Has Ranger pitching turned corner?
- I am thoroughly amazed at some of the things we are seeing in Arlington this summer, and while my calendar reminds me that we are merely passing the "20% of the season" pole today, it is worth noting our sample size is growing by the week.
With that in mind, the stat that has always been front and center for me is the distribution of innings between your starters (generally, guys you have invested most of your resources into between dollars and assets) and your bullpen (guys you have determined are not great candidates to be starters at this time). Really good pitching staffs actually approach 70% work load being shouldered by the starters, which then leads to a number of good results in many categories. The Rangers in 2008 were at about 60%. While that 10% may not seem like much, perhaps it better explains why people like Nolan Ryan discuss "one more inning” or "one more out" from the starters. Because that 10% is the difference between the best staffs in baseball and the worst.
This morning, the Rangers starting rotation work load percentage stands at 68.5%. Phenomenal on so many levels for this staff to be able to shoulder that much work. Scott Feldman last night kept the beat going, and the bullpen remains rested and ready (Francisco news pending, of course). Their quality will be tested as the summer goes on, but the fact that there are things this far into the season that we are not sure about regarding the bullpen speaks to the improvements. In past summers in recent memory, we knew way TOO much about the Rangers' bullpen by now.
I cannot swear specifically what Mike Maddux, Nolan Ryan, Ron Washington, and any other management and staff might be doing. I also cannot swear that a quicker tempo is really that effective. There are many things I do not understand about pitching and especially pitching in Arlington.
But whatever it is they are doing to produce these early results - KEEP IT UP.
What's even more relevant, though, is how well the starters are actually pitching. This year, Ranger starters have combined for a 4.53 ERA, which might not seem impressive until you see that 4.53 is sixth best in the American League. Perhaps more to the point, here's where they ranked from 2004 through 2008: 11th, 12th, 12th, 14th, 13th.
Nolan Ryan said things were going to change, and they have. Just one caveat, though: Kevin Millwood has a 2.92 ERA, and the other starters have combined for a 5.29 ERA. Yes, I know that every rotation will look worse if you excise its top performer. But we're still early enough in the season that it doesn't take much rejiggering to throw a Grand Conclusion into doubt.
So let's avoid any Grand Conclusion in the middle of May. Instead let's just notice that things seem to have improved, and hope it's more than a spring mirage (because change, for most of us, is what makes this life worth living).