Bullpen Banter: Texas Rangers: Could A Surprise Emerge As Closer?

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The expectation was that Rafael Montero would open the year as the Texas Rangers’ closer, but after he was dealt to Seattle (where he currently profiles as the favorite for saves) there’s now a void. However Texas has several options who could step into the role. Who will emerge? Who should we focus on? Let’s take a look:

Jose Leclerc

Leclerc entered 2020 as the closer for Texas, though a teres major strain in his shoulder ended his season after just 2.0 IP. Assuming he’s healthy you have to think that he’s again the favorite for the role, though there are two significant questions:

  1. Can he throw enough strikes?
  2. Can he keep the ball in the ballpark?

The fact is that he owns a 12.52 career K/9, so there’s no question he can miss bats. However, after posting a 3.90 BB/9 during his breakout 2018 he ballooned to 5.11 in ’19. With a career 5.67 BB/9 in the Majors and 5.1 BB/9 in the minors and virtually a lost season, there’s every reason to be concerned.

While home runs haven’t been a problem thus far (0.57 career HR/9), it’s possible that it starts to be. Over his career he has a 34.3% groundball rate and has also seen his Hard% start to rise. In 2019 he had a 35.7% Hard%, which led to a 0.92 HR/9. That could get worse, and with his control issues the numbers could really struggle

Jonathan Hernandez

A former starter, 2020 was Hernandez’ first full season in the bullpen and he thrived in the role with a 2.90 ERA over 31.0 IP. More important, he showed all three skills we look for from any pitcher:

  • Strikeouts – 9.00 K/9
  • Control – 2.32 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 45.7%

His 13.9% SwStr% shows even more upside in his strikeout rate. His sinker, which he threw 47.28% of the time, averaged 98.26 mph and his changeup (23.81% Whiff%) and slider (21.21% Whiff%) both looked like potentially elite swing and miss pitches.

Having never played at Triple-A and just 24-years old it will be interesting to see if the Rangers lean on him in the closers role immediately. The upside is there, however, and he could force the team’s hand before long.

Joely Rodriguez

A 29-year old southpaw, Rodriguez looked elite in his 12.2 IP in 2020 with a 2.13 ERA showing all the skills:

  • Strikeouts – 12.08 K/9
  • Control – 3.55 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 51.7%

Of course his 10.7% SwStr% doesn’t backup this type of mark and we can’t overlook his career 5.38 ERA over 164.0 IP at Triple-A. Also, in 2018 at Triple-A right-handed hitters hit .261 against him (lefties were at .235).

Obviously the MLB numbers open some eyes and that puts him on radars, but at this point he’s a long-shot to get into the role.

Conclusion

While Leclerc may enter the year as the favorite, Hernandez clearly has the most upside if given the opportunity (and without any significant additions). If you are looking for a flier to stash at the end of your roster, he’s the name to target.

Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com, Baseball Reference

Make sure to check out all of our preliminary 2021 rankings:

PositionDate Updated
Catcher--
First Baseman11/09/20
Second Baseman11/16/20
Third Baseman11/30/20
Shortstop12/07/20
Outfielder--
Starting Pitcher--
Relief Pitcher--



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