continue to chase. Since it nearly has a 50% chase rate, I wonder if Gibson can throw it more than he did. Despite throwing it in the zone less and less, his CSW has been climbing, not falling. Worth a shot.

 

Changeup (16% usage)

I quite fancy Gibson’s changeup as well. He doesn’t throw it in the zone much either (27.4% zone rate), but he got hitters to chase 46.0% of the time and had a 20.2% swinging-strike rate. It doesn’t rack up strikes like his slider does—his 27.3% changeup CSW is dwarfed by his slider’s 35.4%—which explains his -1.7 pVAL on the year. In any case, it’s a good pitch, and it generally is a positive pitch for him by pitch value. It’s actually his best swing-and-miss pitch in the zone, so he has the option throwing it for strikes.

 

Curveball (13% usage)

Gibson put up a career-high 33.4% CSW with his curveball, but it got beat up to the tune of a .361 wOBA. He actually uses his curveball in most counts, but it’s definitely overshadowed by his changeup and slider, which are much better offerings.

 

2020 Outlook

Gibson has a lot more potential than what he’s shown us with the Twins. He’s moving to the Rangers, where they had Lance Lynn throw his bad fastball less. Might they do the same with Gibson? With some tweaks, I foresee a 4.30 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 24 K%. Let’s keep in mind he had two major health issues in 2019.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 5.00+ ERA, 1.50+ WHIP, 20% K rate in 160 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Kyle Gibson 2020 projection:

4.10 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 22% K rate in 170 IP

 

 

Jordan LylesLocked Starter

Nickname: Memento

 

2019 In Review

He allowed far too many home runs, but he struck out 24.4% of hitters with a 9.2% walk rate. Lyles has yet to show that he can be better than an average starting pitcher. The velocity boost he got from moving to the bullpen in past years went away as he returned to the rotation.

 

Fastball (46% usage)

Lyles does a fantastic job of elevating his fastball. He ranks in the 100th percentile in average vertical fastball location for starting pitchers, which bests even the likes of Blake Snell and Gerrit Cole. He doesn’t stand out via fastball velocity or spin rate, but his active spin rate is solid at 88.7%. That’s just below Jake Odorizzi and my beloved Andrew Heaney.

What’s good is he put up a 9.7% swinging-strike rate and a 4.6 pVAL. His .249 fastball BABIP is too good to be true, though, and the same goes for his .342 xwOBAcon, but I would say that Lyles has a good fastball, and that should pave the way for him to drop in a strong secondary below his fastball. That has yet to be true.

 

Curveball (30% usage)

As has been pointed out to me, the spin axis of Lyles’ fastball and curveball mirror each other incredibly well—their 176-degree difference on the year is nearly a perfect 180-degree difference. In terms of pitch design, that makes me a believer in Lyles as a good fastball-curveball guy.

By results, things haven’t been as encouraging. In 2019, his curveball was an aspiring Money Pitch. Its 35.9% OsSwing rate, 37.9% zone rate, and 11.7% swinging-strike rate are all solid, but leave something to be desired—not to mention its 0.5 pVAL.

As it stands, his curveball is his only out pitch, aside from his fastball. He’ll need to change that.

 

Changeup (10% usage)

Like his curveball, I really like his changeup in terms of pitch design, but, by results, it underwhelmed. It was just 165 pitches, but his 27.6 O-swing rate and 8.5% swinging-strike rate are quite poor. His changeup was supposed to be plus-plus, by some accounts. I still have some optimism regarding his slow ball, but it’s got to be better than this. Perhaps one issue is that he’s pitching it below the zone instead of to his arm-side.

Regardless, his .387 wOBAcon was much higher than his .334 xwOBAcon, so although he needs to get more swings and misses with his changeup, the contact suppression is there.

 

Slider (9% usage)

Lyles’ slider has some potential too. A 36.7% O-swing rate and 10.8% swinging-strike rate is nothing to scoff at. His 52.8% zone rate seems higher than it needs to be. He needs to do a better job of keeping this down.

 

2020 Outlook

Lyles’ fastball alone is enough to intrigue me, but his curveball is still a work in progress, and he definitely doesn’t have a third pitch yet. I still like his changeup, and his slider isn’t bad either, but I need to see more whiffs before I buy in. The projection systems hate him, but a 4.40 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 24 K% seem reasonable to me. I really hope he develops his secondaries, because he’ll be fun to watch.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.75 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 21% K rate in 140 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.90 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 25% K rate in 180 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Jordan Lyles 2020 projection:

4.10 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 24% K rate in 170 IP

 

Kolby AllardFringe Starter

Nickname: Donaldson

2020 Outlook

Kolby Allard is Marco Gonzales, but worse. He’s pretty much going to need to survive on command and pitchability. Bleh.

 

Joe Palumbo – Fringe Starter

Nickname: Mr. Means

2020 Outlook

Palumbo seems underrated. He has a good fastball that he elevates and has a projectable curveball and changeup to go with it. He had quite a bit of success in the minors, but walks could be an issue. I’m excited to watch him in 2020.

 

Taylor Hearn – Fringe Starter

Nickname: The Arctic

2020 Outlook

Hearn basically has the same mold as Palumbo, but with worse secondaries. Still, a lefty with big velocity is always intriguing.

 

Nickname explanations:

Corey KluberKlubot. That’s what he is. It is known.

Mike Minor: Major. He’s major minor, obviously.

Lance Lynn: Hockey Sticks. H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks, as people say. Also considered Cool J because of LL, of course.

Kyle GibsonThe Tone. When people get a Gibson guitar, they always talk about its tone, derived from the chunky block of wood that makes up its body, usually.

Jordan LylesMemento. Don’t believe his Lyles, a play on a famous quote from the movie Memento.

Kolby AllardDonaldson. Colby Donaldson should have won the second season of Survivor. WHY DIDN’T HE VOTE OFF TINA?!

Joe Palumbo: Mr. Means. He’s just an average Joe, most likely, and clearly is going to be like his buddy John Means.

Taylor Hearn: The Arctic. Because he’s an arctic tern Hearn. I hope you’re having fun with this. I am.

 

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Michael Ajeto

Michael co-founded Sounding Off Blog, where he wrote about the Mariners. Now he writes Going Deep articles here. You can follow Michael on Twitter @mikeyajetoPL, or you can not.

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