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Neftali Feliz has a great start. And somehow this is a problem.

Mar 21, 2011, 12:07 PM EDT

Neftali Feliz

If a team had a new starting pitcher show up, throw high heat and exhibit good control over multiple innings, most people would think it was awesome. It’s only when the guy closed games the season before and got a bunch of saves that this somehow becomes a problem. Case in point: Neftali Feliz, who had a nice start yesterday:

Even as he paced himself, Feliz’s fastball regularly clocked between 94 mph and 96. His slider locked knees. His changeup, which at one point he threw two pitches in a row, elicited weak swings.

“His mound presence, his use of his other pitches,” Ryan said, continuing the litany of Feliz praises.

Yet Gil Lebreton of the Star-Telegramechoed by Buster Olney — calls this a “dilemma” because it might mean — gasp! — that instead of pitching 69 innings out of the pen, it may cause the Rangers to use him for 200 innings as a starter. And everyone knows that 60 ninth innings are way, way more important than 200 innings that occur between the first and eighth. I mean, that’s just science!

Dear Lord. Once — just once — I would like to get every baseball writer on the planet under oath for half a second and make them go on the record with an answer to one simple question: “what is more valuable: an excellent starting pitcher or an excellent relief pitcher.”  Pending the answer to that question, I will decide whether to pay any attention to that person ever again.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, I am being a bit unfair here. Lebreton does, at the end of the piece, opine that Feliz should be a starter and that filling out a bullpen should be secondary.  So yes, he would pass my little test.  I still take issue with this being presented as a “dilemma,” however, which is how his story is couched.  If the writer is allowed to opine in his article as Lebreton opines here, and if he agrees that a starter is more valuable than a closer, he should probably be more critical of the Rangers for even suggesting that this is a “dilemma.”  Because to the extent there is still uncertainty on what to do with Feliz in the Rangers’ mind, it is unreasonable uncertainty. To the extent there is not uncertainty, articles about Feliz’s role are kind of pointless.

  1. Jonny 5 - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    Seriously though…. Closers are so over rated that I find myself disliking them all together for no other reason but “they are closers”. And closers should never, ever be inducted into the HOF. EVER….

    • yankeesfanlen - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:19 PM

      Hmmmm…never EVER?

      • Jonny 5 - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:30 PM

        Never EVER. :)

      • yankeesfanlen - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:36 PM

        Okay, I’ll meet you in Cooperstown in July 2019.

      • Jonny 5 - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:49 PM

        I love Mo, but not that much. 60 – 70 innings tops per season isn’t HOF mat’l imo. Never has been. You have guys logging 260 innings per season, they are the real work horse of a pitching staff. Closers are relievers with balls, that’s it. Not trying to change minds aout it, I’m just “splainin’ ” why I feel this way.

    • trevorb06 - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:21 PM

      Relief pitchers can and should be HOFers if deserving. The ‘saves’ stat should not be an indictactor of thier HOF status. Rivera should be in the HOF when eligible. Hoffman should get some locks as well. Wagner has a good case. etc etc you get my point.

      • Jonny 5 - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:38 PM

        Nope, I don’t get your point. I see you named 3 of the best at closing, but just because they are the best at closing doesn’t make them some of the best pitchers ever. What is looked at for induction of a pitcher? IP is a very important stat imo. When a guy becomes a closer, it tells me he’s a closer because he couldn’t start. Neftali Feliz is proving he isn’t just some one inning wonder here. And that’s awesome.

      • trevorb06 - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:37 PM

        I listed off three great relievers. Because they’re great they were made closers… they weren’t great because they were closers. Basing it on IP is ridiculous. Guys used to pitch 300 innings but that doesn’t make Halladay and less worthy when his time comes. I’m basing my HOF spin here on importance to winning. A good pitcher can get you 7 or 8 good innings and you might have the lead but you also need a good guy in the bullpen who can finish the game and keep that lead. Obviously a GREAT starter will get you 7-9 great innings but if he can’t get you to the end you need somebody to keep that lead. A GREAT reliever will keep that lead more often than not therefore making him a valuable asset to the team. I’m with craig where I don’t like the ‘closer’ term. If I had Mo as my relief ace and it is the 7th inning, 2 outs and bases loaded in a tie ball game I am bringing him in to shut down that inning and pitch into the 8th. I don’t give a crap if he gets a Win, Save, Hold or no decision because it’d be the right move to bring him in to keep that tie ball game from turning to a blow out.

    • BC - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:26 PM

      Your average, garden-variety closer is overrated. You can basically put a fire hydrant out there and it’ll get 35 saves over the course of a season. But the reeeeeeeeeeeeeaaallly elite closers? Like Mo? If you’re on a playoff caliber team, they’re insanely more valuable in the post season. They can essentially pitch every day.

      • jwbiii - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:50 PM

        But how would you know that Rivera would become a reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaallly elite closer? Any reason to think that this guy wouldn’t be better than this guy?

  2. JBerardi - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    Obviously you want him as a starter. The only reason I’d think twice about that conversion is the risk posed to his health by the massive jump in innings pitched. Still, his upside as a starter clearly makes it worth the risk.

  3. BC - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    Dr. Andrews… paging Dr. Andrews…. it’s Mr. Feliz on Line 2 for you….

  4. ThatGuy - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:23 PM

    I have never read Gil Lebreton before, but if you read that whole story he does get it right in the end and says Feliz should be a starter because thats were the most value was.

  5. Travis Reitsma - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    Feliz has to start and if he doesn’t every coach on the Rangers should be fired immediately. It’s obvious that a starter has way more value and I think the Rangers have figured that out. As for the innings jump, the Rangers will just do what every other team does with a young starting pitcher; limit his innings and break him in. It’s not bloody rocket science.

    • BC - Mar 21, 2011 at 12:50 PM

      I’ll stick to my story: An elite starter has way more value in the regular season, and an elite closer has way more value in the postseason. The key word being ELITE. In other words, you can put Kevin Gregg out there and have him get 37 saves, and you can put Mo out there and have him get 37 saves. But if you have Mo finishing every game in the playoffs for you, that’s a huge advantage. You can have 5 starters win a ton of games, but if you don’t have a lights-out closer in the postseason, you’re playing with fire.

      • calrulz25 - Mar 21, 2011 at 1:51 PM

        Without good starting pitching it doesn’t matter how good your closer is. If your closer never has a chance to come in because your starting pitchers stunk, it doesn’t matter how good your closer is.

      • Travis Reitsma - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:37 PM

        I forgot…who was the Phillies’ closer in 2008? Or the Rays’ closer that year for that matter? What about the White Sox in 2005? Was Jenks ELITE? What did all those teams have in common? At least one very good starting pitcher, if not several.

        I will agree that “high leverage” relievers are very important on any successful team, but they are also far cheaper and far easier to find than good starting pitchers. It’s not even really up for debate. To me, at least, it seems obvious.

        If anything, elite starting pitchers become more important than anything else in a short playoff series. Hence the Giants winning the World Series last year. If you can seriously make the argument that Brian Wilson was more important than Tim Lincencum or Matt Cain or Johnathan Sanchez or even Madison Bumgarner in last year’s playoff run, I’d like to hear it.

        *NOTE: This comment is not nearly as angry as it sounds.

      • BC - Mar 21, 2011 at 3:44 PM

        calrulz25: If your offense is scoring 7 runs a game, you still need the elite closer to shut down those 7-5 or 7-6 wins in the playoffs. And when the Rays made their run, they had David Price closing games – he was more unhittable as a closer than he is as a starter.

      • cktai - Mar 21, 2011 at 4:42 PM

        An elite relieve pitcher during the playoffs will give you only about 16 innings (I’m saying 16 since this is what Mo managed in 2001 2003 and 2009), which is still far less then aces such as Sabathia (36 in 2009), Lee (40.1 in 2009), Johnson (41.1 in 2001) and Schilling (48.1 in 2001) or even guys lower in the rotation such as Mussina (24 in 2001 and 29.1 in 2003) and Pettitte (29.2 in 2001 and 34.1 in 2003)

      • yankeesfanlen - Mar 21, 2011 at 4:48 PM

        Please do not put Moose and Mr. Fiddley Fart in a secondary position. They contributed a lot for a long time.

  6. spudchukar - Mar 21, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    A dilemma is watching your mother-in-law driving your brand new Mercedes off a cliff. The question is NOT whether starters are more valuable then relievers, of course they are. It is whether Feliz will be more valuable to the Rangers’ in the starter role. I am sure in an ideal world the Rangers would like to protect Feliz’s arm another year; he has yet to be stretched out to any significant degree. But if he is successful this Spring then it is time to make the change. But only if he shows the ability in March, cause it surely won’t get any easier. Since the Rangers certainly need starters it is worth the chance. If he starts to get knocked around the second time hitters see his stuff, a move back to the bullpen is always an option.

  7. dodger88 - Mar 21, 2011 at 1:26 PM

    I agree Feliz should start but I presume 200 innings is unrealistic. The Rangers will need to come up with a plan to skip starts and limit his innings as they can’t simply shut him down for the last month liek a team out of contention might do.

  8. andrewf16 - Mar 21, 2011 at 2:08 PM

    This all leads to the ultimate question here: How good of a starter would an elite closer have to be to justify making the switch? I would agree that an excellent starting pitcher > excellent closer, but what about just a good starter? Where do you draw the line?

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