The Texas Rangers had a successful regular season that saw them win the AL West and make the playoffs for the fifth time in the last seven years.
Despite winning the AL West in 2015, the Texas Rangers were not the consensus favorite to win the division again in 2016. Sports Illustrated predicted they would finish second in the West behind the Astros, but would still win 90 games and make the playoffs as a wild card team. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA was less confident, picking the Rangers to finish under .500, with a record of 80-82. Fangraphs was the least confident of them all, picking the Rangers to finish tied with the Oakland Athletics at the bottom of the division, with a record of 79-83.
The Rangers actually won 95 games, the most in the American League. They ran away with the AL West, finishing nine games ahead of the second-place Seattle Mariners. The Rangers scored the fourth-most runs in the American League but also allowed the third-most runs.
In fact, the Rangers’ run-differential was just +8. They scored eight more runs than they allowed. There were seven teams in the American League with a better run-differential. How did the Rangers lead the league in wins despite such a mediocre run-differential? They did it by going 36-11 in games decided by one run, by far the best record in baseball.
Winning such a high percentage of one-run games is great during the season because those are actual victories. The Rangers won 95 games and made the playoffs. It was a very successful regular season. Then they got swept in the playoffs by the hated Toronto Blue Jays. It was the second year in a row in which they lost in the divisional series round. So it was good and it was bad.
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That 36-11 record in one-run games, though, that’s a little frightening for the team’s prospects moving forward. Here are some numbers to consider:
751 runs scored
733 runs allowed
+18 run differential
27-22 one-run games
83-79, .512 expected record
765 runs scored
757 runs allowed
+8 run differential
36-11 one-run games
82-80, .506 expected record
Expected record is based on runs scored and runs allowed. The 2015 Rangers won five more games than would be expected based on their runs scored and runs allowed. They were a little “lucky.” The 2016 Rangers were VERY “lucky.” They won 13 more games than would be expected based on their runs scored and runs allowed.
Again, this doesn’t matter for this season. Those games are already in the record books. It does matter for next year, though. It will be almost impossible for the Rangers to win 75% of their one-run games next year. Consider where the Rangers placed in key statistics in 2015 and 2016:
8th in wOBA (98 wRC+)
5th in defense
19th in starting pitcher fWAR (4.32 ERA, 4.39 FIP)
25th in relief pitcher fWAR (4.12 ERA, 4.26 FIP)
10th in wOBA (98 wRC+)
13th in defense
22nd in starting pitcher fWAR (4.38 ERA, 4.69 FIP)
24th in relief pitcher fWAR (4.40 ERA, 4.38 FIP)
- wOBA = A rate stat that credits a hitter for the value of each outcome; scaled to on-base percentage.
- wRC+ = Weighted Runs Created Plus—measures offense on a scale of 100 where 100 is average. A wRC+ of 120 means a player or team is 20% better than average on offense. A wRC+ of 99 means a player or team is 1% below average on offense. This metric is adjusted for league and ballpark.
- fWAR = Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement—the number of wins a player would produce over a replacement-level player (like a player called up as a replacement from Triple-A).
- ERA = Earned Run Average
- FIP = Fielding Independent Pitching—estimates a pitcher’s run prevention independent of the performance of their defense.
Based on the underlying metrics, the 2016 Rangers were not as good as the 2015 team on offense, defense, or starting pitching. The bullpen finished slightly better. They won more games because of that excellent record in one-run games.
Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly for the Texas Rangers in 2016.