I made a cheap joke at Ron Washington’s expense in the Power Rankings this morning regarding Neftali Feliz being in the bullpen.
I don’t apologize for it because about 87% of my jokes are cheap, but I can at least admit it was a cheap joke. Most of the comments in my Power Rankings are of the drive-by variety.
Adam Morris at Lone Star Ball has heard a lot of this stuff, however, and wasn’t too pleased with mine. And then he defended Washington’s handling of Feliz:
How many teams would have taken one of their best relievers, a guy who had been pitching out of the bullpen virtually his entire time in the majors, and put him in the rotation, like the Rangers did with C.J. last season? And then the following year, do the exact same thing with a guy who not only had never made a start in the majors, but who was a converted outfielder who had spent his entire pitching career working as a reliever?
The Rangers have also made it clear the plan is for Feliz to transition to the rotation in 2012. And yet, people seem to act like Texas not putting the 22 year old Feliz into the rotation and asking for 200 innings from him now is a crime against the hallowed memory of Alexander Cartwright.
See, my thing is that if anyone was going to convert a reliever into a starter it would be the Rangers given their track record with Wilson. A guy who had had more years away from starting that Feliz had when he made the jump and who had been much farther removed from substantial workloads at the time than Feliz is now. Specifcally, Wilson hadn’t started a game since 2005 when he was converted last year; Feliz started his entire minor league career, switching to the pen in late 2009. Before last year, Wilson hadn’t pitched even 100 innings since 2003, when he pitched 123, whereas Feliz pitched 127 as a starter in 2008.
The upshot: while Feliz is younger and has fewer miles on the odometer than Wilson, he is less removed from starting than Wilson was, and his overall experience as a starter is not significantly less than Wilson’s (and his performance in that capacity was much better). Rather than giving the Rangers the benefit of the doubt as a result of their previous track record with a reliever-to-starter conversion, I think that they should be scrutinized even more closely for their inconsistency here because unlike so many other clubs they have made the key observation and taken the chance before. And now they’re not, and no one has ever explained it in terms other than the manager’s desire for a shutdown closer.
Yes, Morris makes the point that maybe the Rangers don’t think Feliz is ready to start games in the big leagues. And that’s a valid point, but I don’t think anyone from the Rangers has made a strong case for it. Feliz did pretty damn well starting in spring training. Washington’s quote the day he moved Feliz back to the pen was “right now, for our organization, he’s better in the bullpen.” That “for our organization” comment suggests to me a need (i.e. there’s no one else to close) more than an assessment of what role Feliz is best suited for.
None of which is to say that Morris is wrong. He knows the Rangers way better than I do, and no, I have not cataloged everything Washington or Nolan Ryan or Jon Daniels has said about the matter. And it’s not even to say that Washington is wrong because, after all, his job is to do what’s best for the team as a whole, not one player’s development (indeed, I take greater issue with Daniels and Ryan, who are tasked with thinking more long term than Washington is, for Feliz’s handling). And, the above stuff notwithstanding, I don’t mean to rehash the whole “should Feliz be a starter” argument in its full glory, because that ship has sailed for 2011, it seems.
But I do take issue with Morris’ characterization of those of us who do think that the Rangers are wrong in all of this. The criticism of the Rangers’ handling of Feliz is not about failing to conform to some sabermetric orthodoxy, nor is about simply laughing and pointing at Ron Washington. Because even if my joke was a cheap one, there are legitimate arguments in favor of using Feliz as a starter, and they’re not adequately countered by simply deferring to the Rangers’ statements about their plans for 2012 or the credibility they have in the bank because C.J. Wilson turned out OK.