The Rangers' recent signing of Joe Nathan ensures that Neftali Feliz will get a legit shot at the rotation, but will he be able to succeed?
On the evening of October 27, 2011, flame-throwing closer Neftali Feliz was one pitch away from lighting the fuse on an explosive World Series celebration. The Texas franchise had never tasted the sweet substance of the ultimate reward, and after nearly 40 years of play, they were only seconds away from the pinnacle experience offered by the sport. The Rangers were going to be world champions.
We all know what happened to Feliz and the Rangers in Game Six, and we all know what happened in the deciding Game Seven, played the following evening. The Cardinals became world champions, and the Rangers were sent back to the drawing board. As of this writing, the Rangers have put pencil to paper on their first off-season sketch, signing free-agent closer Joe Nathan to a two-year deal (with an option for third year). The signing reinforces the speculation that Texas intends to convert Feliz back into a starter. Cue the Whitesnake and let’s take it from the top.
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Taking an old piece of baseball advice to task with Sportvision's new COMMANDf/x system for tracking the catcher's glove.
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Graham Goldbeck is a data analyst at Sportvision, the company behind PITCHf/x, HITf/x, COMMANDf/x, and FIELDf/x. In the past, Graham was a writer for the website Beyond the Boxscore and worked as a baseball operations intern for the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays.
Evaluating each pitcher who appeared in the Futures Game and identifying the most similar current major-league pitchers and pitches with the aid of PITCHf/x.
Sample size or apple pies? You can choose only one. Apple pies—that’s what I thought. A quick glimpse of a prospect might not tell us all we need to know, but it’s still plenty tempting to draw possibly premature conclusions. With that in mind, I decided to watch the Futures Game for the second straight year and make snap judgments on every single pitcher, even though none of them threw more than a couple dozen pitches. Last year, my main takeaway was that Zach Britton was the man. He still is. This year, I came to the conclusion that the only way to top a Bernie Williamsrendition of the national anthem is to catch a Sal Fasanofirst-base coach sighting.
The following table lists every pitcher who appeared in the game, in order of appearance. I’ll tackle them one by one, offering comps to current major leaguers where applicable, as well as links to videos of similar pitches.
Examining the approach that has made Ryan Vogelsong a giant among Giants with the aid of PITCHf/x.
In January, Ryan Vogelsong signed a minor-league contract with the San Francisco Giants. He compiled a 3.27 ERA in 22 solid innings in spring training but was sent to Triple-A Fresno to begin the year. He followed that up with two strong starts at Fresno, allowing three runs and striking out 17 in 11 1/3 innings. On April 17, Vogelsong joined the big club when Barry Zito went on the disabled list with a foot injury, and on April 28, he took Zito’s place in the Giants starting rotation.
Tall guys, short guys, and even starters can all profile as potential bullpen pieces.
Relievers are the byproduct of deficient starters, much like second basemen are to shortstops, or left fielders are to center fielders, or reality television “stars” are to the failures of human development. However, inherent deficiency doesn’t preclude potential value, because let’s face it, somebody has to pitch in relief (and be good at it), and somebody has to slide over to second base, and somebody has to get paid for candid promiscuity and binge drinking for our amusement.
When it comes to ranking relievers, I wanted to step away from the establishedconstruct and craft specific tiers to compartmentalize such an abstract pool of talent. After all, every pitcher in the minors could be considered a reliever, depending on the evaluation linked to each player. For this exercise, I spent a week talking to scouts, asking them about current relievers, current starters that could become relievers, and failed position players that have become relievers. If a scout mentioned a potential relief future, I documented it. If a scout failed to mention a reliever, despite his sparkling numbers, or your admiration for his services, I didn’t force the name into the mix. This article would require 10 parts to properly detail every arm that could have an impact in relief. That wasn’t the goal.
One prospect dominates the present and future of lefty pitching, while another southpaw is falling off the wagon.
For this series, I will be shuttling you through the minor leagues to discover the best talents at each position and ranking them in tiers according to skill, current and future ability, and whether the player in question is from Texas. Need to catch up on how I’m doing the rankings and the top right-handed pitchers? Take a look at Part I.
How can we distinguish between benign fluctuations in fastball speed and those that indicate injury or ineffectiveness ahead?
A pitcher’s fastball speed is probably the most macho attribute of his ability. Guile, command, deception, a good breaking ball, and the ability to change speeds are all very important parts of the pitching craft. Only one number, however, routinely makes the scoreboard and the television screen on every pitch—the speed. As Jeff Francoeurcan tell you, if it’s on the scoreboard, it’s important.
How much does a pitcher's secondary arsenal, mound presence, and poise play into a scout's evaluation?
In part one, I blathered on about fastball evaluation and the three main components of the overall pitcher grade: command, velocity, and movement. About 2,000 words later (200 to set the mood, 200 to make the point, and 1,600 to expose my weaknesses as a writer), I hope that the reader formed a closer bond with my process, though it sometimes seemed like I cared more about the beef industry than scouting. I’m not going to apologize for that. I care about beef. I’m from Texas. I also ride a horse to work and wear a duster. Moving on.
It’s time to shift our attention to what I look for when evaluating a pitcher’s secondary arsenal [read: complementary pitches, e.g., slider, curveball, changeup, etc.], mound presence/poise, and pitchability. While a good fastball can carry the majority of the load and is therefore set up to receive most of the accolades, the secondary and tertiary components of the arsenal will ultimately define the attainable range of success. Outliers always exist, so you might run across arsenals that aren’t built with the bones of a fastball, or arsenals that consist of one super-wizard pitch (Mariano Rivera’s cutter), but for this evaluation, let’s just assume we are scouting a human, and not a knuckleballer or a Panamanian relief wizard.
We hear terms like "projectability" and "60-grade velocity" bandied about, but what do they actually mean? Here's a glimpse at what goes into scouting a pitcher.
If you have ever listened to the BP podcast, you have no doubt heard the always-fedora’d Kevin Goldstein and me identify what we look for in a prospect. Every player is unique, but there are certain attributes that tickle the scouting fancy more than others, whether physical or psychological. While we are recidivistic in our velocity whoring, other factors are at play when evaluating a pitcher, just like evaluating hitters is more complex than watching batting practice power displays. In this long-winded series, I’ll identity what I look for when scouting players on the mound, in the field, and in the box.
Not to get overly existential here, but scouting is a profound philosophical pursuit: Are we looking for enlightenment through the physical exceptionalism of athletes? Is it possible to separate our own deficiencies and insecurities from the process? Does the fact that I used to be quite fast influence my ability to appreciate speed in a lower-level prospect? Does the fact that I once had dreams of being a ballplayer heighten my ability to recognize those who are athletically superior to me, or does my failure create a form of subjective justice that I wield upon those that get to play out my fantasy for a paycheck?
Do his early-season struggles suggest that Royals closer Joakim Soria's best days lie behind him, or can he succeed with a different style?
Joakim Soria has been one of the best relief pitchers in baseball over the past four years. From 2007 to 2010, he put up a 2.01 ERA with 281 strikeouts against only 70 walks and 182 hits in 255 innings. Over that period, he held the opposition scoreless in 82 percent of the games he entered, and he allowed multiple runs only five percent of the time. For comparison, Mariano Rivera had a 2.05 ERA over those four years, held the opposition scoreless 83 percent of the time, and allowed multiple runs five percent of the time. Even while fighting (and usually failing) to avoid the basement in the AL Central, the Royals could claim a truly elite closer in Soria, the rare All-Star on a perennial cellar dweller.
A few pitchers had very strong springs, and Craig has the details on which ones matter during the regular season.
Fantasy season opens tomorrow, but it’s not too late to consider a couple of starting pitchers who enjoyed strong springs. This article is a complimentary piece to last week’s look at the hot hitters of spring. Almost all of us have drafted our teams for the year, but these pitchers may warrant either a waiver pickup or a trade offer as we prepare for the season to start.