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2021 Year in Review: Josh Sborz

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Taking a look at Josh Sborz’s 2021 season

Texas Rangers v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

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 righthanded reliever Josh Sborz.

Josh Sborz was one of the myriad of former Dodgers that have come through Arlington the last year or two. I think of him as a waiver claim, but he was not, in fact, a waiver claim — he was, rather, acquired from the Dodgers right before spring training 2021 started in exchange for teenage righthanded pitcher Jhan Zambrano.

Zambrano, in case you are wondering, spent the 2021 season as a 19 year old in the ACL. He threw 37.2 IP in 12 appearances for the ACL Dodgers, with 27 Ks against 12 walks, with a 2.15 ERA.

Sborz is your garden variety hard throwing righthanded reliever who relies on a four seamer/breaking ball combo and who will get lit up if his command isn’t on. You can’t shake a tree without a half-dozen of these falling out.

Sborz had been designated for assignment by the Dodgers to open up a 40 man roster spot for Trevor Bauer — ahem, that worked out well for them, didn’t it? — when the Rangers picked him up for Zambrano. Why Sborz as compared to any of a number of other similar pitchers who periodically hit the waiver wire, I don’t know, other than maybe Chris Woodward was familiar with him from his time with the Dodgers, and the Rangers may be particularly targeting the Dodgers’ 40 man roster casualties due to how deep and strong the Dodgers’ roster is (see also Dennis Santana and D.J. Peters).

Sborz had two options remaining when the Rangers snagged him, and so the expectation was that he would be one of those guys who would bounce up and down between Round Rock and Arlington over the course of the season, but as it turned out Sborz didn’t throw a single pitch in the minors in 2021. Sborz was optioned in April, 2021, when Joely Rodriguez was activated from the injured list, but went to the Alternate Training Site since there was no minor league action yet, and was recalled a week later when Kyle Cody went on the injured list. Sborz also was inactive for a few days in late July due to a trip to the paternity list — but otherwise, he was in Arlington and active all year.

A quick glance at Josh Sborz’s 2021 line would suggest it was a pretty ho-hum, generic season. 3.97 ERA, 4.00 FIP, 111 ERA+. His 63 appearances were the second highest on the team, behind only Brett Martin. Sborz struck out 69 and walked 32 with 7 home runs allowed in 59 innings, the type of line we’d expect from a hard throwing reliever with iffy command.

Looking at his splits, though, does reveal a few things of interest. First of all, Sborz had pretty extreme home/road splits in 2021 — he had a 5.34/2.51 ERA split between his home performance and his road performance in 2021, with a .280/.358/.492 slash line allowed at home and a .183/.292/.260 slash line allowed on the road.

This would have made more sense if it had happened in 2019, or the quarter century prior to that, when the Rangers’ home park was one of the most hitter-friendly in baseball. The new ballpark is not hitter-friendly, however — it appears to be more pitcher friendly to neutral at this point.

Weirdly, Sborz’s walk and K numbers on the home and on the road are almost identical — 16 walks and 34 Ks at home in 137 PAs, 16 walks and 35 Ks at home in 120 PAs. He allowed a .342 BABIP at home, though, compared to .254 on the road, and 5 home home runs against 2 road home runs.

Anyway, it is probably just random fluctuations, but I thought it was interesting.

More significant are Sborz’s monthly splits, as follows:

ERA FIP wOBA xwOBA K/9 BB/9
April 3.86 3.17 .221 .287 5.79 3.86
May 3.75 1.67 .278 .264 15.00 2.25
June 7.27 6.63 .399 .348 15.58 7.27
July 4.05 6.32 .368 .358 6.75 8.10
August 3.38 5.05 .319 .313 7.59 3.38
Sept/Oct 2.31 2.83 .282 .278 10.80 6.17

So...Sborz started the season well — better than his ERA reflected, per both FIP and xwOBA. He then struggled mightily in June and July, got a little better in August, and then was back to his old form by the final month of the season.

Is there an explanation for this? Perhaps...let’s do the same table, but with three more columns added:

ERA FIP wOBA xwOBA K/9 BB/9 FB Spin Rate SL Spin Rate CB Spin Rate
April 3.86 3.17 .221 .287 5.79 3.86 2437 2281 1931
May 3.75 1.67 .278 .264 15.00 2.25 2436 2239 2381
June 7.27 6.63 .399 .348 15.58 7.27 2302 2103 2097
July 4.05 6.32 .368 .358 6.75 8.10 2269 2073 1824
August 3.38 5.05 .319 .313 7.59 3.38 2246 2068 1862
Sept/Oct 2.31 2.83 .282 .278 10.80 6.17 2308 2143 1834

We see a drop in Sborz’s spin rate after the first couple of months, with the drop being particularly pronounced for his curveball, which he threw roughly half as often as his slider in 2021.

And of course, beginning on June 19, MLB started cracking down on pitchers’ use of the “sticky stuff,” which is used for a better grip and more spin, as well as better command.

Is there a connection? Well, let’s look at Sborz’s game logs from mid-May to mid-July:

FB Spin Rate SL Spin Rate CB Spin Rate
May 15 2399 2172 2238
May 17 2433 2211
May 20 2411 2181 2326
May 22 2449 2176 2283
May 23 2381 2193 2321
May 30 2541 2626
June 1 2395 2251
June 4 2392 2157 2368
June 6 2304 2072 2297
June 8 2303 2025 2360
June 12 2213 2050 2350
June 15 2229 2056 2229
June 18 2325 2144 2292
June 21 2311 2070 1890
June 24 2270 2073 1964
June 30 2348 2109 1859
July 3 2189 2026 1664
July 6 2347 2019 1784
July 9 2260 2048 1931
July 11 2314 2096 1802

Obviously, relievers generally don’t throw a lot of pitches per outing, so there’s going to be more noise due to the inherent small sample sizes per outing. Nonetheless, there certainly does appear to be a difference once MLB started cracking down.

For what it is worth, Statcast has Sborz in the 92nd percentile in fastball velocity and 72nd percentile in fastball spin in 2021. His curveball spin, on the other hand, was only in the 5th percentile — he had, overall, one of the lowest spin curves in MLB last year.

If we just take a very high level overview, one could hypothesize that Sborz was using the sticky stuff until the ban came down, struggled once it was outlawed to pitch without it, but was able to make adjustments to be effective again towards the end of the season. Whether that’s actually what happened — and whether Sborz will be able to be effective going forward — remains to be seen.

Previous segments:

John King

Hunter Wood

Anderson Tejeda

Nick Snyder

Eli White

Ronald Guzman

David Dahl

Khris Davis

Joey Gallo

Ryan Dorow

Brett de Geus

Brett Martin

Brock Holt

Drew Anderson

Willie Calhoun

Curtis Terry

Jake Latz

Joe Barlow

Jimmy Herget

Yohel Pozo

Mike Foltynewicz

Jose Trevino

Nathaniel Lowe

Leody Taveras

DJ Peters

Glenn Otto

John Hicks

Jharel Cotton

A.J. Alexy

Isiah Kiner-Falefa

Charlie Culberson

Jordan Lyles

Yonny Hernandez