The Texas Rangers are exceeding expectations thus far in 2023. They find themselves in sole possession of the AL West lead and are playing the best baseball the organization has ever produced. Despite, or perhaps because of the winning, there are five Rangers that fans seem to be losing their patience with.
Jose Leclerc - Texas Rangers relief pitcher
I could have easily included nearly all of the Rangers' bullpen in this list. It has been the glaring weakness this season and Jose Leclerc has been a disappointment to many fans. In fact, if some fans had their way, Chris Young would have DFA'd him a few weeks ago.
While I am probably in the minority here, I have not lost hope or complete faith in Leclerc. This could be based on the fact that I saw him pitch live, twice in the first week of the season and he was spot on both times. The first outing was on Opening Day, and he came in with a four-run lead and gave up no runs to secure the Rangers' win. The second outing that I saw was the following Wednesday, against Balitmore. Leclerc came in to start the ninth, yet again. He threw 12 pitches, nine of which were strikes and sat down the Orioles in order to record his first, and still only, save on the year.
I get that I probably saw peak Leclerc in these two outings, but it proves that he has the ability and stuff to be a back of the pen kind of guy. Honestly, my only complaint with Leclerc through those two outings, was his walk-in song. It was a very mellow song, that wasn't one that I would think a fire breathing dragon at the back end of a bullpen would make their entrance to. But I digress.
After averaging 96.4 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2022, Leclerc's velocity on the pitch has dropped to 94.6 this season. He has also increased his usage of the pitch from 36.6% to 47.1 %. Some of the velo drop could be that he is trying to throw strikes with it and not just letting it go. Leclerc's slider usage has dipped from 35.4% to 27.7% in 2023. Many players are electing to spit on the wipeout slider this season as he has had a difficult time throwing it for a strike.
The number of walks is the main thing that fans are upset about. In 15 1/3 innings pitched, Leclerc has issued 12 free passes and given up 12 hits. Some of the hits have been hard, but many of them have been on soft contact, which is actually encouraging. His strikeout percentage is down 5% this year to 22.4%, and his walk percentage is up 7% to 17.9%.
The bottom line is Leclerc needs to regain his confidence in throwing strikes and getting batters out. Easier said than done, but he is trending in a positive manner. Walks are bad for any pitcher, at any point in the game, but they are magnified and remembered more at the back end of the bullpen. Leclerc has actually been pitching better as of late, and hopefully he will build on those solid outings so he can once again be a sturdy option for Bruce Bochy to deploy.