With the 2019 Texas Rangers season now over, I’m going to do a series of posts handing out grades to every player who appeared for the Rangers this year. I’m starting with pitchers, will go in alphabetical order, and then will do position players in alphabetical order.
Grades will be based on a combination of performance, expectations, and my own whims at the moment I happen to be typing this up. They aren’t to be taken too seriously.
And today, Part VI...
JOSE LECLERC — C+
Jose Leclerc had one of the strangest, most difficult to evaluate seasons of any pitcher, probably in MLB, much less on the Rangers.
On a surface level, it was a disappointing year for Leclerc. After being one of the best relievers in baseball in 2018, and signing a contract extension in the spring, Leclerc blew saves early on, was removed from the closer role, and , while settling down after that, didn’t put up the numbers we were hoping for. 4.33 ERA/3.59 FIP/4.21 xFIP, after a 1.56/1.90/3.10 split last year.
However, Leclerc still had a 1.4 bWAR and a 1.6 fWAR for the season. That’s pretty good for a reliever. Leclerc was 4th on the team among pitchers in 2019 in bWAR, and 3rd on the team among pitchers in 2019 in fWAR.
Drilling down a little more, Leclerc’s K rate dropped from 38.1% in 2018 to 33.4% in 2019. His walk rate went up, from 11.2% to 13.0%, and his HR rate skyrocketed, from 0.16 HR/9 to 0.92. His swinging strike rate went from 17.1% to 13.5%.
That’s not good.
Drilling down even more, we see that Leclerc allowed a .308 wOBA in 2019, which is pretty good. However, he had a .265 xwOBA in 2019 — that’s really, really good. And it suggests that hitters had a harder time with him, in terms of making contact and the quality of contact that was made, than the raw numbers suggest.
To put this into perspective, out of 475 pitchers who had at least 500 pitches in 2019 in the majors, only 23 had as big a spread between their wOBA and their xwOBA as Leclerc. He had a season that was a relative outlier in that regard. And if we look at where Leclerc ranked in xwOBA, he was 41st out of those 475 pitchers.
In terms of xwOBA — which measures what would be expected to occur, based on walks, Ks, and quality of contact on balls that the batter hits — Leclerc was terrific last year. The actual results may not have reflected it, but 2019 Leclerc was really, really good.
So why was there so much talk about how Leclerc wasn’t as good as he was in 2018, just in terms of his stuff and how he looked? Well, its because he wasn’t as good as he was in 2018...2018 Leclerc was one of the best pitchers in baseball. Out of 470 pitchers with at least 500 pitches in 2018, Leclerc had the second lowest xwOBA, at .209, trailing only Sean Doolittle.
So whither Jose Leclerc? He was solid from May 1 on in 2019, with a 3.57 ERA in 58 IP and a .185/.296/.327 slash line allowed. His expected numbers indicate he was really, really good. His command wasn’t as good in 2019 as it was in 2018, and his command has always been his Achilles heel, but it was still good enough for him to be successful.
There was some angst among some Rangers fans when Leclerc blew up in April, on the heels of his extension, from folks complaining that the Rangers paid someone based off of one good year. However, Leclerc was guaranteed 4 years, $14.75 million, with 2023 and 2024 team options at $6 million and $6.25 million in what would be his free agent seasons. The Rangers locked up Leclerc for dirt cheap, and he just has to be a decent reliever for this extension to work out okay.
Going forward, I expect Leclerc to be better than a decent reliever. He should be a really, really good late inning reliever who, if he can recapture his 2018 form, could be one of the best relievers in baseball. Leclerc’s 2019 season was disappointing in ways, but he’s not someone I am worried about going forward.
LANCE LYNN — A+
One of the best signings in Jon Daniels tenure as the Texas Rangers’ general manager. When Texas inked Lynn, coming off a down year in 2018, to a 3 year, $30 million deal, folks, both locally and nationally, were mystified. Why Lynn? Why three years? It was commonly seen as something over an overpay, though one that probably wouldn’t cripple the Rangers, and one that was perhaps justifiable due to the team’s dire need for a veteran starter who could give them innings.
And here we are. Lynn was 3rd in the American League in bWAR for pitchers, with 7.6 bWAR, and was 2nd in the American League in fWAR, with 6.8. He was 4th in the A.L. in strikeouts, 7th in ERA, 6th in ERA+, 4th in innings pitched. He will likely show up on a few Cy Young Award ballots.
Lynn came seemingly out of nowhere with what was by far the best season of his career, posting career-best K/9 and BB/9 rates, exceeding his previous best fWAR by more than 3 wins and his previous best bWAR by 4 wins. And while there was reason to think that his sub-par 2018 numbers were skewed by his early season performance with the Minnesota Twins, after he signed late and didn’t have a normal spring training, there was no reason to think he was suddenly going to be performing like one of the best pitchers in MLB.
Having seen the xwOBA/wOBA splits for Leclerc above, it would be reasonable to assume that maybe Lynn outperformed his expected numbers, but that wasn’t the case. Lynn had a .297 wOBA and a .286 xwOBA — he actually slightly underperformed his expected numbers.
I’m not expecting Lance Lynn to perform like this going forward. I would anticipate something like 4-6 WAR from him total in 2020-21, and I think that’s a performance the Rangers would be happy with.
But whatever he does going forward, his 2019 performance has been enough to make him a terrific acquisition from the 2018-19 offseason.