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The untold story about the Rangers

As Neil Paine writes, these Texas Rangers are radically different from the Rangers, not so long ago, who had the game's highest-paid player and their division's worst record. According to Paine, the transformation has been all about priorities:

    Largely because of the money annually tied up in paying their star shortstop, Texas devoted only 31.4 percent of its payroll to the pitching staff, the lowest proportion in the American League from 2001 to 2003.
    Not coincidentally, the Rangers also had by far the American League’s worst earned run average over that span, allowing 151 more runs than any other team. Even when Hicks tried to pay for proven pitching, most notably with the signing of Chan Ho Park before the 2002 season, it backfired: pitching in the hitter-friendly Ballpark in Arlington, Park had easily the worst E.R.A. in baseball among pitchers with 270 or more innings from 2002 to 2004.--snip--

    The Texas club facing Rodriguez’s Yankees on Friday, though, will be drastically different from the one Rodriguez knew. Gone are the days of one-dimensional baseball in Arlington — Texas not only scored the fourth most runs of any American League team in 2010, but it also had the league’s third best E.R.A.

    And the star of these Rangers isn’t a slugger, but rather a pitcher, Cliff Lee, one of the best left-handed starters in the game.

    This change in philosophy, guided by Nolan Ryan, has put the Rangers on a collision course with one of the biggest ghosts from their past. If nothing else, the A.L.C.S. will give Texas a chance to show Rodriguez how far they’ve come since signing him a decade ago.

In the Rangers' case, what's been more important than the percentage of payroll spent on pitching, or the raw amount of dollars spent on pitching, has been the actual pitchers.

Paine does mention that the Rangers did spend big money on Chan Ho Park. Let me mention this, too ...

In both 2002 and 2003, Rodriguez earned roughly $23 million per season (including bonuses). In both 2002 and 2003, the Rangers' payroll topped $100 million. This season, the Rangers' payroll was slightly less than $70 million (not including what they're sending to A-Rod; ah, the gift that keeps on giving).

In other words, even if you remove Rodriguez from the equation, the Rangers were spending more money in 2002 and '3 than they've spent in 2010. And that's without an adjustment for inflation.

Granted, they are spending more than 31 percent of their payroll on pitching this season. By my (admittedly) rough count, it's somewhere between 40 and 45 percent. But that includes the $6.5 million that's been utterly wasted on Rich Harden, the Rangers' highest-paid (by a lot) pitcher. The Rangers' next-highest-paid pitchers -- not including Cliff Lee, whose salary was subsidized by the Mariners -- are setup men Frank Francisco and Darren Oliver. The Rangers are paying their key starters -- Lee, C.J. Wilson, and Colby Lewis -- relatively little, and of course closer Neftali Feliz is still earning a rookie's salary.

In fact, one of the untold stories of this season is the Rangers' relatively small payroll. Those cash-poor Tampa Bay Rays? Their payroll was larger than the Rangers' this season. Those plucky small-market Cincinnati Reds? Larger payroll than the Rangers'. The Giants and the Braves and the Twins and the Phillies all spent substantially more than the Rangers. And the Yankees ... well, you know about them.

The key to the Rangers' transformation isn't that they're spending more money on pitching. The key is that with essentially just one exception (Harden), what money they have spent on pitching, they've spent well.