With the 2019 Texas Rangers season now over, I’m going to do a series of posts handing out grades to every player who appeared for the Rangers this year. I’m starting with pitchers, will go in alphabetical order, and then will do position players in alphabetical order.
Grades will be based on a combination of performance, expectations, and my own whims at the moment I happen to be typing this up. They aren’t to be taken too seriously.
And today, Part X...
ADRIAN SAMPSON — C
Remember in 2018, how Bartolo Colon was a surprise to make the Rangers’ roster, and then was really good early on, and we talked about how cool it was and how exciting and unexpected, and then he was terrible over the final part of the season and ended up having an overall mediocre season?
Well, that was Adrian Sampson in 2019.
Early in the season, when the Rangers were surprisingly hanging around in the Wild Card race, Adrian Sampson had a lot to do with it. He bounced between the rotation and the pen in April, then was in the rotation for the next two months, doing generally solid work. Chris Woodward used an opener for him several times, and it seemed to work. Sampson was among the American League leaders in bWAR for pitchers for much of the first half of the season, and after a 3 run, 6 IP outing against the Rays on June 29, he had a 4.16 ERA on the year in 88.2 IP. I don’t think anyone expected him to keep that up, but it did look like maybe, perhaps, he could be a viable member of a major league rotation.
Alas, it wasn’t to be.
Sampson allowed 7 runs in 3.1 IP in a start in Minnesota on July 5. He then moved to the bullpen, with Jesse Chavez replacing him in the rotation, for a couple of weeks. He had a disastrous 1.1 IP, 5 run outing in Arizona where he came in in the first inning in relief of Chavez, who allowed 7 runs while recording 2 outs on July 17. He then returned to the rotation, allowed 15 runs in 16 IP over 3 starts, and then went back to the bullpen for the final two months of the season, where he pitched sparingly, and had a couple of disaster outings. From July 1 on, Sampson had a 10.06 ERA in 36.2 IP, with 14 home runs allowed and a 1153 OPS against.
That’s very bad.
Now, there were warning signs for Sampson in the first half. He allowed opponents a 47.3% hard hit rate from April-June, per Fangraphs. As a point of reference, Franmil Reyes, a guy best known for hitting the ball very hard when he makes contact, had a 47.3% hard hit rate in 2019, and that was 10th best in the majors.
Sampson’s hard hit rate ticked up just slightly from July on, at 49.3%. His problem, though, was that he was giving up more home runs on fly balls (he had an awful 8.37 FIP in those three months, versus a bad 6.39 xFIP), and was not throwing strikes or missing bats (8.7% walk rate/15.3% K rate in the second half, compared to 5.3% and 19.2%).
He was a little bit unlucky, per Statcast, as from July on he had a .469 wOBA allowed, compared to an xwOBA of “only” .408. But either way, he was bad — he is someone who needed exceptional command to succeed, and once his command slipped, he was hammered.
Sampson was someone who, at the All Star Break, seemed like someone who would be around in 2020 as a rotation candidate or up-and-down guy. After cratering in the second half, I’d expect him to be waived or non-tendered, with the Rangers then looking to bring him back on a minor league deal.
DREW SMYLY — F
Of the three reclamation projects the Rangers were counting on for the 2019 rotation, Drew Smyly was the guy I had the most confidence in. He had a track record of being a solid major league pitcher, and while he missed all of 2017 and 2018 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, he seemed like a safe bet to rebound and provide the Rangers with value.
I was wrong.
Drew Smyly was very bad as a Ranger. He had an 8.42 ERA and an 8.05 FIP for Texas in 9 starts and 4 relief appearances. Like second half Sampson, he was a little bit unlucky — he had a .423 wOBA for the Rangers, compared to an xwOBA of .390 — but both numbers are terrible. The Rangers, understandably, pulled the plug and moved on at the end of June.
Smyly signed a minor league with the Milwaukee Brewers at the start of July, was bad in the minors for them, and then was released a couple of weeks later. Smyly then signed with the Phillies and ended up putting up a league average ERA over 12 starts for Philadelphia, which was...unexpected. And he had a .330 xwOBA for the Phillies, so it wasn’t just good fortune.
If you want to drill down a little more, after two stellar starts for the Phillies, Smyly put up a 5.44 ERA in 49.2 IP over his final 10 starts, with a .276/.340/.561 slash line allowed, so it may not be that he’s truly back. But someone will sign him to a minor league deal this offseason and give him a chance to show his stuff this spring.