Searching for Saves: Could Jose Leclerc Emerge As A Top 10 Closer?

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One of the biggest questions facing Jose Leclerc heading into 2019 Fantasy Drafts was whether or not he’d remain the Texas Rangers’ closer, not because of his talent but because of the risk of a trade.  The long-term deal he signed recently ends that speculation as a trade should no longer be on the table and the skills are unquestioned…  Or are they?

We generally look at three key statistics when it comes to any pitcher, so let’s take a look at Leclerc’s production last season:

  • Strikeouts – 13.27 K/9
  • Control – 3.90 BB/9
  • Groundballs – 32.1%

While the strikeout rate is highly impressive, and came courtesy of a 17.1% SwStr%, the other two numbers are pedestrian at best.  Can we expect him to improve in either of those categories?

Consider that he owns a minor league career BB/9 of 5.1 and over 47.2 IP at Triple-A it was a gaudy 6.2.  Even last season, when the number was respectable, there was a distinct split as he posted a 4.91 in the first half and 2.55 in the second.  Whether or not he suddenly figured something out remains to be seen, but until we see him maintain the success we have to be cautious with our expectations.

Groundballs, too, have never been his strong suit.  In 45.2 IP in the Majors in ’17 he owned a 39.6% groundball rate and was uninspiring regardless of the level he pitched in ’16:

  • Double-A – 30.2%
  • Triple-A – 37.5%
  • Majors – 28.9%

Despite the groundball rate and pitching half his games in Texas, he yielded just a 0.16 HR/9 last season. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t positives, because opposing hitters need to be able to make contact if they are going to hit home runs and that’s no easy task against Leclerc.  When they did make contact it was also relatively weak, with a 26.4% Hard% and 28.0% popup rate. 

He also primarily threw just two pitches last season, and you have to wonder if more familiarity will lead to less success:

  • Fastball – 47.7%
  • Changeup – 42.8%

None of this is to say that we wouldn’t want to own Leclerc, but with the risk of control problems and home run issues he’s more of a CL2 as opposed to a potential Top 10 option.  Just remember that before pushing him too far up your draft board.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference

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