Quality rookie starting pitchers were at a minimum in the American League this year, but there were a few first year relievers that opened the eyes of fantasy owners everywhere. Relievers are inherently volatile though, and it's difficult to trust them based on small career sample sizes, which makes gauging the value of a rookie reliever even more difficult. Today we'll take a look at two players that, from a playing time standpoint, qualified as rookies in 2010.
Daniel Bard threw 49 1/3 innings in 2009, which kept him just short of surpassing the minimum 50 innings required for losing rookie eligibility, but he was on the active roster long enough to lose it regardless. While he's not a true rookie in that sense, he still merits attention due to his relative newness to the league and his potential role in the future.
Bard has been a source of strikeouts since 2008 in Single-A, when he whiffed 43 batters in 28 innings before a promotion to Double-A. Bard struck out 64 in 49 2/3 innings there, giving him a combined K/BB total for the 2008 season of 107/30 with just 16 runs allowed. When he whiffed 29 batters in 16 frames at Triple-A Pawtucket the next year, Boston knew it was time to call him up to the bigs: Bard would not disappoint, with 11.5 K/9 and 19 unintentional walks in 49 1/3 innings pitched (3.5 per nine).
Bard lost a few strikeouts this year, punching out 9.2 per nine, but kept his walk rate (3.2 per nine) in the same area and was able to keep hitters off balance by substituting some of his sliders—his very best pitch, and one of the better ones you'll see in the majors—with a changeup in order to give batters a different look at the plate. He won't post an ERA of 1.93 in 2011—or, rather, you shouldn't expect an ERA like that—as his BABIP was .225 and should regress. That being said, there is nothing wrong with Bard putting up an ERA closer to his SIERA of 3.42 in 2011, especially if he ends up taking save opportunities away from the struggling Jonathan Papelbon.
One thing to consider with Bard is that he was overused as the year went on. Boston's bullpen was horrific outside of Bard—the aforementioned Papelbon was their second-best reliever despite his issues—and he appeared fatigue late in the year. It didn't show up in his strikeout rates, but you could see him struggling to hit his spots with the same kind of consistency he had earlier in the season. Boston should be adding help to their pen over the offseason, which should make Bard's job easier in 2011, and also makes him someone valuable to consider on your teams, even if he doesn't end up with the closer role. He's got the stuff and will have the innings to contribute to your team even without the benefit of the save stat.
Neftali Feliz was an excellent rookie draft choice due to his securing the closer role in Texas. The Dominican right-hander may not stick in that position for 2011, and may be slotted into the rotation, but with the Rangers still in the playoffs and thinking about 2010 the issue has not been resolved as of yet. While Feliz was plenty good prior to the All-Star break, his second-half ERA was just 1.42 thanks to two straight months without allowing a run, and his
Feliz has not pitched well in October yet, but that is due to the opponent and the sample size—Feliz couldn't command his fastball at all against the Rays, and with the patience they have on display throughout their lineup, they were able to draw three walks and hit a homer against just two strikeouts. Don't be worried about the fact that starting pitcher C.J. Wilson was expected to close for the team in last night's contest if it was necessary, as the goal was to get the Game One starter for the ALCS some work before the team had a few days off.
If Feliz becomes a starter, he's still an intriguing option, even as a keeper. He struck out 9.2 batters per nine and posted a K/BB of 3.9 (following up on 2009's 4.9 K/BB over 31 innings pitched) and though he gives up a worrisome number of flyballs for a pitcher whose home park is in Arlington, he also manages to induce quite a few infield flies to keep the damage to a minimum. He was, unsurprisingly, a better pitcher on the road, but his home performance was still of high quality. His 2.98 SIERA confirms that his performance was legitimate in 2010, and given his youth, high-octane stuff and numbers in the majors thus far, there is little reason to doubt that success will follow him.
The one worry with Feliz moving to the rotation is his changeup, as he rarely uses it now. As long as he can work that into his repertoire more often in order to keep hitters off balance and guessing, he should not have any issues. The thought of a two-pitch starter, regardless of how good those pitches are, pitching in Arlington with a flyball tendency is a scary thought, so the offspeed offering will be necessary in order to keep Feliz in elite company. Feliz did throw the change more often in 2009, and it's likely that he would return to those rates with a role switch—just keep an eye out for information regarding it this spring if it comes to that.