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Defending Ron Washington from my cheap shots

Apr 25, 2011, 12:37 PM EDT

Texas Rangers v Baltimore Orioles Getty Images

I made a cheap joke at Ron Washington’s expense in the Power Rankings this morning regarding Neftali Feliz being in the bullpen.

I don’t apologize for it because about 87% of my jokes are cheap, but I can at least admit it was a cheap joke. Most of the comments in my Power Rankings are of the drive-by variety.

Adam Morris at Lone Star Ball has heard a lot of this stuff, however, and wasn’t too pleased with mine.  And then he defended Washington’s handling of Feliz:

How many teams would have taken one of their best relievers, a guy who had been pitching out of the bullpen virtually his entire time in the majors, and put him in the rotation, like the Rangers did with C.J. last season? And then the following year, do the exact same thing with a guy who not only had never made a start in the majors, but who was a converted outfielder who had spent his entire pitching career working as a reliever?

The Rangers have also made it clear the plan is for Feliz to transition to the rotation in 2012.  And yet, people seem to act like Texas not putting the 22 year old Feliz into the rotation and asking for 200 innings from him now is a crime against the hallowed memory of Alexander Cartwright.

See, my thing is that if anyone was going to convert a reliever into a starter it would be the Rangers given their track record with Wilson. A guy who had had more years away from starting that Feliz had when he made the jump and who had been much farther removed from substantial workloads at the time than Feliz is now.  Specifcally, Wilson hadn’t started a game since 2005 when he was converted last year; Feliz started his entire minor league career, switching to the pen in late 2009. Before last year, Wilson hadn’t pitched even 100 innings since 2003, when he pitched 123, whereas Feliz pitched 127 as a starter in 2008.

The upshot: while Feliz is younger and has fewer miles on the odometer than Wilson, he is less removed from starting than Wilson was, and his overall experience as a starter is not significantly less than Wilson’s (and his performance in that capacity was much better).  Rather than giving the Rangers the benefit of the doubt as a result of their previous track record with a reliever-to-starter conversion, I think that they should be scrutinized even more closely for their inconsistency here because unlike so many other clubs they have made the key observation and taken the chance before.  And now they’re not, and no one has ever explained it in terms other than the manager’s desire for a shutdown closer.

Yes, Morris makes the point that maybe the Rangers don’t think Feliz is ready to start games in the big leagues. And that’s a valid point, but I don’t think anyone from the Rangers has made a strong case for it. Feliz did pretty damn well starting in spring training. Washington’s quote the day he moved Feliz back to the pen was “right now, for our organization, he’s better in the bullpen.”  That “for our organization” comment suggests to me a need (i.e. there’s no one else to close) more than an assessment of what role Feliz is best suited for.

None of which is to say that Morris is wrong. He knows the Rangers way better than I do, and no, I have not cataloged everything Washington or Nolan Ryan or Jon Daniels has said about the matter. And it’s not even to say that Washington is wrong because, after all, his job is to do what’s best for the team as a whole, not one player’s development (indeed, I take greater issue with Daniels and Ryan, who are tasked with thinking more long term than Washington is, for Feliz’s handling). And, the above stuff notwithstanding,  I don’t mean to rehash the whole “should Feliz be a starter” argument in its full glory, because that ship has sailed for 2011, it seems.

But I do take issue with Morris’ characterization of those of us who do think that the Rangers are wrong in all of this.  The criticism of the Rangers’ handling of Feliz is not about failing to conform to some sabermetric orthodoxy, nor is about simply laughing and pointing at Ron Washington.  Because even if my joke was a cheap one, there are legitimate arguments in favor of using Feliz as a starter, and they’re not adequately countered by simply deferring to the Rangers’ statements about their plans for 2012 or the credibility they have in the bank because C.J. Wilson turned out OK.

  1. heyblueyoustink - Apr 25, 2011 at 1:12 PM

    Sound like Mr Morris has a “case of the Mondays”……send him a red Swingline stapler…..matbe that’ll cheer him up

  2. tomemos - Apr 25, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    I don’t even understand what Morris’s point is, apart from “Wah, wah, wah, stop picking on us.”

  3. saints97 - Apr 25, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    You’d have to be an idiot to think that 180 innings of your best pitcher is better than 70. That is just sabermetric hogwash. You kids and your newfangled numbers.

  4. txrangers90 - Apr 25, 2011 at 1:50 PM

    i dont think it takes a genius to see that under THESE circumstances for THIS season, nefty in the pen is what is best for the team, if the rangers werent trying to get back to the playoffs and win the world series then yes, put him in the rotation even if he is not totally ready, but as everyone as seen the pen is the weakness and all the three pitchers who made the rotation instead of nefty have done pretty damn well so far

  5. dirtyharry1971 - Apr 25, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    Im sure Ron Washington isnt hurt since all your columns are “cheap” too, its a case where you just consider the source, Ron knows that.

  6. roycethebaseballhack - Apr 25, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    There is one wrinkle to this discussion that’s important; Coming out of the 2009 season, it was Wilson campaigning to be converted to a starter, not a decision from the front office. They did not collectively decide CJ was in the rotation until well into Spring Training, and even then, there seemed to be a ‘walking on eggshells’ air about his being there. From a fan standpoint, it made us nervous, because after his elbow surgery he came back and was a very effective closer. We knew of/had heard rumblings of this kid Feliz, and his potential, but he was a rookie – a very young one, at that. An American League Pennant and ROY for Feliz shows that it all worked out nicely. Shoot – there were even strong currents of Wilson being a Cy Young contender in the first third of the season.
    And, as a nice turn of events, Ogando, as well, is shaping up to be a tidy starter. While I can’t agree with how Washington, et al., handled the decision process of Feliz/Ogando, I can’t disagree that I would not have arrived at the exact same place The Rangers are now. If I were in his (Wash’s), shoes, I would: 1) be very reluctant to allow a kid who earned 44 saves and played a pivotal role in winning a pennant to be moved out of the bullpen and 2) have feet that hurt like hell, because I’m not sure his shoes would fit too well. In fact, I’m not sure I would even entertain moving Feliz out of the bullpen, even with the question marks that bubbled up in the wake of not signing Cliff Lee. True, they did have serious issues to address regarding their starting rotation, but I doubt that I would have considered that particular move, and create an even bigger question mark at the closer’s spot.

  7. IdahoMariner - Apr 25, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    If I were a Rangers fan, I would have a bigger problem with the fact that he seems reluctant to USE Feliz as his closer — his non-use of Feliz in the playoffs/world series last year was crazy, and just from casual observation this season, it seems like he is still reluctant to just throw him out there to pitch.

    • cur68 - Apr 25, 2011 at 4:56 PM

      Might it be Feliz’s shoulder has been playing up all spring and now he’s on the DL with inflammation? I wondered the exact same thing as you did till Feliz went on the DL then it was, “Oh, yeah. Guess he aint ready to start”. After all it could be that Washington, being the manager of the team, knows more about Feliz’s durability as a pitcher than the general public but is reluctant to talk about his players problems to the press. Perhaps Ron Gardenhire should try this route (keeping his mouth shut) since things can be ‘fired through the internet’ so fast these days.

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