Rangers Midseason Report: The Pitchers

Rangers Midseason Report: The Pitchers

July 4, 2021
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Rangers hot streak since MLB crackdown ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers aren’t winning a lot of games this year, which doesn’t surprise nearly anyone with a finger on the pulse of a very young team. And when management publicly states that 2021 will not be judged on wins […]

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Rangers hot streak since MLB crackdown

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers aren't winning a lot of games this year, which doesn't surprise nearly anyone with a finger on the pulse of a very young team. And when management publicly states that 2021 will not be judged on wins and losses, that is their way of saying, "we're in a rebuild."

Figures at the top of the organization like president of baseball operations Jon Daniels and first-time general manager Chris Young have doubled down on 2021 being a year of evaluation. After an 18-18 start in the first 36 games of the season, it was far too early to draw conclusions — and for good reason. The club followed with a 7-28 stretch, giving fans hope the Rangers can cash in on tradable assets and add some impact talent in the 2021 and 2022 MLB Drafts.

Last time around, we looked at which position players may be a part of the next contender, which ones we still need to see more of, and which ones will likely not be in the future plans. Now, it's time to look at the pitchers.

We've intentionally left out guys who have been injured or have had to work back from injuries this season like Joe Palumbo, Brock Burke, Jonathan Hernández, José Leclerc, and so on. Palumbo and Burke could see looks this season, depending on how things go at the trade deadline. Hernández, based off of his spectacular performance in 2020, looks like a key part of the bullpen once he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Leclerc could also be a part of the bullpen once he returns, but the Rangers have control over his destiny in 2023 and 2024.

We've Got Something Here

LHP Kolby Allard

2021 Stats: 1.2 bWAR, 16 G (6 starts), 2-4 record, 3.46 ERA, 52.0 IP, 49 SO, 1.07 WHIP

Kolby Allard has bounced back in a furious way after a really rough 2020 campaign. He made some minor adjustments on the mound, but most importantly, has a better grasp of how to mix his four-pitch repertoire. Specifically, Allard has increased his curveball usage and isn't as reliant on going to his fastball and cutter in high-leverage counts.

In turn, Allard has gone from a bullpen arm to a legitimate member of the 2021 starting rotation. I almost put Allard in the next crop of players, just because it's not quite time to etch Allard's name in stone when it comes to the rotation in 2022 and beyond. However, with the year he is having, he's making himself a serious name to be considered, which earns him a spot here.

RHP Dane Dunning

2021 Stats: 1.0 bWAR, 16 G (16 starts), 3-6 record, 4.38 ERA, 74.0 IP, 79 SO, 1.51 WHIP

When the Rangers acquired Dane Dunning in the Lance Lynn trade, they were expecting a pitcher who could take the ball every fifth day for the next several years.

So far, so good.

Dunning is on an innings limit since he spent all of 2019 and the vast majority of 2020 on the sidelines due to Tommy John surgery. Even so, Dunning is on pace to flirt with 150 innings, which probably means you may see Dunning pitch in a slightly lesser role in the final three months of the season.

That doesn't change his standing in the organization. The Rangers still expect him to be a rotation piece in 2022 and beyond. Despite a few bumps in the road, he's shown plenty reason to believe that he can be a middle-to-back-end of the rotation arm.

RHP Kyle Gibson

2021 Stats: 4.4 bWAR, 16 G (16 starts), 6-0 record, 1.98 ERA, 95.2 IP, 81 SO, 1.04 WHIP

If there is only one Rangers representative in the All-Star Game this year, it should be Kyle Gibson. The American League's ERA leader has exceeded even the wildest expectations from a lot of people in the baseball community. When most fans probably hoped for Gibson to be a solid No. 4 when he was initially signed, he's pitching like a bonafide ace in 2021.

The only question that remains is if the Rangers should try and capitalize on his increased value for controllable assets or let him play out his contract, which runs through 2022. The problem is the Rangers won't likely compete until 2023. Will Gibson still pitch at this level during that season or in the few years after? If the Rangers believe he can, then they should extend him. If not, trading him for pieces that can, like they did when they traded Lynn for Dunning, would be the shrewd move.

But how ironic would it be if the Rangers trade him to an AL team and he goes on to win a Cy Young award? If you don't remember, no Rangers has ever won it.

LHP John King

2021 Stats: 0.7 bWAR, 26 G, 6-5 record, 2.86 ERA, 44.0 IP, 37 SO, 1.09 WHIP

Outside of Ian Kennedy, John King has been the most effective pitcher out of the Rangers bullpen this season. He's been a starter up until this season, so the Rangers are in the process of stretching him out to give him a shot at the rotation in the final half of the season.

Either as a starter or as a reliever, King has done more than enough to show that he can be part of a 13-man pitching staff on a contending team. He may not be a guy who fits the mold of the modern-day, high-velocity pitcher. But he has nasty stuff that hitters have a hard time barreling and he gets hitters to chase pitches at a very high rate. That is a recipe for a successful pitcher in the big leagues.

LHP Brett Martin

2021 Stats: 0.7 bWAR, 33 G, 2-2 record, 2.51 ERA, 32.1 IP, 26 SO, 1.39 WHIP

Brett Martin is a reliable arm for the seventh or eighth inning, or as a guy to come in a try and put out a fire. He's still relatively young and the Rangers have club control over him through 2025.

Even if the Rangers were to eventually build a deeper bullpen, Martin would be a very good option if he's one of the guys near the bottom of the pecking order.

The Jury's Still Out

RHP Kohei Arihara

2021 Stats: -0.3 bWAR, 7 G (7 starts), 2-3 record, 6.59 ERA, 28.2 IP, 17 SO, 1.54 WHIP

Kohei Arihara's Rangers career didn't get off to a great start. There may have been a number of factors that played into Arihara's struggles, like the ball or the transition to the North American game. Nevertheless, Arihara ranked near the very bottom of the league in expected batting average (xBA), barrel percentage, strikeout percentage, whiff percentage, and chase rate before he had to undergo shoulder surgery that derailed his first season in the United States.

Because of the surgery, Arihara hasn't had the proper chance to adjust and try to work through his issues. Seven starts is far too small of a sample size to write off a pitcher, especially one who had a successful career in Japan. Let's see how he does once he takes the mound again.

LHP Wes Benjamin

2021 Stats: -0.3 bWAR, 7 G (1 start), 0-2 record, 8.10 ERA, 13.1 IP, 12 SO, 2.18 WHIP

Wes Benjamin earned a spot in the starting rotation as a tandem partner with Jordan Lyles coming out of spring training. Benjamin exceeded his reputation during Cactus League play as a patented strike-thrower, which is something the Rangers greatly value.

However, Benjamin has struggled at doing the thing he does best: throwing strikes. He has walked as many hitters as he has struck out, which got he demoted not only out of the pitching tandems, but out of the big leagues all together. The Rangers still believe in Benjamin and believe he could make an impact in the big leagues once he gets back to pounding the strike zone. It's a bit early to give up on him just yet.

However, with more pitching talent on the way in the likes of Cole Winn, Hans Crouse and Jake Latz, Benjamin needs to take a big step forward in the next three months, either at Triple-A Round Rock or in Arlington. If not, his window of opportunity may close sooner rather than later.

RHP Kyle Cody

2021 Stats: -0.4 bWAR, 7 G, 0-2 record, 7.94 ERA, 11.1 IP, 14 SO, 1.59 WHIP

Kyle Cody emerged as a candidate for the rotation with a strong impression in 2020. He didn't find the same form in spring training or in seven appearances out of the bullpen this season. Then a shoulder injury derailed his season before he had a chance to regain said form.

Once Cody comes back, he'll likely get a chance to compete once again in a similar way that several other younger pitchers have this season. The Rangers have seen what he's capable of. He'll get plenty of opportunity to prove himself if he can stay healthy.

RHP Demarcus Evans

2021 Stats: -0.4 bWAR, 9 G, 0-2 record, 8.68 ERA, 9.1 IP, 14 SO, 1.93 WHIP

The Rangers are infatuated with Demarcus Evans and his arsenal of pitches, which includes a high-spin fastball, a sharp curveball, and a newly developed slider that helps play off his fastball a bit better.

He hasn't found a ton of success this season just yet. He may need some more seasoning at Triple-A Round Rock before he's ready to pitch high-leverage innings at the big league level.

LHP Taylor Hearn

2021 Stats: -0.2 bWAR, 25 G (1 start), 2-3 record, 5.40 ERA, 38.1 IP, 43 SO, 1.64 WHIP

Taylor Hearn has flashed his talent with a mid-to-upper 90s four-seam fastball, along with an improved slider and changeup. He's also added a sinker to his repertoire to help play off his four-seamer. The biggest issue with Hearn has been his command.

Like Evans, the Rangers love Hearn's makeup. Unlike Evans, Hearn is a bit more seasoned at the big league level. This season is the perfect time to really see what the Rangers have in the Royse City native. He could be stretched out this season and pitch in a similar role that John King is transitioning to now.

RHP Spencer Patton

2021 Stats: 0.4 bWAR, 12 G, 0-0 record, 0.93 ERA, 9.2 IP, 11 SO, 0.93 WHIP

Spencer Patton is well-traveled, but believe it or not, the Rangers have four more seasons of control over the 33-year-old reliever after this season. He's shown well in his first dozen appearances. He's definitely a guy worth watching for the remainder of this season.

LHP Joely Rodríguez

2021 Stats: -0.4 bWAR, 25 G, 1 SV (1 BS), 1-3 record, 6.26 ERA, 23.0 IP, 24 SO, 1.39 WHIP

Joely Rodríguez has assumed the eighth inning role ahead of closer Ian Kennedy this season. Despite a high ERA, Rodríguez has gotten the job done more often than not. 18 of his 25 appearances have been scoreless outings. On the flip side, Rodríguez is pitching below replacement level, which won't get the job done in the eighth inning on a championship team.

Even so, the makeup and stuff is there. The Rangers have a 2022 club option on Rodríguez's current contract and have club control over him through 2025. He's just one of many that will get plenty of opportunity to prove themselves.

RHP Dennis Santana

2021 Stats: -0.3 bWAR, 17 G, 0-0 record, 5.63 ERA, 16.0 IP, 9 SO, 1.81 WHIP

Note: 16 of the 17 games have been with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I debated whether to even put Dennis Santana on the list. He just joined the Rangers, and had a very impressive debut in Seattle on Saturday night. Let's get a bigger sample size in a Texas uniform before we come to any finalities about him.

RHP Josh Sborz

2021 Stats: 0.0 bWAR, 33 G, 1 SV (3 BS), 3-3 record, 4.65 ERA, 31.0 IP, 42 SO, 1.32 WHIP

Josh Sborz is in a similar situation as Joely Rodríguez. Manager Chris Woodward has consistently gone to him in high-leverage spots. And early on, Sborz looked like a steal from the Dodgers. He had a 3.15 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in his first 20 appearances, but the league adjusted. In his 13 outings since then, he has a 7.36 ERA and 1.73 WHIP.

It's only been half of a season, and Sborz is in his rookie campaign. There are still so many pitchers in the mix for the future. Sborz has pitched well enough to remain in that mix, but not well enough to pull away as a surefire piece for a contender.

Likely Not In The Future Plans

RHP Matt Bush

2021 Stats: -0.1 bWAR, 3 G, 0-0 record, 9.00 ERA, 3.0 IP, 4 SO, 1.67 WHIP

Matt Bush's comeback to the big leagues was one of the more wonderful stories out of spring training. Unfortunately, the injury bug just won't leave Bush alone. A flexor strain sidelined Bush after just three appearances and there hasn't been word of his impending return.

At the end of the day, even if Bush returns sometime after the All-Star break, he is 35 years old. There likely isn't room once the Rangers put together a bullpen for a team that is ready to compete for a spot in the postseason.

RHP Mike Foltynewicz

2021 Stats: 0.6 bWAR, 16 G (16 starts), 2-7 record, 5.17 ERA, 87.0 IP, 62 SO, 1.35 WHIP

The Rangers took a flier on Mike Foltynewicz, and he's doing what the club needed him to do more than anything: eat innings. Foltynewicz has had some very good moments this season (four starts of seven innings with two runs or less), but he's also been hit hard in several starts. Foltynewicz has also given up the second-most home runs in all of Major League Baseball this season.

Foltynewicz hasn't quite captured his 2018 form when he was an All-Star with the Atlanta Braves. With just one more season of club control, Foltynewicz is pitching well enough to be a stopgap in the Rangers rotation until prospects like Cole Winn and Hans Crouse are ready to join a rotation that may or may not competing in 2023.

RHP Ian Kennedy

2021 Stats: 1.0 bWAR, 27 G, 14 SV (1 BS), 0-0 record, 2.96 ERA, 27.1 IP, 31 SO, 1.13 WHIP

Ian Kennedy has been quite the find for the Rangers. Despite some hamstring issues, Kennedy has been a reliable closer for Texas, recording 14 saves in 15 opportunities.

Why is he not part of the future? His contract expires at the end of the season, and the Rangers would be shrewd to try and capitalize on his increased value with a contending club seeking an arm to deepen their bullpen. It'll be quite a surprise if Kennedy is in a Rangers uniform on July 31.

RHP Jordan Lyles

2021 Stats: 0.6 bWAR, 16 G (16 starts), 4-5 record, 4.98 ERA, 90.1 IP, 73 SO, 1.45 WHIP

Jordan Lyles has steadily become a more effective starter as the season has progressed. Like Foltynewicz, he's serving a purpose in the 2021 Rangers rotation. He's eating innings, and he may even be increasing his trade value. He has a 3.67 ERA over his last six outings, and has looked like a different pitcher that struggled mightily in late April and early May.

Lyles' contract expires at the end of the season. If a contending club is willing to offer something of value, the Rangers may cash in and sell Lyles at the trade deadline. If not, he'll likely walk in free agency. It's hard to imagine him as a Ranger in 2022 or beyond.

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