After making his Major League debut at the age of 32, Texas Rangers right-hander Tony Barnette put together a tremendous rookie season.
After playing six seasons in Japan, Tony Barnette signed a two-year deal with the Texas Rangers to return stateside. It took him a little bit of time to get his bearings. But once he did, he became one of the stars of the Rangers bullpen.
What 2016 taught us
At first, the Tony Barnette experiment felt like a failure. In Texas’ second game of the season, he made his MLB debut in the seventh inning against the Seattle Mariners. With the game tied at two, manager Jeff Banister made the call for Barnette to start the inning against Seattle’s sixth, seventh and eighth hitters.
Pinch hitter Seth Smith led off the inning with a single on a line drive to center field. Chris Iannetta then followed up with a line drive to center field, but it ended up in the glove of Delino Deshields before hitting the ground. He then got his first strikeout of his career by fanning pinch hitter Luis Sardinas on just three pitches. Things looked good with two outs and a runner at first. But, the game shifted and quickly went awry.
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Former Ranger Leonys Martin slugged a deep line drive down the right field line for a double to knock in Smith. In the process of fielding the ball, Shin-Soo Choo bobbled it and allowed an extra base to Martin, sending him to third.
Nori Aoki then slapped an 0-1 pitch into right field for a single to push Martin across. That gave the Mariners a lead they’d never relinquish, sending Barnette to the showers and handing him his first big league loss. But outings like his first became a rarity from there on out.
The Alaskan-born hurler quickly took form and became a solidifying piece of the Texas bullpen. He was especially effective against righties, holding them to a slash of .205/.261/.262. When hitters are slugging just one thousandth of a point higher than the OBP you’re allowing, you’re doing something right.
Barnette also pitched more effectively at Globe Life Park than anywhere else. He finished with a 2.08 earned run average and a .235/.271/.356 slash against him at home. And when the weather became warmer, he got hotter.
His best month came in July, where he completely shut down opposing hitters. In ten appearances, he totaled 13 2/3 innings (his highest monthly total of the season) with a zero ERA, and shockingly low slash against him of .073/.156/.073. He faced 45 hitters, walking just two, striking out eight and surrendering only three hits. All of them were singles.
Barnette completed his rookie season with a 7-3 record and a 2.09 ERA in 60 1/3 innings. None of that changed in the playoffs, either. He pitched in all three games, allowing just three singles in four innings pitched.
What 2017 has to offer
The only issue for Barnette is that he has a small sample size to go by. As hitters adapt to his pitching style, gauging the season becomes a little more complicated.
Yet, everyone the Texas Rangers faced last season had plenty of opportunities to see Barnette and get a feel for him. They rarely succeeded and he kept opposing hitters guessing. That’s the first sign of a good pitcher, and he did exactly what was required of him. Perhaps the lessons learned in Japan were not too different than what former Ranger Colby Lewis learned out there.
For that reason, any setbacks this second season for Barnette will be minimal. In fact, age will likely play a bigger role in any shortcomings than strategy will. He should see an increase in his workload this year after proving what he could do in 2016. Keep in mind, it’s also a contract year for him.
Barnette will finish with around 75 innings pitched in about 65 games. Right-handed hitters will stay frustrated, batting .208/.270/.280 against him. His ERA will raise a bit to around 2.25 but he will still be a defining force within the bullpen, offering about eight wins with four losses and he’ll pick up about four saves. In fact, closing opportunities could come his way if he pitches the way he did last season. But don’t be surprised if he moves into the primary setup role by season’s end.