Washington Nationals Free Agent Target: Neftali Feliz
Could Neftali Feliz be a good fit for the Washington Nationals bullpen after a bounceback 2016 with the Pirates
Earlier this week, we looked at Santiago Casilla as a possible plan C for the Washington Nationals if they are unable to sign one of the top free agent closers. Today, we take a look at Neftali Feliz, who had a good season with the Pittsburgh Pirates and has closer experience.
Last offseason, the Pirates signed Feliz to a one-year, $3.9 million deal as they hoped he could have a bounce back year with help from pitching coach Ray Searage. In 62 games, Feliz went 4-2 with a 3.52 ERA and held opponents to a .207 batting average.
Most people remember Feliz from his first seven seasons with the Texas Rangers where he was the closer for a franchise that made it to the World Series twice. The now 28-year-old right-hander had 40 saves in 2010. During that season, he made the All-Star team and won American League Rookie of the Year.
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This past season, Feliz had 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings, which was the second highest in his career (11.3 in 20 games in 2009). As for his walk rate, it was at 3.5, which was the fourth highest of his career.
Feliz had a strong first half of the season as opponents were only hitting .192 against him and he had 40 strikeouts to nine games in 41 appearances. However, in the second half, the opponents batting average went up to .233 in 21 games. His season was cut short in early September due to a right arm injury.
In 2016, the velocity came back to Feliz’s fastball. According to Fangraphs, the average velocity on his heater was 96.1 miles per hour, which is the highest it has been since 2011 (96.3). Plus, he has a slider and a changeup in his arsenal.
While Feliz gave up a career-high ten home runs in 2016, he did have success with one of his offspeed pitches, the slider. According to Brooks Baseball, teams hit .192 against that pitch with two home runs and had 23 of his strikeouts end with that pitch (61 total).
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Right now, Feliz should be a backup plan for the Washington Nationals. He does have an injury history with the Tommy John surgery he had in 2012. But, if Feliz does continue the progression that he had with Pittsburgh last year, he can be a pitcher that could thrive in the middle innings of the Washington Nationals bullpen.