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Analyzing the turmoil in the Rangers bullpen over the last month

Photo: Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers

Analyzing the turmoil in the Rangers bullpen over the last month

The Rangers’ bullpen has been a topic of conversation for the past month. Since April 24th, the Rangers bullpen has a 7.26 ERA (last in MLB). The next worst bullpen in that span is the Athletics at 6.10. It’s a pen that threw the fewest innings at 70.2. It’s also a bullpen at a 50% save rate, with six blown saves in the past month. The six blown saves are tied for 8th in MLB for most since April 24th (only the Twins had fewer opportunities with more blown saves than the Rangers).

An oddity to this is that if you span back between March 30th and April 23rd (before the Reds series that had two meltdowns), the Rangers bullpen was lights out. They had a 2.61 ERA (2nd in MLB next to the Yankees). The downside is that the Texas pen blew two saves in five chances and was one of seven teams with three or fewer saves. As a result, they were used a little more during the first month, throwing 79.1 innings.

We know the bullpen has been dreadful, but what’s the sudden change? First, the bullpen’s walk rate is slightly higher in the last month compared to the first month. Before April 24th, the walk rate was 3.06 (BB/9) compared to the previous month of 4.20. Therefore, they are walking more batters. Second, they’ve allowed on average more home runs (1.78 HR/9) in the last month compared to 0.45), which always is a recipe for disaster. Third, the strikeout rate is consistent, and teams aren’t focusing on pulling the ball more (the pen allowed 28 more hits in the past month than the first month).

I did a little deeper dive individually too, and two relievers specifically have taken the most heat.

Statistically, José Leclerc was dominant in his first eight appearances. He didn’t allow a run, although he blew one save and struck out seven. However, he walked four. In his last seven outings, Leclerc has allowed seven hits, seven runs, and six walks while striking out eight. It fits the theme of not losing the strikeout, but teams are making contact against Leclerc.

Jonathan Hernández is another with a possible higher extreme between the two months. In his first nine appearances, Hernández allowed two runs, four hits, three walks, and struck out eleven. However, in his last 12 outings, Hernández has allowed 14 hits, 11 runs, six walks, four home runs, and hit three batters. In addition, each reliever in that span has seen inflation in their numbers (Brock Burke, Cole Ragans, Josh Sborz, and Will Smith).

*Note this table does not include Sandy Leon’s inning on the mound nor do the walk totals include intentional walks. Also, Dane Dunning’s numbers are solely based on his role in the bullpen.

Will Smith has been the bright spot for the Rangers. He recorded his 100th save on Wednesday’s victory over the Pirates with a five-out save. He came into the eighth inning with the bases loaded and one out and shut the door down. He’s picked up all six of the Ranger’s saves in the past month and is considered the Ranger’s most consistent reliever since the bullpen debacle.

All of the noise from outside is to take a shot outside the organization and make a trade. The issue with that is you make a trade, give away a valued prospect, and possibly run into the same scenario. In addition, relievers have been more fragile in 2023  (perhaps linked to the rule changes). Therefore, there’s no guarantee that the bullpen issue will solve itself. Promoting young pitchers within the organization is an option, but will you ask a Triple-A reliever to throw in the 8th inning? If you give him the 6th or 7th, you need another reliever to throw in the 8th to set it up for Smith.

One final reason I wouldn’t make hasty decisions is the recent track record. These guys in the bullpen have proven they are successful in the majors this season. It’s a trickle effect, but the issue is that only Smith is showing signs of consistent success. It’s not like one or two are struggling. It’s the bulk of the pack, so there’s no light-up. However, with baseball, it’s a game of patterns, and the hope is there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The Rangers will make some changes in the bullpen come the trade deadline but don’t expect the bank to break two months before.

Credentialed Media Staff Writer covering the Texas Rangers for Dallas Sports Fanatic | 2014 University of North Texas graduate with a Bachelor's in Radio, Television, and Film. I talk about things. Find me on the tweeter @aplinckTX

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