For most of the season Neftali Feliz has been a shutdown reliever for the Pirates. However, in recent weeks he has struggled. Is there cause for concern?
This season, Neftali Feliz has been one of the key cog’s in the Pirates’ bullpen. He has been a shutdown, back pf the bullpen arm for a majority of the season. Feliz has bounced around between the seventh and eighth inning, largely depending on match ups, and has been one of Clint Hurdle’s most used relievers.
So far this season Neftali Feliz has pitched 48 1/3 innings. Feliz is averaging 9.87 K/9, 3.35 BB/9, 1.49 HR/9, he has held opposing hitters to a .191 batting average, and his WHIP is just 1.06. All of this results in Feliz owning a 2.98 ERA, 4.28 FIP, and a 3.80 xFIP.
While those numbers, minus the FIP and home run rate, are strong there might be reason to be concerned about Neftali Feliz. Dating back to July 24th Neftali Feliz has pitched ten innings for the Pirates. And, those ten innings have not gone well.
In these ten innings pitched Feliz has faced a whooping 44 batters, and he has a 1.50 WHIP. He is averaging 8.10 K/9, an alarming 7.20 BB/9, and he has allowed a pair of home runs. This has all resulted in Feliz posting a 6.35 FIP in these ten innings pitched.
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During these ten innings pitched Feliz’s hard contact rate has risen. For the season opposing batters are now making hard contact with 37.5 percent of Neftali Feliz’s pitches. Also, his home run/fly ball rate is a concerning 25 percent in these ten innings pitched and his ground ball rate is just 30.8 percent. This comes after having a HR/FB rate of just 15 percent and a ground ball rate of 40 percent in his first 38 1/3 innings pitched this season.
When you look at Neftali Feliz’s numbers, he was due for some regression. Through his first 38 1/3 innings pitched he had a 3.05 ERA but a FIP of 3.75. His BABIP was also an unsustainable .230. It looks like that regression is finally happening.
Even though Feliz’s season long 3.80 xFIP indicates he should pitch better moving forward, there is still another big red flag to me. That red flag is, still, his BABIP. During his struggles the past month, his BABIP has actually gone down. In his last ten innings Feliz’s BABIP is just .200. This indicates he has had some good luck and strong defense on his side in these outings.
League average BABIP is .300. A BABIP higher than .300 indicates the pitcher has suffered from bad luck/poor defense, while a BABIP below .300 indicates the opposite. Neftali Feliz’s BABIP indicates he has benefited from good luck and strong defense the last month, which is probably why his ERA during this stretch is just 2.70 despite his struggles.
I am not concerned about Feliz yet. However, there have certainly been some red flags the past month. If he does not start pitching well again, and soon, I will be firmly entrenched in the concerned camp.
Is Neftali Feliz’s last month a reason for concern, or just a blip on the radar? Hopefully, it will prove to be the latter. Because if the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to earn a fourth consecutive postseason berth, they need Feliz to be helping shutdown games in the back end of the bullpen.