A lost 2014 season can tarnish a lot of the intrigue that surrounds the Texas Rangers.
One interesting storyline still going, though, is relief pitcher Roman Mendez.
There are a couple puzzling zeroes surrounding this year's club. Per Fangraphs, the Rangers have a 0.00 percent chance of making the playoffs -- odd for a team with four consecutive 90-win seasons.
They also have an American League-leading 14 games in which their opponent has scored zero runs -- odd for a team that stands 23 games under .500 (and that hasn't recorded a shutout in a month, as of this article's posting).
But the 0.00 ERA Mendez currently boasts is possibly the most fascinating.
Mendez has retired 33 of the 41 batters he has faced since being called up as part of a flurry of July 7 roster moves, at the time seeming secondary in importance (behind Michael Choice's demotion and Jake Smolinski's corresponding promotion).
He has eight straight scoreless outings to start his Big League career. The last Ranger to do that was Alexi Ogando in 2010.
Mendez finding success as a reliever isn't a huge surprise, with his mid-90s fastball (which touches 97 mph), mid-80s slider and a decent changeup he mixes in every so often. He throws his fastball just over 58 percent of the time, and has thrown over 62 percent strikes in his brief Rangers tenure.
These are all good things. And ultimately, as a pitcher, the goal is to not allow any runs, which he has done.
But the water is muddied a bit with Mendez when you dig deeper into the stat sheet.
First, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) stands at 3.41. FIP measures 'what a pitcher's ERA should have looked like...assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average,' according to Fangraphs. For a detailed look at FIP, read Joe Ursery's piece on it here.
Such a drastic difference between ERA and FIP (almost three-and-a-half runs, in this case) is alarming. Now, he may be a victim of small sample sizes, as so many are in stats analysis. He has only thrown 11 innings in the Bigs so far. But there has been a major disparity in his ERA and FIP numbers at every level after Class A. His FIP has been significantly higher than his ERA in every season past A-ball except for an inverted 2012, when he had a 5.14 ERA and just a 4.03 FIP.
Now, if his MLB numbers this year are to be taken with a grain of salt due to the small sample, so should most of his minor league stats, as the only substantial samples came in 2011 and 2012, when he pitched 117 and 70 innings, respectively. His FIP in 2011 was 3.39, just 0.08 off from his ERA number (3.31).
His next-largest sample of work, 31.1 innings with Triple-A Round Rock earlier this season, is the only other time when his FIP evened out just a bit, with an ERA and FIP of 4.02 and 4.76.
Sample size is one thing, but what are sports journalists and Friendly Neighborhood Stats Analyst like myself supposed to think when the same 'luck' is repeated over and over again at multiple levels of competitive baseball?
In addition to the FIP disparity, Mendez's BABiP (batting average on balls in play) is alarmingly low. The hit he allowed on July 25, one of just three he's allowed at the major league level, ballooned his BABiP to .100.
That number suggests luck is on his side and is destined to normalize as Mendez throws more innings with 'Texas' across his chest.
There's something to be said about creating unproductive contact, which he has done in allowing only two (yes, TWO) line drives to the 41 batters he's faced. But something's gotta give, unless Mendez has been deemed the Chosen One by the baseball gods.
One last oddity in the career of Roman Mendez is his WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) statistics. He put up a combined WHIP of 1.248 or higher in each minor league season from 2010 to 2012, but that stat has improved each season and at each level since. He posted a regrettable 1.86 WHIP between the Red Sox and Rangers systems in 2010, and boasts a 0.727 WHIP in his eight outings in The Show so far in 2014.
Maturing like a fine whiskey, I suppose.
So have we seen the real Roman Mendez? Is he a beneficiary of good luck (maybe even divine intervention of some sort) that is bound to run out, or is he the real deal and capable of maintaining these unsettling metrics?
The case is more alarming for a Texas Rangers pitcher, especially one in the same season in which we saw Aaron Poreda keep a 0.00 ERA through his first nine outings after a four-year hiatus from the league. For the uninitiated, that's concerning because Poreda would give up a run in each of his next five outings and become a yo-yo between the MLB and Triple-A ranks.
The only real trend for the team as a whole has been injuries. Hopefully Mendez doesn't go the way of so many other 2014 Ranger hurlers, and is able to continue to pitch for the duration. If so, even in a season when the club may struggle to post a higher win total that Mendez's jersey number (55), his trend will remain interesting to follow.
Landon Haaf is a writer and editor for WFAA, a sports geek and dress sock enthusiast. He is a member of the IBWAA and has covered the Rangers during the 2012-14 seasons. You can find Landon's musings on sports and some decent puns at his Twitter account, @LandonHaaf.