With the 2022 regular season almost over, it is that time for us to go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this season.
Today, we look at outfielder Leody Taveras.
I really want Leody Taveras to be good.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I want every Ranger player or prospect to be good, or great even. Its not like there’s only a few players I want to see succeed.
But there are certain players I find myself more emotionally invested with than others. Leody Taveras, for whatever reason, is one of those guys. I want Leody Taveras to be good, and I want him to be good for the Texas Rangers.
Part of this has to do with the fact that I love the really good all-around centerfielder. Back in the day, when the Seattle Mariners were our nemesis, I especially coveted Mike Cameron. I dreamed of building a team around Grady Sizemore, back when he was healthy. Carlos Beltran was the platonic ideal.
An above-average defensive center fielder who can get on base, hit for some power and steal some bases...that’s what the Rangers have rarely had in their franchise history, but that’s what I dream of.
And I’ve always hoped Leody Taveras might be that guy.
He won’t be, of course. I mean, yeah, its possible he could be, but realistically, he won’t. The defense is there, the base running is there, but the bat hasn’t developed. There is still time for it to, of course — Leody is a victim of Martin Perez Syndrome, in that he’s a guy who has been touted and hyped forever, hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, and thus is seen as older and worse than he maybe actually is.
Leody turned 24 last month. On the one hand, he’s older (by about seven weeks) than Juan Soto. On the other hand, he’s younger than Jeter Downs, Josh Jung, Josh Lowe, and Andrew Vaughn. He’s just a month or two older than Cristian Pache and Drew Waters.
There’s still growth potential there...potential being the key word, of course. His most similar players through age 23 on B-R is a rather interesting list. #2 and #3 are Daryl Boston and Anthony Gose, toolsy guys who disappointed, and I think we all hope Leody won’t end up having to convert to pitching, like Gose has. There’s also Roy White and George Foster, both of whom went out to have great careers. There’s Cleon Jones, who had a high peak, including an MVP caliber season in 1969, but a short career. There’s Elliott Maddox, a former Ranger,* who actually hit well one year for the Yankees and finished 8th in the MVP balloting, but generally was relegated to a bench or platoon role in his career because he couldn’t hit enough.
* Maddox was traded by the Detroit Tigers to the Washington Senators, along with Denny McLain, Norm McRae, and Don Wert, in exchange for Ed Brinkman, Joe Coleman, Jim Hannan and Aurelio Rodriguez in October, 1970. McLain was actually a Texas Ranger, kind of, as he was still in the organization when the Senators moved to Texas in the 1971-72 offseason. McLain was dealt to Oakland for Jim Panther and Don Stanhouse in March of 1972, however, so he didn’t actually ever pitch for the Rangers.
The faceplant Leody did to start the 2021 season, and then his struggles at the end of the 2021 season, resulted in expectations being quite low for him in 2022. He seemed to prove the doubters wrong when he was called up in mid-June and plugged into the lineup — at the All Star Break, Leody was slashing .341/.367/.553, and there was talk that maybe Leody had figured it out.
It was, alas, a mirage. In those 90 plate appearances, Leody had just a 22:4 K:BB rate, and the slash line was being turbocharged by a .426 BABIP. The Statcast x-numbers suggested he wasn’t hitting the ball nearly as well as the slash line suggested.
Leody had a rough final couple of months of the year, though it largely seemed to go under the radar, as his strong early numbers kept his overall season line largely respectable, and anyway, no one was paying much attention over the final two months of the year. But a .247/.293/.309 slash line in August was followed up with a .192/.248/.266 slash line in September.
The end result for Leody was a .261/.309/.366 slash line for the year, resulting in a 93 OPS+ and a 93 wRC+. His xwOBA of .270 was actually significantly lower than his actual wOBA of .297, though his speed and approach would seem to lend itself to him being likely to outperform his xwOBA a little.
Late in the year we saw some mistakes on the basepaths and in the field that led one to wonder whether his slump was getting to him, if it was the grind of a long season...if something was impacting his mental approach. He sat a little more late, as Tony Beasley tried to figure out how to get Leody straightened out.
Oddly, his defense, which is the one thing everyone seems to agree is very much his strength, had varying grades from the different systems. DRS had Leody at -2 for the year, while UZR had him at -6.4 for the season, with a UZR/150 of -9.9. RAA, on the other hand, had him at +4.
Fangraphs had Leody at a 1.2 fWAR for the year, while B-R had his bWAR at 0.8, with the defensive metrics used explaining most of the difference.
Leody being a roughly 1 win player in 341 plate appearances is okay, I guess. It equates to a guy who you’d see as a 1.5-2 win player as a regular. That’s not a black hole, but it is a performance that would lead you to be looking for an upgrade at the position.
In regards to 2023, the expectation is that Leody will be the team’s starting center fielder. The Rangers already have a hole in left field, and no real definitive answer at DH, so Leody seems likely to have the role by default for now. Yes, the Rangers are going to be aggressive buyers this offseason, and Adolis Garcia could move to center field, but they are unlikely to go out and get two starting outfielder/DH types, particularly given the prioritization of the starting rotation.
But the Rangers are going to want to see more production from the center field position in 2023. One possibility would be having Leody sit against lefties, against him he put up a .227 xwOBA in 2022 while slashing .264/.313/.330. At first blush, the solution would seem to be to have the righthanded hitting Bubba Thompson platoon with Leody, although Bubba only had a .248 xwOBA against lefties himself in 2022.
2022 was an important season for Leody, and he did take a step forward, showing enough to suggest he can be a viable major league player. The question now is whether his bat will progress to the point that you can feel comfortable making him your everyday center fielder for the next half-decade, or whether he’s going to be a role player who might end up with a starting job some years, but who is never going to be viewed as the long-term solution.