The Rangers’ Multi-Inning Relief Arms

The Rangers spent most of last year out of playoff contention, largely due to an inability to win close games. Texas finished 26 games under .500 despite a relatively modest -36 run differential, with a whopping 15-35 record in one-run contests dooming any chance they had of sticking around the edge of the Wild Card race.

Anytime is a team to badly in close games, it’s safe to assume they’ve been victimized by a lack of clutch hitting. That was true in Texas, although their struggles also reflected a mediocre relief corps. Ranger relievers finished 21st in strikeout/walk rate differential and were tied for sixth in blown saves (28). However, the supervisors did not want to add anything to the bullpen this winter. Instead, they used almost all of their resources to completely overhaul the starting rotation.

That is a strong expression of faith in the club’s internal choices. It’s a relatively young group but one with a few players coming off strong 2022 seasons. Hard hitting rights José Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez back from Tommy John rehabs to lie down on the stretch. Meanwhile, left-hander Brock of Burke quietly put together a stellar year as a multi-inning weapon.

Burke underwent significant surgery of his own a few years back. He debuted in the major leagues with six unsuccessful starts in 2019 and required a procedure to repair a labrum tear in his thrown shoulder the following season. Burke would have missed the entire ’20 season regardless of playing a full schedule. He returned to health in 2021 but spent the entire year on an optional assignment to Triple-A Round Rock.

When he took the mound for the first time in 2022 on April 10, it was his first major league outing in two and a half years. Unsurprisingly, the Rangers deployed him in a low-stakes innings for the first month of the season. After posting a 20:3 strikeout to walk ratio before the end of April, Burke was more than ever in more meaningful game states. He would remain a consistent weapon throughout the year, posting an ERA under 4.00 every month – including a sub-3.00 mark for the first four months of the season.

Called up 52 times, Burke pitched an MLB-leading 82 1/3 innings of relief. No reliever faced more than the 328 batters he faced. Despite often going into the second inning, Burke remained very productive on a per-bat basis. He held opponents to a putrid .211/.275/.356 line, striking out an above-average 27.4% of batters with a solid 7.3% walk rate. He compiled a 1.97 ERA. Estimators like FIP and SIERA felt his production was more like that of a low-3.00 ERA pitcher, but even regressing to that level would leave Burke as a quality, high-leverage arm.

Now 26 years old, Burke was a strong prospect before he injured his shoulder. Acquired from the Rays in the three-team deal that sent them Jurickson’s profile to Oakland during the 2018-19 offseason, he was featured among Baseball America’s top 30 farmworkers in Texas over his first two years in the organization. He was considered by evaluators as a potential back-rotation starter, although his injury derailed that. Burke told reporters (including Levi Weaver of the Athletic) during the season that he was hopeful he would get another crack at the rotation. The Rangers’ activity in that regard rules at least to open the year, and the former third-round draft pick said he was happy with whatever role was assigned to him.

The Rangers seem to be able to rely on him even more out of the bullpen. General manager Chris Young left it open to the possibility that Burke might get some ninth-inning work for the first time in his career, though he suggested the multi-inning fireman role might be more valuable to first-year skipper Bruce Bochy. Young hinted that the team could look to get as many as 100 relievers from Burke in 2023, a mark that has only been accomplished once in MLB in the past decade (Roys Southpaw at that time). Ryan Yarbroughwho often acted as a monster behind an opener, in 2018).

Whatever his role, Burke is clearly among the most important relievers in Texas. The club watched Matt Moore signed with the division-rival Angels and lost Brett Martin for most of the upcoming season at least to shoulder surgery. Taylor Hearn, John King and non-roster invitations Danny Duffy still in the mix, but the Rangers’ lefty bullpen contingent isn’t as strong as it was six months ago. Burke certainly won’t function as a lefty specialist but he will certainly get plenty of looks against the top players from both sides of the dish. While this was not the case a year ago, he is now entrenched in the bullpen after his breakout season.

Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *