Neftali Feliz: Breaking Down 2011 Regression of Texas Rangers Closer
Neftali Feliz blew his fourth save of the season last night against the Astros after allowing four hits (one of them a game-winning home run) and four runs in two-thirds of an inning pitched. Feliz entered the game with an ERA of 1.98 and still has a decent ERA of 3.24, but there are underlying statistics that should worry Rangers fans.
Feliz's xFIP has increased from 3.50 to 4.96 this season, and his WAR has dropped to -0.3. His peripherals have taken a nosedive this season, as Feliz has seen his strikeout rate drop from 9.22 to 6.11 K/9, while his walk rate has increased from 2.34 to 4.82 BB/9. There has been a slight drop in Feliz's average fastball velocity since last season from 96.3 to 95.5 mph, but that is still enough velocity for him to succeed.
Furthermore, his swinging strike percentage has dropped from 11.9 to 9.1 percent. His curveball has actually added more horizontal and downward break since last season but has recorded fewer swinging strikes than last season. He has attempted to add a cutter/slider to his repertoire, but he has yet to record a swinging strike with the pitch in 18 attempts. Like last season, Feliz has used his changeup sparingly: 3.8 percent of the time with little success.
Hitters have only slightly chased fewer pitches out of the strike zone (33.3 to 31.8 percent), but his first-pitch strike percentage has dropped to only 52.1 percent, and his overall zone percentage has dropped from 50 to 44.3 percent.
Feliz, inexplicably, has struggled against right-handed hitters this season. He has allowed 11 hits and 11 walks while striking out only two in 10.1 innings against right-handed batters. The number of fastballs that right-handed hitters have swung and missed has dropped more than half since last season, and they have chased fewer curveballs out of the zone.
Something must be off mechanically with Feliz. His fastball movement has lost some horizontal movement toward a right-handed batter, and his curveball has become even sharper. A pitcher with his talent should not have trouble against right-handed hitters like he continues to have. Who knows what the sudden attempt to make him a starter in spring training did to his psyche?
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