With the 2021 season having come to a close, we are looking back at the year that was for members of the Texas Rangers.
Today we are looking at pitcher Mike Foltynewicz.
Ah, Folty. Sometimes taking a flyer on guys like this work out. Usually they don’t. Which makes sense...because if they usually worked out, you wouldn’t be taking a flyer on them, and they’d be a lot more in demand (or not released in the first place).
If you’ve blotted it from your memory, Foltynewicz was signed by the Rangers after a 2020 season where his velocity disappeared, he made only one appearance for the Atlanta Braves, was waived, got outrighted, and ended up becoming a free agent at the end of the season since he was no longer on the 40 man roster.
Prior to that Foltynewicz had been a functional arm for the Braves since coming to Atlanta in the 2014-15 offseason in the deal that sent Evan Gattis to Houston. A former first rounder, he had a 4.0 bWAR season in 2018, making the All Star team and finishing 8th in the Cy Young balloting, and at the time he appeared that might be a sign of great things to come, but instead Foltynewicz went back to being just okay in 2019, and non-pitchable in 2020.
Still, he fit with the Rangers, being a reclamation project of sorts, someone who they could bring in to try to fix, get innings out of, and if he was good, bring him back for 2022, since he still would not have a full six years of service time at the end of 2021. It was a cheap low risk move of the type that teams in the midst of a rebuild should make.
Of course, we know how this all turned out. Foltynewicz was mediocre in the first two months of the season, really awful in the middle two months, then seemed to be getting back to being non-terrible in August when he landed on the COVID-19 injured list as part of the Boston Outbreak. He missed a month, which is a problem for someone who is supposed to be eating innings for you, but then, by that point, it was open audition time anyway, so eating innings was less of a concern.
Foltynewicz finally returned in late September, made four relief appearances, and ended the year with a 5.44 ERA and a 6.02 FIP in 139 innings. He had a 2-12 record, which, you know, we don’t really pay attention to wins and losses, but a 2-12 record is something that will catch your eye.
There are two things that I suspect most Rangers fans will remember about Folty’s time with the Rangers (assuming they remember anything at all).
First was the body language. Now, I’m not a big body language guy, and I generally don’t care about how players react and what have you. Whatever, do your thing, if you’re upset you’re upset, I don’t worry about it, or often even notice it.
But Foltynewicz...it was impossible not to notice. When he didn’t get a call, when he walked a batter, when he gave up a hit, the demeanor and mannerisms were unlike just about any pitcher I’ve seen over the course of a season. I don’t even know how to explain it, other than to say that when anything happened that was not good, he visibly and overly acted like he was disgusted with everything and everyone and that there’s no place he’d less rather be than out on the field.
I’m not saying it mattered...but that’s an indelible memory I’m taking away from 2021.
Second was the home runs. Chris Woodward told batters to trust their stuff and challenge hitters, and the Rangers pitchers did that, and the result was that guys whose stuff wasn’t worth trusting gave up a lot of home runs. Jordan Lyles was first in the American League in home runs allowed, with 38. Mike Foltynewicz was tied for second in the A.L. in home runs allowed, with 35. Kolby Allard was tied for seventh, with 29.
Foltynewicz was saved by COVID-19 from leading the lead in homers, I suspect, since if he hadn’t missed a month and then been relegated to bullpen duty, he’d have easily surpassed the 38 long balls Jordan Lyles gave up.
But what was perhaps the most disappointing is that Foltynewicz lost his chance at immortality.
The MLB record for home runs allowed in a single season is 50, by Bert Blyleven in 1986. Bert needed to throw 271 innings to allow that many home runs. Second place is Jose Lima, who allowed 48 bombs in 196. 1 IP in 2000.
Nobody has really threatened that record in a while. Dylan Bundy and Mike Leake each gave up 41 home runs in 2018 and 2019, respectively, in 171.2 IP and 197 IP, but that’s still almost 20% fewer home runs allowed than Blyleven gave up. The only pitcher who has really come close in recent years is Bronson Arroyo, who gave up 46 bombs in 1999 innings in 2011, tying him with 1987 Blyleven and 1956 Robin Roberts for third on the all time single season list.
But Folty was in position to do just that. After a four inning, six run outing in Detroit on July 22, Foltynewicz had allowed 31 home runs in 106 innings over 20 starts. At 1.55 home runs allowed per start, he was on pace to allow 46-47 home runs if he made 30 starts. If he made 32, he’d be at 49-50 home runs allowed at that pace. Blyleven’s record was in danger!
It was not to be, however. Foltynewicz had his next start pushed back to August 1, and made four starts in August, allowing just three home runs. After his August 18 start, with 42 games left in the season, Folty was sitting at 34 home runs, a 1.42 HR per start rate. He appeared set to make 8 more starts over the course of the year, and if he allowed home runs going forward at that rate he would end up at 45-46 home runs allowed — still in striking distance, and one or two really bad outings from being back on track to catch Blyleven. But then he was put in the COVID-19 protocols, missed and month, and that was that.
Still, Foltynewicz’s season was pretty notable. He allowed only one more walk than he allowed home runs, which is a rare thing to do. And his 2.27 HR/9 ratio was historically high, as well.
I went to B-R and searched for all seasons where a pitcher had 1) at least 120 innings pitched, and 2) a HR/9 rate of 2.00 or more. There were only 22 of those seasons. Five, interestingly, came in 2021 — Folty’s teammate Kolby Allard had a 2.09 HR/9 rate and 124.2 IP, while Tarik Skubal, JT Brubaker and Andrew Heaney also cracked the 2.00/120 IP barrier.
Only one player on that list had a higher HR/9 rate than Foltynewicz — Scott Elarton, who allowed 34 home runs in 132.2 IP in 2001 between the Astros and the Rockies, good for a 2.31 HR/9. Jose Lima’s infamous 2000 season was at 2.20, and no one else was higher than 2.15 HR/9.
So yeah, bad body language and home runs...that defines, for me, Mike Foltynewicz’s 2021 season.
I was going to go on Statcast and poke around and see the difference between Folty in 2021 and Folty in prior years, when he was good, but really, I don’t care. If he had been with the Rangers in the good years, maybe I would, but its not something that I feel like making the effort to dig into right now. He was here, he didn’t work out, and now he’s gone, and will be pitching somewhere else in 2022, and I think we are all ready to move on.