Neftali Feliz Will Close, World Will Not End

Yesterday, the Rangers announced that Neftali Feliz would serve as their closer again in 2011. As is the case when almost any talented young pitcher is shifted from the rotation to the bullpen, the reaction from the stathead community was fairly loud and mostly negative. After all, the superior value of a starting pitcher is a pillar of sabermetric orthodoxy, and using a guy who could start in relief is almost universally viewed as a waste of potential. In general, I agree with this principle. In this specific instance, though, I don’t think there’s really much to be upset about, as I don’t think there’s a significant gap in expected value from Feliz in 2011 regardless of what role they chose to use him in.

Let’s start with the main point of contention – the quantity of innings that Feliz will throw as closer compared to the amount he could have thrown as a starter. Last year, Feliz tossed 69 1/3 innings out of the bullpen, and only a few closers managed higher totals. In most years, even the healthiest ninth inning specialists will only manage about 70 innings per season. If the Rangers use him aggressively and are in a lot of close games, he could push towards 80 innings, but that’s probably the ceiling and shouldn’t be the expected result.

As a starter (assuming he stayed healthy), he’d throw a lot more than 80 innings. The question, though, is how many more? Feliz’s career high in innings pitched in a season is 125 1/3, back in 2008 when he split the season between A-ball and Double-A. He faced 509 batters that season, or about 60 percent of what a full-time Major League starter would face over the course of a season. He’s since faced even fewer batters in the subsequent two seasons, and realistically, it would be unwise of the Rangers to ask a 22-year-old to make a substantial leap in workload this year. Even as a starter, they couldn’t have asked him to make 30+ starts and then still be able to take the ball in October, had they achieved their goals and made the playoffs again. At that point, they’d be doubling his career high workload, and getting close to tripling what he did in 2010.

Realistically, Feliz would have been limited to something in the range of 25 regular season starts in order to keep the advance in workload to a reasonable level. How many innings can you get from a pitcher like Feliz in 25 starts? He’s averaged 4.09 pitchers per batter faced in his Major League career, and even if he adjusted his approach to try and be more efficient in getting outs (which could lead to reduction in performance quality, but we’ll leave that alone for right now), you’re probably looking at about 27 batters faced per game. Even dating back to the minor leagues, Feliz has never gotten through an entire batting order three times, as his career high in batters faced in a single game is 26. Given that about a third of the batters he faced would reach base safely, you’re looking at somewhere in the range of 18 outs per game, or around six innings per start.

25 starts with an average of six innings apiece gives you 150 innings pitched, or just over double what he threw last year. Given his age and prior workload history, plus the fact that the Rangers hope to be using him in October as well, and that seems to be the right workload for him as a starter this year. Using 150 innings as his starter workload, than the surplus in innings pitched for being a member of the rotation comes out to around 80 innings or so.

That’s a lot of innings, certainly, but we also have to account for the fact that closers are leveraged into more important innings by only being used in close games. The mean leverage index when a closer enters the game is about 1.8 (Feliz’s mark was 1.82 last year, if you’re wondering), meaning that the runs they save are about 80 percent more important than average to determining the outcome of the game. This is a significant difference, as 70 innings with a leverage index of 1.8 is essentially equal to 126 innings with a leverage index of 1.0.

Now, we can’t give Feliz credit for 100% of that extra leverage, as the Rangers would simply retool the bullpen in order to give those innings to their next best guy, but as I wrote about a month ago, the Rangers don’t have any good ninth inning alternatives in house. Besides Feliz, the rest of the bullpen is a collection of specialists with significant platoon splits, all of whom can be very good against same-handed hitters but are not an ideal choice for retiring a string of batters who swing the stick from the opposite side.

Despite the truism that it’s easy to find a closer, the reality is that not every relief pitcher can close. Bullpens have become highly specialized, and there are a lot of bullpen arms in the game who are simply around because of their ability to get one type of hitter out. They get exposed when asked to do any more than that, and the Rangers simply didn’t have another guy in that bullpen who could reliably get three opposite-handed hitters out on a regular basis.

It’s tempting to focus on the fact that the Rangers will be giving innings to Matt Harrison that otherwise would have gone to Feliz, but once you account for leverage and the significant drop-off in expected ninth inning performance from whoever replaced Feliz in the closer role, the gap between his value as a starter and a reliever in 2011 is quite minimal. Feliz’s age and workload requirements simply make the idea that he could have become a 200 inning, +5 win ace unrealistic, and there’s just not that large of a gap between a good 150 inning starter and a great 70 inning closer.

Add in the fact that Feliz could actually be more valuable as a closer in October when rotations shrink down and high leverage relief aces become more important, and the Rangers had a lot of very good reasons to make this call. There are good reasons why he should be starting as well, but the point is that both sides have legitimate cases, and in the end, the difference between the two directions is just not that large.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

97 Responses to “Neftali Feliz Will Close, World Will Not End”

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  1. Kyle says:

    My only fear is that limiting him to the bullpen this season will spell the end of the ranger’s discussion of feliz-as-starter for upcoming seasons. sure, he’s young, but the longer he develops in that role, the harder it will be to change it.

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    • RéRé says:

      Just look at the Red Sox with Papelbon

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    • Ryan S says:

      That’s a misnomer. There is a long list of pitchers who have made jumps between both reliever and starter and back in their careers. The Rangers have proven to be a forward thinking orginzation and tend to utilize players in the ways that are best for player and team.

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    • Lewis says:

      Exactly. My biggest concern isn’t his relative value this year, it’s that having him close for 2 straight years will definitely impact his development as a starting pitcher.

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      • Dan says:

        Yes, and if they do transition him back to being a starter next year, people will be up in arms when he hits the inevitable rough patch.

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    • t ball says:

      If anything, Feliz’s spring has made it MORE likely that he will move to the rotation next year. He made a believer out of Nolan Ryan, and Daniels already thought he had great potential as a starter. Ryan said as much, noting they have a year to fix the bullpen so they can move Feliz to the rotation.

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  2. Jeff says:

    If pitching in the 8th and 9th innings last year gave Feliz a leverage index of 1.8, wouldn’t pitching the first five (and maybe the sixth) be pitched at a leverage index below 1? What would the average leverage index be for the first five innings of a game? It seems like the author is assuming that the average leverage he’d be pitching would be 1 when it seems like they’d be less valuable than that, no?

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    • Detroit Michael says:

      Starters tend to have leverage indices near 1.0. Relievers’ leverage indices vary much more widely with usage — a “mop up” guy will have a LI much less than 1.0.

      You can see for yourself by playing around with the data on Fangraphs.

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  3. Detroit Michael says:

    Your argument is based largely on the Verducci Effect or “don’t let young pitchers increase their IP too much.” However, many studies have failed to detect any sizeable effect.

    I think the better reasoning is that regardless of the increase, throwing large numbers of innings at young ages can be detrimental. We knew that as far back as when The Diamond Appraised was written. Jeremy Bonderman and Scott Kazmir seem to be the latest examples of pitchers who were starting in the majors at young ages and suffered uncommonly large midcareer velocity losses.

    The Rangers learned that Feliz has the makings of a complete repetoire so that starting is a feasible path to explore. They’ll acquire a closer alternative next off-season. Felix most likely will be very good in relief and start working as a major league starter at age 23 instead of age 22. I agree, this isn’t an indefensible outcome.

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    • BIP says:

      “Your argument is based largely on the Verducci Effect or “don’t let young pitchers increase their IP too much.” However, many studies have failed to detect any sizeable effect.”

      Actually, I don’t think his argument is based on that at all. The point isn’t that the Rangers shouldn’t increase his innings too much, it’s that they WON’T, and thus Feliz would not be much more valuable as a starter than as a reliever, especially given their lack of bullpen alternatives for the relief ace role.

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    • fredsbank says:

      boy kazmir is just a ghost now, isnt he

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  4. jordan says:

    Dave, your analysis holds water only if the Rangers think their window of contention is closing quickly. Sure, they might have a better shot at the WS in 2011 with Feliz closing, but if he’s in the ‘pen this year then he can’t throw 200 innings as a starter in 2012. There’s no guarantee that he’d reach that mark if he started this year, but he certainly won’t if he closes. Keeping Feliz in the ‘pen might be a marginal upgrade for 2011, but it’s a pretty significant downgrade for 2012 and beyond.

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  5. Steve says:

    Dear Ranger fans,

    I hope you enjoy talking about this decision every minute for the next 3 years, regardless of what other interesting things are going on with your team.

    Your pal,
    Joba Chamberlain

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  6. Bronnt says:

    As a Braves’ fan, I’m feeling much better about the Mark Teixeira trade. The longer Feliz remains a closer, the less likely he makes the transition to starter-and if he never does, he’s just not that interesting a player.

    Regardless, this article seems to take a very short view on Feliz. Yes, he’d probably see a max of 150 innings THIS year as a starter, but if you use him as a starter this season, then you might get 190 out of him for 2012, and if he stays healthy, he could throw over 200. As it is, if you want to convert him to a starter for 2012, you’re still stuck with the fact that you can’t push his workload up that much in the future because he’s been relegated to the closer position.

    Seems weird to focus exclusively on 2011-am I missing something about the Rangers? Do they have a lot of talent playing on contract years?

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    • Oscar says:

      Agreed with this. If you keep Feliz at closer because you can only get 100-120 starting innings out of him, you face the same situation every season. At some point you have to bite the bullet and start stretching him out if the Rangers are serious about ever using him as a starter. That’s the hidden cost of keeping Feliz at closer.

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      • theonemephisto says:

        On the other hand, as Dave mentioned, the Ranger’s bullpen this year is pretty weak and full of platoon-split guys. If they can acquire a legit closer next year, then it would make t a lot easier to turn Feliz into a starter, even though they still might be in competition.

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      • ToddM says:

        Except the Rangers’ bullpen isn’t weak. They collectively did have a mediocre spring training, but look at the arms they have (and this isn’t all of them):

        Darren Oliver (consistently good for 3+ years now)
        Arthur Rhodes (consistently good for LONG time now)
        Alexi Ogando (nice debut last year, and in the post-season)
        Darren O’Day (two straight dominating years)

        Admittedly, you have a lot of OOGY-ness here, but this is not by any means “weak”.

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      • GiantHusker says:

        Agreed. By Cameron’s reasoning, a team should never convert a reliever to a starter. In order to realize the huge added value, they have to make the move sometime.
        Having said that, I don’t like the Rangers anyway, so I’m glad they are making the wrong decision.

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    • Steve says:

      But what the Rangers chose to do is not necessarily what the Braves would have done.

      If the Rangers are incorrect to keep him in relief, that doesn’t mean that the Braves gave up less value, assuming they wouldn’t have done that.

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    • skippyballer486 says:

      Actually, Dave’s a Mayan.

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  7. cmustatboy says:

    Here’s the problem with this assessment. While your premise about the expected workload of him as a first year starter is spot on (a point that has been lost), another year as a 60-70 inning reliever is also another year removed from getting to develop as a starting pitcher. Yes, he is young, but if the argument for keeping him in the bullpen is to have him around later in the year for the postseason hunt, then the argument could be to keep Feliz in the pen forever.

    There is a lot of young talent in the organization and in a division with the Angels getting old fast and Seattle in rebuilding mode, you could realistically say the Rangers could win the division for at least the next two years, which would bring this type of argument up each year and potentially the same outcome each time. Now when do you stretch him out as a starter? 2013? 2014?

    Regarding the potential of maximizing his value in the playoffs should the Rangers make it there, I think we got a pretty good taste of Ron Washington’s bullpen usage last year when Feliz pitched 7.1 mostly low leverage innings while watching some leads crumble in epic fashion. I suppose it’s possible he learns from those mistakes, but it’s not something you can guarantee.

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  8. Pepe says:

    So he pitches 70-80 innings this year, and then the argument to keep him as closer next year is that using him as a starter would be too big a jump… when does it end?

    The leverage index argument would in my view also point to additional strain/potential for injury in a young pitcher:

    What is preferable for development? Pitching every 5 days between 75-100 pitches with average leverage index? or pitching irregularly in a situation in which the pitcher is more likely to give everything he’s got?

    I’ve always found that using only innings pitched as a way of limiting injury risk in young pitchers quite strange. The number of pitches and situation should play a role. And, while I can’t back it up with numbers, I expect that there is more risk in irregular high leverage situation than in starting games.

    Because the reason for limiting the number of innings is to try to reduce injury risk, I don’t really buy the argument that it is better for Feliz to be closing this year than starting.

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  9. J.B. says:

    What a condescending headline for this article!

    “The World Will Not End” can be used to (cheaply) end a lot of otherwise interesting discussions. Certainly, this topic has been beaten to death, so I can understand the temptation.

    I think the comment section has nailed down the main point missed in the article: If you worry about his innings jump this year, don’t you have the exact problem next year? When does it end?

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    • Eric says:

      The innings jump wasn’t his only point though. He states that a big reason is also because of the lack of good relief pitchers and not just LOOGY or ROOGYs the Rangers currently have in the pen.

      Had the Rangers gotten Rafael Soriano, kept Francisco, or gotten JJ Putz or some other closer/bullpen ace this offseason, I think the Rangers would have been much more likely to throw Feliz in the rotation because they would have actually have a viable guy in the pen instead of what they have now.

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    • Joe P. says:

      Despite your quibble with his headline, I’m sure that the world won’t come to an end as a result.

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  10. Double D says:

    We don’t have to look too far for a comparable situation – CJ Wilson, at 29 (not a young pup with a fresher arm like Feliz) increased his innings from 73 2/3 in 2009 to 204 in 2010, and he did just fine. No one talked about his arm falling off in the playoffs. Isn’t Nolan Ryan the guy who’s not afraid of pitch counts and innings on his pitchers? Obviously, the Rangers think Feliz Closing + another guy in the rotation > Feliz in the rotation + an in-house option closing, at least in 2011. I guarantee they move him to the rotation in 2012. Papelbon was kept in the pen because he doesn’t have the potential quality of offerings as Feliz.

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    • Reverend Black says:

      Bam! Right on the money. Wilson hadn’t thrown more than 74 innings since 2003 in the minors. Wainright, too, made a similarly significant year-to-year jump. Is someone going to argue that the seed of his injury 4+ years later was planted by this move? Good luck with that.

      On the other hand, in Joba Chamberlain we have a perfectly disastrous model of what can by accomplished by over-planning and trying to control a young pitcher’s transition to starting by use of innings count alone.

      The Rangers’ decision and the rationale for it offered in this post are defensible, but significantly short-sighted. Feliz v Harrison in a vacuum doesn’t tell the tale. If the other 4 starters are studs, maybe that switch doesn’t matter much. Are the other 4 starters in TX studs, though? No, that rotation is riddled with risk.

      The other factor I so seldom see mentioned is that Felix simply IS NOT A LOCK TO REPEAT HIS 2010 PERFORMANCE AS CLOSER. It’s a volatile position and his numbers suggest some standard regression is in order. He could also just have an off year.

      Sure, it’s nice that when the Rangers take a lead into the ninth this year, they’ll have a good shot at walking out with a win. But they’re now in a position to get those opportunities less often than they otherwise would this year — and if the same rationale holds, probably next year too.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I think the situation of him being as valuable of a closer in 2011 as he was in 2010 just makes it that much more difficult to transition him to a starter. Especially considering that we know he won;t be as dominant as a starter, but that the additional IP is where the value is.

        Feliz, himself, may not understand that distinction, and esseentially beg to go back to the closer role.

        The more success he has at closer likely makes it more difficult to transition him to starter.

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      • Mike says:

        The real problem is the myth of the Proven Closer©. Feliz now carries that tag and people who are proponents of the manage-by-numbers approach (cough cough Ron Washington cough cough) will never forget it.

        If the Rangers moved him to the rotation, Feliz probably slots in as their 3rd best starter, today, even with his innings limit. Sure, they wouldn’t have a Proven Closer©, but who really cares when you’re struggling to win 75-80 games?

        If Brad Lidge went down for the season and the Phillies moved Cole Hamels into the bullpen to replace him, you’d say they were idiots. This is no different.

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  11. AndyS says:

    Why not just use Darren Oliver as the closer? Why is nobody considering this viable? Ever since he started using his slider more, his numbers have gotten much better.

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    • Eric says:

      Because he’s basically the anti-prototypical-closer. He’s old and has never closed, so he must not have the chops to do so, is a lefty, and isn’t a ‘power’ pitcher, and instead relies on finesse and such to get hitters out.

      Also, while he was pretty good against right handed batters last year, he is more of a LOOGY typer pitcher:
      K/9 LH: 13.0, RH: 6.2
      BB/9 LH: 0.9, RH: 3.4

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  12. Stan says:

    This exact line of reasoning can be used for EVERY promising young arm that an organization uses as a closer for a year. By extension, that implies that once a top pitching prospect closes for a year, his fate is sealed as a starter. This is a pretty short-sighted view of things and you would hope that well-run teams don’t do this with their top prospects.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Exactly. Great point. Let’s examine …

      Price, closed during the playoffs. Plan was the use him as a starter. Went to AAA and started, came back up as a starter.

      Wainwright, starter in MiLB, closed in emergency situation in playoffs. Starter next season at MLB.

      Feliz relieved in 2009. Closer in 2010. Closer in 2011.

      He’s not just closing for one year.

      I think it’s a real concern that is outside of the “closing/relieving for one year” type of thing.

      I would say the same thing about Chapman as well. If they want him to start, he should be in AAA (or MLB) doing just that. Being the 8th inning guy is not helping him become a starter (not a guy with his ability and international experience).

      Again … if not now, when? After he’s just had his second dominant season as a closer?

      I think a case could be made that further relieving actually hinders his development as a starter.

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  13. Tom B says:

    This is a fine evaluation of how his value would be effected this season.

    Over multiple seasons, him being a starter would be much more valuable.

    Delaying that over what we know to be a mis-used role (closer) is foolish.

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  14. deadpool says:

    Honestly, to me this is the kind of thing that should count against an organizations front office. To me, moving Feliz to closer in the first place was compounding an error. They failed to adequately prepare a bullpen and then delayed the progress of a talented prospect to cover. I know it’s not that simple in a pennant race, but Feliz was the Rangers answer at closer last year at the start of the season, and that’s a mistake.

    That said, I do think people are forgetting that all the way back to his first appearance on a BA list the knock on Feliz was that he might be relegated to closing. I get frustrated when people ignore a prior assessment because it’s been “replaced.” This isn’t like Minor in ATL where something changed (fastball), Feliz was essentially the same pitcher who had simply managed to stay in a minor league rotation longer than some feared. Maybe this is just who he is.

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  15. Garrett says:

    Its a fundamental error to think one person must handle the entire ninth inning. There is no need for a “closer” other than to make fantasy baseball easier.

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    • Captain Obvious says:

      Unless that “closer” is Mariano Rivera. But no, it does not follow that one person must handle the job, as long as the job is handled.

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      • Garrett says:

        That is still retarded. Mariano should be used in the highest leverage situations. But you’re either an idiot or trolling, so whatev.

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    • fredsbank says:

      the red sox tried this in 03 and it went terribly

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      • Daern says:

        And clearly one failure in one isolated incident disproves the concept. Bravo, sir.

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      • fredsbank says:

        oh? so i’m ignoring the frequent successful applications of the theory that “anyone can close,” am i? what are they then?


        anything yet?

        no? didnt think so

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      • Anon says:

        Err…every year, when a team uses someone who’s never closed before and it works well, maybe?

        Are you just trolling or are you really this obtuse?

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  16. Kris says:

    The Rangers are in a bit of a pickle. Feliz closed last year because the Rangers, I guess rightfully, assumed that they had a chance to do well and would benefit from an electric arm at the ass-end of the bullpen.

    I, for one, think Feliz is further away than is currently assumed. I wouldn’t be surprised if he needed a full year and a half to develop his stuff as a starter. I can’t imagine the guy transitioning to starter in the big leagues on a competitive team (without destroying the pen in the transition).

    This is the safe play and on a competitive team, I think it’s the right play. You’re really just putting off the transition another year. I’m not quite sure what the harm is — Is there some new-fangled science that says transitioning after one year is better than two years?

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      My personal preferences aside, I think he IS a closer, and he’ll stay there (perhaps even by his own request). Closing and starting are two seperate deals. A “starter” would be raising hell if he were entering his second year of “closing”. That’s just their mindset.

      Simply put, I think he likes it and he’s very good at it. I also think the more he does it, the more he’s gonna like it.

      Are there any examples of a multi-year closer that went on to become a regular starting pitcher? Not that there HAS to be in order for Neftali to do it. But some are talking as if it’s no big deal (I actually think it is kind of a big deal, to do it right anyway) and I want to see if it has been done.

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      • tdotsports1 says:

        CJ Wilson did pretty well last season.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Excellent example.

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      • dnc says:

        “Are there any examples of a multi-year closer that went on to become a regular starting pitcher?”

        Tim Wakefield. Derek Lowe. Ryan Dempster.

        I’m assuming you actually meant someone who was a big league closer for multiple years first and then made the switch to the rotation, but that makes the fundamentally wrong assumption that what happens before the major leagues doesn’t matter. Almost all closers begin as starters (like Feliz) before being moved to the pen. Whether they were starters in the majors or minors first seems inconsequential.

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  17. Brook Bolls says:

    I forget where I read this tweet, but the idea was that if Pedro pitched his 1993 season right now, he would have never been allowed to start.

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  18. Larry says:

    I don’t think the fact Feliz is a closer now means he is going to be a closer two or three years from now.

    Feliz has age going for him – he can still be a starter at 24 or 25 and still turn out to be Pedro light – without possibly suffering through the workload that might derail young starting pitchers who throw hard.

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    • Double D says:

      +1. Right on.

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    • baty says:

      Yeah, but I don’t know if you can assume that Feliz will be the same pitcher 2-3 years from now… This stint could save life on his body during some early developmental years, but I don’t know. What CJ did last year was almost machine-like, and I keep thinking about his short-term durability throughout this treatment. I would imagine Texas treats Feliz differently, but it’s still a risk to make the assumption that any pitcher can jerked back and forth between SP and RP roles without having a reasonable negative impact.

      For instance, what’s going on with Phil Hughes so far this season? I know every pitcher is different, and his issues might just be a typical blip, but it’s interesting…

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  19. Brook Bolls says:

    How about Neftali playing half the year in the rotation and then finishing the other half in the bullpen? I think the division is weak enough where it’s not a huge risk, and maybe they could boost his innings for a full-fledged run at the 2012 rotation.

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  20. tdotsports1 says:

    This might be the weakest argument but even the Jays survived and managed to win 85 games in the AL East with Kevin Gregg as the closer.

    Stretch him (Feliz) out, plug some schmoe in for the precious “closer” job and move on.

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  21. Larry says:

    Are Danny Kolb or Derrick Turnbow around? Maybe Juan Cruz or Kyle Farnsworth can be pried from the Rays?

    The Rangers would probably be happy to plug them either of them in and get a full year out of Feliz as a starter.

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    • deadpool says:

      I’m not good with subtext, but your making the point right there. I mean, Kolb had 1.5 WAR in two seasons with the Brewers. Its all about finding the right guy at the right time, The best run organizations that don’t have established closers all seem capable of doing this. How many closers did the Braves use in non-Smoltz years during the run?

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  22. Larry says:

    I just have a small issue with what has been said. Why is it that a team needs to define who their “closer” or ninth inning pitcher is? Isn’t playing the matchups with LOOGY’s and ROOGY’s more effective than going with a designated closer? Isn’t there some advantage to being unpredictable with pitching decisions? And, shouldn’t it be mentioned who would replace the all the innings Feliz would have eaten up as a starter?

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    • hunterfan says:

      Except Ron Washington is a moron when it comes to managing his bullpen and wants a “proven closer” (TM). He is NOT going to play the matchups and have a closer by committee.

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  23. Ron Washington says:

    I’m awesome at managing my relievers in the playoffs. Check out these average leverage indices for Neftali last postseason in each of his seven appearances:




    Neftali was like an unsolvable explosion of quadratic reciprocity in these games!

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  24. Anthony says:

    Don’t think it’s that big of a deal. An elite closer is essential in the playoffs (it’s basically the difference beween the Yankees 4 WS and the Braves 1WS back in those days). The Rangers are good enough to make the playoff regardless of where he is and should be that good for a few years. They’re in an enormous market and seem to have a smart front office with a strong system and a strong core.

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  25. ToddM says:

    This is just dumb of the Rangers, plain and simple. If the kid is showing you he has the pitches, you let him start. If the front office is a slave to tradition, go trade for a guy with saves. At least being stupid in that way doesn’t devalue your best young arm.

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  26. this guy says:

    “the Rangers don’t have any good ninth inning alternatives in house.” With a link to your article.

    You should read the comments section. Your readers absolutely shredded your conclusions to pieces. When you actually start watching baseball and develop some semblance of intellectual honesty, you’re going to be a much better writer.

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    • MCR says:

      You’re a sad, strange little man and you have my pity.

      These comments really are horrible. They’re pushing ESPN-level quality.

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  27. baty says:

    I wonder how much of the “CJ conversion success ” is playing into these decisions. I definitely believe that the value of a closer is inflated. I don’t care how gaudy a closer’s numbers are, in the end his job is to secure a late inning lead.

    2010 Gio Gonzalez: 3.2 WAR
    2010 Carlos Marmol: 3.1 WAR
    (the truth of this comparison appears strange to me, maybe I just don’t understand)

    If the goal is to use Feliz as needed for the time being, and then perform a reconversion, then fine… It still seems like a waste of assets and my initial reaction is to say that Feliz is getting jerked around, but after following CJ’s progression, I guess you have to trust Texas in this case. In the end, I hope that Feliz’s SP potential is exhausted before finally committing him to a bullpen role

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  28. Colin says:

    I think this article is right on. Ultimately even if Feliz is a mediocre starting pitcher, he probably has more value in that role, that said this is not a guy who was going to pitch 180+ innings this year, and was not a guy likely to have tons of success his first year as a starter given that he walked well over 3 BB/9 in that role in the minors.

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    • ToddM says:

      This is nonsense. There are PLENTY of starters with electric stuff that walk over 3 per 9. If you get lots of swings and misses (Feliz does) and keep it in the park (Feliz does), an average walk rate is not the end of the world.

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      • Colin says:

        Well over 3 BB/9 is below average, and that was in single and double A ball. You assume based on a small sample size in the majors, and minor league ball where hitters have a lot less power that he can keep it in the park with ease, a bad assumption to make. Further you also assume his K rate will stay the same as a starter, another bad assumption. And those starters with electric stuff that walk well over 3 BB/9, generally are not considered high end starters. So his WAR over the course of a season where he might pitch 140 innings at best and is likely to have significantly reduced productivity is probably not going to be much higher if at all as a SP than a RP.

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      • ToddM says:

        Actually, Colin, I said none of those things. Nice try, though.

        Everyone already knows it’s easier to put up lofty K rates, lower WHIPs, and generally better numbers as a reliever going all out for shorter periods of time. Never did I claim Feliz would replicate his numbers as a reliever (around 530 OPSA, in a hitters’ park, in a tougher league).

        His walk rate as a reliever in the majors is under 2.4 per 9, by the way. He’d need to regress significantly as a starter to make your point even valid. I realize he had higher rates as a starter in the minors, but I have news for you, oh king of straw … young pitchers do occasionally get better in terms of harnessing their stuff, particularly when you’re talking about age 19 to age 22.

        Honestly, was it that I called you out that made you so huffy? Sorry if I offended, truly, but to come back with a whole paragraph of “further you assume”s with no basis in reality is just a bit much.

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      • ToddM says:

        Oh, and just to pile back on…

        Starters that qualified for the ERA title in 2010 and finished in the top 40 in MLB in ERA (crude, but quick) and still walked 3 per 9 or more (notice the quality of some of these names, Colin):

        (3) Clay Buchholz
        (6) Jaime Garcia
        (7) David Price
        (11) Ubaldo Jimenez
        (12) Clayton Kershaw
        (18) Jonathan Sanchez
        (24) Gio Gonzalez
        (25) Jon Lester
        (27) C.J. Wilson
        (30) Tim Lincecum
        (31) Jon Garland
        (32) Max Scherzer
        (34) Anibal Sanchez
        (35) Chad Billingsley
        (36) Wandy Rodriguez

        That’s 15 of the top 40, all with ERAs under 3.60. There’s another 8 to 10 in the just missed category, above 2.8 walks per 9.

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      • Colin says:

        There is nothing huffy about my response. I’m simply pointing out the many flaws in your way of thinking, that Feliz is somehow guaranteed to become a mid to high end starter based completely on his “stuff” and not on any reasonable interpretation of his stats. As for your use of ERA to justify how pitchers can succeed with high walk rates, well, I will just avoid that mess all together and leave you to it.

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      • ToddM says:

        This is you, Colin: “And those starters with electric stuff that walk well over 3 BB/9, generally are not considered high end starters.”

        I complement you for your use of ‘generally’, which saves you from an even bigger roasting, but are you trying to say Ubaldo, Timmy, Kershaw, Price, and Lester are not considered high end starters?

        Just admit it, you’re wrong, even if ERA leaders was a lazy way for me to show it.

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      • ToddM says:

        I also just realized I wasn’t explicit enough with you.

        You aren’t pointing out any flaws in my thinking, because I didn’t say any of the things you suggested. I simply stated that the Rangers are devaluing their best young arm by using him as a closer. Feliz doesn’t need numbers anywhere near as good as his closer numbers to be more valuable to the Rangers as a starter, both this year and in years to come. His control can get worse, his K’s can go down, his HR rate can go up, and what I’ve said is still true.

        The Rangers need to invest in a starter season NOW, even if he can’t go over 150 innings, because putting it off doesn’t make it go away.

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    • ToddM says:

      Grr, compliment, not complement.

      For calling someone else “huffy”, I got too worked up over this. My bad, all done.

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  29. ToddM says:

    Taking his spring performance and the FO’s comments together, this whole process basically looks like “He looks like he can start, but we’re afraid to mess with our bullpen, and we need a closer.”

    If he couldn’t find four decent pitches, OK.

    If he clearly struggled facing batters more than once in a game, OK.

    If the Rangers had five reliable starters, not really OK, but understandable.

    It’s none of those things. It’s “We want a closer who has done the job before.” It’s mental weakness from the Rangers, no more, no less.

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    • ToddM says:

      Oh, and now with Hunter out (who sucks anyway), they’re pitching two solid starters (CJW and CL), a real prospect with only a couple months of good results under his belt (Holland), and a couple of guys that Feliz could outpitch blindfolded.


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  30. CircleChange11 says:

    Todd is right. There are worse things you can do than walk a guy … Like give up homers.

    If you don’t K many guys then you need to keep the ball in the park and don’t walk many.

    If you’re going to give up homers (Schilling) then you better K a bunch and walk few.

    Guys that have high K9 values can get away with the extra BB’s simply because K’s strand runners.

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  31. CircleChange11 says:

    Todd, doesn’t keeping Feliz in the bullpen seem like something Nolan Ryan would NOT do. Ryan’s other pitching philosophies don’t follow the “norm” in terms of babying pitcher’s arms, but rather conditioning them to throw a lot.

    The concern with Ryan’s philosophy is usually the opposite. I happen to like his philosophies and agree with pretty much everything in the Rangers pitching handbook.

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    • ToddM says:

      Certainly. Isn’t he (semi-jokingly) known for ‘rubbing some pickle juice’ on it? 35 starts, 140 pitches per, suck it up Ryan?

      This just doesn’t make sense.

      The Rangers either secretly think Feliz doesn’t have what it takes (which seems rather ridiculous) or absolutely buy into the proven closer nonsense (which also seems ridiculous, given Ryan’s experiences in MLB).

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      • Daern says:

        “given Ryan’s experiences in MLB”

        Do remember, most players buy into all the old-school nonsense like “Proven Closers”. There’s a Zach Grienke here or there who’ll throw FIP atcha, but in general they’re in lockstep with guys like Ron Washington.

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      • ToddM says:

        Except Nolan Ryan pitched part of his career in the “real men throw complete games” ERA, and since he was never particularly efficient, he had some truly MASSIVE pitch totals.

        Man, Ryan walked 4.67 per 9 for his career! Just did some stat-searching — no pitch counts available, though.

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  32. Ed Nelson says:

    This whole idea that the Rangers need an “experienced closer” baffles me. To find Feliz they needed to give him a chance despite the fact he had never done the job. If they had followed this path last year Feliz enters camp as a middle reliever. Ogando has the stuff to do the job. Despite the poor spring they should have just given him a chance.

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  33. pft says:

    Feliz would be up against a something like a 130 IP limit, and they don’t have another closer.

    Heres the plan. Feliz starts the season as closer to keep his IP down and give the team time to find another closer. Sometime in the 2nd half, they find that closer (trade or inhouse), and Feliz begins starting, perhaps as many as 12 starts.

    Depending on how he does as starter, and whomever their closer is in the 2nd half, they either keep Feliz in the rotation for the playoffs, or move him back to closer for the playoffs.

    At the end of the day, Feliz has his 130 IP, and can look to up that to 170 IP in 2012, and the Rangers can pick among Papelbon, Broxton, Gregg, heck maybe even Soriano if he opts out, to close in 2012 and beyond.

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    • ToddM says:

      If that were the truth, I’d be fine with it.

      Is there any reason to believe it?

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      • pft says:

        Feliz would be up against a something like a 130 IP limit this year (20 sarts), and they don’t have another closer. Feliz wants to start., good starters are more valuable than closers. Add them up.

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      • ToddM says:

        I’m adding. I’m also not in the Rangers front office.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Nolan Ryan and “130 IP limit” just don;t seem to go together.

        He’s thrown other guys out there for a ton of innings, CJ Wilson as an example from this thread.

        Heck, it only took Nolan Ryan 95 innings to reach his 130 IP limit. *grin*

        Nolan Ryan – 1973
        326 IP
        383 K
        162 BB

        Those stats just blow me away. Pitch count, Schmitch count.

        I really doubt Ryan is hesitant to extend Feliz through 130 IP, based on what I know of the Rangers philosophy, etc.

        My guess is having Feliz as the closer just makes it easy and comforting for the manager. I did not view Feliz as being the same type of potential starter as say, Teheran, and though Feliz might be better suited to the closer role … but I change my view on that. He should be starting and I am not really interested why he isn’t … more specifically why Nolan Ryan of all people isn’t starting him.

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  34. J.W. says:

    Whatever happened to the ‘apprentice’ spot on the pitching staff–that guy who would be the long man and spot starter for a rotation guy who needed to skip, or if the rainout doubleheaders piled up (showing my age now). These guys would get 100-120 innings preparing for a bigger role the following season, and the team could still use him as they pleased in the playoffs.

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