We continue our series where we issue grades and review the 2017 seasons for each Texas Rangers player, having started with the positional players and going in alphabetical order, and now moving on to the pitchers...
Austin Bibens-Dirkx — B
Austin Bibens-Dirkx was a fun story, a 32 year old minor league lifer who got called up because the Rangers’ needed a warm body, made his major league debut, and ended up sticking around for the bulk of the season because the Rangers needed warm bodies and he did an okay job. 4.67 ERA in 6 starts and 18 relief appearances, filling that bouncing-back-and-forth role that Ross Wolf and Anthony Bass have filled in years past, starting when a start was needed, working long relief to help save the pen otherwise.
That said, there’s been talk about Bibens-Dirkx sticking on the 40 man roster and coming to camp to compete for a rotation spot next year, and I don’t get that. He put up a 5.68 FIP in 2017, was homer prone, and while he didn’t walk anyone, he also didn’t strike guys out (38 Ks in 69.1 IP). His performance dropped off as the season went on, as he registered a 5.67 ERA in the second half, compared to 4.04 in the first half.
He exceeded expectations in 2017, and bringing Bibens-Dirkx back on a minor league deal for 2018 as pitching depth and as someone you can possibly bring up if needed makes sense. I’m not sure he’s someone you want to devote a 40 man roster spot all offseason to, though.
Matt Bush — C
Maybe this grade is too harsh for Matt Bush. Coming into 2016 the guy was a...I was going to say reclamation project, but he wasn’t ever good enough to even really qualify for that. He burst on the scene in 2016, was the Rangers’ best reliever, had a great redemption story, and went into 2017 being counted on to be a key part of the team’s bullpen.
And it isn’t like Bush was bad in 2017. He was just okay. 3.78 ERA, 4.00 FIP, his walk and home run rate both going up from the previous year, time spent on the d.l. after he and Joey Gallo ran into each other chasing that pop up in August. He was a serviceable reliever, and for a guy you got off the scrap heap and who you are paying league minimum, that should be okay, right?
The problem is, the Rangers needed a lot more from him than “serviceable.” When Sam Dyson flamed out, with Jake Diekman on the shelf, the Rangers needed Bush to step up and be the dominant reliever he was in 2016, and Bush didn’t do that. He inherited the closer role from Dyson, struggled in it, and went back to a setup role. In late June, he was hung with three losses in a twelve day stretch where the Rangers ended up losing one run games he was asked to close out, hampering the Rangers efforts to get back into the race.
The Rangers are talking again about converting Bush to starting, and I’m not excited about the prospect, but given that he seems to be able to handle longer outings better than back-to-back outings, maybe it will work. Bush is still a valuable piece for the Rangers going forward...it just remains to be seen how valuable, and in what role.
Andrew Cashner — A
The Rangers signed two significant free agent starting pitchers last offseason. One, Tyson Ross, generated much enthusiasm and excitement from fans and media alike. The other, Andrew Cashner, generated mostly shrugs, along with some “why did we spend so much to sign this guy so early” talk.
As it turns out, Cashner was the best move the Rangers made last offseason. For just $10 million, Cashner gave the Rangers 28 starts, put up a 3.40 ERA, and logged a 4.6 bWAR. He didn’t allow runs to score, and is looking for a multi-year contract this offseason -- one lucrative enough that the Rangers may end up making a qualifying offer to him, anticipating Cashner will reject the guaranteed $17.4 million for one year and fetch the Rangers a draft pick.
Now, I’m well aware that the peripherals don’t support Cashner’s runs allowed this season. Using a 2 seamer more and going with more of a pitch-to-contact philosophy, his K/9 plummeted to 4.64, and early in the year, he was walking as many as he struck out, though he ended the year with 86 Ks and 64 walks in 166 IP. Cashner’s FIP was 4.61, meaning that his fWAR (based on FIP, rather than RA) was 1.9 -- less than half his bWAR. His xFIP and SIERA were both north of five. If you are thinking about signing him this offseason, there are warning signs that his 2017 performance isn’t sustainable.
But this isn’t about whether his performance is sustainable going forward. This is about 2017, and in 2017, Cashner kept runs off the board and kept the Rangers in games consistently, and I have to think the Rangers are ecstatic with what they got from him.