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Scott Feldman: Playoff Relief Ace

The Rangers have had their fair sure of playoff heroes this year. After all, it takes more than one player to facilitate a 6-2 run against two of the league’s best teams. But there have been a select few players keying the Rangers’ success in October. Nelson Cruz has been the guiding light so far, with the walk-off grand slam in Game Two and the throw to nab Miguel Cabrera at the plate as well as the three-run home run to bury the Tigers in Game Four. Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando have been fantastic in relief, throwing nine combined innings with only one run allowed and a whopping 13 strikeouts. Mike Napoli had the game-winning hit on Wednesday.

Those are all names people expected to propel the Rangers to victory. But with the exception of Cruz, one could make the argument that Scott Feldman has been more crucial to the Rangers’ ALCS success. His 5.1 innings pitched trail only Colby Lewis, who had a very mediocre start in Game Three, the Tigers’ only victory so far. Feldman also has a stellar +0.45 WPA in this time, trailing only Feliz among pitchers and actually outpacing Cruz’s contribution with the bat (+0.37), only falling behind after we add in Cruz’s fantastic throw, which was worth roughly +0.36 WPA according to The Hardball Times’s WPA calculator.

Scott Feldman was a 17-game winner two years ago (for all that matters), but he failed to make an impact in 2010 and spent much of 2011 injured. How is he now the relief ace pacing the Rangers through the ALCS?

Feldman is not simply a case of excellent luck on balls in play. In his 5.1 innings in the ALCS, Feldman has five strikeouts against no walks and just one hit. Going back to his ALDS appearance, three innings of shutdown mop-up work against the Rays in Game One, Feldman has a total of 8.1 innings pitched with nine strikeouts, three hits, and zero walks. He has been a legitimate shutdown reliever in the postseason, despite his mediocrity in 2010 and through his only 32 innings of 2011 (3.94 ERA, 3.99 FIP).

Although we certainly can’t count on Feldman to continue to pitch like Mariano Rivera with the ability to go multiple innings, it’s not altogether surprising that he is able to succeed in this role. He has regained his fastball velocity as a reliever — back up to 91.9 with the fastball and 90.3 with the cutter, similar to 2009 and 1-1.5 MPH higher than 2010. His peripheral numbers were already better as a reliever, as he struck out 16 batters against five walks in his 21 innings in the regular season.

Such is a fate for many mediocre starting pitchers — for whatever reasons, their stuff works better in these shorter bursts. Now Scott Feldman, instead of defining the number five starter, has made two fantastic appearances for the Rangers and is making a difference out of the bullpen. Surely, somebody will hit him by the time this postseason comes to a close, whether it’s the Tigers, the Cardinals, or the Brewers, but for now, Scott Feldman can revel in his postseason glory, as his two appearances in the ALCS are a big reason the Rangers hold their 3-to-1 lead going into tonight’s Game Five.