Most everyone in and around the game of baseball loves the pitch clock (me included), but could it actually be a factor in the Texas Rangers' bullpen struggles? That question sounds like an excuse for walking too many batters or not executing pitches. I am in no way trying to justify the horrific start of the season for the bullpen, but I do believe that there could be something to this.
As good as the pitch clock is, everyone knew that there would be some unintended consequences. You can't change the way the game has been played since its infancy and expect everything to go just as planned with no collateral damage.
Texas Rangers' bullpen needs to adjust to pitch clock
Most of the public complaints from players have been from the batter's perspective. Some appear to be rushed and aren't completely comfortable digging in and getting on with the at bat without their historical stepping out and adjusting of gloves or other gear. While there are less complaints coming from the pitcher's side of the equation, there is starting to be more and more hurlers that are speaking out about the new rule.
In a recent episode of Audacy's Baseball Isn't Boring Podcast, Boston Red Sox closer Kenley Jansen talked candidly about the pitch clock and how it has changed the game from a relief pitchers' standpoint. No longer is he able to step off, take a deep breath and reset himself. Instead it is pedal to the metal the entire time that he is out there. Check out Jansen's quote from the episode below about the game speeding up on him and not being able to handle the situation as he did in the past.
"You’re learning and adjusting right now, especially when you come out there and you’re not throwing strikes. It can get a little challenging. What would you do if there’s no pitch clock there? You learn how to slow down the game, reset your mind, go back out there and attack the zone. That’s the one thing for me, I’m learning how to adjust to that. As a closer, what you learn is to slow the game down because the game will speed up on you. In the ninth inning, it will speed up quick on you. That’s the challenging part. I have to figure that part out still."- Kenley Jansen
What Jansen is saying is what we have witnessed from much of the Rangers' bullpen this season. They come in, throw a few balls early and instead of being able to slow down and get themselves into a groove, they are forced to press on quickly and many times the results have been less than favorable. Again, this is not an excuse, and they will have to adjust to the pitch clock rules. However, this is a real issue.
Part of the adjustment will be from the coaching staff. The approach of slowing down that Jansen was talking about, has been something that baseball coaches have been preaching to pitchers for decades. Now they are going to have to prepare their staff in different ways. Baseball is very much a physical sport, but the mental side of the game is not to be discounted. Perhaps the late, great Yogi Berra had it right when he said, "Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical."
Some might argue that this isn't a real issue, because the Rangers' starting rotation doesn't seem to be having any problems with the pitch clock. While that is true, it is about a struggling pitcher having things escalate quickly on them and not being able to reset before it spirals out of control. The first several weeks of the season, when the bullpen was firing on all cylinders, this wasn't an issue either. The pitch clock only speeds up for the struggling pitcher and not the one that is in a groove and commanding the zone from the beginning of their outing.
Texas Rangers' coaching staff working to adapt to pitch clock
Ok, so perhaps the pitch clock is one factor that is hurting the Rangers' bullpen at the moment, now what? The mental coaches, as well as Bruce Bochy and Mike Maddux are, and will be, working overtime to get things figured out and get the bullpen right. A reliever doesn't have time to get right when they come into the game anymore, they have to be there when the bullpen door opens, and they step onto the field.
Perhaps the slowing down of things needs to happen in the pen itself. This could be a challenge, as they are hurrying to get warmed up, but something to be explored. Bochy and Maddux could help this, by making sure that they are getting guys up in plenty of time and not being caught off guard quite as often. The games are moving at a much quicker pace and there is little time to hesitate to get an arm warm. The flip side of that, is running the risk of having someone warm up to quickly and them not be needed. It appears that erring on the side of having someone ready is the way to go. Not only do they get to come into the game in peak form, but the reliver on the mound isn't left out to dry while things spiral out of control.
The Texas Rangers' bullpen is obviously the key issue with the team at the moment. There are many factors to this and quite frankly several different solutions to the problem. The pitch clock isn't helping, but it is here to stay. The quicker that everyone in the organization is able to adjust to the new normal, the better the bullpen results will be.