Neftali Feliz and Buster Posey: Flashes in the Pan or Stars in the Making?
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Major League Baseball announced the 2010 Rookies of the Year on Monday: Texas Rangers closer Neftali Feliz and San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey. These two young talents are striking examples of the different ways baseball can be played with an impact.
Feliz has electric, often unhittable stuff and commands respect through intimidation and pure power on the mound. Posey is a blue-collar, workmanlike catcher with a heavy bat and deadly accurate arm. Are Feliz and Posey stars in the making or just flashes in the pan? Looking back through recent history for some close comparisons should answer the question.
Arguably the most dominant closer in all of baseball, Neftali Feliz posted numbers in the 2010 season which would make any fan's head turn. Feliz struck out 71 batters in 69.1 innings, walked only 18 and posted a staggering 0.88 WHIP during this past summer.
Much of the talk surrounding Feliz not only has dealt with his ability to lock down opposing hitters with a calm, almost stoic presence on the mound, but also his ability to post two-inning saves, a feat becoming almost extinct among today's highly specialized closers.
Feliz's fastball consistently reaches the upper 90s, occasionally topping the century-mark. There is no doubt that he has the tools to be a dominant closer for some time to come, but will his dependence on a fastball lead to long-term dominance, or only short-term success?
Who has the better chance at a long-term major league career?
A great comparison to Feliz is Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton. A larger-than-life presence on the mound at 6'4" and 295 pounds, Broxton has held the shutdown spot for the Dodgers since midway through the 2008 season with mixed results. Broxton's dominating 100-mph plus fastball and offensive lineman frame is often enough to intimidate hitters into wasting at-bats.
The 2010 season, however, saw Broxton start to show signs of vulnerability, with his 1.48 WHIP and 4.04 ERA in 62.1 innings pitched. Watching Broxton pitch this season, I could see that his dependence on a fastball was no longer enough. Hitters had timed the pitch and were well aware of when and where it would be thrown. While Broxton is still a competent closer, his dependence on the fastball long term and slowing performance is an example of what could happen to Feliz if he does not add a dominant second pitch.
On the flipside, Feliz's career could easily follow the path of Kansas City Royals closer Joakim Soria, lovingly labeled the "Mexicutioner" by his Royals teammates. Soria has seen a consistent uptick in performance since his major league debut in 2008. Soria's fastball is devastating, reaching the upper 90s and with precision placement. His 1.75 ERA and 1.05 WHIP were among the best in baseball during 2010.
Although Soria encountered some injury issues in 2009, he looks as dominant as any closer in baseball. Sharing much of the same stoic nature as Feliz, it is very easy to see a bright future for the young Mexican closer.
Will Neftali Feliz burnout and become just another average closer along the lines of Broxton, or ride his fastball to consistent improvement and perpetual dominance like Soria?
Gerald "Buster" Posey, catcher for the World Champion San Francisco Giants, was recently named the 2010 National League Most Valuable Player. Buster's calm demeanor and workmanlike style instantly won fans among the Giants faithful during their run to the 2010 pennant.
Beginning the 2010 season with the Giants' Triple-A affiliate in Fresno, Posey dominated their pitching, batting .349 over 47 games and earning a call-up to San Francisco on May 29, never to look back.
Posey hit .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in 108 games for the Giants this summer. More impressively, however, Posey showed great arm strength and accuracy, causing the moment of hesitation among NL runners, which is so important to a catcher's long-term success defensively.
Posey's impressive rookie campaign, and potential for longevity, can be compared to two other recent Rookies of the Year: Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto and Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer.
Geovany Soto's 2008 season opened the eyes of baseball fans across the land. Soto hit .285 with 23 home runs and 86 RBI during his electrifying Wrigley summer. Soto's command of Cubs pitching was an important factor in the club's run to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and the Steve Bartman debacle.
Soto's bright star faded quickly in the summer of 2009 due to multiple injuries, which allowed him to appear in only 102 games behind the plate, hitting a meager .218.
Soto entered camp in 2010 in better physical shape, but still was unproductive at the plate, hitting .280 and driving in only 53 runs. If Soto can bounce back from his injury issues, a long career could be a possibility, but he is a great example of what could happen to Buster Posey if the wear-and-tear of the catcher's duties take effect.
Joe Mauer, the Twins' ironman catcher, shows the other end of the spectrum. Mauer has caught an average of 114.5 games (while playing a total average of 133.5 games overall) in the last six seasons since his arrival as a full-time catcher in 2005, and has hit .327 lifetime. If Posey can enjoy this same health and consistent improvement behind and at the plate, he could easily become one of the greats.
Will Neftali Feliz become the next Mariano Rivera? Will Buster Posey become the new Pudge Rodriguez, or Joe Mauer? Many factors will play a part, some in their control, and others which cannot be controlled.
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