A lot can change in seven days.
Neftali Feliz said just one week ago that he would prefer to remain in the bullpen, but he was singing a very different tune after tossing four innings of one-run ball against the Dodgers this afternoon.
According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Feliz is now on board with the idea of being a starting pitcher.
“That’s what we’re working for,” he said. “Right now, [his goal] is to start.”
What changed his mind? Well, Feliz has newfound confidence in his cutter, a pitch which expands his arsenal and could help him navigate tough American League lineups. The 22-year-old right-hander also had a conversation with Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux last week, where he may or may not have been informed about how much more money he could make as a starting pitcher in the long run.
“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.
Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:
Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?
There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.
As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.