by Dustin Copening
It was a sunny afternoon in Surprise, and my wife and I were taking in the second of four games we would see during our third pilgrimage to Texas Rangers Spring Training. It was the bottom of the eighth, and I had convinced my bride to postpone a trip to the fan shop in center field because I wanted to see Mike Olt’s one AB of the contest.
As Olt launched a Travis Webb pitch into the left field stands, to give Texas a 12-0 lead, I turned and smiled. It was time to go shopping.
On our way out of the fan shop, I noticed the final score of 12-3. Upon returning to our hotel room and browsing over the box score, I was not the least bit surprised to see that Tanner Scheppers was the culprit who allowed the Brewers’ three runs.
Four hits, three earned, and one strikeout.
Somewhere between that outing and August 4th, Tanner Scheppers became one of the most trusted arms in the Rangers’ bullpen. Ron Washington turned to him 24 times in April and May, resulting in 9 holds, 3 wins, a 0.68 ERA, and 0.835 WHIP.
The next 25 appearances in Scheppers’ season have not been as impressive.
His 3.13 ERA in June and July raised his season total to 1.82. His 1.522 WHIP in that two month stretch edged closer to the 2012 total of 1.732 that triggered a pessimistic scowl to creep across my face each time he stepped to the mound during that depressing season.
So what gives?
Has Wash turned to Schepp one too many times? Forced to ride his most important righty behind Joe Nathan to the point of no return? Maybe those 23 inning in 61 days signify a regression for Scheppers, from a nails setup man to a reliever who can only be trusted in mild pressure situation.
Or perhaps there’s an answer to be found in the middle.
BABIP is an advanced stat that sabermetricians point to as an indicator of luck. According to Fan Graphs, the average BABIP for any pitcher falls from .290 to .300. The site also hypothesizes that pitchers with a higher strikeout rate will induce a lower BABIP due to a lower/weaker rate of contact.
In May, Scheppers recorded an absurd .091 BABIP in 12.2 IP, despite striking out just 5.7 batters per 9 innings. For reference, Neal Cotts posted a .270 BABIP in June while striking out 10.6 batters per 9, over 15.1 innings pitched.
In other words, according to the low number of strikeouts he produced, Scheppers was extremely lucky in May.
It would be expected that his luck would run out as he continued to send a handful of batters to the dugout on strike three. But surprisingly, as Scheppers’ increased his strikeout percentage, hitters began punishing him more and more.
In July, Scheppers’ best month for K’s per 9 IP (7.3), hitters tattooed him for a .414 BABIP and a 1.846 WHIP. Was this the result of a pitcher dealing with a dead arm, or an outcome brought about by horrendous luck?
My best educated guess is as follows.
Factor out Schepp’s remarkable month of May (0.71 ERA, 0.553 WHIP and .091 BABIP), and ghastly month of July (3.12 ERA, 1.846 WHIP, and .414 BABIP), and we’re left with a reasonable projection of a 1.93 ERA, 1.214 WHIP, and .250 BABIP for the playoff stretch drive.
There are 51 games remaining in the season for Scheppers to meet or exceed those numbers.
We can only hope that the averages are on his side.