Changing Fantasy Rankings: Moving Neftali Feliz

Reading the daily tea leaves surrounding the possible move of Neftali Feliz from closer to starter can get a little confusing. First, he’s their closer until something changes and he wants to be the closer. Now, he wants to be a starter and his GM thinks he would be more valuable in that role. Last, a national writer feels it would be an upset if he starts. What a way to mess up rankings.

The good news for those that drafted Feliz is that he’ll probably be valuable in fantasy baseball either way. He’s so excellent that he can survive the average 0.7 MPH drop that occurs during the switch according to Jeremy Greenhouse’s work. If his 96 MPH gas turns into 95 MPH gas, it’s still gas. According to Tom Tango’s work, he’ll also lose about 17% of his K/PA and his BABIP and HR/FB will increase by about 17%.

That looks daunting, but move his K/9 down to about 8.5 per nine, give him a 2.5 BB/9, and even a league-average HR/FB, and he’s still pretty sweet. To put those numbers in perspective, a little pitcher named Larry Bernandez, I mean Felix Hernandez put up an 8.36 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, and 8.5% HR/FB last year. Then again, he was more of a groundballer than Feliz (53.9% GB compared to Feliz’ 37.2%), so maybe it’s not a fair comparison. Perhaps teammate Colby Lewis (8.78 K/9, 2.91 BB/9, 37.9% GB) is a better comparison, but Feliz has the upside to better that line.

Scan up from Lewis in our AL SP Ranks, and you’ll see that he would belong in either the second or third tier at the starting pitcher position in his league. As a closer, Feliz has been accruing decent ADPs (ESPN 86.1, Yahoo 68.9), but put him up against Max Scherzer (ESPN 101.0 and Yahoo 106.9) and Clay Buchholz (ESPN 112.4, Yahoo 107.1), the guys ahead of him in the ranks, and you can pretty much quantify the risk involved in losing Feliz to the rotation. It’s there, but it’s not huge.

Behind him in his wake, Feliz would leave an unsettled bullpen. In that sort of situation, there’s plenty of opportunity however. With Frank Francisco gone, Darren Oliver more of a LOOGY, and Darren O’Day sporting a low strikeout rate, there’s an obvious leader in the clubhouse.

Alexi Ogando has the fastball of a closer (96.3 MPH). He showed something like the strikeout rate of a closer (8.42 K/9). He also had double-digit strikeout rates in the minor leagues. The only problem is that he struck out six lefties against nine walks, and he may need to be hid against lefties. Perhaps a platoon with Oliver would solve the problem. There’s also the chance that the team goes out and gets the veteran closer that manager Ron Washington has requested in the case that Feliz moves. You can also read Chris Cwik’s excellent breakdown of the bullpen for a more in-depth look at what might happen if the bullpen is your focus.

In any case, Ogando would join the bottom tier of closers if Feliz were to move. He makes a decent late-round flier in saves leagues. And while Feliz’s fantasy value may take a tiny hit with the move to the rotation, it won’t hurt a ton – so don’t discount him much, if at all. He’s got upside by the buckets, especially if this new cutter he’s learning works out for him.

We hoped you liked reading Changing Fantasy Rankings: Moving Neftali Feliz by Eno Sarris!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Ron Washington yesterday:

From interview today:

Q: Neftali Feliz, starter or closer?

A: Starter.

Q: OK, if Feliz starts then who closes?

A: Don’t know, but I don’t think we have a reliable closer on our roster other than him.