Travels In The Blameatorium

Books, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

Rangers closer Neftali Feliz has been placed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

Naturally this is leading to the factional dispute exploding in full-force as to where the blame for this lies and what to do about it.

The obvious culprit is the attempt to make Feliz into a starter in spring training only to move him back to the bullpen when no clear-cut replacement as closer emerged. The age-old argument of whether or not a pitcher who can perform capably in both roles popped up again.

Would Feliz be of more value as a starter or reliever?

Does it matter if he’s on the disabled list?

In a similar vein as saying the sudden alteration in thought-processes and physical requirements could have played a part in Feliz coming up hurt, this is being treated as an opportunity to express the differing viewpoints with the injury as a lever to reopen that (supposedly for 2011 at least) closed door.

Michael Bates writes that the Rangers should start Feliz here on ESPN’s Sweet Spot.

Bobby Valentine said on Twitter: “I mentioned in spring training that Feliz would have a bad shoulder.”

Bates presents a numerical and historical foundation for his beliefs.

Given his intelligence and breadth of experience, Valentine is qualified to make such a prediction and gloat about it.

You can make a realistic case for both sides being right.

Feliz is still young enough that it’s unfair to pigeonhole him as a closer for the rest of his career if he’s able to start and turn into Derek Lowe—a good closer who became a consistent, durable starter.

People forget that Mariano Rivera was tried as a starter, didn’t have the stamina to maintain his stuff for the duration of a start and, more importantly, has the ice in his veins to get the big outs in a post-season game. Rivera was 26 when he made it to the big leagues to stay and was discovered to be a brilliant reliever almost by accident.

There’s no way to pinpoint why Feliz’s shoulder acted up, but that switch—physically and mentally—is a circumstantial aspect of the injury. He was a closer who appeared in 70 games last year and pitched into the playoffs all the way through to the World Series in high intensity situations; then he was tried as a starter this spring, worked as a starter, then was moved back to the bullpen.

It’s a different role; a different mindset; a different job. You can’t pigeonhole an individual into a position he might not be able to handle based on an ironclad set of principles that don’t and can’t apply to each and every person.

Prior to the Mets-Braves series, Capitol Avenue Club posted a Q and A with Joe Janish, a Mets blogger. In the piece, regarding Jenrry Mejia, Janish said:

Mejia has looked good so far in two AAA starts, but I’m wary to pin high hopes on him just yet because he has dangerous mechanics that will contribute to chronic arm problems. If Mejia ever corrects his delivery, he still needs to develop an off-speed pitch to be an MLB starter.

And Janish knows about Mejia’s mechanics and the proper “corrections” that need to be made how?

An experienced and heretofore respected pitching coach, Joe Kerrigan, tried to “correct” the mechanics of former top draft pick Brad Lincoln and was fired in part because of Lincoln’s inability to adapt to the changes and still maintain his stuff.

The same thing happened with Zach Duke as Jim Colborn, Jim Tracy‘s pitching coach with the same hapless Pirates, altered Duke’s mechanics and saw the “phenom” that Duke supposedly was (but really wasn’t) degenerate into a conspicuously hittable and mediocre pitcher.

So which is it?

Has anyone who’s exhibiting this after-the-fact armchair expertise ever stopped to think that the motion could be part of the reason why he’s effective? Why his pitches have the movement they do? That the deception or uniqueness of motion is an integral part of his “skill set”? (Another preferred term transplanted from the corporate world.)

Are they supposed to be starters or relievers?

Are the mechanics supposed to be “fixed” or left as they are?

It’s everywhere.

Phil Hughes is having the entire social network diagnosing and making suggestions as to how he can regain his lost velocity; and I guarantee that if Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild‘s long toss program doesn’t yield the desired results, Hughes will grow so desperate that he’ll try to incorporate any piece of advice he gets, regardless whether said advice is coming from an idiot or not.

Pitchers who have picture-perfect mechanics like Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan don’t come along very often. Much like there aren’t many pitchers who have the all-around ability to perform both jobs as starter and closer, you can’t shove a square peg into a round hole and not expect bits of the peg to be whittled away.

The facts are as follows: Neftali Feliz is on the disabled list; no one can directly say why because he might’ve gotten hurt if he was used exclusively as a closer in spring training or if he became a full-time starter.

Then that (whichever “that” you choose is based on your position in the argument) would’ve been the “reason” presented for his injury.

Under no circumstances should he be shifted into the rotation until next season; if they do it, it has to be over and done with. No looking back.

But we’ll still have the moles emerging from their holes to express their retrospective predictive expertise and analysis of Feliz, his mechanics, his use and his future.

It’s up to you whether or not to take it seriously.


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