Week Two: The Bullpen Strikes Out

OK, that's a bad title.  But I couldn't get it out of my head.

[NOTE: insert gratuitous pic of Kylie Minogue's backside here.  We need *something* to distract us from this mess...]

Following Andrew Cashner's not-stellar debut, the story, either pushed by the Rangers or copied by the beat writers from each other, was that despite the outcome, the Rangers were pretty happy with Cashner.  And they were right to be.  While it's still a Small Sample Size (of one, sort of) a pitching performance can say a lot more than one at bat, or even a game of at bats.  I'm not gonna say that Cashner's performance had a real gem hidden inside; it didn't.  But it should have been worse than it was.  Cashner himself made a lot of good pitches, although his future success is going to largely depend on getting his strikeouts up.

Cole Hamels.  Geez, I don't want to have another "I told you so" year.  Having three pitchers that can't make it through six stresses the bullpen.  That's beyond the problem of having a clear #1 pitcher, a couple of MOTR guys, and a couple of back-enders.  But that could be worse.  A lot of teams don't even have that.

The bullpen is what has everyone worried, but there are several factors at play.  One is the apparent organizational philosophy of multi-inning relief efforts.  Except when you let some of your more capable pitchers only face one batter.  I...I just don't get it.  The multi-inning thing is real; they've done it over and over the last two years.  I didn't imagine it.  But if that's a philosophy thing, and not just a knee-jerk decision by *somebody*...then why do you bring your sharper guys in for only one batter?  Last year I surmised that Banister was going to use the first six weeks of the year to test his bullpen and find out what people could do.  I think he sort-of did that?  Maybe?  Except he kept doing the multi-inning thing a lot...but without any rhyme or reason that I could discern.  I really hope we find out what's going on, someday.

I didn't create this image.

I didn't create this image.

Once again, I got some people upset when I mentioned Banister's history of over-using arms.  The thing is, even when there is disagreement about the statement, I suspect the difference is actually over whether Banister is *right* to overuse arms...not that he *does* it.  Or to put it another way, that Banister does what is necessary to win ball games.  Banister had a bad bullpen to start the year last year, and he overused the arms that worked.  BUT, I would still make the point that he *continued* to overuse several relievers even when new bullpen pieces were provided.  In fact, several times over the past couple of years fresh arms were shipped to the dugout after some heavy usage...and Banister refused to play them.  A couple of these guys have since been traded away, both in fairly surprising moves.  My own supposition is that Banister wasn't going to use them, so Daniels traded them.  (I'm *guessing* about this, not making an accusation or anything like that.)

But anyway...let's throw the stuff we can argue about to the side, and look at how the actual relievers are performing.

Sam Dyson:  We're not talking about Sam Dyson.  He'll either be DL'd, at which point he will likely be done as Ranger reliever, or he gets one more shot or two BEFORE being DL'd, at which point he will likely be done as a Ranger reliever.  When Banister doesn't trust you, you will not be played.  Healthy Dyson will be traded or released.  NOTE: a few hours after publishing this piece, Dyson was sent to the Disabled List with a very plausible hand contusion. The severity of the bruise is unknown, as is the projected length of the DL stay. I suspect recovery from the bruise will require some rehab games, at least.

Mike Hauschild:  This one might surprise you.  The Rule 5 pick has to stay on the roster all season or be shipped back to Houston.  Here's what he's done, including the bad stuff:  ERA 9.64 FIP 7.65 xFIP 3.45.  That xFIP isn't bad, and indicates maybe he's had some bad luck.  Still, you would like a reliever closer to 3.2 and down, rather than 3.5 and up.  Batting average on balls in play:  .385.  That *is* some bad luck.  9.64 K/9:  That's pretty darn good.  1.93 BB/9:  That's decent, too.  A Home Run allowed every other inning:  that's not good.  But, I hope you can see why Hauschild will likely stick around...unless Banny stops using him.  Incidentally, Hauschild was a star pitcher on the Fresno Grizzlies team that beat Round Rock for the PCL championship in 2015.

Paw bumps!

Paw bumps!

Jeremy Jeffress:  His K's are way down, but so are his walks and BABIP.  FIP of 2.41 and xFIP of 3.45.  Really good ground ball percentage.  I think he'll be ok.  Maybe he'll ramp up the K's as the season progresses.

Alex Claudio's FIP and xFIP and complete lack of strikeouts indicate someone who isn't pitching as well as he appears to be.  A BABIP of .154 supports that conclusion.  Regression should still leave him as a really good long-man/middle reliever.

Dario Alvarez is the fill-in lefty specialist, and is probably best used in this role until he can be sent down to get some coaching at AAA.  He's likely to strike people out, but when he doesn't it's a walk or a home run.  A three true outcome pitcher.

The velocity is nice on Matt Bush, and I hope his brief DL stay actually helps, because he's not pitching as well as he did last year.  And because of the shoulder problems, I'm wary of predicting his upcoming performance, and a bit nervous of putting him in the closer role.

Jose Leclerc is actually pitching the way you usually want a closer to pitch.  I understand the arguments against making him a closer, but I think he's already shown he can just get up and pitch and stay within himself.  By far the best reliever in the bullpen.

You guys are gonna get sick of hearing it, but Tony Barnette is pitching a lot better than he looks.  Going into tomorrow his FIP will be about 3.5, with an xFIP around 3.  K/9 almost 1 per inning, no walks.  BABIP was .267; now .333 after Easter Sunday.

Diekman isn't going to be back soon.  He just had a new colon built this past weekend; or part of it.  I think he's still got six weeks recuperation,  then strength training, then some kind of spring training, then minor league games...I'll be amazed if he pitches for the big club this year.  I know that's not what the Rangers say, but that's what my math says.

Kela is in AAA for an alleged "bad behavior" incident in the clubhouse.  I know Kela is known for that, but clubhouse misbehavior bothers me.  It could mean either Kela is beyond regular control or the management group wasn't on top of things.  And if Kela and Banister have issues...then bringing Kela up from AAA isn't going to make much of a difference, because Banny won't use him.  NOTE:  A few hours after publishing, Kela was recalled when Dyson was DL'd, and was used to close out a game the same day.  Make of that what you will.

I know it seems like I'm closing out with doom and gloom here, but I really do think most of the guys up there are able to be included in a bullpen that can go three innings of one run baseball.  Surely we all want three innings of no-run ball, but that's not very realistic.  I am, despite all the reports about the starting rotation's ERA, more concerned about the starting rotation going forward than I am the bullpen.  Mainly because I know Daniels can keep finding sacrificial arms for the bullpen, regardless of the bullpen management problems.  Finding five guys who can keep five runs from crossing the plate is a different matter.  Texas is supposed to have three starting pitchers who can do that reliably, but Perez still has some history to overcome; and Hamels is.......whatever Hamels is now.  Both Griffin and Cashner have shown signs that they can do the job, but neither is a lock, either.

As far as the offense goes....I haven't been paying attention, honestly.  The Rangers seem to either score lots of runs or get shut out.  I don't know what that means.

Fine Lines and Dark Circles

For a moment, consider the following sequences:

  1. Single, ground out, single, double, ground out, single.
  2. Single, single, line out, walk, walk, grand slam.
  3. Home run, strikeout, double, fly out, double, single, fly out.

No, what you're reading is not the sleep-deprived musings of a maniac that stayed up to watch a West Coast game (On second thought, maybe you are), but the sequences of three of Sam Dyson's outings thus far in the 2017.

Those three outings, as it turns out, are the major difference between the Texas Rangers being currently 2-5 in the standings and what really could be 5-2. Even if we throw out one of those outings because Texas and Cleveland were tied heading into the ninth inning on Opening Night, that's still potentially 4-3 at worst, which, only seven games into the season, sounds a lot better in your head.

Yes, I might have dark circles under my eyes from a late extra-inning game, but I'm fully cognizant of the fact that there are some very fine lines between this team being very good and mind-numbingly frustrating.

Fine lines like Sam Dyson not transmogrifying into the second coming of Shawn Tolleson.

Fine lines like Rougned Odor's hardest-hit ball of the season (110.8 mph) lining straight into the first baseman's glove or Mike Napoli's would-be home run to center field getting robbed by Mike Trout.

And even fine lines like the one that decided the fate of last night's game by allowing Carlos Perez's squeeze bunt to score Cameron Maybin to remain fair instead of rolling foul.

During the course of a 162-game season, these sorts of breaks happen. Build up enough of them and you know what kind of team you have. Things like the bunt or Odor's line shot? Those things tend to even out.

Your closer going into full meltdown mode? You might want to address that problem before it turns into something much more dire.

The offense? Churning along just fine. Say what you will about the struggles of Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, and even Mike Napoli at the plate. If not for blowing a ninth inning lead last night, Texas would have the most runs scored in the American League with 38. As it stands, the four runs the Angels scored vaulted them into the top spot with 41. No matter, the offense is going to be perfectly fine.

For all the hand-wringing coming into the season over the starting rotation, it's been the bullpen -- a purported strength -- that has been the weakest link. Yes, Sam Dyson has been mostly awful despite lowering his ERA by three full runs last night. But if you think having Tanner Scheppers out of the mix and Keone Kela on disciplinary leave at Triple-A Round Rock and Matt Bush inexplicably unavailable to pitch after an off day doesn't make a difference in that picture, then I'm not sure what else to tell you.

Not to be an alarmist, and I've seen a few others mention it on Twitter, but from the television side of things, Sam Dyson didn't exactly look comfortable warming up in the bullpen last night. It could be nothing. Or, given that his max velocity has yet to reach his 2016 levels -- even after considering that MLB tracking is 0.7 mph faster on pitches this season than before -- perhaps there's an underlying issue there. Mechanics? Injury? Who knows!

Bush, for his part, is the most concerning. I don't really want to speculate on the reason for him being unavailable -- and Jeff Banister's non-committal response when asked if he would be available for tonight's game -- other than to say that I hope Banister was simply taking the easy way of implying that the ninth inning was Sam Dyson's no matter what last night.

So despite all of that, knowing that maybe Tanner Scheppers gets healthy, Keone Kela won't likely be in baseball timeout for much longer, and that we should have more answers on Matt Bush later today makes me feel a lot better about what has been the major reason for this ball club being unable to lock down games late.

Yes, it looks bad right now. It always does before the dust settles. Fine lines well become more defined as time goes by, and I'm still thinking that this version of the Texas Rangers has enough talent to be competitive and good. 

But really, maybe Sam Dyson shouldn't be pitching late in games for now.

Week One

Oh, so many things!

The Texas Rangers have lost 4 games and won 2; why do I feel so much better about the season right now?

What did I do?

What did I do?

Joey Gallo:  plate discipline is up, swinging strikes are down, and that's all it takes for Joey Gallo to do Joey Gallo things.  I wasn't impressed with his approach in his first few at bats, but Gallo just took a deep breath, centered himself, and then did something different.  That's the key, my friends.  Saying Joey Gallo is a success if he hits the ball hard is not accurate.  If Joey Gallo hits the ball right, then he's hitting the ball hard anyway.  He's a monster.  When Joey Gallo makes the pitcher throw HIS pitch, then Joey Gallo is a success.  Gallo is batting .200, slugging .500, and after another couple of good games, he'll likely have an OPS approaching 1.000.

That'll do, Joey.

Nomar Mazara:  .417/.462/.750/1.212.  Is he going to do this all year long?  Of course not.  But misplaying fly balls and running when you shouldn't (he'll learn, this guy is YOUNG) can be forgiven when you're batting enough for two people.

Carlos Gomez:  His bat isn't so hot, but it's as good as Ian Desmond's second half last year, and the defense is better.  For much less money.  Plus, we know the bat is still in there somewhere.

Rougned Odor:  .318/.348/.773/1.121.  And he does it while being Rougned Odor, which is a plus.

Elvis Andrus:  OPS over .900, which somewhat negates the need for dazzling glove work.  Elvis's glove has been fair to middling and occasionally sparkling, so we'll just have to see what we end up with.

Robinson Chirinos:  "Hey, Robbie, get in there and just do what you do. Make Martin Perez better, hit for power."  "Yeah, boss."  Does it.


Yu Darvish:  Hey, would you believe a huge number of Rangers fans, including people who write regularly about the team, still think Darvish is an overhyped, prima donna bum?  I'm on board with Texas trading him, now....just so people will STOP WHINING about the guy.  Darvish is a Top of the Rotation pitcher on any team that doesn't have Clayton Kershaw, or whoever is having his one-off Cy Young year.  I suspect he looks so bad to people when he's "off", only because he looks so good when he's on.  We've heard for a couple of years now, when Cole Hamels is "off", that he still finds a way to get 18 - 20 outs, limit runs (sometimes) and keep his team in the game (sometimes).  "That's the definition of an Ace, right there, ya sumbitches!"

Yeah, well, it's also the definition of Yu Darvish in the MLB.

Cole Hamels's performance was a mixed bag.  The good news is that the warning signs are the kinds of things that can easily smooth out over a few games.  In fact, he has some of the same problems, statistically, that Darvish has.  The difference between the two is that, again statistically, Darvish kept the game more under control than Hamels did.  Not by a big margin; it's important to stress that.  I am NOT saying "Darvish is clearly good and Hamels is clearly bad"; not at all.  But Hamels doesn't throw as hard as Darvish, and he's older, and he had a lot of warning signs last year, too...

I guess I'll just say that Hamels's situation is "developing".  My best case prediction is that he'll do about what he did last year, except he'll have 1 or 2 fewer good games.  Which will make him a pretty decent pitcher.

Slow pitch.

Slow pitch.

Martin Perez:  Martin Perez is the best pitcher on the Texas Starting Pitcher staff after one week.  If he did this in every start, and made every start (he will do neither), he would be a 9 bWAR pitcher and a controversial Cy Young winner, probably.  The good news is that when you regress him back a bit, and figure the negative bits of his game will player a bigger role, then maybe Perez will still be a 3 or 4 WAR pitcher for Texas this year...which is EXACTLY what they expect and want from him.

That's all of the really good stuff.  I know people want to grouse about the bullpen, but the bottom line is "It is what it is".  I don't like the closer role, but Jeff Banister does, and by all accounts buys into the psychological part of "being a closer".  Ergo, Sam Dyson will be the closer until Jeff Banister believes his ego is crushed (never mind his arm).  I don't get it, but that's how Banister rolls his bullpen.  Bush is good.  Jeffress seems locked in, and can probably do a lot more than he's been doing...but that's up to the manager.  Claudio...man, he really has made an art form of multi-inning relief.  That's something that Texas has clearly tried to develop with a handful of of their relievers...and if you haven't noticed, it's something that's becoming more prominent throughout MLB (Trevor Bauer, anyone?)  Claudio and Barnette have both proven out what I wrote last year in some of my xFIP posts:  they're both much better than their reputation, and their appearance.  If only Banister would do with closer what he's doing with the rest of the bullpen.  Say, with Jose Leclerc, the man who owns a .273 WHIP, 12.3K/9, and NO WALKS.  That sounds like closer to me.

Hm.  So I guess I wrote about the bullpen anyway.

The ugly stuff, or "why the Rangers won't win 100 games"(at this point):

Napoli:  I suspect he'll keep doing what he's been doing (hit a dinger a week) with bad 1B defense.  He'll go the DL eventually, possibly the 60 day and his year will be over.  I suspect he's already hurt, based on how he's moving.  Could be wrong.  I also suspect, despite media reports, Texas didn't try all that hard to sign Napoli, but there was enough doubt in the slugging department that when he got cheaper than anyone ever thought, Daniels just said "what the hell" and called his agent.

Choo:  He'll either come around, or he won't.  Probably he'll be hurt soon.  This is his fourth year with Texas; he's signed for three after this.  And like Josh Hamilton, I just don't see how he contributes all that much from this point onward.  He's been hurt more than I think anyone really foresaw, except for some guy in the comments section somewhere who said it from the time Choo was signed.

Lucroy:  Now would be a good time to sign him to an extension.  I would go five years, but it would have to be creative to be worth the money.  Catchers carry a lot of risk, but it's Lucroy's bat that gets cold, not his hands or mind.  Just my 2 cents.  Also, no; I don't seriously think Lucroy will be a drag on the team all year.  But he sure has stunk so far.

Beltre:  Doesn't belong on this list.

Did I miss anyone?  Disagree?  Let me hear it.

The Rangers Are 1-3

Isn't winning fun?

  • A.J. Griffin took the mound tonight, and immediately put his defense to the test. By defense, I mean Carlos Gomez. In the top of the first inning, Gomez recorded all three outs in center field, one a ball that he tracked to the wall and saved from being what looked as if it would have otherwise been a home run. Way to go, Carlos.
  • In the bottom of the first, Gomez became a catalyst for the offense. He led off with a double, advanced to third on a Shin-Soo Choo groundout, and then on a weird play in which Nomar Mazara hit the ball to first base, bolted for home on contact. He slid around the tag at home, getting his hand on the plate and giving Texas a 1-0 lead. Also, it was ruled that Yonder Alonso hadn't touched first base, so Mazara was ruled safe.
  • Rougned Odor continued his powerful start to the season, belting his third long ball of the season and putting Texas up 3-0 heading into the second inning.
  • Griffin had a painless second inning, holding the 3-0 lead he was given. In the bottom half of the second, Joey Gallo led off with a walk and advanced on a groundout by Elvis Andrus. Jurickson Profar walked, and then Gomez was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Choo.
  • Choo singled on a hard-hit ball to center field, making it 4-0 Texas. Then, Mazara provided the highlight play of the game, hitting a grand slam to straightaway center field and making it 8-0 Texas.
  • At that point, it was thought that the Rangers could coast to the finish line. Of course, if you've watched the first three games of the season, you probably didn't yet feel comfortable. Griffin gave up a three-run home run in the third, then a solo shot to Khris Davis in the fourth.
  • In that fourth, Griffin attempted to keep an errant throw from bouncing out of the field of play and found himself on the ground. He appeared to have suffered some scraping on his pitching hand, and was promptly pulled from the game in favor of Alex Claudio. Griffin's final line was 3.1 IP, four hits, four runs (all earned), two walks, and two strikeouts. He wasn't exactly sharp, giving up a lot of hard contact, and even before the tumble near the camera well, he didn't appear to be long for this game. I tend to wonder if Mike Hauschild will get a shot sooner rather than later.
  • In the bottom of the sixth, Elvis Andrus led off with a double of his own. Following that, Profar got ahead in the count 3-0, then ended up striking out in one of the poorest sequences of hitting I think I've seen so far in 2017.
  • Carlos Gomez followed with an RBI double of his own, and Mazara singled on a ball to left field that was, quite possibly, a more impressive piece of hitting than his grand slam earlier in the game. The hit scored Gomez from second, making it 10-4.
  • In the bottom of the eighth, Mazara hit another ball to left field. The Big Chill has easily been the most impressive part of the young season so far, and much of that has been due to his plate coverage skills. After initial success followed by some struggles in his 2016 rookie campaign, it's a good bet that Nomar will end up being an important part of anything the Rangers do in 2017.
  • Jose Leclerc came in to work the ninth inning. Stephen Vogt reached on a Rougned Odor error and later scored on a Yonder Alonso double. Marcus Semien then grounded out to end the game, with the Rangers winning 10-5.
  • Not a bad first win of the season, at least as far as the offense was concerned. The starting pitching needs to be better, but will have a chance to begin righting the ship tomorrow evening as Yu Darvish takes the mound for the second game of the series.