Neftali Feliz beats Austin Jackson for AL Rookie of the Year

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Rangers closer Neftali Feliz topped Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting, receiving 20 of 28 first-place votes cast by Baseball Writers Association of America members.

There will no doubt be considerably more debate about Buster Posey topping Jason Heyward in the NL, but the AL version is also worth arguing over because “Feliz or Jackson?” really boils down to a debate about the value of closers.

With a 2.73 ERA, more strikeouts than innings pitched, and a .176 opponents’ batting average Feliz was the most dominant rookie, but does that make him the best or most valuable rookie?

Feliz threw only 69 innings and faced a total of 269 batters. Jackson batted 675 times and also caught the equivalent of 130 innings worth of outs with his glove in center field. And while Feliz converting 40-of-43 save opportunities is impressive, the average big-league closer typically converts about 85 percent of ninth-inning save chances. And as we saw in the playoffs, Feliz was rarely used in high-leverage spots when there wasn’t a save to be had.

I tend to think closers are generally overrated, as too many people see a big save total and seemingly lose sight of what the job actually entails, which is getting three outs with a lead of 1-3 runs. Most decent relievers can do that 80 percent of the time, most good relievers can do that 85 percent of the time, and most great relievers (like Feliz) can do it 90 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, the Tigers got 675 plate appearances of above-average hitting and 1,256 innings of outstanding center field defense from Jackson, who easily beat Feliz in value-based stats like Wins Above Replacement. None of which is to suggest that Feliz was anything less than great, but rather that it’s tough for a pitcher to have more value facing 269 batters than a position player has batting 675 times and logging 1,256 innings at a key spot defensively.

After all, if Feliz dominating for 269 batters is enough to make him the Rookie of the Year, shouldn’t Indians stud catcher Carlos Santana get similar consideration for posting an AL rookie-high .868 OPS in 192 plate appearances while also catching 340 innings? Santana didn’t appear on a single ballot, but was nearly as effective as Feliz on a per-play basis and probably had a major hand in more plate appearances than the Rangers’ closer.

Feliz was dominant for 69 innings and racked up 40 saves to catch the voters’ collective eye, but in terms of actual runs prevented and produced for a team in all phases of the game Jackson would have been my pick. He hit .293 with a .345 on-base percentage in 675 plate appearances atop the Tigers’ lineup, stealing 27 bases and scoring 103 runs, and also played Gold Glove-caliber defense for 1,256 innings in center field.

Feliz was about as good as someone can be for 69 innings and is far from a poor Rookie of the Year choice, but Jackson was more valuable.

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”