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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The future suddenly looks a lot brighter in the desert
Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.
While there is a confusing starting rotation picture for the AL playoff contenders, the NL is much clearer.
With the matter of the playoff participants in both leagues largely settled, on Wednesday I examined the unsettled nature of the playoff rotations of the likely AL representatives. As I showed, each has a considerable amount of unfinished business with regards to identifying their front four, with injuries and matchup issues both playing a part, and there's relatively little separation between the four, at least according to a quick and dirty measure I nabbed from Nate Silver's back pages. By comparison, the NL teams have much less uncertainty as to who will be taking the ball, and much more certainty about whom the fairest of them all is, at least when it comes to post-season rotations.
Does a recent rash of experimentation with six-man rotations make sense, and is it likely to be emulated in future seasons?
People love to label phases and eras, so few periods in baseball have gone without names. The 2010 season will be known as the Year of the Pitcher, if last year’s coverage is any indication, just as the Dead-Ball Era lives on nearly a century later. If the first half of the 2011 season comes away with a nickname, history will have to choose between three compelling options: the Year of the Pitcher II, the Summer of Geriatric Managers, and the Invasion of the Six-Man Rotations. Sequels suck and demographics matter, leaving the latter as the most logical choice. The Yankees have thought about going to a six-man rotation, and the Athletics will use one—at least for a week—and when the rich and smart kids are thinking about making a particular move, then it’s time to talk about it.
The most effective means of using starting pitchers has always been a hot topic in the sabermetric community, and it’s inextricably tied to workloads, which in turn inevitably leads back to a discussion of optimal rotation size. In Baseball Between The Numbers, Prospectus alum Keith Woolner wrote about the advantages in going to a four-man rotation—citing, among other reasons, fewer starts going to poor fifth starters and an extra roster spot (Rany Jazayerli hit on similar points during his series in 2002). Another sabermetric publication, The Book (by Tom Tango, Andrew Dolphin, and Mitchel Lichtman), also addressed the topic. Within, the trio suggests that the optimal rest period is five days, while the worst is three days—concluding that four days of rest, the amount currently employed by most teams, is a good compromise.
Running down the American League's best candidates to benefit from hot spring starts.
We’re all aware that spring training stats wouldn’t get much attention in an ideal world, since a player’s extended record of prior performance in the minors and/or majors allows for far more accurate forecasts than a month’s worth of playing time against mixed competition in March. (If you don’t believe me, look no further than this recent dispatch from Florida: “Cards’ Lohse goes six scoreless.”) Still, we know from past experience that some small-sample heroics will have implications for games that count; superior production—as well as glowing scouting reports—in the Grapefruit or Cactus League can impress a manager more easily than a good month for a far-flung minor-league affiliate, enabling a player on the bubble to earn a place (or a more prominent role) on the big club’s roster.
As I write this, Melky Cabrera and Ryan Roberts lead their respective leagues in batting average, and Luke Hughes and Danny Espinosa are the latest word in RBI men, as effective a reminder as any that the clean slate of April is still a few weeks away. That said, the exhibition schedule is half complete; the first round of cuts has already been made, and coaching staffs and front-office executives are meeting at regular intervals to ruminate on their rosters’ composition come Opening Day. Which performances to date by players who came into the spring on shaky ground have stood them in good stead for 2011? Today I’ll tackle the AL, highlighting one batter and one pitcher per team, before turning to the NL representatives later this week.
The Cubs didn't necessarily need to empty their farm to acquire another starter.
When news broke last week that the Cubs had acquired Matt Garza from the Rays I sarcastically suggested that the NL Central was all but locked up. Garza is certainly a quality pitcher, but the deal in which he, Fernando Perez, and Zachary Rosscup were sent to the Cubs in exchange for Chris Archer, Brandon Guyer, Robinson Chirinos, Hak-Ju Lee, and Sum Fuld struck me as being one-sided, and not from a talent perspective. No, I considered the deal to favor one side based on the idea of a team recognizing its situation and acting accordingly. The Rays, looking to cut costs, capitalized on the thin nature of the free-agent market by surrendering a better pitcher than was available. Garza was not going to be a key component to their success, and the emergence of Jeremy Hellickson provided a surplus of starters. The Cubs, however, struggled with more than their rotation over the last few seasons yet felt compelled to trade four of their top prospects for a mid-rotation starter. Many have chimed in on which team “won” the deal, but what isn’t being discussed enough is the rationale of the Cubs in a transaction like this and whether their goals could have been achieved by other means.
Ex-pitcher John Farrell looks forward to his first season as the Blue Jays' manager, along with other news and notes from around the major leagues.
John Farrell stands as a rare bird in baseball, and it goes beyond the fact that he will be in his first year of managing the Blue Jays next season. Farrell is just the second active manager who spent his playing career a pitcher; he joins the Padres' Bud Black, the 2010 National League Manager of the Year. It is only fitting because Farrell's career path to reach this point has been anything but conventional.