by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The Texas Rangers’ closer role is in a state of flux. Matt Bush has struggled since being inserted into the role (after Sam Dyson was a complete disaster), leaving the team to look for another in-house alternative to step into the role. Who is the best candidate to excel? Let’s utilize Rotoprofessor’s Reliever Reliability Quotient (RRQ) in order to help figure it out!
For those who missed our introduction to the statistic, click here to read the article. As for the results, let’s take a look at who appears to have the best skill set for the role:
These numbers came from the numbers through Saturday, so it didn’t encompass Leclerc’s struggle on Sunday. Still, it’s interesting that Bush’s score is by far the worst of the candidates. It’s also interesting that Kela, who everyone assumes is going to assume the role, isn’t that much better. Let’s take a look at each pitcher to try and see why they are ranking where they do:
A lot of the lower ranking from Kela is tied to his walks and elevated fly ball rate. Remember, both of those things led to trouble in ’16 as he posted a 4.50 BB/9 and 1.59 HR/9 (contributing towards his 6.09 ERA), so they can’t simply be ignored. While he’s a better pitcher than that, he still has a 3.82 BB/9 this season and it’s also unlikely that he maintains his current 9.5% line drive rate. He may get the first crack at the job, but it’s no guarantee that he runs with it.
It’s interesting that RRQ favors Leclerc, as we can make some of the same arguments against him as we do Kela. Even before Sunday he was struggling with his control (5.09 BB/9) and carried some risk in regards to home runs (52.3% fly ball rate). The difference is that he’s generating significant swings and misses (20.20% SwStr%) and getting opponents to chase outside the strike zone (34.10% O-Swing%). Those two numbers help to overcome the others and gives him a skill set that can thrive in the role, especially if he can find a way to reel in the walk rate.
Here’s the candidate no one is talking about, yet he may actually prove to be the best option of the group. While he hasn’t shown a gaudy strikeout rate quite yet, his underlying numbers show a little bit more upside and his 37.0% O-Swing% should yield a lot of weak contact. He also has been among the elite groundball pitchers (71.9% groundball rate through Saturday), and that gives him an edge. At the same time, the makeup is very similar to that of Dyson and we know how that ultimately turned out. That could cause the team to be a bit gun shy here.
While Leclerc struggled on Sunday, his skills translate best to the role. While all signs point towards Kela getting the first shot, he could easily struggle and cause the team to be looking for other options once again. The savvy owner will look to capitalize on the rush to grab Kela, instead stashing Leclerc to see how it all plays out (or perhaps Claudio, if the team can overlook the similarities to Dyson).
As a refresher, here’s the RRQ grading system:
|10-29||Solid (though worth monitoring)|
|<0||High Risk For Struggles|
Source – Fangraphs