Sizing Up The Rangers: The Bullpen


Jun 14, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher

Joakim Soria

(28) pitches to the Seattle Mariners during the ninth inning at Safeco Field. Texas defeated Seattle 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers Bullpen has been poor overall to date this season, it currently ranks 27th overall in Major League Baseball with a 4.47 ERA. There are a couple factors that have led to this breakdown:

  1. Overuse. The Rangers bullpen has logged 219.2 IP this season. While this total is not astronomically high (it is 10 IP greater than ML average), it is higher than each of the Rangers’ in-division rivals. Seattle’s pen has been preserved particularly well; it has thrown just 194 innings and may be benefiting from conservative use considering its impressive 2.69 ERA. The Rangers rotation has to pick up part of the slack by getting deeper into games and leaving with leads.
  2. Role Changes. The Rangers choices to move both Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross to the rotation at the seasons outset appears to have been a mistake in retrospect. Ross performed his way out of his role in 9 starts despite the Rangers lack of depth and has since been even more ineffective in the ‘pen. He owns a 7.71 ERA through 11.2 innings as a reliever with a 1.97 WHIP and .412 BAA. Scheppers has already twice been on the DL and gave up 3 runs in just 4.2 relief innings between stints.
  3. Regression. Neal Cotts has been decent this season but the Rangers have come to expect more of him in light of his exceptional 2013 campaign. This year, Cotts has already given up 4 more earned runs than he had all of last year. He has also already matched his total in losses (3) and given up just 7 fewer hits than he permitted all of last year. Alexi Ogando has also regressed (regressed might be a euphemism). Following 2010 and 2012 campaigns in the bullpen and 2011/2013 stints in the rotation, Ogando’s effectiveness has finally worn down. He was throwing slower than he used to from the bullpen at 93.9 mph on average (down from 96.9 mph in 2012) and had a 6.84 ERA (1.92 WHIP) before recently succumbing to a DL stint for a sore elbow.

Fortunately, the Rangers has benefited from a healthy and very effective Joakim Soria at the end of their bullpen. Jason Frasor has also improved this year to make himself a fixture in Ron Washington’s late inning plans. Additionally, young throwers like Aaron Poreda (though he is currently in AAA) and Shawn Tolleson have stepped up to be effective inning eaters (they have ERAs of 3.29 and 3.24 respectively).

Thus far, the difference between and weak bullpen and effective one has been the previously potent weapons out of the ‘pen. Should Alexei Ogando and Tanner Scheppers return from the DL healthy and refreshed the impact on late inning depth would be immediately apparent. Should Robbie Ross and Neal Cotts progress closer toward their expected value as well, the Rangers bullpen issues would seemingly melt away entirely.   But there is no guarantee any of that will happen.

Should the Rangers pull together a second half run and secure a playoff spot, the bullpen will be a big reason why. The average Major League bullpen has a 3.62 ERA. Today, Soria, Frasor, Tolleson and Cotts all have ERA’s below or right at that number. To make the pen a strength though at least three (or four) more men must step up to help make a dependable unit.  The playoffs especially require an effective relief corps.  Fans might remember Alexei Ogando’s performance in the 2011 ALCS (sub 1.00 WHIP) and compare that to his performance in the WS (5.25 WHIP).

For now, the Rangers bullpen must get help from the rotation and continue to receive support from its more unlikely and untenured members. Going forward, I believe the Rangers higher-ups have to do a better job defining the roles of their pitchers and sticking to that definition. Tanner Scheppers had arm problems in the past and his new role as a starter could have resurrected some of those issues. Alexei Ogando has been the swingman for four years and has been consistently breaking down over the last one and a half. Neftali Feliz still isn’t right. The C.J. Wilson experiment paid huge dividends and any players value spikes as a starter, but the Rangers tinkering my have been the undoing of the bullpen this year.