The Texas Rangers started talking in November about changing roles for reliever Matt Bush. But in the end, they’ve made the right decision.
For Texas Rangers right-hander Matt Bush, the year 2016 could not have gone better. He began the year working at Golden Corral for just $8.05 an hour. Within just ten months, he was pitching for Texas in the American League Division Series.
Naturally, his performance drew some attention. Some began wondering that his ability to dominate over a couple of innings could be stretched further.
Meanwhile, the Rangers missed on making a trade for highly-coveted starter Chris Sale. So, an idea began floating around to make him a starting pitcher. But after some time and perhaps a little holiday cheer, the Texas Rangers front office made the decision to leave him in the bullpen. This is a win-win for everyone involved, and there are a few reasons why.
The longevity adjustment
For starters (pun completely intended), success as a middle reliever does not always equal success as a starter. While pitching as a reliever is more like a sprint, starting has more of a marathon feel. Relievers bring a full-throttle approach to nearly every pitch while starters hold some back early to have more later.
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Bush already will face a major hurdle next season because of familiarity. Most of the American League has seen his repertoire and some of his tendencies. He’ll need to make some adjustments next season to his approach in order to keep opponents thinking. This isn’t always an easy thing for pitchers, who are generally creatures of habit. Speaking of habits . . .
The routine adjustment
Relievers typically have a loose daily routine. Unless they’ve pitched a lot over the past couple of days, they just stay ready for anything every day. They need to be sharp, fresh and ready at a moment’s notice. Some even resort to voodoo or superstition to keep things normal. On the other hand, starters follow a pretty regimented five day routine.
Some pitchers have made this move from relief to starting and had decent results. It’s no guarantee, though. In the case of Bush, he might be a completely different pitcher as a starter.
The situational adjustment
The sprinter-marathon runner comparison has already been made, but there’s also another aspect within that. Relievers usually enter games when there is already a lot at stake. This was especially the case last season for Bush.
Many relievers specialize in entering a ballgame in high-leverage situations and have a fair amount of adrenaline already flowing when they step onto the mound. They’re like triage doctors that have to be ready to make a lot of quick decisions under high stress.
Starters are more like the doctors in an operating room. Most of the time, their work is pre-scheduled with plenty of advanced notice and under pretty sterile conditions. While they do get into some tight jams with high stress, it’s usually down the line when many previous decisions got them there. Some relievers just can’t fit themselves into this role the same way.
The correct adjustment
Some of baseball’s best relievers were ridiculously intimidating. Whether it was their appearance, their demeanor or their overall mystique, there’s something about a closer instilling fear. Some guys have this quality and some don’t.
Bush has this. With his past, his tattoos, and his ability to bring the heat, he really fits the role as a great bullpen pitcher. In fact the only reason the Rangers should ever consider moving him away from middle relief/setup work would be to become the team’s closer.
He has the tools to do it, and keeping him in the bullpen will condition him towards that. After what he did this past season for Texas, the future is bright for Bush. The former first round draft pick could very well become the next great closer, something the Rangers could use.
But maybe that’s a little further down the road. In the meantime, they have a great middle innings guy with Bush. And for now, that’s what they need.