Rangers positional review: Whew, I guess let’s talk about the starting pitching

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The Texas Rangers finished with a record of 68-94, tied […]

The Texas Rangers finished with a record of 68-94, tied with the Colorado Rockies for the seventh-worst record in the sport. After the season, they fired one pitching coach (Doug Mathis) and reassigned the other (Brendan Sagara). If that’s all you knew, you could piece together the broad strokes for this article. But sure, let’s list some numbers to quantify it.

Starting woes

STAT RANKING (of 30)

ERA

4.63

25

Strikeouts

694

20

Walks

317

29

Hits

800

18

Home Runs

103

12

FIP

4.42

24

WPA

-6.79

28

fWAR

5.8

27

Not included in that table (because I couldn’t separate fielding stats by starters and relievers on FanGraphs) were the fielding stats for Rangers pitchers, but they were also quite bad. They were worth -8 Defensive Runs Saved this year, good for 25th in the league.

While there are some bright spots — the starters finished in the top half of the league in home runs allowed — the overview is pretty bleak and would have been starkly bleaker had Martín Pérez not put forth the performance of a lifetime, making his first All-Star squad and buoying the rotation every fifth day all season long. General manager Chris Young wasn’t blind to it — he identified starting pitching as the team’s first priority this offseason, and re-signing Pérez should be at the top of that list of priorities. While we wait for that to happen, let’s hand out some grades.

Martín Pérez

What is there to say about Pérez’s 2022 season that hasn’t already been said? He became the first qualifying starting pitcher to finish with a sub-3.00 ERA (2.89) since Yu Darvish (2.83) did it in 2013, and the first Rangers left-hander to do it since C.J. Wilson (2.94) in 2011. To find a lower ERA by a qualifying left-handed pitcher in Texas, you have to go all the way back to 1982 when Rick Honeycutt (2.42) pulled it off.

Pérez did it while throwing nearly 22 more innings than Honeycutt, with 196 1/3, good for 10th in all of baseball. He also finished third in the sport with .504 home runs per nine innings (he allowed 11 all year) and batters faced (821).

Part of assigning grades has been comparing the results to the expectations. Here’s what I wrote when the Rangers brought Pérez back this spring on a one-year deal worth $4 million:

His past three years — one in Minnesota and two in Boston — don’t provide much in the way of a dramatic turnaround; he has gone a combined 20-20 with a 4.88 ERA and 278 strikeouts against 131 walks in 341 1/3 innings over 80 games (63 starts). If he had become a slam-dunk world-beater, you can bet the price tag for a one-year deal wouldn’t have been as low.

To go from that to his first All-Star berth? Yeah, that’s an easy one.

Grade: A+

When he was healthy, Gray was very good. In fact, he was worth the ninth-most bWAR on the team this season. Unfortunately, that means that 1.4 bWAR was good enough for ninth-best on the team. In his first year with the Rangers, Gray pitched around a handful of injured list stints to log 127 1/3 innings, striking out 134 and walking just 39. On a staff that allowed so many walks this year, his relatively low walk rate was a welcome change of pace. He also led all Rangers starters with 9.47 K/9 — the next-highest among starters was Pérez at 7.75, assuming you count Taylor Hearn (8.73) as a reliever, which we’re going to do, despite his 13 starts being the fifth-most on the team.

If Gray can stay healthy in 2023, he’ll be a nice complement to whomever the Rangers acquire for the top of the rotation.

Grade: B-


Glenn Otto. (Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)

Since we’re doing grades, I think it’s useful to split Otto’s season into trimesters. From April 22 (which is when Otto was called up to join the big-league squad) through June 4 (his last start before being placed on the COVID-19 IL), Otto had an ERA of 4.24 in eight starts, over which he logged 33 strikeouts and 23 walks and allowed five home runs over 40 1/3 innings. That’s way too many walks, but by and large, he was able to work around them to keep it from getting too disastrous.

First grade: C

He returned on June 26, and while he insisted that there were no lingering effects from the illness, his next 10 starts churned out these results: 5.55 ERA with 37 strikeouts and 26 walks, with eight home runs allowed over 48 2/3 innings. He was still allowing too many walks, only now the runs were scoring at a higher rate.

Second grade: D-

And then something flipped. Over his last nine starts of the season, Otto pitched 46 2/3 innings and his ERA was 4.03. He still allowed eight home runs, but those came with fewer men on base, since his 37 strikeouts came with only 13 walks.

Third grade: B

For Otto to be in the rotation on a contending team, he will have to completely eliminate the first two trimesters of the 2022 season and likely have to improve a bit on the third one. But it was encouraging to see improvement as the season came to a close.

Overall grade: C

It’s probably just because I cover the Rangers, but I can’t help but think of Colby Lewis as a ceiling for Dunning. Lewis didn’t throw particularly hard, but when he returned from Japan, he succeeded with guile and command, posting a K/9 of just 7.3, but a BB/9 of 2.3. He got bad contact and kept his team in the game, and had a lot of success as a result. It’s a little funny to think of the comparison between the two people — If Lewis is a Budweiser vinyl on a muscle car parked beside the family grill, Dunning is a headset connected via Bluetooth to an intense game of Skyrim — but if Dunning is to succeed in the big leagues, it wouldn’t hurt for him to ingest a portion of spare ribs left behind by his predecessor. This year, Dunning struggled again in the first inning. Of the 76 earned runs he allowed this year, 22 of them came in the first inning. He allowed 20 home runs this season, six of which were first-inning shots. In the first inning, opposing hitters batted .328 against him. No other inning was higher than .279.

The most damning stat, however, is his overall walk rate of 3.6 per nine innings. Dunning underwent hip surgery late in the season and expects to be back in time for Opening Day. With the Rangers focusing on acquiring starting pitching, it seems likely that he’ll start the season in Triple A as he continues his rehab and works to solve his command and first-inning issues.

Grade: C-

It’s hard to grade this one. Ragans overcame two Tommy John surgeries to pitch so successfully in 2022 that he received two promotions: one from Double A to Triple A, and another to the big leagues. His numbers weren’t overwhelming — a 4.95 ERA in 40 innings over nine starts — but there was one stat that jumped out to me. In his first five starts, he walked 13 hitters in 21 1/3 innings. His ERA was a respectable 3.80, but his FIP of 6.25 indicated that he was getting more than a little lucky.

In his final four starts, he walked just three hitters in 18 2/3 innings. His ERA was higher over those four starts (6.27), but most of the damage was done in a seven-run meltdown against the A’s. His FIP was a crisp 3.38, meaning he was getting more than a little unlucky in those starts.

He didn’t lock down a spot in the 2023 rotation, but it’s hard to call Ragans’ 2022 season anything but a success, all things considered.

Grade: A-

On one hand, it’s not like Kyle Gibson and Hans Crouse have set the world ablaze in Philadelphia; instead, it’s starting to look like the 2021 trade between the Phillies and Rangers is one of the rare kinds that doesn’t really work out for either team. Howard has shown flashes of being a more-than-competent big-league pitcher (like when he pitched five shutout innings against the Angels on his birthday on July 28), but more often this season, the flashes looked like explosions. He allowed 12 home runs in just 37 2/3 innings, and while his 32 strikeouts were perfectly acceptable, his 15 walks weren’t — they too often led to those home runs being of the non-solo variety, which contributed greatly to his 7.41 ERA.

Howard is the sort of personality that keeps a clubhouse from being boring, so I selfishly hope he succeeds next year, just to keep the day-to-day grind of the regular season from getting too monotonous. But it’s probably a long road back to a rotation spot for the California native.

Grade: F

Let’s balance the results with the expectations. Nobody expected Miller to be a regular part of the rotation in Arlington this year, so the fact that he was the guy to get the call when the Rangers needed a spot starter was probably a success in and of itself. His two starts provided six innings of baseball in which he allowed just one (unearned) run. Unfortunately, his two bad starts were wretched — 13 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings, strapping him with a year-end ERA of 10.97.

Grade: D+

Dallas Keuchel/Kohei Arihara

I don’t know, man. You saw what happened.

Grades: F and F


We’d be remiss not to point out what happened with the starting pitching in the minor leagues this year. Cole Winn started the Futures Game in 2021, and finished that season with a 2.41 ERA between Double A and Triple A, leading to the belief that he was a shoo-in for a late-season debut in the majors. Instead, Winn carried a 6.51 ERA at Triple-A Round Rock, striking out 123 and walking 87 in 121 2/3 innings while allowing opposing hitters a .265 batting average.

Meanwhile, Jack Leiter’s first pro season began at Double-A Frisco — an aggressive placement, to be sure, but not an entirely unreasonable one, given his success at Vanderbilt. Leiter finished the season with a 5.54 ERA, striking out 109 and walking 56 in 92 2/3 innings, allowing a .246 opponents’ batting average. Likewise, Zak Kent, Ricky Vanasco and Cody Bradford had mixed results this season.

But while it’s concerning for five of the team’s top pitching prospects to have disappointing results, it doesn’t paint the entire picture. Here’s another chart featuring some of the team’s successes this year in the minor leagues.

Arms on the farm

PITCHER TEAM(S) ERA INNINGS STRIKEOUTS WALKS OPP. AVG

Tim Brennan

FRI

2.76

75

55

13

.225

Owen White

HIC/FRI

3.59

80 1/3

104

23

.233

Mason Englert

HIC/FRI

3.64

118 2/3

136

31

.199

T.K. Roby

HIC

4.64

104 2/3

126

35

.239

Ryan Garcia

DE/HIC

1.91

56 2/3

74

21

.166

Josh Stephan

DE/HIC

3.14

103 1/3

115

31

.219

Winston Santos

DE

3.49

108 1/3

108

30

.222

Mitch Bratt

DE

2.45

80 2/3

99

28

.218

Is that cherry-picking? Sure. The Rangers will certainly need to address some of the development issues they saw with their starting pitching. But it wasn’t a complete wash either. Add Kumar Rocker and Brock Porter to the mix next year, and there’s certainly reason to believe that the Rangers will have some home-grown starting pitching depth in the big leagues soon.

(Top photo of Jon Gray: Ron Jenkins / Getty Images)

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