Odd Men Out: The Rangers Rotation Down the Stretch
No The Rangers are coming to a crossroads regarding their rotation.
With Derek Holland and Colby Lewis due back in the next two weeks (Holland against the Reds August 23rd), Jeff Banister and company are tasked with filling two rotation spots with three potential pitchers through the last quarter of the year. As the post-season draws near, they’ve got to fill one spot from four candidates.
Let’s look at the rotation as it stands now.
- Cole Hamels – 12-4, 2.88 ERA, 2.53 K/BB, 1.276 WHIP. He’s the ace that runs the place. He’s not going anywhere.
- Yu Darvish – 4-3, 2.75 ERA, 5.43 K/BB, 1.068 WHIP. The “hook” to Hamels’ “jab,” the “2” in a 1-2 Punch. He’s not going anywhere.
- Martin Perez – 8-9, 4.27 ERA, 1.25 K/BB, 1.408 WHIP. Boosted by a great start to the season, marred by a rough stretch, but redeemed since Jonathan Lucroy made him throw more change-ups. If you can start him at home, you’re in good shape. Don’t ever let him wear the grays. Fairly sure that he’s not going anywhere. Fairly.
- A.J. Griffin – 5-3, 4.68 ERA, 2.28 K/BB, 1.323 WHIP. After missing two years, and a DL stint this year, stamina looks like an issue. That said the stuff is there. He might not go when Holland comes back, but when Lewis comes back, is likely in danger.
Nick Martinez (1-3, 7.18 ERA, 0.63 K/BB, 1.975 WHIP) was just called up to replace Lucas Harrell on the roster. The way the off days are structured, Martinez might not get a start. Right now, he’s serving as the long reliever out of the bullpen, for when Alex Claudio is down.
We can remove Harrell from the equation. He left his previous start after 2 innings with an “unfortunate yet fortunate” groin injury. Harrell might fall victim to a “setback” or a longer than anticipated rehab assignment.
The Rangers won’t need as a fifth starter until August 27th, due to two off days in five days time. Until then, I assume Martinez is just an emergency pitcher until Holland’s return. His line at the Major League level is ugly and his Minor League line doesn’t look any better. Then again, the Rangers weren’t looking past one appearance for the young Martinez. Look for him to be sent down when Holland is reactivated before another call in September.
Two key pitchers will be coming off of the disabled list in the coming weeks. Who the Rangers choose to fill the last rotation spot in the last month will be key to how things line up in October.
The real fun happens when Holland comes back, which will happen in Cincinnati. With a comfortable six-game lead over Seattle, there was no reason to rush Holland back to start against Tampa Bay. After a comfortable bullpen session, Holland is all set to return against the Reds.
Holland, who’s underperformed since signing his contract extension, has pitched this year to a 5-5 record with a 5.20 ERA. Lacking an out pitch, Holland also sports the highest WHIP of Rangers’ starters with double-digit starts at 1.417. That means he gets hit hard and walks plenty. I’m sure the front office would love to see him step up in September, but he’s no more than a back of the rotation starter. While in terms of raw stuff Holland may be better than Harrell, the stats say he’d be nothing more than just a fresher arm. Holland could be used for two to three starts before Lewis comes back.
What about the bullpen? With rosters expanding to 40 men in September and Holland’s health in question, would it make sense to use the hard-throwing lefty out of the pen? I say yes, but I’ve been on board with moving Holland to the pen for awhile. Being in the bullpen could help Holland utilize his fastball more as “blow-it-by-you” stuff as opposed to stretching out the velocity over the course of several innings. His off-speed stuff, the slider, and change would be far more effective as out pitches when batters will only get to see him once.
By the time the old veteran Lewis comes back, rosters will have expanded, providing more flexibility as to who stays in The Show. As far as determining an anchor in the back of the rotation, I think Lewis should get the nod. Before his late tear, Lewis was arguably the Rangers’ best pitcher. Prior to the DL stint, Lewis was 6-1 with a 3.27 ERA in 15 starts, a staff-best 3.21 K/BB (Darvish not included), a staff-best 1.020 WHIP and 7.4 hits per nine innings. His one loss was the game after which he discovered he was injured.
Assuming all good health and quality, Colby rounds out the rotation through September and becomes fourth starter in the playoffs. Not only does Lewis have the pedigree of a clutch post-season pitcher, but his injuries seem only to make him stronger. Lewis is a horse you want to ride, and if he’s healthy that’s a stout number four starter.
Griffin was great this season before his DL stint. Going 3-1 with a 3.81 ERA when nobody expects anything from you is a great comeback story. In six starts since returning from the DL, however, Griffin’s been right on target with what was expected. A 6.06 ERA, 10 homers, 11 walks, only 6.9 strikeouts per nine and looking very hittable the second time through a lineup (.302/.369/.548 slash the second time through).
His start against Detroit, although the box score shows an unsightly six earned runs, was one of his better performances. Sure, he was home run prone, giving up three in the outing along with eleven hits. He also walked just one and struck out eight. Most importantly, Griffin threw 106 pitches in 6.2 innings, deeper than any of his starts sans an 8-inning gem in New York.
Once Lewis and Holland return, Griffin will have to be kept onboard as the insurance policy. For a guy recovering from two years of inactivity due to Tommy John and shoulder problems, perhaps spacing out his workload isn’t the worst idea. With the 40-man roster expansion, Griffin can be used out of the bullpen. If the idea is to get Holland or Lewis on a regular rotation to prep for the playoffs, that’s where he should be used. The other option, as mentioned above, would be to utilize Holland out of the pen and keep Griffin as your fifth starter. I like Griffin; with more innings under his belt, he can be an excellent low-cost option next year. As far as this year goes, I’d like to see him continue to pitch in the rotation with something to prove.
There’s a lot of combinations to use, especially with the expanded rosters and remaining off-days coming. Hamels is a guy you want pitching on regular rest. His body can handle it, he’s used to it, and he needs to line up as your number one. Darvish should line up as your number two, and in terms of stuff, he is. However, as you remember what he’s fought back from you can afford to give him an extra day of rest. Perez is a home pitcher, splits so wide Olympic gymnasts are jealous. Perez sports an American League best 2.36 ERA at home, compared to a ghastly 6.23 ERA on the road. With Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate, Perez has found a new gear and affinity for his change-up, resulting in better starts.
As comfortable as a six-game lead sounds with just over a month to play, nobody knows more than the Rangers that it only takes a week for things to go haywire. With seven games remaining against Seattle (their closest competition) and six left against Houston, this is not the time to be tinkering with getting someone work or holding auditions for next year.
If this is my call, I’m going like this once all arms are healthy:
- Cole Hamels
- Yu Darvish
- Martin Perez
- A.J. Griffin
- Colby Lewis
Derek Holland heads to the pen, being used when you can manipulate the rotation to give someone like Darvish or Griffin an extra day. As far as the playoff rotation goes, well that’s a different article for a different month.
Let’s get through September first.