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Yanks Join the Reliever Party, Signing Feliciano

So far this off-season nine relief pitchers have signed a contract of two years or longer. When the Yankees’ signing of Pedro Feliciano becomes official that will make 10. We learned yesterday that the two sides were getting closer to a deal, and this morning they agreed on a two-year, $8 million contract that includes a player option for 2013. The Yankees now join the Angels as the only teams to sign more than one reliever to a multi-year deal.

In the past three seasons no pitcher has made more appearances than Feliciano, and it’s not particularly close. He has entered a game 266 times, and the next closest, Carlos Marmol, has 238. Unsurprisingly, in each of those three seasons he has led the league in appearances. That certainly raises a red flag. That is somewhat mitigated by his status as a lefty specialist. He enters games frequently, but he doesn’t pitch for long. In that same three-year period 48 pitchers have thrown more pitches and the same number have faced more batters. He also has never been placed on the disabled list.

When he does appear in games he’s fairly effective. In 459 career appearances he has a 3.31 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 3.81 xFIP, and 4.06 tERA — though his tERA has been much lower since his return from Japan in 2006. His strikeout rate is always in the 8 per nine range, though his walks have typically been over 4 per nine. It’s no surprise that his finest seasons have come when his walk rate has dipped below 3 per nine. The one mitigating factor there is that a number of those walks are intentional, occurring when the opponent’s lineup goes lefty-righty-lefty. That’s not to say that the intentional walks don’t hurt. They do. But they’re a bit easier to stomach if he faces a lefty afterward.

A groundball-inducing lefty who can also strike out his share of same-handed batters will fit well with the Yankees. He can handle some of the tougher lefties in the division, including new Bostonians Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Two years and $8 million might be a bit of an overpay — Feliciano’s WAR/Dollars figure has never hit $4 million. Then again, 1) WAR might undervalue relievers, and 2) the Yankees aren’t on the same pay scale as the rest of the league. With only roughly $185 million on the books for the 2011 season, including projected arbitration raises and reserve clause obligations, they can afford to overpay a few players that can help at the margins.