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 Spencer Patton.
Two of the worst seasons in the history of the Texas Rangers included Spencer Patton giving the Rangers some decent innings out of the bullpen.
One of those was 2021, of course. 2021 sucked. We all know that.
The other was 2014. 2014 was also terrible, though in something of a different way. 2021 was supposed to be awful, and was. 2014 was supposed to be good, then people started getting injured, then all sorts of bad things happened, and the team cratered and Ron Washington resigned and the season became a black pit of despair.
The Rangers acquired Spencer Patton from the Kansas City Royals in 2014. They got him in exchange for Jason Frasor, a righthanded reliever who the Rangers signed in the 2012-13 offseason. Frasor said at the time he wanted to sign with Texas because he had never been to the playoffs and, in his mid-30s, he wanted to be with a team that would allow him to experience that.
Hah, joke was on him.
Except as it turned out, it wasn’t. Frasor was sent to the Royals on July 16, 2014. He pitched extremely well for the Royals the rest of the way, putting up a 1.53 ERA in 17.2 IP. The Royals won the Wild Card Game against the Oakland A’s, swept the Angels in the ALDS, swept the Orioles in the ALCS, and then went on to the World Series, where they fell in seven games to the San Francisco Giants and their Even Year Devil Magic.
I think we forget how close the Royals came to being one and done in 2014. The A’s broke the Wild Card Game open in the top of the 6th, with James Shields, Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera combining to give up five runs, making it a 7-3 A’s lead.
The Oakland A’s had Jon Lester on the mound — they had acquired him mid-season for just such a situation. When Lester took the mound in the bottom of the eighth, the A’s were six outs away from advancing to the ALDS.
But Lester gave up a single to Alcides Escobar. After Escobar stole second, Lester got Nori Aoki to ground out.
Five outs away.
A Lorenzo Cain single brought home Aoki and made it 7-4. A stolen base and an Eric Hosmer walk later, Lester was out and Luke Gregerson was in to shut down the rally.
Gregerson did not shut down the rally. Single, walk, wild pitch, and it was 7-6. Gregerson did strike out Salvador Perez and Omar Infante to end the inning — with Terrance Gore at third, no less, which had to be worrisome for a pitcher who had already allowed a run-scoring wild pitch in the inning — but all the sudden it was a close game.
Sean Doolittle came on for the save in the ninth. Josh Willingham singled. Jarrod Dyson pinch ran for him. Alcides Escobar bunted him to second. Dyson stole third. Aoki hit a sac fly. Tie ball game. On to extra innings.
Frasor made the first postseason appearance of his career in the 12th, with Josh Reddick on second and one out. He promptly threw a wild pitch and then gave up a single, giving Oakland the lead, and while he retired the final two batters of the game, it was looking like he was going to be the goat. The bad kind of goat, not the good kind.
Kansas City came back and scored two in the 12th, though, as the A’s once again experienced postseason misery. Jason Frasor got the win.
Frasor went on to appear in six more games that postseason, allowing just one run. A free agent after the season, he re-signed with the Royals on a one year deal, and despite putting up a 1.54 ERA in the first half of the season, he was designated for assignment in July, 2015, and released. He signed a deal with the Atlanta Braves, pitched sparingly for them, was released in August, and at that point, as it turned out, his career was done.
However, he did pitch for the Royals in 2015. And the Royals did make it back to the World Series, beating the New York Mets. So Jason Frasor ended up getting a ring.
So signing with the Rangers in order to experience the playoffs worked out for Jason Frasor.
Meanwhile, the Rangers, in Patton, got a pitcher who I believe Jamey Newberg described as being someone who profiled as a potential Jason Frasor. Patton allowed one run in 9 innings of work for the Rangers in September, 2014. He logged a pair of holds in one run games down the stretch, and picked up his first career win in a 5-4 win against Oakland in the penultimate game of the season, so if you want to be upset about the Rangers finishing one game better than the Colorado Rockies, and thus picking fourth instead of third, you can be mad at Spencer Patton, I guess.
Anyway, Patton didn’t pitch well in 2015, and got traded to the Chicago Cubs for minor league infielder Frandy de la Rosa after the season. Frandy de la Rosa is an awesome name, but unfortunately, he wasn’t good enough to make it out of A ball, and ended up getting shipped to San Francisco for pitcher Clayton Blackburn during the 2017 season. De la Rosa played in the Giants system in 2017 and 2018, didn’t play in 2019, then played for Yokohama in Japan in 2020 and 2021.
Patton, meanwhile, split 2016 between the majors and the minors for the Cubs, and at the end of the season, his contract was sold to...Yokohama, where he played from 2017-20. So he would have been teammates with Frandy de la Rosa in 2020.
Patton put up a 3.68 ERA in 205 innings over four seasons in the JPL before opting to make a return to the States in 2021. Patton signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, started the year with Round Rock, was called up in early June, and was pretty solid the rest of the way, putting up a 3.83 ERA and a 3.19 FIP in 42.1 IP, with 48 Ks against 15 walks.
Patton was a three pitch pitcher in 2021, throwing a four seamer and a slider to righties with close to a 50/50 mix, while using his four seamer 60% of the time against lefties and the slider and splitter each around 20% of the time. Patton appears to have added the split finger pitch while in Japan — at least, Statcast has him throwing a splitter now, and didn’t from 2014-16. In his 2014-16 stints in the majors he had a changeup he barely used and a sinker he also didn’t use much to go with the four seamer and the slider. Statcast shows the sinker appearing 7 times in 2021, but the spin and velocity is close enough to the four seamer I tend to think that may just be Statcast labeling the pitch wrong.
In any case, Patton’s new split finger was not effective in 2021. He generated just a 12.5% whiff rate and a .430 wOBA with the split finger. Although the xwOBA on the splitter, now that I’m looking at it, was .293, which is pretty good. In fact, his overall xwOBA of .270 is better than his actual .287 wOBA allowed, and his xERA for 2021 was 3.06, so maybe I’ve been sleeping on Patton a little.
Something else interesting, in looking at Patton’s Statcast page, is that his fastball spin rate is in the 9th percentile — he throws a low-spin four seamer, which generally isn’t a good thing. One would expect, as a result, that he would have a lot less vertical movement on his four seamer, compared to average.
Instead, though, Patton has roughly average break, both horizontally and vertically, on his four seamer. That appears to be a byproduct of him having a lot of “active spin,” which means that the axis the spin is generated on allows him to maximize the amount of movement that is generated by the spin. So that’s interesting.
Patton’s slider is his money pitch, though, with a horizontal break that is 46% greater than average. Patton had a .213 xwOBA on his slider with a 30.5% whiff rate. Interestingly, while most pitchers with a quality slider like Patton look to locate them down and to the gloveside, Patton’s heatmap shows he mostly throws his slider up and gloveside. That’s where you would normally expect to see a cutter thrown, rather than a slider.
I had been working off the assumption that Patton would be a free agent after the 2021 season, given that most players coming to the United States from Japan have a clause providing for free agency once their deal is up, rather than being under team control and arbitration-eligible. Joely Rodriguez, for example, became a free agent once the Yankees declined his team option after the season (though he then re-upped with the Yankees right before the lockout). Patton, however, apparently didn’t have that leverage, which I guess him signing a minor league deal should have given me a clue of.
Patton turns 34 in February, and could be a useful member of the Rangers pen in 2022. He’s out of options, so the Rangers would have to waive him to send him down if he has a disappointing spring or the team just prefers to keep other pitchers instead of Patton. Patton has been durable, which is a good thing, and so one would think there would be no greater risk of injury for him than any other pitcher, though the injury risk for any pitcher isn’t insignificant. I wouldn’t be surprised if he puts up another nice season with a mid-3 ERA in a middle relief role in 2022, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s torched early in the year and released before Memorial Day. That’s the nature of being a fringy reliever in your mid-30s.
One other thing...remember when I mentioned Clayton Blackburn earlier? The pitcher the Rangers acquired from the Giants in the Frandy de la Rosa trade?
You might remember his name because he was called up to the majors on July 31, 2017, after Yu Darvish and Jeremy Jeffress were traded that day. He spent three days in the majors, didn’t pitch, and then was sent down on August 3 when A.J. Griffin was activated from the injured list.
Blackburn spent the rest of 2017 in the minors. He came to camp in 2018 as a depth piece for the rotation who had a chance to get some major league innings over the course of the season.
And the Rangers pitching in 2018 was godawful. Yovani Gallardo, picked up after the Reds released him when he allowed 8 runs in 2 innings over three games, started eighteen games for the Rangers that year. Matt Moore was fourth on the team in innings pitched. Austin Bibens-Dirkx threw 45 innings. Bartolo Colon had 146 innings over 28 games. Drew Hutchison started five games. A young pitching depth guy in the organization was going to get major league innings in 2018.
But Clayton Blackburn left a start in the first inning of a spring game in March, 2018. He had Tommy John surgery in April, 2018. And he never pitched again as a professional.
* very Paul Harvey voice * “And now you know...the REST of the story...”