Early Thursday afternoon, the Brewers made a move that had been rumored for around a week by signing closer Neftali Feliz to a one-year, 5.35 million dollar contract. Along with the base salary, the deal could max out at 6.85 million with incentives. Milwaukee will be Feliz’s 3rd team in as many seasons and his 4th overall, having previously played for the Rangers, Tigers and Pirates. In recent years, Feliz has fallen on harder times in his career, not looking like the dominant closer he was early in his career. In 2010, a then 22-year-old Feliz burst onto the MLB scene in Arlington, as he racked up 40 saves with 71 strikeouts in 69.1 innings for the Rangers on his way to his only All-Star nod to date and the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year. Feliz posted ERAs of 2.73 and 2.74 respectively in 2010 and 2011, but has not come close to similar production in recent years. So the question is, how could one of the most dominant young closers in the game have this drastic of a change?
- Injuries: In 2012, Feliz underwent Tommy John and was out of MLB action for over a year, not returning until September 1st, 2013. This took away a significant portion of what should have been the prime of Feliz’s career.
- Velocity: As often happens with pitchers who suffer major arm injuries and, thus, major surgeries, Feliz lost a lot of velocity on his fastball from 2012-2014 of more than 3 miles per hour, from a high of 96.3 in both 2010 and 2011 to 93.1 in 2014.
This change culminated in what is by far the worst season of Feliz’s career so far in 2015. Playing for the Rangers through July before being picked up by the Detroit Tigers after being granted free agency, Feliz posted a combined 10 saves with just 39 strikeouts in 48 innings with a combined 6.38 ERA. He used his fastball at the second lowest percentage of his career at just 61.6%, and batters took advantage, as Feliz gave up more hits than he struck out batters for just the second time in his career.
However, his 2016 season with the Pirates showed flashes of the pitcher he once was. While Feliz was not the team’s closer, as that honor went to Mark Melancon (Feliz had just two saves), he was one of just two Pirates relievers, along with Juan Nicasio, to post a rate of more than one strikeout per inning.
So, what can Brewers fans look for with Neftali Feliz? For starters, he is a three-pitch guy. While he relies primarily on his fastball (70.1% usage in 2016) which can run anywhere from around 94-98 miles per hour, he also throws in a slider (average MPH of 84.4 in 2016; 25.5% usage) and a changeup (average of 88.6 in 2016; 4.4% usage.) Fans can also look forward to a guy who could be on the verge of a career resurgence if he is given the right opportunities, the exact kind of opportunities a club like the Brewers could provide for him. Overall, this is a solid, win-win pickup for the Brewers, as Feliz comes cheap but also provides the opportunity for trade bait or even as the new Brewers closer for a few years if he performs well.
RotoChamp Composite: 65.0 IP, 3.88 ERA, 67 K, 25 BB, 0 SV
Personal Projection: 62.1 IP, 3.65 ERA, 70 K, 22 BB, 31 SV