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Optimizing Michael Feliz


Feliz is a perfect candidate to be refined like Felipe Rivero
Photo by Ron Schwane/AP

Kevin started the conversation about bullpenning last week. Every team wants to be able to do some bullpenning with a super bullpen nowadays. It ?s been the fun, sexy thing for two or three years now. If you don ?t feel confident going to your middle reliever in the third inning of a do or die game, why did you even bother rolling out of bed that morning? Build a super bullpen or be crushed by one.

The Pirates need one more than most with its rotation filled with young starters and the on again, off again Ivan Nova. But bullpenning doesn ?t come cheap. No team can just produce seven or eight reliable relievers through the farm system alone. They ?re going to need to either A. Find reclamation projects (the 2013 Pirates), B. Open the checkbook to the point of ridicule (the Rockies this offseason), or C. Make trades. This year, Huntington has elected for C. (And thank goodness he did something. I was getting worried there.)

Almost every transaction the Pirates have made this offseason has been to build a bullpen full of high upside arms with plenty of team control. Rivero has a brand new, four year, $22 million contract in hand, for better or worse for him. Kyle Crick looked good in 2017 after finally becoming a full-time reliever. His upside is apparent and if he finally clicks, he won’t make fans forget him but he ?ll make the departure of McCutchen a little easier to swallow.

Joe Musgrove is going to get a chance to start, but he had a strong showing from the bullpen last season. There should be at least one multi-inning arm between him, Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow. They picked up a pair of Rule 5 arms in Nick Burdi and Jordan Milbrath. And all that doesn ?t count the homegrown Dovydas Neverauskas and Edgar Santana, who are waiting in the wings.

But perhaps the most intriguing arm is Michael Feliz: a 24 year old right-hander who came from Houston in the Gerrit Cole deal [link].

How promising is he? Well, I think he just might be the right-handed Felipe Rivero.

No, he didn ?t do so hot in 2017, recording a 5.63 ERA and 1.563 WHIP, but don ?t let that scare you away. Rivero stunk in Washington, too, as did Melancon before him. A few bad outings can ruin a reliever’s season. Feliz had a few bad outings.

I think he ?s the steal of the Cole trade. And yes, it ?s because of his 97 MPH fastball that got a whiff 12.4% of the time and his slider with bite. Let ?s take a look at that slider:


Feliz should be better in 2018 for no other reason than dumb luck. He had a 3.15 SIERA in 2017 and a 2.49 in 2016, but his ERA was roughly two runs higher those two seasons. He struck out over 13 per nine both years, but it was practically negated by a .381 BABIP average against him in 2017. The dude is due for a break.

He ?s already got a little luck coming his way. Yes, he ?s getting out of the AL West for the NL, but he ?s going to a great park for him. Last year he gave up eight home runs. PNC Park would have held two of those dingers. That cavernous left field is good news for a flyball pitcher.

Feliz’s spray chart overlaid PNC Park’s dimensions. Courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Feliz started last year strong, recording a 2.10 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 25.2 innings through June 5. Then things went sideways. The fastball velocity stayed mostly steady, but the runs started piling in. He had to wear a 9.67 ERA down the home stretch and didn ?t pitch in the postseason.

The surprising part was he gave up more hard contact before June 5 than he did after. Yes, he was more prone to walks in the second half of his season, but he was getting more grounders and popups while in the midst of his slump.

Feliz on June 5th and before.

Feliz June 6th and beyond.

He was sent to the disabled list on Aug. 1 with shoulder discomfort after being tagged for seven earned runs in his previous two outings, so perhaps that had something to do with the jump in walks. His velocity went up a tick from 2016, so he might have just burnt out too early. If you want to put on your tinfoil hat, you could say that trip to the disabled list just happened to coincide with the Astros ? trade for Francisco Liriano, but we ?ll give Houston the benefit of the doubt (and it ?s worth noting that Feliz ?s average fastball velocity those two outings were the lowest he had in nearly two months, according to Brooks Baseball).

But why is he another potential Rivero ? Feliz has an electric heater and walks a few too many for his own good, but I think he has the same problem Rivero had as a National: his follow through.

Back in May, I talked about how Rivero went from Washington middle reliever to absolute madman with the Pirates. One of the big changes was mechanical. As a National, Rivero threw against his body and finished his pitching motion by taking a big step to third base.

In Pittsburgh, his follow through takes him to the plate.

He ?s not wasting potential energy anymore. This added a tick or two or occasionally five to his fastball and made him the best lefty reliever in the National League.

Now let ?s look at Feliz.

Look at how big of a step he takes towards first. He goes almost as far off the rubber as Rivero did.

Feliz is a little bigger than Rivero, but he can ?t afford to just throw. He needs to pitch.

Feliz could hit triple digits if his motion takes him straight to the plate. With that, his knack for missing bats and just a hint of luck or help from shifts, I think he could take a late inning role this year. If he does nothing, he is still good enough to be a middling middle reliever.

But his ceiling is so much higher than just that. I think he and Rivero could be the next Watson-Melancon one-two punch. If I’m right, the Pirates are really close to doing some bullpenning.

Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.

10 Comments on Optimizing Michael Feliz

  1. Harry Schade // January 24, 2018 at 10:28 AM // Reply

    Nice, anaytical, positive, forward looking article. Well done

  2. Rafael Rivera // January 24, 2018 at 1:40 PM // Reply

    Pros on pitching : Young and strong arms. A outstanding 1-2 on Feliz and Rivero. In my opinion Rivero make the difference. Waiting to see how good is Feliz. Then IL be able to make comparisons with Watson.
    Cons on pitching : Openers with 4+ERA.
    The bullpen looks better than the Openers rotation.

    In the other side, my team needs more Mojo in the lineup. Hope the team reach the .500 at the of the season.

  3. Great article buddy

  4. Joe Musgrove will be the 2018 version of Juan Nicasio. Just stick him in the bullpen, Clint.

    As for Feliz, I think he is another Arquimedes Caminero.

  5. is this a copy of last year’s Daniel Hudson article?

    sorry to be so cynical.

  6. Alex, thank goodness they chose option C and traded away their best starter and best player so that they could bolster their bullpen!

    Did you have help from Huntington in writing out those options?

    • “But bullpenning doesn’t come cheap”.

      And, of course, starters and everyday players do come cheap. That must be why the Pirates are emphasizing the bullpen. Because, of course, there is nothing cheap about this outfit and they’re all in this year with winning it all with their great (albeit question mark filled, no-name, etc..) bullpen.

    • Kevin Creagh // January 29, 2018 at 5:50 AM // Reply

      In the wake of trading Cole and McCutchen, there’s two things a person can do:
      1. Complain endlessly about losing them, wail and gnash teeth, be miserable
      2. Accept that it happened, assess what is left, figure out a way to move forward

      Alex (and I) are doing one of these options. You’re doing the other.

      • I’m fine with losing Cutch and Cole. Not sure why you think otherwise. What I object to is the insinuation that attempting to bolster the bullpen somehow makes up for losing your best player and best pitcher. Is this really how a team that claims it can still contend needs to operate? Substantially weaken the starting 9 and the starting pitching staff, but claim all is well because maybe, just maybe, we bolstered the bullpen? Hogwash! Trading Cole and Cutch isn’t the problem if you replace them with respected talent (either thru trade or free agency) that can help the team compete in the division. These trades clearly did not do that.

        There is a 3rd thing a person can do as they analyze this organization:

        Endlessly sip on the kool-aid as they paint the lipstick on this pig.

        There are lipstick stains all over this article and, by extension, on your response to my commentary.

      • THIS.

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