According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), clerical workers comprise around 15% of the work force, the highest of any group. Yet, they are often the faceless members of society. Get your mind out of the Game of Thrones gutter. The pay is low and the recognition is light, but they provide value and are an important aspect of society. Since you are a loyal Razzball reader, you know that Saves Ain’t Got No Face, as the position is so volatile and the closer carousel keeps going round and round with players shuffling on and off, that one does not need to get emotionally attached and splurge on a ring for saves. With that said, saves still constitue one category and are important. Well, Jose Leclerc was one of the most dropped players in ESPN leagues over the past week (decrease of 13.9%), as he was stripped of his closing responsibilities for now, so let’s give this Leclerc some attention and see if he deserves some love.
Leclerc burst onto the scene last season and tallied 12 saves in 57.2 innings with 85 strikeouts and a 1.56 ERA. The walks, though. A total of 25, which translated to a BB/9 of 3.90. The 13.27 K/9, the 9th-best mark among all relievers last season, was too tantalizing for owners to pass up, as they were drafting him on average with the 112th overall pick in NFBC drafts before the start of the 2019 season.
Well, so far, the K/9 is 12.34, but the BB/9 has rocketed to 6.94. The HR/9 rate is a whopping 1.54. Last season, that number was 0.16.
The number that immediately jumps out to me is the .414 BABIP. Last year, Leclerc sported a .211 BABIP. So he got super lucky last season and he’s getting unlucky this season, but we already touched on the increased walk rate and the xFIP is still 5.24. Luck has played a part for sure, but it’s primarily been on LeClerc.
The fastball velocity has been fine. In fact, the 96.1 mph average is the highest of his career. He’s inducing more ground balls and fewer fly balls, yet the HR/FB is an absurd 18.2% and the Hard% is an eye-opening 54.8%! Hmmm, what is going on here?
The swinging strike rate is at 8.1%. He had never had a rate below 12% before and his career average is 15%. Batters are not chasing pitches outside the strikezone, as the O-Swing% is at 21.7%, 10% lower than last season. The overall contact rate is at 79%, 16% higher than last year. Batters are also swinging at fewer pitches in general.
Manager Chris Woodward mentioned the possibility a few weeks ago that Leclerc may be tipping his pitches, and that makes complete sense to me. Batters are pulling the ball 12% more than last season, yet they are still spitting on pitches outside the strikezone. Tough to do when Leclerc possesses a 96 mph fastball.
The Rangers signed Leclerc to a four-year, $14.75 million contract extension in the off season. That in and of itself does not guarantee that he will remain the closer. He still has to pitch effectively, but it does give an indication of the good will he fostered with his performance last season and leads me to believe that he will at least get a chance to get an opportunity to reclaim his role.
So far as I know, there is no injury to be worried about with Leclerc. It seems to be a tipping-his-pitches issue, which can be rectified.