Pittsburgh Pirates: Why Michael Feliz Could be the Team’s Next Closer

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Michael Feliz has took a step forward with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019. If he takes another step forward in 2020, he could become the team’s future closer.

One of the questions the Pittsburgh Pirates will have to face soon is who will be the team’s next closer? Luckily for the Pittsburgh Pirates, they have plenty of young and talented relief arms who could be ready to be the team’s next 9th inning guy.

While guys like Blake Cederlind, Nick Mears and Nick Burdi might get the most attention as the team’s next closing options, one that might get overlooked is righty Michael Feliz. Feliz definitely has the stuff to be the team’s next closer, and after a solid 2019 season, he could insert his name in talks of the team’s next closer.

When you look at his 2019 numbers, you might not be too impressed. A 3.99 ERA, 4.71 FIP and 1.26 WHIP don’t shout “Pirates’ next closer” numbers. But these numbers are a inflated by one outing when the Pirates were experimenting with the opener and tried Feliz in the role.

It was the first time Feliz had started a game above A-Ball since 2015, plus it was against a red hot Dodgers’ team. You can tell how well it went. He only recorded one out and gave up 5 earned runs on four hits, one of which was a home run, and one walk. Take out this one outing, and Feliz has a 3.21 ERA, 4.37 FIP and 1.17 WHIP.

Plus, after this one awful game, Feliz went on a tear. Through his final 44.1 innings of the season, Feliz had a 2.84 ERA, opponent OPS of just .698, a strikeout rate of 31.5%, and walk rate of 9.9%. Feliz also was unlucky in the eyes’ of ERA estimators like SIERA (3.79) and DRA (3.38).

Feliz’s biggest issue was home runs. Last year, he had a HR/9 of 1.8. This is impart due to a ground ball rate of just 34.3%. However, Feliz should see those rates go down in the future. While Feliz had an opponent .413 slugging percentage, his xSlugging was .380.

He also saw a huge decrease in the amount of hard contact he gave up. Feliz had a 31.4% hard hit rate, which sits in the top 84th percentile of pitchers. In comparison, he had a 39.3% hard hit rate the year prior. Feliz also sits in the top 75th percentile of exit velocity at 87.7 MPH. Giving up less hard hit baseballs is a step in the right direction for Feliz. After all, his 7.0 hits/9 in 2019 was the lowest of his career, but 11 of the 44 hits he surrendered were home runs.

Feliz’s pitch repertoire also represents a closer. He is a fastball-slider kind of relief pitcher, but occasionally throws in a change up to mix things up. Feliz saw an increase in fastball velocity last season. In 2018 his fastball averaged 94.8 MPH and in 2019 it averaged out at 95.1 MPH. Not a large difference, but still an increase nonetheless.

His fastball also has 12.5 inches of vertical drop, which is 11% better than the average fastball. His slider, while only having 37.6 inches of vertical movement, or 7% below average, it does have 7.9 inches of horizontal break placing it 36% above the average. His change up is his least used pitch, as it doesn’t have much movement, but he only threw it 6.4% of the time compared to 73.4% of the time with his fastball and 20.2% of the time on his slider.

Feliz saw massive improvements during 2019. He gave up less hard hit contact, was great from June onward, and strikes out a ton of batters still. The only issue is that Feliz gives up home runs at a highly worrisome rate.

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During spring training and summer camp, Feliz might have made those strides to improve his home run-suppressing ability. While it was just a small sample size of just 4.1 innings, Feliz didn’t give up a single long ball, but still struck out six of the 19 batters he faced. With a new pitching coach at the helm, hopefully Oscar Marin can help Feliz make the finishing adjustments he needs to become a top level relief pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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