We're 25 games into the 2014 season, which represents roughly 16% of the games on the schedule. So with that, I figured now was as good of a time as any to take a look at the bullpen.
As of this morning, the Rangers rank 27th in baseball in terms of bullpen ERA, which sits at 4.93. That's only ahead of Houston, Detroit, and Philadelphia. If we look based on SIERA -- which attempts to account for a pitcher's performance, including balls in play -- the bullpen sits at 26th in baseball.
Of course, if we throw out the Hector Noesi performance against the Chicago White Sox from just over a week ago -- a game in which he gave up 7 earned runs in an inning -- things likely look a lot better. Yet, we can't just do that.
Note: Apparently the White Sox were so impressed by Noesi's outing that day that they claimed him off of waivers.
Now, rather than imply that Noesi is the cause of the bullpen being bad, I'd rather like to think of him as a symptom. As in, the fact that Hector Noesi was in the bullpen in the first place was probably a good sign that bullpen depth was already an issue.
Regardless, the whole reason I bring up the bullpen is due to the way in which Neal Cotts and Alexi Ogando lost two games for the Rangers over the weekend: Two games the Rangers should have won in Seattle.
Now, I understand the currently popular narrative that this team is doing better than we should expect, etc. To that, I say: phooey. You win the games in front of you, and while I'm certainly OK with a 15-10 record when looking at the bigger picture, that doesn't stop me from wanting those wins in the short-term. Acknowledging that this team has, overall, been solid when we could have expected much worse doesn't mean that I can't bemoan the fact that the club just lost 2 of 3 instead of sweeping in Seattle.
Alexi Ogando is one of the most inconsistent pitcher's in the Rangers bullpen. When he's on, he's blowing hitters away. When he isn't, however, you get a 3-run, go-ahead home run from Kyle Seager. Ogando's fastball velocity averaged 97mph as recently as 2012. Then, he topped out at 100. Probably due to being 30 now, his fastball velocity sits around 94, topping out at 96. That may not seem like much, but for a guy who spent the first part of his career as a reliever that just blew guys away, it can make a huge difference.
With that said, I didn't necessarily blame Ogando for not being at his sharpest against Seattle on Sunday. For some reason, with Jason Frasor rested, Ron Washington chose to pitch Ogando for a third straight day. It's easy to second-guess the manager after the fact, but if we simply look at the process by which the decision was made, this call didn't make a whole lot of sense.
On Friday, Neal Cotts gave up 4 earned runs in the 8th inning to turn a 3-2 lead in to a 5-3 deficit. His ERA now sits at 7.27. Although his xFIP of 3.75 and SIERA of 3.25 would seem to suggest that he's not all THAT bad, it's still well off from where he was in 2013.
Note: I want to know if anyone has looked into the possibility that Neal Cotts is like Samson, and having cut his hair, he's not as effective.
In 2013, Cotts tended to work the outer half of the plate against lefties, and he worked hard inside on righties. So far in 2014, that hasn't been the case.
As you can see, Cotts is leaving a ton of pitches over the heart of the plate so far in 2014, and hitters are feasting on it. I had originally intended to split the heat map out between lefties and righties, but they actually looked virtually identical.
The good news? For Cotts, this is repairable. If he finds his command and starts locating better, then the bullpen will be better for it.
Unfortunately, for the rest of the bullpen, there don't seem to be any prime candidates for a mid-season callup and domination from the bullpen. Michael Kirkman is getting hit hard in Round Rock, Cory Burns is, well, Cory Burns, and it would seem that the organization views Nick Tepesch as a starter, although his numbers have looked great thus far.
Bullpens are fickle as is, and it could be that two weeks from now, we'll be praising them as a collective unit and wondering why we ever doubted. Until then, however, the prevailing hope will have to be that Tanner Scheppers is able to recover soon enough to come off of the DL and provide some help in the 8th-inning relief role. It's a role he flourished in last season, and a role the Rangers have struggled to adequately fill 25 games into the season.
Tonight would be a really great night for Yu Darvish to go deep into a game against Oakland.