The Breakout Season Of Pittsburgh Pirates Reliever Michael Feliz


While the season as a whole has been disappointing for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their bullpen, one reliever has enjoyed a breakout season

When the Pittsburgh Pirates swung the Gerrit Cole trade with the Houston Astros in January 2018, one of the players they got in return was reliever Michael Feliz. After a strong start to the 2018 season, Feliz imploded toward the end of May and never recovered.

When the dust settled on Feliz’s 2018 season, he owned a 5.66 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 10.6% walk rate, and a 25.4% strikeout rate. These struggles put Feliz behind the eight ball when it came to cracking the team’s Opening Day bullpen. As a result, he started the 2019 season at Triple-A Indianapolis.

Stuff and ability has never been an issue for Feliz. He possess a power fastball that averages 95.0 MPH, and a wipe out slider that has generated a 49.7% whiff rate this season. However, consistency and throwing enough strikes have plagued Feliz in the past. This season, he appears to have fixed those warts.

As the Pirate bullpen carousel started to swing, Feliz made his 2019 debut in Texas on April 30th. Since then, Feliz has pitched his way into a bigger role in the Pirate bullpen. He has now emerged as one of the team’s best high leverage relievers.

In 50 2/3 innings of work this season Feliz owns a 3.73 ERA and a 4.02 FIP. His walk rate is 9.9%, his strikeout rate is 31.1%, and he’s allowed eight home runs. You would like to see that home run number be a little lower, but it has not burnt Feliz much this season.

Feliz’s 50 2/3 innings of work have come in 52 games. 51 of these 52 games came as a reliever. However, he also served as an opener once this season. That appearance came against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 24th, and was a total and complete disaster.

If you take away this appearance as an opener and look strictly at his numbers as a reliever, Feliz looks like a dominant pitcher. As a reliever this season Feliz owns a 2.86 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 9.7% walk rate, and a 32.0% strikeout rate. He has also limited opposing batters to a .192/.278/.347 slash line, and an .267 wOBA. He’s limited batters to a 33.3% hard hit rate, and his average exit velocity against of 86.8 MPH is below league average.

Feliz has also excelled in stranding inherited runners. After stranding a pair of inherited runners in Monday night’s victory, Feliz has now stranded 18 of 25 inherited runners this season. A big reason for this is Feliz’s ability to generate swings-and-misses and get a strikeout when needed.

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While more has gone wrong than right for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their bullpen this season, one positive has been the emergence of Michael Feliz. As Feliz caps off a strong 2019 campaign, he looks ready to become a key cog in the Pirate bullpen for 2020.