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Does Neftali Feliz have a chance to start?

Jan 26, 2011, 9:40 AM EDT

World Series Giants Rangers Baseball

I hate it when awesome young pitchers who started in the minor leagues are turned into big league relievers and then everyone talks about how much better suited they are for the bullpen. Of course they’re dominant out of the pen! almost every pitcher is better out of the pen. They can throw harder. They don’t have to face as many guys. They don’t have to face the same guys more than once. They can ignore their shakier pitches.  Making a good starter into a great reliever is no big trick if all you want to do is make a great reliever.

I’ve been particularly worried about this happening in the case of Neftali Feliz, who showed in the minors that, if given the chance, he can be an effective starting pitcher.  So, when the Rangers didn’t get Cliff Lee my first thought was “Great! Now the chances of Neftali Feliz starting are better!”

Of course, when they traded Frank Francisco yesterday I thought “Bummer! Now they’re more likely to keep him in the pen!”  Thankfully Rangers’ assistant GM Thad Levine was on my buddy Mike Ferrin’s show on SiriusXM last night to clarify matters:

Ferrin: “You lose a key component in your bullpen in Frank Francisco, a big strike out guy, one of your bridges to the ninth inning.  Does this move impact where Neftali Feliz starts the season at all or is the plan still to have him go to spring training to compete for a rotation spot?”

Levine: “[Neftali Feliz] is going to come into spring training stretched out as a starter.  He’ll get every opportunity to compete for a rotation spot.  Probably there’s a little bit more onus now on him really wowing us in spring training to inspire the move but we feel – with the likes of Mark Lowe, maybe Alexi Ogando as the next young up-and-coming power arm out of our pen, and then we certainly have two very strong veterans in Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes – we’ve got the makings of a very formidable back end of the bullpen.  And we’re very open-minded to Feliz starting the year in the rotation.  He’s going to have to be awful impressive because I think our manager sure likes him pitching the last three outs of the game.”

Well, that’s not really any more clear.  All I can hope is that Ron Washington’s love of those “last three outs of the game” three times a week doesn’t trump what’s best for the first 21 outs of the game every five days.

  1. BC - Jan 26, 2011 at 10:01 AM

    They’re going to screw him up like the Yankees screwed up Joba The Hutt. And the Reds will do the same thing to Chapman. Everyone remember, I said it first.

  2. bcopus - Jan 26, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    There are a few things I’ve never understood when I hear baseball commentaries.

    1) How much better someone is from the bullpen. As you noted above…of course. It’s kind of a no-brainer.

    2) How homeruns can be drive killers. I really never understood this. The premise of the game, if I’ve been watching it correctly for the past 25 years, is to score more runs than the other team. So, given that a homerun is the only sure-fire way to score a run (besides being walked in), how does that become a negative for a hitting team?

    3) I once heard a certain commentator say, “They want to score a few runs here in the 7th, but leave themselves something to do in the 8th and 9th.” Really? They don’t want to go ahead and take the lead?

    4)This last one goes for all sports. “Team A has a 13-37 record against Team B since 1972. Can they overcome that?” I may really not understand the logic, and if that can be explained to me, that would be great. But to me it seems like what happened in 1972-2010 bear little weight unless both teams stayed exactly the same, aged exactly the same, and played exactly the same way for every year.

  3. andrewkw - Jan 26, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    If the playoffs taught us anything last year it’s that Ron Washington would rather lose a game then pitch Feliz in any inning other then the 9th.

  4. seanmk - Jan 26, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    well either neftali feliz or tanner scheppers will have to become starter

  5. spudchukar - Jan 26, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    Can’t go along with you here Craig. Feliz is very young. A couple of years in the bullpen can be a pretty effective, safe way to introduce a young fireballer to the Bigs. Much easier to monitor pitch counts, develop secondary pitches, work on location, and get a feel for the big league game. Seems like a natural progression to me. I understand your concern about being “buried”, and I guess there is always that threat if highly successful, but I sure understand the logic of the careful plan, particularly with young, talented power pitchers.

    • BC - Jan 26, 2011 at 11:43 AM

      Agree. Worked out OK with Mariano Rivera, huh?

    • hackerjay - Jan 26, 2011 at 12:24 PM

      This sounds good in theory, but how often does it actually work? Wainwright is the only guy I can think of in recent history, and he spent just one year in the pen.

      • spudchukar - Jan 26, 2011 at 12:54 PM

        Maybe it would work more often, if more teams would adopt it. Every individual is different. But with very young power pitchers it can be effective. Rather than overextend youthful arms or waste their productivity in the minors ease them into the show. Especially ones who need to work on secondary pitches. No matter how good their stuff is, starters usually need 3 pitches or hitters will catch up to them. Nothing is worse than a promising over matched hurler struggling. Confidence goes, injuries occur and bad habits are formed. This formula won’t work for everyone, some guys are more polished when they arrive, some guys take a while to develop and many aren’t adaptable to the bullpen. But in instances like Feliz I believe it works. This gives the club the options. If the secondary stuff never develops, then the pen is probably the proper place.

      • ThatGuy - Jan 26, 2011 at 1:31 PM

        Johan Santana broke started in the pen for the Twins

      • clydeserra - Jan 26, 2011 at 3:10 PM

        Santana was a rule 5 guy that had to be stashed for a year. Perez is ready now go get big league hitter s out. He needs to start.

  6. Jonny 5 - Jan 26, 2011 at 12:18 PM

    Great point Craig about starting vs. relieving. This is why I feel Hoffman is no HOF’er. If he was truly a HOF’er he’d be pitching 7 innings every 5th day.

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