Can Michael Feliz Breakthrough in 2020?

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 12: Michael Feliz #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during the seventh inning against the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park on May 12, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 12: Michael Feliz #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during the seventh inning against the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park on May 12, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /
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After an up and down 2019 season, can 2020 be the season that Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Michael Feliz puts it all together and breakthrough?

The 2020 season will be about the future for the Pittsburgh Pirates. As the team prepares a rebuild, a key factor to the 2020 season will be determining which players are a part of the team’s future. This makes the 2020 season important for reliever Michael Feliz.

Feliz was acquired from the Houston Astros as part of the Gerrit Cole trade in January 2018. In two seasons with the Pirates the right-handed reliever has been maddeningly inconsistent. Is 2020 the year he can finally breakthrough?

In two seasons with the Pirates, Feliz owns a 4.76 ERA and a 4.44 FIP in 104 innings pitched. His 28.1% strikeout rate is strong, but his 11.0% walk rate and 1.47 HR/9 have both been an issue for Feliz.

Despite his struggles, Feliz has all of the tools to be a high leverage reliever. This is what has led to the frustration many Pirate fans have with the 26-year-old Dominican. With his power fastball and wipe out potential slider combo, there is no reason Feliz can not be a shutdown reliever at the MLB level.

Last season, Feliz’s average fastball velocity (95.1 MPH) was above league average falling in the 79th percentile in all of baseball, as was his fastball spin rate which was in the 63rd percentile. His strikeout rate (87th percentile) was also above league average, as was his 86.6 MPH exit velocity, which was in the 83rd percentile in baseball.

In addition to his fastball, Feliz also had a plus slider in 2019. Opposing batters slugged just .312 off of his slider, while swinging and missing 48.6% of the time. This is a pitch that still has untapped potential for Feliz.

So, what went wrong in 2019?

Well, a big issue was Feliz’s pitch selection. His slider was by far his best pitch in 2019, but he threw it just 20.2% of the time. Hopefully, under the guidance of new pitching coach Oscar Marin this is a pitch Feliz will lean on more in 2020.

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Another issue for Feliz in 2019 was allowing too many home runs. This stemmed, at least partially, from his 10.9% barrel rate. By throwing his slider more Feliz can cut down on the amount of balls that batters barrel off of him and the home runs he allows. Again, Big Mike, please, throw your slider more in 2020. It can help lead to a breakthrough season and becoming a key piece in the Pirate bullpen.

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