Just three appearances into the 2012 season, Neftali Feliz looks poised to be a staple of the Texas Rangers rotation for years to come. A 2.70 ERA and a .171 BAA certainly paint the picture of a pitcher who is going to be successful as a starter.
Despite the impressive numbers through his first 20 innings, there is still sufficient reason to believe that moving Feliz to the rotation was the wrong move.
There isn’t a person in baseball that would tell you Feliz was having trouble as a closer in his previous two seasons. He won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2010 for saving 40 games and setting the AL record for saves by a rookie.
Conversely, Joe Nathan is coming off of Tommy John surgery in 2010 and still trying to find his way all the way back as a closer. Yet the Rangers are spending $7 million on Nathan when they already have a known commodity at closer for $500,000 in Feliz.
Even though Nathan is tied for fifth in the AL for saves, he has cost the Rangers two games. There is no crystal ball to say this definitively, but the Rangers could be 15-1 if Feliz was still the closer in Texas.
It also remains to be seen whether or not Feliz can keep up this kind of performance throughout an entire season, and there is one number that could prove to be troublesome. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is among the worst in the AL for starting pitchers.
In three starts, Feliz has a K/BB ratio of 1.63, which ranks him 37th in the AL among qualifying starters, just two spots above Boston’s Jon Lester and seven spots above teammate Yu Darvish, who has allowed a league-high 13 walks this season.
With a ratio that low, it will be tough for Feliz to keep up his current pace as a starter when hitters starting figuring out his pitching style and begin to hit him a little better.
The Rangers also moved an All-Star pitcher from a year ago out of the rotation to make room for Feliz.
Alexi Ogando had a good first season as a starter, going 13-8 with a 3.51 ERA, including a 9-3 start to the season that earned him his first All-Star appearance. But Ogando faded in the second half of the season and was moved to the bullpen for the postseason.
If anything, this is the greatest cause for concern for Feliz.
Ogando faded due to arm fatigue and was unable to handle the workload in his first season as a starter. There is little reason to believe that Feliz will be able to avoid the same fate as Ogando, who managed just 169 innings in his first season as a starter and went 4-5 after the All-Star break.
On the other hand, Ogando would have had another offseason to prepare as a starter and would very likely have been able to maintain the high level he did during the first half of last season throughout the course of the whole year.
Ultimately, the Rangers—who have been good about keeping payroll down—are spending millions of dollars more than they need to and have no guarantee that the gamble on Feliz and Nathan will pay off throughout the course of a 162-game season.