by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Obviously things can change quickly, and there are still rumors that the Rangers will make another deal prior to the Trade Deadline (there’s talk that Jake Diekman could be the next domino to fall). As of this moment there are two obvious candidates to step into the closer’s role. As we tweeted this morning, it does appear that there is a favorite to assume the role:
TEX: Leclerc worked the 8th (1 H/3 K) w/3 R lead before Diekman came in for 9th (perfect IP/2 K) after Rangers tacked on R. It would appear that Diekman was held for potential SV opp after working 8th in previous outing. He appears to be 1st up #MLB #FantasyBaseball #closers
— Rotoprofessor (@Rotoprofessor) July 31, 2018
Just as quickly as Diekman could be subsequently shipped out, the team could also opt to give Jose Leclerc an opportunity. With the instability in mind, let’s take a look at both pitchers and determine who has the best upside:
Jake Diekman – Left-Handed Pitcher
It’s interesting that Diekman has actually been worse against left-handed hitters (.273) as opposed to right-handed hitters (.186) this season, though for his career he’s been equally as impressive against both:
- LHH – .221/.320/.292
- RHH – .220/.330/.346
The biggest concern has always been his control, with a 4.87 BB/9 for his career and a 5.31 this season. But is that the biggest current issue… While he’s generally generated ample groundballs something has changed over the course of this season:
- April – 54.2%
- May – 52.0%
- June – 34.6%
- July – 39.1%
It hasn’t been a reduction in the use of his sinker (67.07% used in June, 61.31% in July), and while that hasn’t been as productive neither has his slider (28.57% and 36.36% groundballs per BIP on the pitch the past two months). That’s not a good sign, especially for a pitcher who has struggled with his control. If he’s walking batters and starts to struggles with home runs (something that could happen considering his 37.8% Hard%), things could get ugly quickly.
Jose Leclerc – Right-Handed Pitcher
Of course how much different is Leclerc, outside of throwing with his right hand? He too has struggled with his control (4.31 BB/9 in ’18, 6.46 over his career) and fails to generate many groundballs (32.1%). While he hasn’t been plagued by home runs (0.23 HR/9), is it really a stretch to see that coming?
He hasn’t been hit hard (25.6% Hard%), and that does help him to overcome the lack of groundballs (and he also should improve upon his 64.0% strand rate, off-setting the expected slight regression in his .247 BABIP). Couple that with his split-finger fastball, which is a strikeout pitch (24.04% Whiff%) that he’s throwing it more than ever before this season (44.57%). That helps to back-up the strikeout number but it would be easier to trust him if he was pairing it with another skill…
While he may not get the first opportunity, it’s easy to argue that his upside is higher and he deserves the shot. Everyone else may rush to add Diekman, but the savvy owner will stash Leclerc and watch the situation play out.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
Make sure to check out all of our Midseason Prospect Rankings: