The Neftali Decision


With Neftali Feliz preparing to potentially enter the starting rotation in the regular season, the Texas Rangers have obviously talked internally about not having enough starting pitching. Also, if Neftali Feliz does earn a starting spot, many believe that the Rangers bullpen would be too weak. Alexi Ogando would likely be the closer if Feliz went into the rotation.

Without Feliz in the rotation, the starters would look as follows:
1. CJ Wilson
2. Colby Lewis
3. Tommy Hunter
4. Brandon Webb
5. Derek Holland

Wilson has been named the opening day starter, and Colby Lewis should be an innings eater as the number 2 starter. The Rangers will be relying heavily on Tommy Hunter to stabilize the middle of the rotation because the 4th and 5th spots remain influx.

Brandon Webb has not pitched in two seasons and continues to slowly try and build arm strength, and Derek Holland has not yet found consistency in the big leagues.

In the bullpen, Darren O’Day (2.03), Darren Oliver (2.48), Arthur Rhodes (2.40), and Alexi Ogando (1.30) would have a lot of pressure placed on them to carry the load with both Frank Francisco and Neftali Feliz gone.

So let’s examine where Neftali Feliz would fit best:

Starting Rotation

In the minor leagues, Neftali worked mainly as a starter. His minor league stats are listed below:

2007192 TeamsRk-A-222.5516842.112551.2996.6
2008202 TeamsA-AA1062.692727127.1381531.0996.3
200921Oklahoma CityAAA463.49251377.130751.2808.0
4 Seasons16163.037953276.0933251.1886.8

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/2/2011.

His work in the starting rotation is what earned him recognition as one of the best prospects in baseball. However in the minor leagues, power pitchers often can blow away lesser batters with a strong fastball. Feliz’s fastball that can light up the radar gun to the tune of around 100 miles per hour was able to blow away hitters.

Blowing away hitters simply with a fastball can often hurt the development of young power pitchers if they rely on it too much. For example, Homer Bailey of the Cincinnati Reds was called up to the Major Leagues three years ago, and his fastball was his only major league ready pitch. Hitters sat on the fastball and Bailey struggled until two years later when he was able to develop a split finger fastball pitch.

Bullpen pitchers can often get away with one dominant pitch however, and relievers rarely use more than two pitches. According to FanGraphs, Feliz threw 92.4% fastballs in the playoffs in 2010, and only threw 7.6% sliders/curveballs and did not throw any change-ups.

As a starter Feliz would need to be ready to use all three pitches. Manager Ron Washington will be watching the development of Feliz’s secondary pitches. Feliz threw just 1,152 pitches in 2010. He could surpass that number after just 12 starts in the starting rotation.


Feliz pitched more in the bullpen in 2010 than he did throughout his 4 seasons in the minor leagues. His stats from 2010 in the bullpen can be seen below:


Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/2/2011.

Feliz took over as the closer in April. He took over the job from now departed reliever Frank Francisco. In 70 games, Feliz managed a 2.73 ERA and 40 saves which not only gave him an all-star berth but also led him to the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

Normally, an all-star and rookie of the year would not be asked to move positions in the offseason (UNLESS THAT PERSON WAS MICHAEL YOUNG OF COURSE) but Jon Daniels and Ron Washington feel that Feliz could potentially be even better as a starter.

If Feliz stays in the bullpen, he can continue to use his fastball and allow his slider to be his strikeout pitch. He used his changeup less than 5% of the time in 2010.

Now in deciding where to place Feliz, Daniels and Washington should be careful to calculate the risk vs. reward. If Feliz stays in the bullpen, very little risk is involved, and if the Rangers are contending, they could make a deal for a starter at some point in June or July. If Neftali becomes a starter, the reward may be higher, but the risk is undoubtedly higher. Alexi Ogando or Darren O’Day may not be able to handle the closer’s duties, and Washington does not want to have to send Feliz back to the bullpen if he begins 2011 as a starter.

If is much easier for teams to find a quality or inning-eating starter at the deadline than it is for a team to find an established or dominant closer. Frank Francisco is gone, and no one other than Feliz has ever closed for an extended period of time. On the other hand, if Neftali Feliz becomes the ace of the staff, the Rangers will reap the significant rewards.

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