Thursday, March 24, 2011
Rangers keep Neftali Feliz in closer role
By David Schoenfield
Put yourself in the shoes of Ron Washington and Rangers' management: You have Neftali Feliz, who is already one of the best in the business as a rookie. I think it would be pretty hard to make the commitment to change his role, when:
(A.) You don't know how good he'll be as a starter;
(B.) You don't necessarily have an obvious solution to replace him as closer;
(C.) The first time Alexi Ogando blows a save, you have to answer to the media, fans and maybe the team itself.
The Texas Rangers felt they needed Neftali Feliz to remain in the bullpen this season.
So, yes, the Rangers took the easy road. Yes, the Rangers are certainly aware that a strong starter is more difficult to find than a strong closer. But let's justify the decision:
1. Fact: Texas had a strong bullpen in 2010; its 3.38 ERA was second in the AL. But, Frank Francisco has been traded to Toronto, Darren Oliver is 40 years old, newcomer Arthur Rhodes is 41, Darren O'Day is more of a ROOGY, and Ogando was a little wild and not completely effective against lefties (nine walks, only six strikeouts). Ogando looks like a potential closer, but making him prove himself over a full season makes sense. For those who point out Feliz was anointed the closer as a rookie, remember Feliz was one of the top prospects in baseball.
2. We don't know if Feliz has the stamina and repertoire to go deep into games as a starter. His career high in the minors was 127 innings.
3. The Texas rotation was decent last year -- 4.23 ERA, seventh in the AL, and that's despite 40 combined awful starts from Scott Feldman and Rich Harden.
4. For what it's worth, Baseball-Reference keeps track of something called Win Probability Added, which breaks down the result of each play and gives credit to the hitter or pitcher based on the game situation and how it potentially affects the outcome. Because closers usually pitch in close games, their outs are considered quite valuable under this measure. Anyway, closers score well here and Feliz ranked as the 13th-most valuable pitcher under WPA.
Look, I would try Feliz as a starter. I think Ogando would make a fine closer ... eventually. On the other hand, I can see the Rangers being worried about the ages of Oliver and Rhodes and seeing their bullpen depth as a shaky existence.