Earlier this week, Texas Rangers’ closer Jose Leclerc was held out of the ninth inning of a game after experiencing tightness in his shoulder while warming up. After being evaluated the next day it was, it was revealed that Leclerc would likely miss most, if not all of the season due to a Grade 2 strain of the teres major in his right shoulder, which was similar to the diagnosis Corey Kluber received days earlier.
While the Rangers believe that their closer situation isn’t as dire as Kluber’s, it’s still significant enough where the team will need to find an alternative solution to close games for potentially the rest of the season.
#Rangers will add RHP Jimmy Herget to replace Jose Leclerc. They will also purchase the contract of 1B Greg Bird and option Ronald Guzman. Leclerc to 45-day IL for one 40-man spot. Need another for Bird.
— Jeff Wilson (@JeffWilson_FWST) July 30, 2020
As a fantasy owner, this can harshly depress one’s chances of competing in 2020. While he wasn’t near the top of closer rankings charts, Leclerc was still many player’s second or third option at collecting saves, which are at a premium in fantasy baseball.
Now, with a hole left in the lineups of those that rostered him, people are scanning for other solutions (or even the next in line to close out games in Texas). While there is no definitive solution laid out yet, the Rangers have options to monitor and choose from. Looking forward, here are their internal options.
Nick Goody is first on this list, as he was the initial option out of the bullpen after Leclerc was injured. In that game, he had a perfect inning where he struck out one batter, induced two ground balls, and used only 11 pitches.
It’s unfair to base things after one performance. However, it is noteworthy that Goody took on the mental challenge of having to close a game and shut down the Diamondbacks. The problem with Goody is that his peripherals are not overly impressive:
Thus far in 2020, his fastball is about 1.5 miles per hour slower than in 2019 and doesn’t blow anyone away at only 91.2 miles per hour. The good news is that he throws an effective slider that was almost unhittable last season.
That 45% whiff rate and a 41.8% strikeout rate are very very good. In his first game as the closer, he threw five of them, with two swinging strikes and a foul. Very small sample, I know, but he went to his bread and butter and didn’t flail under pressure.
Probability he’s the closer: 45%
Probability he’s the closer later on: 20%
At least for now, I’d say the best chance of becoming the closer is Nick Goody. While he’s only done it once, he has an elite put-away pitch and a fastball that has shown increased vertical and horizontal movement thus far.
I can’t say that I’m overly confident in his abilities to remain the closer because that fastball isn’t quite fast enough. He is, however. definitely someone you can count on for saves in the short term. Just be prepared to let him go if he struggles.
After having some MLB experience in 2019, Hernandez came into Spring training and set the team ablaze. He was said to have some of the best “stuff” at Stuff Camp and was even hailed as the best pitcher on the team during that span.
Still, manager Chris Woodward said he would be hesitant to put Hernandez in high leverage situations at first, as closing games can be a burden. That was before Leclerc got injured, so things could change.
For years in the Rangers’ minor league system, Hernandez looked as if he were being groomed to be their starter of the future. He worked his way up to 121 innings pitched in 2018 (A+ and AA ball), and eventually got the call later in 2019. He developed into around a strikeout per inning pitcher, but also someone who walked batters as well.
Now with the Rangers full-time, Hernandez comes armed with a high 90’s fastball, a high 80’s slider, and a change-up that sits around 90 miles per hour.
Jonathan Hernandez’s breakout 2020>>>>> pic.twitter.com/3Gw1nilrJI
— hoodiesolak💭 (2-58) (@HoodieSolak) June 24, 2020
Probability he’s the closer: 35%
Probability he’s the closer later on: 25%
While he’s someone to monitor due to his raw talent, I still think it’s too soon for him to get the job of closing games. At only 24 years old, there’s plenty of time to harness his talents into the closer role if the Rangers so choose. On 67 pitches thus far in 2020, he has a 94.4% Zone Contact rate, which is incredibly high.
All that being said, this is an unprecedented shortened season, and with so many teams in the mix, if the Rangers need him, they’ll use him. I’d say wait and see if he gets a shot, and if he nails it, pounce on him.
Yes, THAT Edinson Volquez.
At 37 years old, Volquez has by far the most innings pitched out of anyone on this list. The crafty veteran, who has started for most of his career, has somewhat changed the way he pitches as he’s moved to the bullpen. He now relies far less on his fastball and a lot more on the movement of his sinker, among other pitches. So far in 2020:
But the change goes even further back. It’s significant enough since it goes back to his last stint as a consistent starter in 2017, where he threw his fastball 57.4% of the time. After missing time in 2018, he came back in 2019 and was in and out of the bullpen. In games where he came out of the bullpen in 2019 and 2020, he has relied less on his fastball and thrown it only 14 times over those 10 games. In that time, he’s gone 8.2 innings pitched, 2 walks, 6 hits, 4 strikeouts.
What’s impressive here is that he’s been able to succeed, albeit in a small sample, by relying less on his arm strength and more on how the ball leaves his hand. It’s also that aforementioned sinker that moves at around 94 miles per hour. So far in 2020, he’s getting a decent Whiff rate.
Probability he’s the closer: 10%
Probability he’s the closer later on: 5%
Essentially, Volquez isn’t the same pitcher he once was; he’s trying to adapt to his age and to what his body can do. He’s been able to generate some nice results since seemingly shifting away from the fastball, and don’t be surprised if he gets called on for the odd save opportunity due to this and his experience. That being said, his xBA (.388), xSLG (.809), xWOBA (.518) and xERA (14.46) suggest that his recent success could be short lived. Tread with caution.
He’s someone else with experience, but his fastball is by no means fooling anyone at just under 91 miles per hour. His last year of any significant success was with the Cubs in 2018 when his fastball was almost two miles per hour faster. He possessed a wipeout slider in 2019 (.137 batting average, 29.7% Whiff rate), but hasn’t done much with it yet in 2020.
His lack of swing and miss stuff, and his positioning in games in earlier innings already probably shows that he won’t be in the running for any consistency as closer
Currently on the IL with forearm soreness, Montero is the ultimate darkhorse here if he returns to full health. He came into Texas in 2019 and had the most successful season of his career with them, posting a 2.48 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 34 SO and 5 BB over 29.2 innings pitched. If he can overcome this early season setback, there’s an outside chance he takes this job if it’s available.
It might be more of being in the right place at the right time, but don’t rule out Rafael Montero. He was supposed to be in the running for the job before his setback.
While the Rangers have some arms in their bullpen, none of them seem 100% reliable nor ready to take over as the team’s designated closer. It seems as if we are destined for a traditional “Closer by Committee”, where situational opportunities will provide chances for everyone.
If I had to make one pick now, I like how Goody handled himself under quick duress, and think he’ll get the next opportunity. He’s worth a speculative add to see if he succeeds. Don’t be surprised if it’s a fluid situation and others get their chances too. Finally, don’t forget about Rafael Montero.