Neftali Feliz Comparisons

Much has been made of Neftali Feliz officially being moved to the rotation. The addition of Joe Nathan was a dual move to free Feliz from the bullpen. With that move, many writers ran to the narrative that Feliz has a lot of history against him, in that he blew a monumental save in Game 6 of the World Series.

They compared Feliz to Byung-Hyun Kim who blew back to back saves in Game 4 and 5 in the 2001 World Series. The Diamondbacks prevailed, in spite of Kim, over the Yankees to win in seven. They claimed that Kim’s career was never the same; all while overlooking that 2002 was Kim’s best season of his career going to his only All-Star Game and posting his highest WAR (wins of replacement) of 3.9.

I just want to bring you the truth. Now, I don’t intend to tell you how well Feliz will pitch next year. I will, however, lay the numbers of comparable pitchers to the situation the Feliz now faces to see what we can draw from it.

Byung-Hyun Kim 4 seasons of relief [279 IP] [347 K] [1.1 WHIP] /// Career: [ERA 4.42] [1.37] [W-L 54-60]

Ryan Dempster 4 seasons of relief [253 IP] [229 K] [1.4 WHIP] /// Career: [ERA 4.41] [WHIP 1.45] [W-L 112-116]

Vicente Padilla 2 seasons of relief [101 IP] [80 K] [1.5 WHIP] /// Career: [ERA 4.31] [WHIP 1.37] [W-L 104-90]

Kelvim Escobar  2 seasons of relief [110.2 IP ] [108 K] [1.4 WHIP] /// Career: [ERA 4.15] [WHIP 1.37][ W-L 101-91]

Derek Lowe 5 seasons of relief [484 IP] [370 K] [ 1.2 WHIP] /// Career: [ERA 3.94] [WHIP 1.31] [ W-L 166-146]

C.J. Wilson 5 seasons of relief [281 IP] [261 K] [1.4 WHIP] /// Career: [ERA 3.60] [WHIP 1.29] [W-L 43-35]

Alexi Ogando 1 season of relief [41 IP] [39 K] [1.1 WHIP] /// Career: [ERA 3.08] [WHIP 1.13] [W-L 17-9]

Pedro Martinez 1 season of relief [115 IP] [127 K] [1.2 WHIP] /// Career: [ERA 2.93] [WHIP 1.05] [W-L 219-100]

Neftali Feliz 3 seasons of relief [162.2 IP] [164 K] [.947 WHIP] /// Career: Somewhere between BHK and Pedro

Padilla, Escobar, Dempster, Lowe, C.J. and Pedro were all starters in the minors like Feliz. Ogando and Kim were not brought up as starters.  Interestingly Lowe was a reliever for his first five seasons even though he was starter throughout the minors.

Kim’s repertoire never played up well as a starter. Dempster’s relief years were in the middle of his career. He’s been adequate-to-average. Padilla has been a useful starter, even while having a perpetual out-of-the-shower-sweat-fest look.

Escobar was good until injuries caught up to him. Lowe has also been a serviceable  pitcher for quite a while but he’s a completely different style of pitcher than Feliz. C.J. has gone from failed reliever to successful starter, somehow. Ogando faded down the stretch. His ability and stamina in the rotation will be further monitored this season.

That leaves just Pedro and Feliz, (thankfully not Pedro Feliz). Feliz somehow reminds me of Pedro, even though Feliz is four inches taller and forty-five pounds stronger. If Kim is the floor, then Pedro is the ceiling for Feliz, right. That’s exciting to know something special could happen every fifth day. The Rangers recent success in converting relievers to All-Star starters provides further optimism.

The comparable dominant relievers to Feliz are Kim, Ogando and Pedro. The other pitchers were just not as successful as these four in relief. Kim was a submarine pitcher, which hitters just needed time to figure out. Feliz throws over the top, and very hard, very easily.  Neftali Feliz is not and will not be Byung-Hyun Kim.

That leaves Ogando and Pedro as the closest comparisons. Ogando had never been a starter before and was thrust into the role the Rangers had saved for Feliz. Feliz was moved back to the ‘pen because Mark Lowe was incompetent. Ogando was seen a fill-in for a few weeks until Tommy Hunter would return. Ogando was a last resort, and he went to the All-Star Game. Ogando could be even better with time to prepare and a year of experience in his arm.

Some want to conclude the rest of Feliz’s career over one inning (which would have ended triumphantly if Nelson Cruz would’ve got there in time). I’d rather look at the whole body of work if I’m going to conclude something.

Feliz was brought up as a starter and was dominant as a closer. Other relief pitchers who made the same crossover as Feliz will do in 2012, did so will varying degrees of success. Feliz was better than all of the comparable relievers. He could be better than all of them as starters. And the Rangers have successfully moved C.J. and Ogando to the rotation. This all enhances the likelihood that Feliz will have a successful season in 2012.

There may be one dark cloud looming over Feliz’s career now; but further ahead it’s all sunshine and daffodils for Feliz and the Rangers.

Dan Allsup

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