Texas Rangers: The Bad – The Bullpen
Wait, it’s not as bad as you might think! I’m here to serve as resident Bullpen Optimist. I could’ve swapped them into the Ugly category, but I didn’t. Here’s why.
Yes, the Rangers need a better batch of relief pitchers. What currently presides is a flurry of young guys who haven’t established any sort of command in the league, veterans far past their heyday, and a myriad of messy mechanics in between. But, would it surprise you to learn that the Rangers have the fourth highest strikeout rate of any bullpen in the American League? What if I told you that they have the second lowest bullpen WHIP in the AL West? Would that give you some hope?
I jest. Those things are true, and they are bright spots, but the pen needs work. Texas’s pitching as a whole currently ranks 28th in the majors with an OBA of .298. Only Kansas City has a worse staff in the American League, as the Rangers have surrendered 8.4 hits per game, 9 total home runs (all but one at the hands of the best lineup in baseball, but I digress), and hold a 5.91 team ERA.
I think there’s two sides to this coin. On the one hand, like I mentioned, Texas has faced two really solid lineups to start the year. Toronto is quite possibly the deepest team in baseball, and their whole brand is that they crush baseballs and they do not care who they have to hurt on the mound to do so. Colorado isn’t a slouch of an offense either. On the other hand, Texas is relying on a lot of guys with serious command issues. Kolby Allard had a great inning of work last night against Colorado, but he almost beaned two batters. Spencer Howard had absolutely no control over his pitches in the first few innings in the Toronto series finale. Taylor Hearn, for as exciting as his strikeouts and jam-escapes were, gifted Colorado a lot of hits.
The Rangers do not have a shutdown pitcher. Not one. There are many teams in the American League, let alone the division, with multiple just in their rotation or bullpen alone. If you want my optimist take, the starting pitching has been able to really limit damage. Excluding Spencer Howard’s start, Texas starters have yet to allow more than 3 earned runs in a start, which should be good enough to keep teams in games, and it has been.
We will have to see if that can sustain and who can emerge from an extremely thin bullpen, if anyone. Guys like Barlow, Santana, and others have specialties that make them better suited for late game management than others, and Jonathan Hernandez and Jose Leclerc’s returns could provide a shot in the arm that is so dearly needed, but only time will tell. We’ll know a lot more about the long-term stability of everyone in the pen come summer time.
How can an offense that has scored 30 runs in five games have issues, you might ask? Let’s dissect.
As of the morning of April 13, Texas is tied for seventh in the league with 37 hits through five games. At just over an average of seven a game, that’s not terrible, but it’s not enough when you’re not extending them into extra base hits and home runs. The Rangers have only hit four home runs in their four games since opening day, and none have come from Seager or Semien (the latter of whom we’ll talk about in the next slide. Texas has more home runs than any team in the National League through April 12. They currently rank in the top six in the majors in home runs, runs batted in and scored, and fewest strikeouts. However, the team has had 72 at-bats in five games in which runners have been left stranded as a result of said at-bat.
The root cause for this is that five of the six team leaders in hits (Seager, Garver, Lowe, Garcia, Miller) are top-two-thirds of the lineup guys. Calhouns Willie and Kole are a combined 2-24 with one RBI off a solo shot from the former in the home opener. The Rangers rank 22nd in the league in doubles (5), and 28 of the last 38 innings have been scoreless ones – five of those ten came in Sunday’s comeback win over Toronto. Texas needs fluidity and consistency from the bottom third of their lineup if they’re going to stay productive on offense. For a few games, homers were a dime a dozen. For another few, it’s been a drought.