Who Closes If Feliz Starts?

In his first full season in the majors, Neftali Feliz absolutely lived up to the hype. After taking over the closer role, Feliz used his high-velocity fastball and knee-buckling breaking ball to baffle hitters while also breaking the rookie saves record. Despite that success, there is still some debate over whether Feliz would be better utilized in the rotation. The Texas Rangers seem more than willing to give Feliz a shot at starting again, allowing him to stretch his arm out this Spring. If Feliz can crack the rotation, however, fantasy owners will be salivating over whatever pitcher is announced as the new closer. Let’s take a look at some of the candidates.

The Rangers have plenty of options to fill the closer role, but Alexi Ogando looks like an early favorite to slide into the role. Armed with a mid-90s fastball, Ogando struck out 8.42 batters per nine innings in his first season in the majors. Ogando also had a strong showing in the post-season for Texas, posting an 8/1 K/BB ratio over six innings. While it’s a small sample, it demonstrates Ogando might have the mindset to pitch in high-leverage situations. There are some reasons for concern, however, as Ogando’s BABIP (.257) and LOB% (92.9) are due for some regression. Ogando also struggled against left-handed batters last season, posting more walks than strikeouts against lefties last season.

Despite only throwing 3.0 innings with the Rangers last season, Mark Lowe is also a popular candidate for the closer role. As a matter of fact, the Rangers’ beat writer recently named Lowe the front-runner for the position. While many are pushing Lowe’s “experience” as a reason he should close, it’s important to note that he has only saved four games over his career. Regardless, Lowe should provide solid strikeout numbers and doesn’t have a platoon split as problematic as Ogando.

It’s really too bad there is such an aversion to using a lefty as a closer, because the Rangers have two really good left-handers in their bullpen. Both Arthur Rhodes and Darren Oliver are capable of closing, but it’s unlikely either of them will be taken seriously due to their handedness. Of all candidates, Rhodes has accumulated the most saves over his career. Unfortunately, Rhodes also has a pretty drastic platoon split. Oliver had a tremendous season out of the pen last season. While he also has a slight platoon split, he’s probably the best option in the bullpen if Feliz makes the rotation.

Darren O’Day hasn’t received much support as a potential closer, probably due the fact that he doesn’t have overpowering stuff. Like every other pitcher in the Rangers bullpen, O’Day has a platoon split as well. He only threw 18.0 innings against lefties last season, but he managed to post a 3.19 FIP despite a poor 4.00 K/9. He’s not an ideal candidate for the job, but he shouldn’t be completely discounted either.

Many have pointed to Tanner Scheppers as an option at the back of the bullpen, but it appears the Rangers are grooming him as a starter this season. If Scheppers is able to succeed as a starter this season, the Rangers could choose to break him in as a reliever towards the end of the season. If the closer’s role is still up for grabs when Scheppers is called up, perhaps he can steal a few saves at the end of the season. It’s not the most likely situation, but one that could bear watching as the season plays out.

The Rangers have a bevy of pitchers that they can plug into the closer role if Neftali Feliz establishes himself as a starter. While Ogando and Lowe seem like the front-runners as this point, Darren Oliver is probably the best option for the job. However, Oliver is being viewed as a set-up man this season, and won’t get a chance to close unless Ogando and Lowe falter. Due to Lowe’s perceived “experience,” he might hold a slight edge over Ogando at this point. No matter who gets the job, this is a position worth watching. Feliz was one of the best closers in fantasy baseball last season, and whoever takes over his role could provide similar stats at a much lower draft position.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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Oliver often carries a reverse platoon split. Its why he’s so valuable. He is probably the best option, though its kind of a waste of his length.

Rhodes, on the other hand, is a LOOGY now. O’Day, with his submarining, is a ROOGY.