Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Neftali Feliz as a Starter for Texas

I know I've touched on this situation a few times in the past feeling that things that aren't broken shouldn't be messed with. The example of Neftali Feliz being converted to a starter by the Texas Rangers is one such scenario where I feel that if something isn't broken then it shouldn't be messed with. This came up due to a Twitter post by Jayson Stark of ESPN (@jaysonst) who mentioned that the Texas Rangers might be one of the teams that would be dabbling in the closer market if it was the right guy. Now it was announced on November 21, 2011 that the Rangers had signed former Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan to a two-year, $14.5 million contract with a club option for a third year and a buyout which in effect made the move to place Feliz in the starting rotation. I responded to Stark's comment by saying that the Rangers already had a closer and that was Feliz. As with Twitter, others can comment on posts and my comment was answered by @MLBDirt.

He (or she I'm not actually sure) stated that Feliz should start since he was a starter in the minors. As I stated before, I'm of the frame of mind that if something is not broken then it shouldn't be messed with. With 72 saves in the last two (74 saves in three total seasons), an All-Star appearance in 2010 along with his 2010 AL Rookie of the Year award it seems to me that there isn't any doubt where Feliz's strength lies. But let me take off my blinders for a second and elaborate on another point.

It is my impression that in the Baseball world, there is a mentality that it is harder to cultivate a front line starter than a front line closer. That it is easier to just plug someone into the closer role and have him succeed rather than doing so with a starter. Historically the closer role was dominated by starters who could no longer start due to age or injury and by starters who were not very efficient in the starting role due to diminished stamina or ineffectiveness in the starting rotation. Case in point might be Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees. I believe that the mentality has changed with the increased development of closers at the High School and College level, as well as, with more attention placed on the role of closers in the Minor league level. Let me go back to my conversation with @MLBDirt on Feliz.

So @MLBDirt believes that Feliz would better help the team as a starter. This is exactly what they said:

Feliz has more value as a SP. I agree with moving him back into rotation. Rays have proven closers are replaceable...I really liked him as a starter in the minors and I think he can still be a top of the rotation guy.

Ok, I'll bite on the dangling hook. I decided to check out Feliz's stats to see how his numbers looked as a starter. Feliz was signed by the Atlanta Braves as a free agent in 2005. He would be part of the trade that sent Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia Matt Harrison and Beau Jones to Rangers for Ron Mahay and Mark Teixeira on July 31, 2007. The season I will look at is 2008.

Feliz split time between Clinton LumberKings of the Midwest League Western (A) and Frisco RoughRiders played in the Texas League South (AA). Feliz had a combined 10-6 record with a 2.69 ERA in 27 starts and 127.1 innings pitched. He gave up 38 earned runs 89 hits, with 153 strikes and 51 walks for a WHIP of 1.10. So he has the stuff to be a closer at least at the mid level minors and we know that he can dominate hitters at the major league levels for at least an inning or two. My question is can this "flip-flopping" between closer and starter work with Feliz. I can't help to think of the situation with Joba Chamberlain and to a certain degree Phil Hughes of the New York Yankees. It can be said that Chamberlain was severely damaged, especially in his psyche with the constant changing of his duties within the Yankees rotation. Hughes seems to have adapted better to returning to the rotation after spending a dominant turn as the Yankees' 8th inning option in 2009.

Time will truly tell if this move by the Rangers works. They seem to be serious about the move this season as opposed to the move last Spring training. If it works, then Feliz can be a feasible compliment to Holland and Harrison in the rotation (if C.J. Wilson departs via free agency). If it doesn't work, then Feliz should move back to the closing role with Joe Nathan as the 8th inning role. To me, that's a more attractive option given that I still believe that he should remain the closer, a position that we know he can successful in. We'll see how it plays out.


For Further Reading

- Click Here to access Neftali Feliz's career Major League career statistics from Baseball Reference.com
- Click Here to access Neftali Feliz's career Minor League career statistics from Baseball Cube.com
- Click Here to access Jason Kim's article Texas Rangers: Why Converting Neftali Feliz into a Starter Won't Be Pretty from BleacherReport.com dated February 26, 2011

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