Pittsburgh Pirates: Setting Michael Feliz’s Expectations for 2020

Pittsburgh Pirates relief ptcher Michael Feliz showed some promise in 2019. Can he put it all together during next season?

Since arriving with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018, Michael Feliz has shown the potential to be a good relief pitcher, but just hasn’t put it all together. But could 2020 be the season where we see Feliz breakout big time? Most signs point to yes.

In 2018, his first season with the Bucs, Feliz started strong before struggling in the final four months of the season. He pitched in 47.2 innings, allowing 30 earned runs, 49 hits, six of which left the park, and walked 10.6% of the batters he faced. He gave up hard hit contact 36.8% of the time, which was about 2% higher than the league average. Combined with his low ground ball rate of just 32%, and things weren’t too great for Feliz in 2018.

Despite poor surface numbers, Feliz showed some improvement last season. The first 21 innings of 2019 for Feliz yielded 14 earned runs, and 13 walks. But he allowed just two home runs, resulting in a 0.86 HR/9. He also struck out 27 batters, and his opponent OPS was just .672. Overall, he had a 3.68 FIP.

But from July onward, his ERA got better with time. Feliz’s last 35.1 innings of 2019 saw him allow just 11 more earned runs. He also walked far less batters on average with 13 free passes, while carrying over his strong strikeout rate (46 Ks). But home runs became an issue once again. After giving up just two in 21 innings, Feliz let upnine more. That resulted in a 2.29 HR/9 after June.

Feliz’s bottom line for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019 included a 3.99 ERA, 4.71 FIP, and 1.26 WHIP in 56.1 innings of work. Feliz struck out 30.5% of all the batters he faced, but posted a career high walk rate of 11.3%. He also gave up the most home runs in a single season so far in his career with 11. But many numbers point to Feliz having much better numbers in 2020.

For one, Feliz had a 3.38 DRA or deserved run average. That puts him about on par with Noah Syndergaard (3.40) and Mike Clevinger (3.32). Feliz’s FIP was also higher than expected. His xFIP sat at 4.29. While that’s not great, it still represents a much better number than 4.71.

Feliz also had an xERA of 3.80. Many other of his expected stats say he should be better going forward. The one I really want to focus on is his expected opponent slugging. Last year, his opponent slugging percentage was .413. His xSLG was .379. That places him in the top 70th percentile of pitchers, and represents a possible decrease in long balls surrendered. Of the other pitchers in the .370-.379 range of xSLG, they averaged out to a HR/9 of just 1.03. Even though he had a barrel percentage of 10.9%, one of the highest in the league, Feliz was in the top 83rd percentile of exit velocity (86.6 MPH) and 79th percentile of hard hit rate (32.8% per Baseball Savant). FanGraphs’ hard hit rate painted him in an even brighter picture at 29.2%. Although he had a solid opponent batting average of .215, he had an xBA of just .205, or in the top 91st percentile of baseball.

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In 2019, Feliz showed he could control the long ball, and control the ball over the plate. But he didn’t do both at the same time. Feliz’s exit velocity and hard hit rate and improvements from previous seasons are very promising. Less hard hit balls=less hits. Plus seeing as his expected slugging percentage was below .400, there’s a good chance he gives up less home runs, which was one of the few flaws in Feliz’s game last season. Look for Feliz to take a step forward with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020.

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