Texas Rangers: Is Jose Leclerc the Closer of the Future?

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 24: Jose Leclerc #62 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the tenth inning at AT&T Park on August 24, 2018 in San Francisco, California. The Texas Rangers defeated the San Francisco Giants 7-6 in 10 innings. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 24: Jose Leclerc #62 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the San Francisco Giants during the tenth inning at AT&T Park on August 24, 2018 in San Francisco, California. The Texas Rangers defeated the San Francisco Giants 7-6 in 10 innings. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images) /
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Has Jose Leclerc proved this year he can be a reliable closer? Will he still be around when the Texas Rangers are in contention again?

Although the Texas Rangers haven’t had a stellar year, most notably the pitching staff, one pitcher in particular has been practically unhittable. Jose Leclerc came into 2018 as a middle reliever, who did well during his cup-of-coffee tryout in 2016, posting a 1.80 ERA in 12 appearances spread out between July and September. In 2017, however, Leclerc slightly struggled, putting up an ERA of 3.94. The 2018 season has been his breakout year, and it seems as if no one outside of the Rangers fanbase has taken notice to it. Is he the Rangers’ closer of the future?

The Stats

2016

2016 was Leclerc’s first taste of the Major Leagues, and only had 12 appearances split up between July and September. Due to the small sample size, we’ll leave that season out and just compare 2017 and 2018.

2017

In 2017, Leclerc started the season with the major league club, and had a lot of success at the beginning of the season. In 8 appearances in April, Leclerc posted a 0.90 ERA. In early May, he went to the 10 day disabled list for a bruised finger, and didn’t come back to the club until early June. Between his first appearance back and his final appearance of the season in September, Leclerc posted an ERA at exactly 5.00. Not exactly great. According to Fangraphs, Leclerc was exactly a league average pitcher in FIP-, which adjusts a pitcher’s FIP based on their league and park. Whether this can be attributed to his finger still bothering him, or falling apart due to it being a lost season, 2017 wasn’t the greatest year for Jose, but he also wasn’t considered bad.

2018

Leclerc appears to have taken a big step this season for the Rangers. He looks better on the mound, and the advanced stats agree. He’s cut his walks allowed almost in half from the 2017 season, and is allowing 0.9 walks plus hits per inning pitched. Basically, while he was a league average pitcher in 2017, he’s been a stud in 2018. Keone Kela started the season at closer for the Rangers, and after being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, shifted Leclerc into that role, who has flourished. In 9 appearances since the Kela trade, Leclerc has pitched 9.0 IP, allowed 2 hits, walked 3, and has 1 HBP, has seven saves, and has allowed zero runs.

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A Look to the Future

If Jose Leclerc can keep this up, he looks to be the closer to start 2019. At that point, it would seem he would start to garner a lot more national attention, as he’s still super young (he turns 25 in December), and he’s just THAT good. If the Rangers aren’t competing in 2019, there may be some heavy talks to trade him, as he’s young, cheap, and has 4+ years of service time remaining. If the Rangers get good again quickly, look to see Leclerc as the guy to come out of the bullpen in the 9th inning.

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