Patchwork Production: Rangers bullpen is a tapestry of mystery

Date: Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017
Record: 62-62
Opponent: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (64-61)
Starters: Tyson Ross (3-2, 7.02) vs. Ricky Nolasco (6-12, 5.16)

November 1st, 2016:
The Texas Rangers, in the aftermath of a second consecutive divisional series loss to Toronto, hope to win their third consecutive AL West title, and they have a few questions to address. Namely: what will first base and left field look like? How will they construct the back half of the rotation? Can Josh Hamilton really play first base? Is this going to be the breakout year for Joey Gallo, Jurickson Profar, Ryan Rua, (or all three)?


One thing seemed certain, however: the bullpen was gonna be siiiiiick. Sam Dyson, Matt Bush, Keone Kela, Jake Diekman, Tony Barnette, Jeremy Jeffress, Tanner Scheppers, Alex Claudio, maybe Andrew Faulkner or Dario Alvarez, and a long man named Dillon Gee or Mike Hauschild, or, if he doesn’t make the rotation, Chi Chi Gonzalez?

We were so sweet and innocent back then.

Let’s go in-depth on the story of the transformed Rangers bullpen. It’s the August 22nd Baseball Texas Daily!

1. Closer: Sam Dyson is the closer… for the San Francisco Giants, having been traded there for a package of sunflower seeds and a thank you card. In his place, the least likely closer in all of baseball: Alex Claudio, who features an 88mph sinker, a high-70s slider, and a changeup that I believe should be called “The October Sunset” because it’s beautiful and occasionally dips into the high 60s. Jeff Banister won’t hesitate to use Claudio for 4-6 outs if needed, partially because the wear and tear on his arm is less, and partially because, well, who else is going to pitch the eighth inning?

2. Set-up: With Kela and Bush on the DL, we got a glimpse at the danger of Jose Leclerc, Set-Up Man last night in Anaheim. Leclerc walked the bases loaded and had to be replaced by Claudio with two outs. The young right-hander features a fastball in the 97-98 range and two changeups, and the lack of strikes last night was not entirely dismal: his second changeup was moving so much, he couldn’t keep it in the zone. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the fastball control needed to get a swing-and-miss with the breaking pitch, so batters could just sit back and assume that nothing was going to end up in the zone. When Leclerc can command his fastball, that diving changeup can be utterly filthy, so there’s hope for Leclerc, but at 23 and in his first full season in the big leagues, he’s still figuring a few things out.

3. Lefty Specialist: Ha ha ha ha nope. (Hopefully Jake Diekman will be back soon). 

4. Long Man: Mike Hauschild (Astros) Anthony Bass (AAA)  Dillon Gee (Twins) Chi Chi Gonzalez (Tommy John) Austin Bibens-Dirkx! The journeyman rookie and Baseball Cinderella story has been something of a revelation in 2017, pitching effectively from a variation of arm slots and–much like Claudio–employing guile and trickery over dominant velocity and fire-breathing. Also, he beat Max Scherzer when he was temporarily called on to be a rotation member. 

5. The No Longer Here: Sam Dyson (Giants), Jeremy Jeffress (Milwaukee), Tanner Scheppers (AAA, has pitched 4 big-league innings this season) Andrew Faulkner (Orioles AAA). Dillon Gee (Twins) Mike Hauschild (Astros AAA), Chi Chi Gonzalez (Tommy John surgery), Ernesto Frieri (Mariners AAA) Dario Alvarez (AAA), Preston Claiborne (AAA), Anthony Bass (AAA).

6. The Bullpen Dad: Jason Grilli is 40 years old, and on his second stint with the Rangers. His first came in 2009, his ninth season in the big leagues. Before that, he had been with the Marlins, White Sox, Tigers, and Rockies. Since then, he has played for the Pirates, Angels, Braves, and Blue Jays. He has been serviceable as a pitcher, but invaluable as a source of leadership and guidance for a bullpen that lacks much big league service time. Grilli has pitched in 589 big-league games. The rest of the Rangers current bullpen combined has amassed a total of 378 (126 of those belong to Alex Claudio).

But even when Bush and Kela are back, if you assume that Maríñez and Gardewine are sent down, the tally is still 589 to 529. It won’t be until Jake Diekman and his 283 career games rejoin the pen that the tally will swing the other way.

Put another way, If you add up the sum total of games pitched by any relief pitcher that has thrown a single pitch for the Rangers in 2017, 22% of those 2,589 games were pitched by Jason Grilli. 34% are accounted for by the combined careers of Frieri (304), Jeffress (256), Dyson (229), and Gee (156).

7. The Rest: Tony Barnette is 33 and in his second year in the big leagues after carving out a successful career as a closer in Japan. He has, at different times in 2017,  been utterly dominant, and unable to prevent inherited runners from scoring, depending on the week. Jhan Maríñez, formerly of the Marlins, White Sox, Rays, Brewers, and Pirates, has a career WAR of 1.1, and a few pitches that move. Nick Gardewine has 0.0 career MLB innings. Ricky Rodriguez has three.

Jeff Banister has admitted that it has been a challenge to compete for a Wild Card spot (meaning every game is important), while trying to figure out what pitches some of these new guys even throw. It’s not the dominant force we expected in November, but here’s the craziest part: 

This bullpen hasn’t blown a save since July 2nd.

(OTHER) BASEBALL STUFF

8. Jake Diekman’s battle against ulcerative colitis doesn’t look like it used to. Rather than fighting the illness in his own body, (he had his colon removed, and expects no further complications or symptoms) he and his fiancee Amanda Soltero have started a foundation to raise funds to help find a cure. The latest? The third in a three-part series of limited edition “Gut it Out” t-shirts is available from now until September 4th. Since the shirts were released yesterday morning, they have already raised $850, which to be donated to a clinical trial at the Mayo clinic to help find a cure. Since Diekman and Soltero began fundraising in 2015, they have raised over $20,000 for the cause. You can get yours over at AthletesBrand.com

9. On this day, ten years ago, the Rangers scored 30 runs against the Baltimore Orioles, winning by a total score of 30-3 (in the first game of a doubleheader, no less). In doing so, the Rangers set a modern-era (post-1900) record for runs scored and margin of victory. That game is also the team’s high mark for hits (29) and total bases (49). Some of my favorite statistical oddities from that game:

  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ramon Vazquez (the eighth and ninth hitters in the lineup) each went 4-for-6 in 7 plate appearances with 2 home runs, 7 RBI, 10 total bases one walk and one strikeout. The only difference in their line? Saltalamacchia scored 5 runs, and Vazquez only scored four.

  • The team only had two doubles, and no triples. (they did, however, hit six home runs). The other 21 hits were singles. They also walked eight times.

  • Jason Botts struck out four times

  • The only Ranger without multiple hits? Travis Metcalf, who entered the game as a substitute and went 1-for-1 with a walk and (of course) a grand slam, one of two for the Rangers in the game (Marlon Byrd had the other).

  • This was David Murphy’s 8th game as a Ranger, and the 31st of his career. After going 5-for-7, Murphy’s season batting average was .550!

  • Not only was this a comeback win, but despite entering the game with a 14-3 lead, Wes Littleton was credited with a save, since he pitched at least three innings. The final score was 30-3, and he got a save!

You can see all the highlights here.

10. Cole Hamels is the subject of an interesting factoid from the Rangers game notes today: after his win last night, is 31-7 as a Ranger. That’s an .816 winning percentage, making him the first pitcher with such a high winning percentage in his first 60 starts with a team since (as I’m sure you’re all aware) Jim McCormick, who went 47-10 with the Cubs in 1885-86. That’s right. 131 years.

Hamels also started at 9-1 in his first 10 decisions for the second year in a row. Only three other pitchers in the expansion era (post-1961) have accomplished that: Greg Swindell (Cleveland, 1988-89), Curt Schilling (Arizona, 2001-02) and Kevin Brown (Dodgers in 2003, Yankees in 2004).

NOW LISTENING:

“Takin’ Over”, the new single from Humming House. It’s the first single from their new record “Companion”, but since that doesn’t come out until October 7th, I’ll tell you about this one song for now. It’s fun and a more electronic sound than their prior offerings. If you ever get the chance to see Humming House live, please do: it’s an exercise in how to have fun at a concert.
(Spotify, Apple Music, Website)

During the regular season, these recommendations occasionally come from Rangers players, broadcasters, or other people around the team (here’s a complete list). If there’s a player or person you’d like Levi to ask for a music recommendation, shoot him an e-mail threetwoeephus@gmail.com or a tweet here.

You can follow Levi Weaver on Twitter at @ThreeTwoEephus, or for fewer puns and more straight-forward Baseball News updates, you can follow us at @BaseballTX, or download the app and get in-game updates and notifications by clicking on the logo below!

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