The Texas Rangers’ bullpen was one of their main weaknesses at the start of the season, but now it’s become one of their strengths thanks to some young contributors.
It seems like a long time ago that Sam Dyson entered the 2017 regular season as the Texas Rangers‘ bona fide closer. Now, just weeks away from the All-Star break, Dyson is no longer with the team and the Rangers pen has seemingly turned the corner because of it.
The Rangers’ relief pitching was a giant weakness in the opening months of the season. Dyson did not record a save while he was closer and pitched to an ERA over 10.00 until he was released at the beginning of June.
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In addition, set-up man Matt Bush began the year in rough fashion as well, allowing a run in two of his first three outings. Veteran relievers Jeremy Jeffress and Tony Barnette also pitched poorly and both still remain out with injuries. So without these veterans performing well at the start of the year, how has the Rangers bullpen gotten back on track in the past month or so? Well, just look to the young talent that the team is building in its pen.
Apart from Bush solidifying the closer’s role, the Rangers have given some younger, more dynamic arms a chance to thrive, and man, have they taken advantage.
Electric right-hander Keone Kela experienced a rough patch in the beginning of May but has really come on in recent weeks, not allowing a run since June 9. He’s lowered his ERA to an impressive 2.73 while working as one of the Rangers’ primary set-up men.
Lefty Alex Claudio has continued his solid start to his Major League Baseball career by pitching to a 2.54 ERA, which is an improvement over his career 2.73 earned run average. He also gives a different look to a bullpen full of flamethrowers because he remains effective using a hard sinker that he throws over 50 percent of the time when he’s on the mound.
Also, take note of young fiery right-hander Jose Leclerc, who has struck out 34 batters over 20 innings for the Rangers. He’s a bit smaller, listed at just 6’0″ and 190 lbs., but he’s managed to increase his fastball velocity from about 94 mph last season to around 96 mph in 2017, according to FanGraphs.
The Rangers bullpen has also gotten deeper with the addition of veteran Ernesto Frieri, who has yet to give up an earned run in three appearances since joining the Rangers. Lefty Dario Alvarez has bounced back nicely from his rough 2016 campaign with the Rangers.
This resurgence from the Rangers bullpen is not only uplifting because their performance has dramatically gotten better over the course of half a season, but also due to the fact that many of these arms are electric, young and controllable.
Although closer Matt Bush is 31 years old, he still has a lot of tread on the tires considering he was out of baseball for a while, and will be controllable through 2023. Kela has the makings of a future closer with his upper 90s heater at just 24 years of age. Leclerc and Claudio look to be forces for a long time with both being under 25 years of age as well. Throw in a potential Jeffress or Barnette bounce-back once they return from injury and this Rangers bullpen has a considerable amount of upside.
It’s been quite a turnaround since those early season blues, and I expect with the talent and confidence that the Rangers’ relievers have right now, the bullpen will continue to produce as the Rangers make a Wild Card run over the second half of the season.