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So much for that: Rangers will keep Neftali Feliz in the bullpen

Mar 24, 2011, 2:47 PM EDT

Neftali Feliz

Neftali Feliz went back and forth on whether he actually wanted to move to the rotation after saving 40 games as a rookie closer last season, but now it’s a moot point: T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com reports that Feliz will remain in the bullpen.

He’ll be joined there by fellow flame-thrower Alexi Ogando, whose spring rotation tryout also resulted in the Rangers deciding against changing his role. Feliz, unlike Ogando, was actually a full-time starter for most of his time in the minors, but at this point his odds of ever leaving the bullpen are pretty slim.

It’s possible that the Rangers could pursue a veteran closer this offseason and then decide the bullpen is more able to withstand the loss of Feliz next season, but by then he’ll have gone nearly three years without starting regularly and, if he has another outstanding season as a closer, the fan and media sentiment to keep him as a reliever will be even stronger. Which is a shame. Moving a 23-year-old pitcher to the bullpen full time is something teams should do only after they conclude that he’s not capable of being an impact starter and that verdict certainly hasn’t been reached with Feliz.

Generally speaking a very good starter is simply more valuable than a great closer and it’d be nice to see what Feliz could do in a 200-inning role before locking him into a 70-inning role, especially since manager Ron Washington repeatedly failed to get Feliz into tight games throughout the playoffs and resorted to bringing him into blowouts just to get his best reliever a grand total of seven innings in 16 postseason games. And while keeping Feliz as a reliever makes the Rangers’ bullpen significantly stronger, it also means the starting rotation will include guys like Tommy Hunter and Matt Harrison throwing three times as many innings.

  1. paperlions - Mar 24, 2011 at 2:59 PM

    What a waste.

    • wickedworld123 - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:32 PM

      says it all.

    • Mike Luna - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:22 PM

      As tweeted by Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas –
      Nolan Ryan says on @gac1033 that the plan for next offseason will be to acquire a closer and have Neftali Feliz prepare to be a starter.

  2. Chris Fiorentino - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    “Generally speaking a very good starter is simply more valuable than a great closer”

    Couldn’t disagree more. Spoken like a stat geek who undervalues the save stat. I’ll take Mariano Rivera over most starters any day of the week.

    • mplsjoe - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:36 PM

      The save stat is worthless. That’s not to say that pitchers who can get out of tough spots late in games are worthless – to the contrary, they’re highly valuable. But the save stat itself is worthless.

      Comparing Rivera, the greatest reliever of the modern era, to “most starters” is a loaded comparison. I’d take Roy Halladay over most closers. Neither says much. Make things equal – would you take a great closer over a great starter? If you say great closer, I’ll invite you to enjoy 3rd place in your division.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:40 PM

        Read the quote, then get back to me…”Generally speaking a very good starter is simply more valuable than a great closer”

        he doesn’t say GREAT STARTER…he says VERY GOOD STARTER.

      • paperlions - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:13 PM

        An average starter is worth more than a great closer; 200 solid innings are simply worth more than 60 great ones…especially considering that the games are already decided (essentially) in at least 1/2 of the innings great closers pitch. During 35 starts an average starter has a huge effect on the outcome of the game, during 60-70 relief appearances a closer has very little effect on the outcome of the game.
        .
        This doesn’t have anything to do with stats, it is a simple fact of size of contribution. Saying a reliever is more valuable to the outcome of a game than a starter is like saying the seasoning is more important than the quality of the steak to the outcome of a dinner.

    • Jonny 5 - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:40 PM

      You suffer from Brad Lidge-itis sir. Maybe with a touch of the Mitch Williams Flu. ;)

      • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:44 PM

        LOL yeah probably true, although let’s not forget that the year the Phillies won the World Series, they had a closer who was a PERFECT 48 for 48 in save opportunities. Had they had the same success closing in 1993, they may just have won the World Series that year too. These people don’t get how important a closer is. They like to devalue the save stat because you can get one by recording 1 out with a 3 run lead. OK, but you can also get one by recording 3 outs with the bases loaded and no outs in a 1-run game. It all evens out and these stat people just don’t get it. Whatever. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

      • Jonny 5 - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:57 PM

        No matter how “perfect” Lidge was that once, He still had me nervous as hell when he came out. I must admit I hold no special place for “closers”. I see them as a pitcher who can shut a team down for an inning and can’t do it for 7 innings. Maybe I don’t get “it” either, and at times I guess I don’t because putting Feliz in the pen makes no sense to me unless the Rangers have a starter ready to be signed.

      • Joe - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:02 PM

        “They like to devalue the save stat because you can get one by recording 1 out with a 3 run lead. OK, but you can also get one by recording 3 outs with the bases loaded and no outs in a 1-run game.”
        Which happens how often?

      • Joe - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:27 PM

        Let’s see….Neftali Feliz. Let’s only look at times he came into the game in situations other than nobody out/nobody on in 2010. (9th inning or later unless indicated) Base situation follows the date:

        4/14 12-, two out, 8th inning, ahead 4 (s)
        5/3 1–, no out, ahead 2 (s)
        5/11 –3, one out, ahead 1 (bs, team L)
        5/20, 123, two outs, ahead 6 (no record)
        6/9, 12-, one out, ahead 10 (no record)
        7/3 –3, one out, ahead 2 (s)
        7/22 nobody on, one out, ahead 1 (s)
        8/20 –3, two out, ahead 2 (s)
        8/27 1–, nobody out, ahead 4 (no record)
        9/12 1–, nobody out, ahead 3 (s)
        9/25 1–, two out, 8th inning, ahead 1 (s)
        10/2 12-, nobody out, ahead 4 (s)

        Nope. “Bases Loaded, zero out, ahead by one” never came up. The only thing close was on May 11, and he blew that one. He did come in with a 4+ run lead 14 times, for which he earned two saves. That was 13 of his 69 IP.

        So yeah, most starters don’t do all that.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:37 PM

        Joe, here’s a very simple question…

        Who would you rather have…

        Matt Cain or any one of Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, or Brian Wilson

        That’s the question…I think Matt Cain is a very good pitcher. I think those four are great closers. Who ya got?

      • Joe - Mar 25, 2011 at 10:00 AM

        Matt Cain.

    • pwf207 - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:48 PM

      what would it take to convince you that a very good starter is more valuable than a great closer? what criteria are you using, are you doing it in a systematic way? and why should empirical research (that overwhelmingly holds that you are wrong) be useless in baseball research when it has proven incredibly robust in other fields like science and medicine? do you disagree with well supported research in any of these fields? and if not, why do you do so in baseball?

      • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:08 PM

        It depends on your definition of a Great Closer and a Very Good Starter.

        To me, great closers are guys like Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, Brian Wilson, and a guy like Feliz is on his way after last year. A guy who is brought in to close out a game and he does it 88-90% of the time. Those are great closers.

        To me, very good starters are guys right below the following list…I am sure I am missing some, but I’d still take any of those 5 closers above over any starters, except these, in no particular order…

        Roy Halladay
        Tim Lincecum
        Cliff Lee
        CC Sabathia
        David Price
        Felix Hernandez
        Jon Lester
        Clay Bucholz
        Josh Johnson
        Adam Wainwright

        That’s about it…I’m sure I am forgetting some guys. But the point remains the same…I’ll take a great closer over a very good starting pitcher. every single time. Give me the very good starting pitcher you are taking over the great closer.

      • cktai - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:15 PM

        I guess its just a gut feeling, but I’ll take Cain, Hamels, Carpenter, Buehrle Price or Santana over River, Nathan or Wilson any day.

    • paperlions - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:07 PM

      +1 for correct use of irony :-)

  3. trevorb06 - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    I remember I posted a while ago that the final nail was put in Feliz’s starting coffin then I thought somebody had put new life into his starting career. Well, time to pour a bottle of expensive liquor on the mound again in rememberance of what-could-have-been.

  4. Mike Luna - Mar 24, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    I’ve said all along that Feliz is too talented to stay in the bullpen, but in 2011 this makes the most sense.

    I don’t think this decision means that his 2012 and beyond has been set in stone.

  5. dcburden - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    Perhaps I just missed the boat on this, but why does WPA seem to get discarded so easily? Top closers are right up there with top starters. Sure, WPA may not have much predictive value in general, but are we sure it doesn’t given talent and proper managerial usage?

    WPA pitching leaders last year:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&qual=n&type=3&season=2010&month=0&season1=2010&ind=0

    • paperlions - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:19 PM

      Because WPA is a bad stat that does not accurately reflect the effect of results on a game and much to greatly weights the last couple of outs on the outcome. Last year, the Cardinal with the 2nd highest WPA was Ryan Franklin and he wasn’t particularly good last year. Does anyone really think Franklin was the pitcher on the Cardinals that contributed the 2nd most to winning games?

      • dcburden - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:03 PM

        I’ve seen WPA criticized for its handling (or lack thereof) of defensive contributions . . . but would you care to clarify what makes it “bad?” Or, for that matter, what made Franklin “not particularly good?” His other stats?

        It’s one thing to drool over pitchers with high K/BB and K/9 ratios and imagine the championships they one day might bring, but another to ignore the contributions players have already banked. Unless you’re prepared to argue that WPA has no predictive value . . . I’m just wondering if that’s true for high-level closers.

        It seems to me intuitively that WPA is pretty well correlated with actually winning. If you want to take a step back, if you’ve got a pitcher that could put in six good innings every fifth day . . . wouldn’t you rather put them in starting at the fourth inning of a 0-0 game, than happen to start them a day the offense puts up ten runs?

    • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:24 PM

      Stat Geek Club…

      Rule #1 You do not talk about Stat Geek Club

      Rule #2 You do not talk about Stat Geek Club

      Rule #3 Ryan Howard sucks.

      Rule #4 Adrien Gonzalez is God.

      Rule #5 Closers bad…Starters good.

      Rule #6 WAR is awesome.

      • paperlions - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:34 PM

        Let me edit that for you:

        Rule #1 Stats are nothing more than a record of actual occurrences

        Rule #2 These occurrences may be used to determine the effects of each type of occurrence on the winning of baseball games.

        Rule #3 Objective analysis of data is always more reliable than memory or personal perceptions, each of which are horrible incomplete.

        Rule #4 Decisions based on objective analysis will be more effective than those based on “eye-ball tests” or “guts”.

        Rule #5 Stats do not replace the love of baseball, but are simply used to increase understanding of it, which typically increases enjoyment of baseball.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:47 PM

        OK, that was a bit snarky of me paperlions…I apologize for that.

  6. Chris Fiorentino - Mar 24, 2011 at 4:48 PM

    OK, I am waiting for someone to answer my question…

    Who would you rather have…

    Matt Cain or (Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, or Brian Wilson)

    That’s the question…I think Matt Cain is a very good pitcher. I think those four are great closers. Who ya got?

    • Tim OShenko - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:15 PM

      In response to your question, I offer another:

      Who would you rather have…

      Neftali Feliz for 180-200 innings, or Neftali Feliz for 60-70 innings?

    • cktai - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:17 PM

      Matt Cain

  7. Chris Fiorentino - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:00 PM

    Silence is golden. The defense rests. Goodbye fellow HBT’ers.

  8. Walk - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:05 PM

    I had to think about your question a bit chris, but more than likely i would take the starter in most situations. Closer is useless if you cannot make it to him. I started watching how i like to pick my teams some of the computer games i owned and noticed i usually drafted my closer after i took my second or third starter, but depending on the number of closers available i sometimes grabbed some bullpen bridge help ahead of the closer. I know that bullpen by committee is a poor option but it is certaintly better than what the a’s tried a few years back running out relievers 3-4 innings a time to try and form a starting rotation.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:12 PM

      Making a fantasy baseball comparison is not what I am asking. Simply put, would you rather have a great closer or a very good starter? To me there are only 5 great closers in baseball right now…and I would take any of them over every starter but about 10. Sure, if I am in a fantasy draft, I’ll take Matt Cain before Rivera…matter of fact, since blown saves aren’t important in fantasy baseball, I probably wouldn’t even waste the super-high draft pick on Rivera. I would wait for the season and poach closers, like I did with Aardsma a few years back.

      I am talking about the real baseball world here, not fantasy. Who would you take…Cain or Rivera/Soria/Wilson/Nathan???

      • tomemos - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:33 PM

        Several people have answered your question. They’ve all said Cain. What happens now–do they win the argument? Do you have a response? What?

        Brian Wilson is a great closer? I’m a Giants fan and I know that’s nonsense. Brian Wilson was very good *this year,* but I sure hope his future years aren’t like the years he had pre-2010. He had a 4.6 ERA two years ago–*and still had 41 saves.* Does that give you a sense of why people say saves are worthless? And how many closers stay good year in and year out, like Matt Cain does?

  9. dcburden - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    To counter the obvious example of Joba – is there an example of a pitcher who did well as a reliever, was given an opportunity to start and failed, and then went back to relieving well?

    You’d want to make sure you’re not breaking your star reliever before running this experiment, right?

  10. apbaguy - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    Matt Cain. 3.14 ERA last year, about 3.40 avearge after his rookie year, averaging 210 IP. Mo’s ERA average is around 2.00, and IP around 70, and he may be the best of all time. But that 210 IP per year at 3.+ ERA is decisive. Especially when you figure cost per inning. Mo made $ 15M last year, and in the last 10 years has made $ 110M. Matt Cain made $ 9.2M over his 5 years. He pitched around 1100 innings the last 5 years compared to Mo’s 350.

    But this is why advanced metrics are so useful, because some of them apply to this situation in that they attempt to measure total wins contribution by players. For instance Rivera’s 2010 WAR was 1.7, and Cain’s was 4.0. That’s Wins Above Replacement.

  11. indyralph - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:39 PM

    Let’s make this a bit easier, so every voter doesn’t have to log on and post. If you like Cain, thumbs up. If you like Rivera/Soria/Wilson/Nathan, thumbs down.

    • dcburden - Mar 24, 2011 at 8:03 PM

      Not sure anyone’s reading down here any more, but here’s a link to Feliz’s stats, including the minors. Looks like he’s never put in more than 120 IP in a pro season, even as a starter in the minors.

      Seems like you might want to stretch him out a bit from last year’s ~70 IP before penciling him in for 200 IP as a full-year starter – maybe start him in the pen, and move him in to starting later in the year?

      http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=18&position=P

      • dcburden - Mar 24, 2011 at 8:12 PM

        . . . and, he never managed to average even five innings per start in the minors.

      • pwf207 - Mar 24, 2011 at 11:21 PM

        Chris I ask you again, if statistical analysis is used in life changing and life saving fields like science and medicine to look for meaningful patterns that represent reality well enough to choose drugs that save lives, why would that not be the proper method to analyze data stemming from baseball outcomes? Seriously if you trust the medicine your doctor gives you, you are a believer in sabermetrics because it uses the same methods and rigor as medical research. You cannot deny the validity of statistical analysis in one field, baseball research, while accepting it in another, medicine without explaining why the best method for analyzing data in life saving research is not the best way to analyze baseball data.

      • paperlions - Mar 25, 2011 at 8:10 AM

        dc, that doesn’t include spring training, extended spring training, AFL, or winter ball. It is a near certainty that Feliz has pitched about 200 innings at least once in his career when he combine all of the yearly activities of developing pitchers.
        .
        Minor league pitchers rarely average a lot of innings per start, in part because in the minors they are mostly getting their work in, results of games aren’t particularly important (at least, they are secondary to learning/development), and that includes being able to get some innings for the relief pitchers…so even a starting that is doing great and only has thrown 70 pitches will regularly be taken out so that other guys can get their work in as well.

  12. tomemos - Mar 24, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    Chris, a few years ago you would no doubt be saying, “I’d take Gagne over any pitcher in baseball!” A good thing you weren’t a GM in ’04, huh?

  13. Chris Fiorentino - Mar 24, 2011 at 10:57 PM

    Any idiot who would take Matt freaking Cain’s career over Mariano Rivera’s career is so blatantly blinded by the stat geek motto “Starters good…closers bad” that it is not even funny. I would take Mariano Rivera over any other pitcher of the last 15 years except 2. Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens…in that order. Yeah, I guess that makes me a stoooopid non stat guy. But the truth is that I hate the Yankers more than anything on the planet. And when I am watching a Yankees game and “Enter Sandman” plays, there’s only one thing happening…theeeeeeeeeee Yankees are winning. Period.

    I even cringe when I hear that freaking song on the radio.

    • gt929 - Mar 24, 2011 at 11:54 PM

      Really, the proof in value, at least in the eyes of GMs throughout MLB is that premium starters get $20m+ per annum, and the very best closer gets $15m (adjust down due to Yankee inflation.) As a Ranger fan, I’m a bit disappointed that Feliz will not start the season in the rotation, but in a way I understand. The honchos feel that the team has enough adequate starters, and the bullpen has been frightening in spring training.

      Whenever they do move Feliz to the rotation, and I’m almost certain they eventually will, I’m not too worried about the increased innings. CJ Wilson pitched over 228 innings last year counting the playoffs, which was more than his last 4 years combined, and he was just as strong at the end as he was in the beginning. Feliz has a remarkably easy and stress-free delivery, and he should be able to make the adjustment.

    • pwf207 - Mar 25, 2011 at 8:41 AM

      Because this was posted in reply to the wrong comment:

      Chris I ask you again, if statistical analysis is used in life changing and life saving fields like science and medicine to look for meaningful patterns that represent reality well enough to choose drugs that save lives, why would that not be the proper method to analyze data stemming from baseball outcomes? Seriously if you trust the medicine your doctor gives you, you are a believer in sabermetrics because it uses the same methods and rigor as medical research. You cannot deny the validity of statistical analysis in one field, baseball research, while accepting it in another, medicine without explaining why the best method for analyzing data in life saving research is not the best way to analyze baseball data.

    • tomemos - Mar 25, 2011 at 11:48 AM

      Chris, wait a minute. You didn’t say, “Cain’s career” and “Rivera’s career”; you said, “Cain, or Rivera, Soria, Wilson, or Nathan.” We don’t know what Cain’s career is going to be. We certainly don’t know what Wilson or Soria’s careers are going to be. Again, look at Gagne, or Lidge–have you not noticed, in all your years of watching baseball, how fragile closers are? And how easy it is for one to suddenly be the biggest thing, and then suddenly not? That happens with starters sometimes–Dontrelle Willis, say–but I’d say it happens with closers far more.

      I probably would take Rivera’s *career* over that of a above-average starter, sure–but what, are you absolutely certain that Nathan, Wilson, Soria, and Feliz are all going to be Mariano Rivera? There’s less than one Rivera in an average generation.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Mar 25, 2011 at 12:51 PM

        When you find that guy who has the balls to go out there in the 9th inning and save 90% of the games he comes into, I want him as my closer. Unless the guy is going to be something really special, like a Halladay, Lincecum, etc. Cain, while very good, is not worth a dominant closer in my opinion. I can always find another Matt Cain. 90% closers are rare. Shoot, I’ll take Trevor Hoffman’s career over Matt Cain. I’ll take Smoltz and Eckersley when they were closers over them starting every day of the week.

        And for the guy continuing to harp on Gagne…relax man. Gagne would have gotten hurt whether he was a starter or a closer, right? So what. He was a dominant closer and I would take his years as that over trying to throw him out there as a starter any day.

        Remember, this all started with Feliz being the closer and you guys whining about it. Feliz has shown he has the balls to close games. Why change him? Same thing happened to Joba…dude was unhittable when he came up. Until those bugs flew into his face, nobody was going to score on him. Shoot, even WITH the bugs, he still almost got out of that inning. Then they go and try to make a starter out of him and screwed him up. He could have been Mariano part deux…instead, he’s just a fat toad.

  14. tomemos - Mar 25, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    Chris, I’m sincerely glad that you’re continuing to engage this issue. Unfortunately, I think we’re still speaking pretty different languages.

    You would rather have Smoltz as a closer than a starter? Between 1990 (at age 23) and 1997, Smoltz started 30 games every year but two (and one of them was the strike year). He started 35 games four times. He led the league in innings pitched twice. And he still managed to keep his ERA under 4 every year (except ’94), keep it at or under 3 three times, and lead the league in strikeouts twice (once he was best in the majors. As a closer…he was excellent for three years, in which he pitched 225 innings. On what basis would you rather have the second guy than the first? Who made a bigger impact on his teams?

    As for Gagne: Yes, he probably would have gotten hurt anyway. That’s part of the point: if someone has the stuff to start, like Feliz seems to, wouldn’t you want to get as many innings out of him as you can while he’s pitching? And how can you say, “Eh, Gagne would have gotten hurt anyway,” while simultaneously being certain that Joba would have developed into Mariano Rivera if the Yankees hadn’t put him in the rotation? Do you see why I say that you would have been saying the same stuff about Gagne, or Isringhuasen, or any number of other can’t-miss closers, that you’re now saying about Soria et al?

    It’s true that there are some people who are better for one inning than seven, but they’re not as rare as you think. The A’s have shown that they can develop closer after closer–Isringhausen, Street, Bailey–without getting much drop-off between them. And as someone pointed out above, if great closers are so important, why aren’t they paid like it?

    Part of the problem here is that you won’t say *why* you’d rather have a great closer than a very good starter. Do they win more games for their teams than good starters do? Do they last longer? What? All you’ll say (twice) is that they’ve shown they have “balls,” which while honest–I think that’s what most anti-stat arguments basically amount to, “he has balls”–isn’t a great reason to sign one player over another. A good reason to root for a player, but not to sign him.

  15. LPad - Mar 31, 2011 at 5:39 PM

    I don’t think a Cain/Rivera comparison is the best way to look at this argument. Cain is a good pitcher, but Rivera is a Hall of Fame pitcher.

    Better comparison would be Rivera/Maddux, the Big Unit or Pedro.

    Would you rather have Rivera as a closer or one of the three above as a starter for their entire year? I think the answer has to be Maddux, Johnson, or Pedro (maybe not Pedro because of injury concerns.

    Also, I would like to point out that pitchers that have started and closed during their career believe they made a big impact as a starter. For example, Smoltz who was adamant about returning to the starter role.

    Another key point is that a starter can close if a team is in a pinch, but a closer can’t start in a pinch. For example, Johnson was more valuable than Rivera during the 2001 WS because he won Game Six and served as the closer in Game Seven.

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