The Texas Rangers win yesterday featured just two walks issued by the Rangers pitchers — one by starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx, and one by reliever Jose Leclerc. It was the 28th time in 29 games that the Rangers have issued three walks or fewer in a game.
This is an interesting factoid in part because one thing the Rangers have not been known for in recent years is throwing strikes. The Rangers were 17th in the majors in fewest walks per 9 innings in 2013. The Rangers were 27th in that godawful 2014 season. In 2015, the Rangers were 24th in walks; in 2016, the Rangers were 22nd; and last year, Texas was 24th in walk rate for its pitchers.
This year, however? The Ranger pitchers are sixth in the majors in fewest walks per 9 innings, at 2.94 BB/9. And that ranking has been improving since the beginning of the season...Texas was 15th in the majors for March/April, at 3.36 BB/9, but then were 4th in May, at 2.64 BB/9, and are currently 7th in the month of April, at 2.72 BB/9.
Bartolo Colon would seem to be a factor, as he’s at just 1.34 BB/9 on the season in his 80.2 innings pitched. Martin Perez’s walks per 9 were at 4.84 before he went on the disabled list, but he walked 3.06 batters per 9 in 2017, so it isn’t as if subtracting him from last year’s rotation is making the difference. Mike Minor (2.12) and Doug Fister (2.59) were new rotation additions that had particularly low walk rates, as well as Jesse Chavez (1.93) and Chris Martin 91.31) in the bullpen. That being said, Alex Claudio, Tony Barnette, Jake Diekman, Keone Kela and Jose Leclerc all have lower walk rates than last season, and were all in the bullpen last year as well as this year.
So I’m not sure if it is a change in personnel, a change in approach by the team, or just one of those things. But what’s interesting about this as well is that the Ranger hitters have stepped up their walk rate of late, as well. Rangers hitters walked 8.9% of the time in 2018, basically tied for 11th with the Brewers and the Rays. They are up to 9.8% this year, which has them fifth in MLB, and with the three teams directly ahead of them all at 9.9% or 9.8%.
But as with the pitching staff, the walk rate has seen a significant improvement as the season has gone on. The Rangers were 18th in the majors for the month of April, with a 8.5% walk rate, but jumped up to 6th in May, at 9.2%, and have the best walk rate in the majors in June, at 12.9%. Evan Grant wrote about the Rangers’ spike in their walks in June, and how it has helped fuel the offense in this recent winning streak.
In any case, the Rangers are among the better teams in the majors at both preventing walks and drawing walks, and the Rangers have seen significant improvements in both areas since the beginning of May after being middle in the pack in that regard in April. I’m not sure if this is just random noise, or if there is something particular to attribute this to, in regards to approach or emphasis being placed on throwing strikes and plate discipline by the coaching staff.
But it is interesting, and I though worth pointing out.