In what is becoming an annual tradition for the Texas Rangers under Jeff Banister, we have an early season crisis brewing over the closer situation.
In 2015, Neftali Feliz struggled early and was demoted to the minors in May, with Shawn Tolleson taking over the closer role.
In 2016, Shawn Tolleson struggled early, lost the closer role, pitched well in low-leverage spots for a month or so, went back to not being good, then landed on the disabled list, with Sam Dyson taking over as closer.
And now, in 2017, Sam Dyson has been awful to start the season, giving up three runs in a tie game in his first appearance of the year, giving up 5 runs in 0.1 IP in a two run game in his second appearance of the year, and giving up 3 runs yesterday when called upon to preserve a three run lead.
Dyson has faced 22 batters this season, and allowed 11 hits (including 2 home runs) and 3 walks. He has a 33.00 ERA, though on the bright side, that is just a 13.29 FIP.
You want to say, its just 22 batters, just 3 innings pitched over 4 games, and Dyson was great last year and great in the WBC. Its just a bump in the road.
But the nature of the closer role is that you don’t get a lot of second chances, and several blown games in a row oftentimes means losing that role. Especially when you aren’t a flame-throwing stereotypical closer, and haven’t been in that role long.
One can reasonably wonder if there’s something physically wrong with Dyson. He pitched in 75 games in 2015, splitting time between Miami and Texas, and appeared in 73 games in 2016, the second most in the A.L. Only four pitchers appeared in more regular season games than Dyson in 2015-16 -- Jeurys Familia, Mark Melancon, Zach Duke and Bryan Shaw.
Of that group, Shaw has been fine this year. Melancon has been shaky early this year. Familia is suspended. Duke is missing 2017 due to Tommy John surgery.
And let’s not forget that the Blue Jays waived him, and the Marlins traded him for very little (Tomas Telis and Cody Ege), due in no small part to fears that Dyson’s arm wouldn’t hold up. And once Dyson got to Texas, he went to being an extreme groundball pitcher, which anecdotal evidence seems to suggest puts more strain on the arm, particularly the shoulder.
Dyson may not be physically right.
Or it may be something else, a slump, a mechanical issue. Or Dyson may not be as good as he looked last year, when he had a 3.62 FIP to go with his 2.43 ERA. Or it could be some combination of the above. Or this could just be a fluke, a cluster of bad outings that is simply random fluctuation.
Whatever the reason, Dyson has had three disastrous outings in four games, and it doesn’t seem likely that, if the Rangers have a lead tonight in Anaheim, Banister will turn to Dyson.
But looking at who else is an option highlights that the Dyson meltdown is coming at a time when the Rangers’ bullpen isn’t looking as strong as it was at the start of the spring.
Matt Bush, after throwing 29 pitches on Sunday, and then the team having an off day Monday, was apparently not available Tuesday, and his availability is in question for tonight. Bush would at first glance appear to be the best option to close, but his track record suggests he’s not well-suited to pitch on back-to-back days, which would seem to make him a poor choice for the role.
Keone Kela? He’s in AAA, after an episode in a B game this spring resulted in him being demoted for disciplinary purposes.
Jake Diekman? On the disabled list until, at a minimum, the second half.
Alex Claudio, Mike Hauschild and Dario Alvarez aren’t going to be thrust into the closer role. Tony Barnette is settled in his middle relief spot. Jose Leclerc has the mph you want in a closer, but a history of awful command, and almost no experience.
Which leads to Jeremy Jeffress (who has made such an impression on me I initially typed Jared Jeffries), who closed for the Brewers, but who is also a ground ball type like Dyson.
So things are a bit of a mess, and it is going to get a lot worse if there’s something up with Matt Bush beyond just needing an extra day of rest after Sunday’s outing. UPDATE — About five minutes after hitting “publish” on this post, we learned Matt Bush is out until at least Friday with a shoulder issue. So, yeah...
As far as reinforcements go, Tanner Scheppers is probably ready to be activated from the disabled list, and would seem to be the first pick to come up if someone is needed (and it wouldn’t be all that shocking if Scheppers were activated today, with Drew Robinson going down). Once Kela does his penance, he would seem to be in line to be recalled at some point before too long.
Otherwise...there’s Connor Sadzeck, possibly, currently pitching in the rotation for Frisco, but who many believe is destined for the pen. You could look at an R.J. Alvarez perhaps. But the Rangers mainly need the non-Dyson parts of the pen to stay healthy and productive, and to figure out whether Dyson is fixable or hurt or what have you.
Of course, this is a familiar situation for the Rangers, who re-tooled their pen on the fly in 2015, and survived a bad bullpen start to 2016, when Tolleson and Tom Wilhelmsen were awful and Kela needed surgery, to recover and win the A.L. West both years.
If there’s something this regime has been good at, it is finding useful bullpen parts for relatively cheap. We will see if that’s something they’ll have to do again this summer.