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Texas Rangers Playoff Rotation: Who Gets The Nod?

The Rangers have a few options for what to do with their playoff rotation. Here's a suggestion for what makes the most sense, as well as a look at how that rotation stacks up with the rest of the AL playoff field.

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 28:  Yu Darvish #11 of the Texas Rangers with Geovany Soto #8 during play against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on August 28, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 28: Yu Darvish #11 of the Texas Rangers with Geovany Soto #8 during play against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on August 28, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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When their closest competition began playing their next closest competition last night, the Texas Rangers' playoff expectations sat at 99.6%, with a magic number at 20.

Meaning, while there is still a string to be played out, we are comfortably at the point we can start focusing on playoff scenarios. Like which transplanted fans will get to see home games, when day games will be played anonymously during working hours, what announcers we'll get stuck with, when it's okay for Ron Washington to bunt, and other such stuff.

Or, say, how the Rangers should set up their playoff rotation.

The way the first round of the playoffs set up, provided you want to keep people on normal rest (which the Rangers always do), what matters most of all is identifying who you want to start twice, and who you want to start never. This probably goes without saying, but we're saying it anyway so we can pretend this is a scientific paper or something. For the second round, you need three guys you want to go twice, someone you want to go only once, and someone to go never.

We'll start with who should be taking the mound twice in a five game set. The man who will (most likely) open on the road against a wild card team, then take the mound in the decisive game five at home if necessary.

We should probably all agree the Rangers' top two pitchers, unless something changes, are Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison. Both have had very good seasons with flashes of ace. They are the top two healthy pitchers in terms of ERA and in terms of Wins Above Replacement, and both project to continue to be the best. Until very recently, deciding which of the two should be the No. 1 was fairly difficult, but given his ceiling and both pitchers' recent performances, Darvish seems to be coming out ahead in that contest.

Peripherally, Darvish has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, despite some horrible bouts of wildness at points in the year, and has more shut down potential than anyone in the rotation. There is one case to still be made for starting Harrison in game one, though, and that is a team that struggles with lefties.

Of the seven playoff contenders left in the AL (outside of Texas), three are worse against left-handed pitching: New York, Detroit, and Oakland. The Yankees and Athletics each create nearly 0.3 runs per nine against southpaws, while the Tigers are at about 0.6.

Let's go ahead and call Matt Harrison the (hopeful) starter in game one of an ALDS against the Tigers. It's pretty hard to expect Darvish to be more than half a run better. A third of a run is more believable, so you could probably debate who should start against the Athletics, and not be extremely confident in your final selection (Darvish, here). As for the Yankees, the idea of a man with a lot of trouble missing bats facing a powerful and disciplined lineup that is fantastic at not whiffing should probably terrify you. Unless you think Harrison and Darvish are pretty close to equal going forward, you probably want Darvish starting in Yankee Stadium regardless of the platoon advantage.

Which means exactly what we hoped for when the season was just starting: Yu Darvish should probably take the mound in the opening game of the playoffs. The only realistic exception would be an AL East team overcoming Texas, and the Tigers overcoming the White Sox.

Eliminating someone is has a few factors to consider, but is also fairly straight forward. Scott Feldman and Ryan Dempster come out fairly similarly in peripherals. Derek Holland comes out similar to both of them in projections, and a stomach virus is a pretty believable expectation for why he is not so much. Pedigree seems like a decent enough reason to take Dempster, so we are left with Holland or Feldman. Both have experience as long relievers in the post season, but what they have different are handedness and profile.

Holland is more prone to long fly balls. Try and keep him out of Chicago, Arlington, New York, and Baltimore. Feldman makes sense against the White Sox and Orioles, anyway. Lefty-weak teams like Oakland and Detroit play it great spots for a fly ball pitcher. You see how this works out? Holland starts game two, Feldman is there to mess with the lineup if the manager stacks it with righties, logic is served.

If the team is the Yankees, who hate lefties but offer a home run park, then, um, trust the Rangers to do the right then.

So, there is the suggestion for what sort of ALDS rotation to see: Yu Darvish twice, except against the Tigers; Matt Harrison and Ryan Dempster once each; Derek Holland* in game two against the Athletics or Tigers; Scott Feldman once against anyone else.

*If the Rangers internal scouting says Derek Holland is healthy and pitching to his ceiling, go ahead and slot him over anyone but Darvish and be happy.

That's exactly what I expect the Rangers to do, too. They generally seem to do what makes sense with their playoff rotations.

For the second round, the same rules apply, but give Harrison an extra start, as well as Holland if you've got one of those three teams that struggles against lefties. And please, for the love of all that is holy, try and get Holland or Dempster two starts in a pitcher's park.

So, that is what the playoff rotation might/could/should look like. I expect there are probably a lot of reactions that sound sort of like "ew" upon looking at that. The Rangers are going to have success in October in spite of their rotation if they have any. They lack a true ace. They have rubbish in the back end. Just get it to the bullpen and pray the offense shows up.

Or not.

Verlander (DET) 3.20

Scherzer (DET) 3.47

Fister (DET) 3.68

Weaver (LAA) 3.71

Darvish (TEX) 3.29

Harrison (TEX) 3.56

Haren (LAA) 3.71

Porcello (DET) 4.07

Greinke (LAA) 3.36

Wilson (LAA) 3.58

Cobb (TBR) 3.90

Holland (TEX) 4.09

Sale (CHW) 3.64

Pettitte (NYY) 3.74

Kuroda (NYY) 4.01

Shields (TBR) 4.10

Price (TBR) 3.72

Moore (TBR) 3.86

Dempster (TEX) 4.09

Nova (NYY) 4.19

Sabathia (NYY) 3.74

Peavy (CHW) 3.97

Floyd (CHW) 4.19

Milone (OAK) 4.64

Hammel (BAL) 3.78

Chen (BAL) 4.05

Saunders (BAL) 4.41

Liriano (CHW) 4.76

McCarthy (OAK) 4.12

Parker (OAK) 4.17

Anderson (OAK) 4.64

Britton (BAL) 4.96

This chart is every contending team's top four playoff pitchers by ZiPS rest of season projection. Projection because a whole season is still not an adequate sample for declaring a pitcher's true talent (and because it's easy). Where I wasn't sure who a team intends to use, I went with the better player, and assumed Brandon McCarthy will be healthy because it makes the A's look better.

The number is projected ERA, after a park adjustment.

So, it actually looks like Texas stacks up pretty well with other playoff rotations, huh? You may not truly believe Darvish can be expected to be an ace like that, but even if you don't, there is no doom or gloom here.

The Rangers are in the top three in each spot in the rotation, save for the game three/third best starter. Detroit is the only team that would have the advantage on the mound here in every game. The Angels' have the clear advantage in spots three and four, and only a slight-and-hard-to-believe disadvantage in spots one and two, but outside of those two intimidating rotations, there is nothing here to suggest the Rangers do not have a strong, playoff-caliber rotation.

Oh, and those two rotations would not even be in the playoffs if the season ended today.

Ryan Dempster may not be a great pitcher, but he's adequate as a No. 3. If Derek Holland produces at least to this projection, he's a great No. 4. If Derek Holland produces more like we have seen him capable of in the past, he's a great No. 3, and Dempster takes his place at four.

Then you have the potential to use Holland and Feldman to mess with a team's platooning. And the dominant Texas bullpen. And the Texas gloves. And the Texas lineup. And, more than likely, an extra home game. All those things considered, the Rangers don't actually need to have a strong playoff rotation they can hold up against just about anyone else to be a frightening team in October.

But, they do anyway.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.