We’re less than a week away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Rangers Spring Training in Surprise, Ariz. And that’s such an exciting thing to say.
As the roster is formed, some players will impress and some will disappoint, the Rangers may or may not get a chance to pick the brain of a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, and stories will be written and rewritten about how the team is progressing.
One of those stories in Rangers camp, especially in the wake of Derek Holland’s knee injury, will be which arms go where on the pitching staff. That includes the prospect of moving bullpen arms to the starting rotation.
And my advice to the decision makers in Arlington is this: tread lightly.
Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross – each career relief men – are names that have been thrown into the hat for a spot in the starting rotation.
Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… Ron Washington and other members of the Rangers’ staff just might know more about baseball than I do. But there are a couple recent examples that would suggest that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Alexi Ogando developed an identity as a dominant relief man in 2010, when he posted a 1.30 ERA in 44 appearances out of the bullpen.
Why not maximize that kind of arm and get, oh, say, 200 innings out of it the next year, right?
Wrong… At least in the long run.
Ogando became a starter in 2011 and was stellar for half of a season, starting out the campaign with a 7-0 record. The second half of his season, however, was mired with inconsistency as he finished with a 13-8 record. He followed that with a solid 2012 season primarily in relief, but the 30-year-old Dominican Republic native spent last season in flux between the bullpen and the rotation, with multiple stints on the disabled list. And he enters 2014 without a true identity as a pitcher.
Nefali Feliz burst onto the scene in the same year as Ogando, winning the Rookie of the Year award after saving 40 games in 2010 (and recording one of the best strikeouts in Rangers history, fanning Alex Rodriguez to advance to the World Series).
But, after 72 saves and a 2.73 ERA in 134 games over his first two seasons, the Rangers moved Feliz to the starting rotation in 2012. You may not remember much of Feliz’s 2012 campaign, because he was injured after just eight starts.
Neftali made his return from Tommy John surgery in the 136th game of the 2013 season.
I have no complaints about Joe Nathan and the All-Star caliber work he did with Texas over the last two seasons after replacing Feliz in the closer role. But making the move from the bullpen – where Feliz had established an identity as one of the best closers in the game – to the starting rotation cost the Rangers the services of an elite relief man for the better part of two years.
And, like with Ogando, we don’t know what Feliz’s identity will be as a pitcher in 2014.
So that brings us back to Scheppers and Ross, two relievers who have been, for the most part, incredibly successful in the back end of the Texas bullpen.
Scheppers, a flame-throwing righty like both Feliz and Ogando, recorded a 1.88 ERA and 27 holds as a set-up man in 2013. Ross has amassed a 2.62 ERA in two years of bullpen work.
In a risk-versus-reward scenario, the reward would be the potential of finding another CJ Wilson, who made a successful transition to the starting rotation after years of pitching in relief. But the stories of Ogando and Feliz should cause some hesitation in trying to force such a switch.
And is it worth the risk of losing those late-game assets to injury or lack of success? The bullpen is a strength of this team (which still feels weird, having watched the Rangers in the early 2000’s).
It’s not broken. So why try to fix it?