Feldman ’09 vs. Feldman ’10

Scott Feldman has undergone some drastic transformations during the course of his pro career. Texas’ 30th round pick in the 2003 draft was a nondescript reliever on the mend from Tommy John surgery when Orel Hershiser suggested a sidearm delivery in the spring of 2005. After bouncing between Triple-A Oklahoma and Arlington over the ’05 to ’07 seasons, getting lots of grounders out of the ‘pen but struggling to locate at the big league level, Feldman switched to a three-quarters delivery and moved to the starting rotation in 2008.

The results weren’t pretty (a 5.29 ERA in 151.1 innings), but Feldman showed considerable improvement in 2009 while going to a cutter to keep lefty batters from taking him to the woodshed. His ERA dropped to 4.08. The Rangers signed the mop-up man-turned-starter through his arbitration years this past winter, with an option for his first free agent season in 2013.

So far, it looks as though Feldman has turned back into a pumpkin. Tossing 89.2 innings, the 27-year-old righty holds a gruesome 5.32 ERA. What has changed between Feldman’s 2009 breakout and 2010 beat down? Very little, actually.

Last year, Feldman had 5.36 K/9 and 3.08 BB/9 in 189.2 innings. This season, he’s whiffing 5.82 batters per nine and issuing 2.91 BB/9. He induced ground balls 46.8% in ’09, and 44.2% in 2010. There’s nothing dramatically different here — a few more whiffs and a few less worm killers.

Same story with Feldman’s plate discipline stats. His swinging strike rate was 6.5% in 2009, and is 6.4% in 2010 (8-8.5% MLB average). Feldman got a first pitch strike 57.5% last season, and is getting ahead of the hitter 58.9% this year (58% MLB average). His overall contact rate, 84.6% in ’09, is 85.7% in 2010 (81% MLB average). In terms of getting swings on pitches out of the zone, Feldman’s doing a slightly better job this season — his O-Swing was 25% in 2009 (25.1% MLB average that year) and is 29.8% in 2010 (28.3% MLB average).

Feldman’s pitch selection is a bit different (more mid-70’s curves in place of 90-91 MPH fastballs), but the results between his ’09 and ’10 seasons are strikingly similar. Why, then, has his ERA soared more than a Vlad Guerrero home run?

Last season, Feldman benefited from a .276 BABIP. In 2010, balls put in play against him are falling for hits at an absurd clip — his BABIP is .352, trailing only Zach Duke and Randy Wells among qualified big league starters. Also, Feldman’s strand rate has slipped. After leaving 72.8% of base runners high and dry in ’09, his LOB rate is down to 64% this year (70-72% MLB average). He’s not pitching worse with men on base:

Feldman with runners on base

2009: 4.48 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 4.66 xFIP, .252 BABIP
2010: 5.89 K/9, 3.25 BB/9, 4.50 xFIP, .338 BABIP

Truth be told, Feldman is neither the rotation stalwart that his shiny 17-win total from 2009 suggests, nor the bust that his 2010 ERA implies. Both seasons, he has been a passable starter — Feldman’s xFIP was 4.49 last season, and is 4.58 in 2010. Despite the wild fluctuations in his surface stats, Feldman’s the same pitcher he was last year.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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