After the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Neftali Feliz appeared to be on the verge of becoming one of the top closers in baseball. An exciting young reliever who threw in the upper 90’s, Feliz combined to post 72 saves with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.010 WHiP during those two seasons. He may not have had the gaudy strikeout totals that some of the recent fireballers have had, but Feliz still struck out 125 batters in 131.2 innings of work.
Then came the Texas Rangers ill fated attempt to make Feliz a starter. He lasted eight games, with seven starts, before requiring Tommy John surgery. He made six appearances in September of 2013, and after starting the 2014 season in the minors, regained his place as the Rangers closer when Joakim Soria was traded. Overall in 2014, Feliz put together an excellent 1.99 ERA with a 0.979 WHiP while recording 13 saves.
Looking deeper into Neftali Feliz’s production last year, there are certain numbers that stand out. First, opponents only mustered a .176 batting average on balls in play against Feliz, far below the typical league average of around .300. Next, while Feliz posted a stellar ERA, he had a 4.90 FIP last year. Finally, Feliz had an astonishing 100% runners left on base percentage, as any runners that reached before he was removed from the game did not cross home plate last year.
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It is obvious that some regression should be expected from Feliz this season, as those numbers just would not appear to be sustainable. However, looking at Feliz’s production throughout his career, that dropoff may not be as substantial as one would imagine. Feliz has allowed a mere .215 batting average on balls in play during his career, while his 2.53 ERA is over a full run lower than his 3.61 FIP. Feliz just may be one of those pitchers who, despite what the metrics indicate, will outperform expectations.
There are several causes for concern based on the performance in Spring Training. First is the drop in velocity that Neftali Feliz has had. Instead of averaging over 97 MPH with his fastball, Feliz averaged a mere 94.01 MPH during Spring Training, up slightly from the 93.39 MPH average from 2014. He pitched well with diminished velocity last year, but can Feliz continue to do so?
Second, Feliz, rather uncharacteristically, struggled with his control. In 8.2 innings of work, Feliz allowed six walks, far above the 3.4 walks per nine innings he allowed through his career. It could just be that Feliz is working on different things in Spring Training, but that is still worth keeping an eye on.
Neftali Feliz may not have that explosive fastball any longer, but as long as he can command his pitches, he should be able to perform quite well as the Texas Rangers closer.