With the 2022 regular season almost over, it is that time for us to go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this season.
Today, we look at pitcher Kohei Arihara.
One of the thing that a rebuilding club — particularly a rebuilding club that is at the nadir of its rebuilding process and is prepared to lose a lot of games — can do is take chances on players that may otherwise be overlooked, and give them regular playing time. Every once in a while, the team uncovers a hidden gem, or at least a hidden semi-valuable stone, getting a player who ends up being an unexpected contributor. Most of the time, though, there was a reason the player was overlooked.
The Rangers went that route with Kohei Arihara in 2021, signing a middling starting pitcher out of Japan to a two year, $6.2 million deal. There was talk in the spring of 2021 that the Rangers could do some work with him on refining his pitch shaping, tweaking his pitch sequencing, making him a viable major league starting pitcher, something that his numbers in Japan would suggest was beyond Arihara’s grasp.
That didn’t happen, of course. Arihara was bad in 2021, then needed surgery, then returned and was bad again. He was designated for assignment late in the 2021 season, was outrighted, and that, it seemed, was that. While there was talk that Arihara would get a chance to compete for a rotation spot in 2022, I think we all expected Arihara would toil in Round Rock, and if he ended up pitching in the majors for Texas in 2022, it would be a bad sign in regards to the progress of the Rangers’ pitching development, at least in the upper minors.
Well, Arihara did end up pitching in the majors for Texas in 2022. And he ended up pitching in the majors in 2022 in large part because of the poor development of the Rangers pitching prospects in the upper minors in 2022.
The Rangers shouldn’t have needed to turn to Kohei Arihara to start games for them in 2022. The Rangers started the year with Spencer Howard and Taylor Hearn in the rotation, and had Glenn Otto and A.J. Alexy and Kolby Allard and Cole Winn and Jake Latz in the AAA rotation, plus Cole Ragans and Jack Leiter in AA. Part of the reason the Rangers didn’t add more starting pitching this past offseason was the belief that the internal development would make it unnecessary.
Instead, we had Kohei Arihara starting games in August and September. There was a time when August where Arihara and Dallas Keuchel started back-to-back games. And if there’s any greater indictment of the Rangers’ upper level pitching development in 2022, I don’t know what it could be.
In his first couple of starts, Arihara actually was okay. He memorably threw six shutout innings against the Minnesota Twins in his second time out. He only struck out three batters and generated just five swinging strikes, but he didn’t walk anyone and allowed just four hits. Its a reminder that weird things happen in baseball, and that includes bad pitchers shutting down decent major league lineups occasionally.
It didn’t last, of course, and after a disastrous 3 inning, 11 run outing at home against Toronto, the Rangers moved on from Arihara. In 20 innings over 4 starts and one relief outing, he put up a 9.45 ERA, with 36 hits allowed, including four home runs. On the plus side, his xERA was only 7.13, an improvement over 2021’s 8.21 xERA.
Taking a gamble on Arihara prior to the 2021 season wasn’t unreasonable for a team in the Rangers’ situation. It seemed unlikely that he would end up being a serviceable starting pitcher, but it was a low cost, low risk gamble with enough upside that it was understandable.
Arihara didn’t work out, which was part of the story of the Rangers’ 2021 season. Like a dog returning to its vomit, however, the Rangers returned to Arihara in 2022, in what was essentially an admission of organizational failure.
The pitching coaches for Frisco and Round Rock have been let go, as well as both the Rangers’ major league pitching coaches. Given the state of the upper level pitching at the start of the 2022 season, the fact that the Rangers had to turn to Arihara in the final two months of the season — the fact that the Rangers had no actual pitching prospect that they could turn to as a better option, and had to go with Arihara — goes a long way to helping explain why those changes are being made.