Yesterday, Tanner Scheppers made his 4th start of the 2014 season, which was also only his 4th Major League start to date. The results were, well, disappointing.
Scheppers didn't make it out of the 3rd inning, lasting only 2.1 innings while surrendering 6 hits and 3 walks. His final line charged him with 6 earned runs, but he was pulled when, after giving up back-to-back home runs to Robinson Cano and Corey Hart, it became apparent that he wouldn't be able to pull it together. He followed those home runs with a groundout, a walk, and a single, at which point recent addition Hector Noesi was brought in to try to minimize the damage.
The Rangers went on to win 8-6, but for a starting rotation that has actually been a bright spot amidst early injuries heading into the season, Scheppers is quite clearly the weakest link.
When Matt Harrison returns -- likely sometime before the month of April comes to a close -- it appears that, barring injury, he'll be replacing Scheppers, which is a shame. The Rangers have long viewed Tanner as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter, but in his first foray, he's appeared out of place at best.
When the Rangers first drafted Scheppers, one of his calling cards was a wicked curveball, a pitch that has basically disappeared from his arsenal. According to the ESPN Stats & Information database, Tanner has yet to throw even one this season in his 4 starts.
Of the 346 pitches he's thrown so far in 2014, 252 have been classified as fastballs, and even worse, he's only managed to locate just over half of those in the strike zone.
On his fastball, hitters have torched Scheppers for a .359 average and an OPS of .901. His offspeed offerings have had slightly more mixed results, although the final tally doesn't look too much better.
Of Tanner's 94 offspeed offerings, 75 have been sliders, and 19 have been changeups. Hitters have put up a robust 1.667 OPS against the changeup, while the slider has fared a bit better with an OPS of .795.
Perhaps the one thing that has hurt Tanner Scheppers the most in his starts has been an inability to throw first pitch strikes. In Thursday's start against the Mariners, he often found himself working from behind, leaving hitters able to sit on the fastball.
When a pitcher has essentially two pitches, he's not going to be highly successful. Short of incorporating a knuckleball, pitchers with a limited arsenal end up in the bullpen, which is where Scheppers found some success in 2013.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Rangers will give Scheppers another look as a starter in the future, but for now, I'll be surprised if he takes more than one more turn in the rotation. Whatever happened to Tanner's curveball, he needs to find it. His changeup simply isn't good enough to get it done, and he doesn't seem to trust it enough to use it more than the 19 times he's thrown it so far.
When he finds himself down in the count, he starts trying to overthrow the fastball, leading to an elevated location that allows hitters to swing more freely for extra bases.
This could all be tolerated if Tanner found ways to gut out a solid start here and there, but thus far, he's been victimized by a big inning in each of his starts, and now finds himself sitting on 9.82 ERA and a WHIP of 1.909.
That's simply not good enough to be a starting pitcher. However, if the Rangers are able to move him back to the bullpen, where he can pitch single innings, his fastball offers enough upside to allow him to be an effective, if not bordering on elite, reliever.
This all assumes that Matt Harrison is effective enough to return by the end of April -- reports have his fastball in rehab starts sitting around 87-89, not the 94-96 he used to display -- but if he's able to return, we'll probably see Scheppers moved back to the bullpen.
I'd imagine the Rangers want to avoid using Joe Saunders again at all costs, and I'm sure some in the organization still believe in the potential upside of Scheppers in the rotation, so perhaps he'll stick for another start or two, but at this point, I've not seen anything to suggest that he's ready for this kind of role. Some pitchers just aren't made for the starting rotation, and I strongly believe this applies to Tanner Scheppers.