When it comes to the Texas Rangers, even the best laid plans of dogs and men can go awry. Derek Holland, a 27-year-old left-hander who posted a breakout season for the Rangers in 2013, will miss the start of the season (and possibly as much as the whole first half) after a freak collision with his dog on his home stairs resulted in a fall and injured his left knee. Holland required arthroscopic surgery and will have only limited activity over the next six weeks, USA TODAY Sports reports.
In past years, the loss of a quality pitcher like Holland would have been disastrous to the Rangers organization. Holland threw 213 innings with a 3.42 ERA last season, good for a 120 ERA+ -- with half his games coming at the launching pad known as The Ballpark in Arlington. Holland ranked 14th in innings pitched, 23rd in strikeouts and 11th in Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs -- finally, the prospect perennially labeled a future ace pitched like one.
In the early 2000s, the Rangers had no problem scoring runs, but the team was derailed by terrible pitching year in and year out. For those teams, the loss of a pitcher like Derek Holland would have been devastating. The Rangers allowed roughly six runs per game four times between 2000 and 2008. Only once in that span, in 2006, did the Rangers allow fewer runs than the league average -- 4.84 runs allowed against a league average of 4.86. Only Kenny Rogers (in both 2002 and 2005) managed to qualify for the ERA title and exceed Holland's 120 ERA+ over that span.
Since taking over in 2005, Jon Daniels has rebuilt the organization's pitching from the bottom up. It took a few years, but the Rangers have allowed fewer runs than the league average in four of the past five seasons (and just missed in the fifth):
*Data from Baseball-Reference.com
The Rangers can attribute much of this success to unprecedented pitching depth. Just eight Texas pitchers managed to post an above-average season (ERA+ of 101 or better) from 2000 through 2008. The club has matched that number in just five years since with the following crew: Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Scott Feldman, Colby Lewis, Kevin Millwood, Alexi Ogando, and C.J. Wilson. These pitchers have been supplemented by consistent reinforcements from the minor league system as well, a minor league system that remains healthy even as the Rangers have turned into a perennial playoff contender.
2014 should prove no different. Even without Holland, the Rangers can lead their rotation with a pair of studs in Darvish and Harrison (a 2012 All-Star who lost nearly all of 2013 to injury) as well a talented youngster in Martin Perez. The depth remains as well, as the Rangers look to have at least six viable candidates for those final two spots. The inside track likely belongs to Alexi Ogando and Colby Lewis, a pair of veterans who have performed excellently in starting roles when healthy.
Behind them, the Rangers boast a quartet of young hurlers. Nick Tepesch won the fifth starter spot last season amidst injury issues and performed admirably. Robbie Ross was an excellent left-handed reliever as a rookie in 2013 and would likely have been a starter on a team with less depth. Tanner Scheppers is expected to close but has scattered minor league experience as a starter. And Michael Kirkman, a former prospect, will get a chance to resurrect his once-promising career this spring. And all this depth remains even after the Rangers unloaded three minor league pitchers, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm, and Neil Ramirez, in the Matt Garza trade last season.
Of course, this all assumes the Rangers won't go out and make a move or two for more starting depth, which they certainly could -- Ervin Santana, A.J. Burnett, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez are still available top-tier free agents. A number of middle-tier options remain as well, such as Bronson Arroyo, Paul Maholm, James McDonald, Clayton Richard, Jerome Williams and more.
But this is precisely why the Rangers have worked so hard to build the pitching depth they currently boast. It's hard enough to predict and plan for pitcher injuries when they happen normally, much less when the injury in question is the result of a wayward dog running into a promising young star on his stairs at home. For most clubs, such a catastrophe would force a panic trade or signing to fill the vacated rotation slot.
The Holland injury will still hurt for Texas, and they will need him back sooner rather than later to compete with Oakland and the rest for the American League West crown. But few teams have been better equipped to handle the uncertainties of elbow ligaments, shoulder capsules, and even dog ownership like the Rangers, and that's why they can still be an October threat without one of their best starters around to open the season.