Unexpected Rangers starter could be odd man out when Michael Lorenzen debuts

With Michael Lorenzen set to join the Rangers starting rotation soon, someone may be sent to the bullpen. The most likely candidate through the first couple weeks is not who many Rangers fans expected, though.
Chicago Cubs v Texas Rangers
Chicago Cubs v Texas Rangers / Stacy Revere/GettyImages

The starting rotation has been the main concern for Texas Rangers fans and the front office alike coming into the 2024 season. Through the first few series, though, all but one of the starters has had a promising outing. Unfortunately, on the flip side, Jon Gray has struggled so far, both in his first start against the Cubs, as well as more recently against the Astros. Here are the rotation's cumulative stats so far:

Nathan Eovaldi: 2 starts, 13 IP, 2 ER, 2 BB, and 11 Ks

Cody Bradford: 2 starts, 12.2 IP, 3 ER, 4 BB, 7 Ks

Dane Dunning: 2 starts, 13.0 IP, 6 ER, 7 BB, 14 Ks

Andrew Heaney: 1 start, 4.2 IP, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 Ks

Jon Gray: 2 starts, 7.1 IP, 5 ER, 6 BB, 5 Ks

It was initially believed that Cody Bradford was the fringe starter in this staff and was in line to be sent to the bullpen when Michael Lorenzen was ready to join the rotation. But early in the 2024 season, Bradford has proved to be an asset to this rotation. His 7.2 inning shutout outing on Friday night against Houston was dominant and easily the best performance of his career. Bradford's early success, paired with Jon Gray's continued woes, could see the defending champs sending Gray to the bullpen instead of Bradford.

Texas Rangers could banish Jon Gray to bullpen, keep Cody Bradford in rotation

The same thing that has Bradford excelling is why Jon Gray is struggling: control. Bradford displayed the ability to place pitches pretty much anywhere he wanted on Friday night, and his rotation-leading 0.47 WHIP is indicative of how hard it has been for batters to get on base against him. Gray, on the other hand, has a whip of 2.45, which is well over a full point higher than anyone else in the rotation. He leads the current group in hits and walks allowed.

If you've watched his starts, those numbers aren't surprising. He's missing his spots a lot, either out of the zone or right in the middle of it. It also doesn't help that he really only uses two pitches effectively: his fastball and his slider. Those two pitches account for 76% of the pitches he throws, according to Baseball Savant. Ideally, a pitcher has at least three pitches he can confidently throw for the sake of being able to keep hitters guessing on what pitch is coming. That's especially necessary when having to face a hitter multiple times.

Gray's predictability and lack of execution early in the 2024 season are unfortunately just a continuation of the struggles he had last season as a starter -- the same struggles that saw him sent to the bullpen during the postseason. But if there was a bright spot for Gray in the 2023 season, it was his bullpen contributions during the postseason.

He has shown the ability to be effective in shorter stints during those October outings. Hitters get fewer opportunities to face him and the predictability becomes much less of an issue when he only has to face a hitter once. All he has to do is execute. It could also allow him to build back some confidence if he experiences success in smaller stints and lower pressure situations. So if the Rangers decide to send someone to the bullpen as opposed to running with a six-man rotation, it should be Jon Gray.