Rangers closer Neftali Feliz entered last night's game against the Twins with an 8-7 lead. Six batters, a walk and three hits later, Feliz got the hook from manager Ron Washington with Texas now trailing by a run. After eviscerating hitters in 2009 and 2010, the 23-year-old righty has suffered his share of meltdowns this season.
His strikeout rate is down, his walks are up, and on the whole, he's leaving the Rangers in a worse position to win ball games. Feliz punched out about 9.9 batters per nine innings between 2009-2010, but that K rate has dropped to 6.2 per nine in 2011. His walk rate, 2.3 per nine entering this year, has shot up to 4.8 BB/9. Feliz previously ranked among the game's best in Win Probability Added, a stat measuring how a player affects his team's chances of winning based on things like score, inning and base/out state. But Feliz has a negative WPA in 2011, meaning he's doing more harm than good on the mound.
Superficially, it's hard to figure out why Feliz is scuffling. He's still slinging upper-90s heat, and batters are still coming up empty when they swing. Feliz's 25.2 percent miss rate this year is down from his 26.6 percent mark in 2009-2010, but not alarmingly so. The big problem is that hitters aren't swinging as much against Feliz, and that's because he's missing the zone more often.
Feliz placed 49.6 percent of his pitches in the strike zone in 2009-2010. This year, he has hit the zone 46.3 percent. He's missing to the arm side more often in 2011:
Hitters aren't chasing as many out-of-zone pitches this year, either. Look at opponents' swing rate on would-be balls against Feliz in 2009-2010 and 2011:
Opponents aren't going after quite as many pitches high out of the zone, and they're almost entirely laying off that spot to Feliz's arm side where he's missing so often. Overall, batters are chasing 27.7 percent of Feliz's pitches, compared to 30.3 percent in 2009-2010.
Feliz is missing his spots, and hitters are showing discipline by taking those pitches for balls. That, in turn, has led to more favorable counts: Feliz fell behind 17.5 percent of the batters that he faced in 2009-2010, but that figure is up to 24 percent this season. It's hard for a pitcher to rack up Ks, limit walks and close the door in the ninth when he's working out of 1-0 and 2-1 counts.