Analyzing the Rangers bullpen situation

SEATTLE - APRIL 30: Ian Kinsler #5 and Neftali Feliz #30 of the Texas Rangers celebrate after defeating the Seattle Mariners 2-0 in twelve innings at Safeco Field on April 30, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

It is May 7, and the Rangers still have the same 12 pitchers on the roster that they had on their Opening Day staff.  There have been several rosters move made this year, but they all involve positional players, not pitchers.

I'd wager this is the first time in the 21st century Texas has made it through April with the same pitchers.

That, though, I'm guessing is likely to change pretty soon.  The bullpen has been a source of much consternation in the first sixth of the season, and yesterday's gascanning by Dustin Nippert and Chris Ray, along with Frank Francisco coming in and struggling once more, just highlighted the problem.

My gut feeling has been that the Rangers felt that they had some arms in the minors that would be ready fairly early on in the 2010 season, and that they just needed some guys to hold things together until the reinforcements were ready.  The time to call on reinforcements, though, may be nigh.

If we take a look at the Rangers' bullpen this year, via data available at Fangraphs, you can see a stratification of the pitchers:

ERA FIP xFIP
Feliz 4.30 3.01 3.10
O'Day 0.00 3.66 5.11
Oliver 2.57 3.80 2.91
Frankie 7.30 5.35 5.24
Ray 2.84 5.84 6.38
Mathis 4.15 6.39 4.86
Nippert 6.46 6.67 5.06



The first three guys are the pitchers that Evan Grant identified as "reliable," the pitchers the Rangers trust right now, and the data bears that out.  They aren't going anywhere.

Then there's Frank Francisco, who is a mess, but who the Rangers clearly want to get on track, and who is going to get more leeway than some of the other pitchers.

Chris Ray has a nice ERA, and I am pretty sure I've defended him before this season, but looking at the numbers...he's not striking anybody out, he's walking guys (he's walked more hitters than he's K'd so far this year), and he's giving up a ton of fly balls.  He has an option remaining

Dustin Nippert wasn't great, particularly peripherals-wise, before yesterday, but he was okay...yesterday's outing blew his numbers up.  But he pitched well last year, he is out of options, and he has utility as someone who can pitch multiple innings as either a long or middle man.

Doug Mathis made the team because he showed good command in spring training, he can throw multiple innings, and he isn't someone you have to protect or worry about, as far as an asset goes.  You can have him go a week without pitching and not fret about what it is doing to his development.  You can have him throw 4 innings in long relief and then bring him back a couple of days later in garbage time.  He's the guy the Rangers are going to throw out there in low leverage situations and not worry about.  He also can be optioned.

Looking at it, what the Rangers really need is another lefty in the bullpen and a power righty setup/middle man.  Ray and Francisco should be the power righties, but if you can't trust either of them in a critical situation -- and right now, they aren't doing much to earn that trust -- they don't have much value to you.

I'm not sure who in the minors is ready to come up and contribute in the bullpen right now, and who still needs more time, in terms of stuff/makeup/arm strength/etc. goes.  But as far as a lefty in the bullpen goes, Zach Phillips is on the 40 man roster, has been pitching out of the pen for Frisco, and has 17 Ks, 2 walks, and 3 hits allowed in 12 innings, allowing 0 runs. 

For power righty arms, Alexi Ogando has gone 13 2/3 innings in Frisco, walked 4, K'd 19, and allowed 4 hits (1 homer).  Tanner Scheppers, meanwhile, in Frisco and Oklahoma, has walked 1 batter and struck out 21 in 13 innings, allowing 6 hits (2 homers).

At this point, I'd have to think long and hard about optioning Ray and Mathis, making Nippert your long man, and calling up Phillips and either Ogando or Scheppers.  The downside of calling up Ogando, who is on the 40 man roster, is that there apparently is some question about whether his offspeed pitches are advanced enough to be major league ready, even from the pen.  The downside of calling up Scheppers is that he's not on the 40 man roster, so you'd have to make a move there, and the organization is apparently wanting to ramp up his innings to groom him as a starter, which putting him in the bullpen as a 1-2 inning guy would make problematic.

You've also got guys like Michael Kirkman, Guillermo Moscoso, and Omar Beltre who could be considered, but Phillips, Ogando and Scheppers have to be the primary options right now for bullpen reinforcements.  And I wouldn't be surprised if one of those guys, if not more, is up here in the next week or so.

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