They can’t say it too loudly, for the obvious reasons, but a handful of Texas Rangers relievers are not happy with how manager Jeff Banister is using them. Their primary complaint? They do not know their roles.
As bullpens have evolved, increasingly based on analytics, relievers quickly learn in a young season what is expected of them before every game. Closer. Eighth-inning guy. Middle-inning relief. Lefty vs. lefty specialist. Strikeout guy with two men on base. Fifth-inning pop-up guy in a day game east of the Mississippi River before Daylight Savings Time. Pick a situation and there is normally a guy for that specific set of circumstances.
Per a pair of Rangers sources, some of the relievers are perplexed with Banister this season. They don’t know who is doing what and when. Here’s a crazy idea: Get somebody out before voicing your inner monologue.
The Rangers’ bullpen ERA of 4.65 is “25th best” in the major leagues. Its 13 saves are the 28th-best figure in baseball.
Let’s continue … its 142 earned runs allowed is the ninth-highest figure in baseball. Its 118 walks issued are the eighth most this season, and the .270 batting average allowed is 27th best.
The bullpen’s 17 blown saves lead all of baseball, and that stat is a threat to the 2004 Colorado Rockies’ MLB record for blown saves in a season, 34.
Banister is not perfect, but precisely no one in that bullpen should say anything other than, “Thank you for not sending me to the minors” every day he walks into the clubhouse.
Almost zero of Banister’s options are remotely reliable. Go back to spring training and the unexpected demotion of power reliever Keone Kela to the minors because of diva behavior and to the collapse of closer Sam Dyson. The bullpen has been a consistent embarrassment from Day 1.
Banister has no chance to define any roles because virtually everyone he goes to has let him down at some point. That’s why the team dealt for veteran Jason Grilli, who had a 6.97 ERA with Toronto this season.
Of the team’s seven active relievers, four have ERAs over 4.00. Kela, who since returning from his shame-shame session in the minors, has a 2.64 ERA and is on the 10-day disabled list with a sore right shoulder.
Wednesday, I asked Banister if he knows who his relievers are going to be, save for the ninth inning, every game.
“As we sit today?” he asked. “Do we know exactly what we are going to get? I don’t know if you ever do. Once I know who is available (for that game) … right now, we try to match guys up as opposed to saying, ‘You’ve got the sixth. You’ve got the seventh. You’ve got the eighth. You’ve got the ninth.’
“That obviously makes it easier because that means you have experienced guys in right-left combos. They’ve got something for different hitters in the lineup and consistently deliver and execute their pitches.
“If you look at our bullpen right now, Alex Claudio is a guy we trust a lot. Jose LeClerc is really climbing that ladder. Jason Grilli is an experienced guy who we feel we can run out in any situation. Matt Bush I still have confidence in; Matt Bush … the game, when you get to this level, experience is huge. Stuff is one thing, but the experience of how and why, you have to go through that. Jeremy Jeffress is another guy.
“I have confidence in the players we have out there. That’s saying a lot in that we have not consistently been doing it. But as far as where they line up … has been a challenge, yes.”
All of this is a legit problem for the pitcher, who is a creature of habit and desires comfort.
It’s a bigger problem for a manager, who desires reliable outs.
If the Rangers relievers are unhappy with their undefined roles, it starts by reliably registering outs when given the ball.
Mac Engel: @macengelprof