With the 2022 regular season over, it is that time where we go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this past season.
Today, we look at relief pitcher Joe Barlow.
Fun fact: In MLB history, there have been only three pitchers who have accumulated at least 50 innings pitched in their career while allowing a batting average on balls in play of less than .200.
One of those three? Joe Barlow.*
* The other two are J.P. Feyereisen and Alexis Diaz, both of whom are relievers who have only pitched the last few years.
Unexpected, huh? Barlow isn’t a knuckleballer, doesn’t have a wicked cutter that induces weak contact, and otherwise isn’t the type of pitcher one would expect to have a freaky low BABIP.
If you’ve looked at Barlow’s peripherals and been baffled as to how he’s put up a career 2.81 ERA, now you know why. His 4.20 FIP and 4.73 xFIP suggest that something is amiss there.
Barlow entered the 2022 season as the Rangers’ closer, by virtue of the fact that he took over the closer role in 2021 after Ian Kennedy was traded and did good enough not to lose the job. It also helped that the Rangers didn’t add anyone in the 2021-22 offseason who would be seen as a Proven Closer, or even a Viable Closer, as well as that Jose Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez started the season on the injured list as they recovered from Tommy John surgery.
For the first half of the year, when Barlow was available, he generally was getting the ball in the ninth if the Rangers had a one to three run lead. The when available is an important caveat, though, as he dealt with blister issues that limited how often Chris Woodward could turn to him.
At the end of May Barlow was sporting a 1.56 ERA in 17 outings, picking up 9 saves and a win, and being used almost exclusively in the ninth inning. His first blown save didn’t come until June 3, the Rangers 51st game of the year, when a one out, two run home run by Eugenio Suarez turned a 3-2 Rangers lead into a 4-3 deficit. He had another blown save on June 12 at the White Sox, giving up three runs in the bottom of the 11th to neutralize the three run home run Ezequiel Duran had hit in the top of the 11th. The Rangers scored a pair of runs in the top of the 12th, however, and Barlow ended up with a “W” to go with the blown save on his ledger.
Still, things were rocking and rolling along for Barlow until July 4 and 5 in Baltimore. In back to back outings, Barlow allowed the Orioles to score the tying run in the ninth, and the Rangers lost both games in 10 innings. Barlow didn’t get another save opportunity the rest of the year — and, for that matter, barely pitched in the majors the rest of the year.
After a few more outings, Barlow was placed on the injured list with a blister on July 13. Barlow wasn’t activated until August 17, threw one inning, and went back on the injured list, not to return until late September. Ultimately, Barlow made just five major league appearances in the second half of the year.
A weird statistical quirk for Barlow in 2022 (and you know how I love those weird statistical quirks) — the Rangers won the first game in 2022 Barlow appeared in and lost the next two games where Barlow appeared. The next 23 appearances by Barlow were in Ranger wins, with the streak ending with the July 4 game at Baltimore. From July 4 to the end of the year, Barlow appeared in nine games, and all nine were Ranger losses.
Barlow is a fastball/slider guy, with the occasional curve mixed in that opponents hammered both in 2021 and 2022. He threw his slider 60% of the time in 2022, with his fastball about 30% of the time. Barlow’s slider is his best pitch, and he increased his usage of it from 2021, when he threw it around 40% of the time.
I’m not really sure what to expect from Barlow in 2023. His 3.86 ERA last year was okay, not great, but his 4.83 FIP and 5.28 xERA are not good. What is unclear is the extent to which his struggles as the season went on were a byproduct of the blister issue that he dealt with pretty much all year.
Given the Rangers have effectively done nothing to fortify the bullpen, it seems likely that Barlow will be in on the Opening Day roster in a middle relief role. He isn’t a closer, but he would seem to have the stuff to be a useful reliever going forward. After a disappointing second half in 2022, Barlow will get a chance to show whether that was an injury-impacted aberration, or if that is who he is.