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Scott Feldman: What Gives?

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Coming off a 17 win year last year for the Rangers with 189.2 IP, Scott Feldman looked like he was going to be pretty reliable in the Rangers rotation for the next few years. He posted a 4.08 ERA and also a 3.3 WAR. He was rewarded for his progression when he inked a two year extension, for 2011-12 with a 2013 club option, this past April.

 

This year, as the Rangers lead the AL West and looked poised for a playoff run, Feldman has been pretty abysmal. He's pitched 113.1 innings in 19 starts - averaging just about 6 innings per start. He's got a 5-8 record to go along with a pretty ugly 5.48 ERA much to the ire of Rangers fans.

 

So, what's the specific cause of Feldman's regression?

It's tough to really say. Not a ton has changed between 2009 and 2010 for Feldman's contact results. He's actually allowed a fewer percentage of line drives in 2010 (19.7) than 2009 (20.5). His fly ball percentage is up, and not surprisingly, so is his HR/9. He went from a .85 HR/9 rate in 2009 to a 1.11 HR/9 rate in 2010. It's not a drastic increase, but an increase enough to baloon an ERA.

 

His walk rate so far in 2010 is actually down from where it was in 2009 - walking 2.78/9 in 2010 compared to 3.08 in 2009. His K rate, however, is also down - from 5.36 in 2009 down to 5.08 in 2010.

 

There are two glaring stats that you can point and attribute to Feldman's regression. In 2009, his BABIP was .275. Now in 2010, it's .342. It's tough for any pitcher to have success with a BABIP that high, but especially one who is only striking out 5.08 batters per nine innings. Further, his wCT (wins above average for his cutter which was his money pitch last year) has gone from 23.7 in 2009 to -13.1 in 2010. While his curveball has improved (wCB of 5.0 this year compared to .6 last year), his fastball has regressed as well with a wFB of -12 this year when it was already at -8 last year.

 

So really, what gives? What's the solution? There is none. Whenever you're dealing with a pitcher that isn't a strikeout pitcher, that obviously increases the amount of balls in play. He isn't getting hit any harder than he was last year - as evidenced by his line drive rates-, the balls in play are just simply hits as opposed to outs this year. His FIP this year isn't really too far off from where it was last year with a 4.66 FIP this year compared to a 4.31 last year. And even despite all of his perceived struggles this year, he's still been worth 1.2 WAR through his first 19 starts.

 

While it's not really much to write home about, Feldman hasn't been as bad as he looks on the surface. He obviously needs to have his cutter be more effective and it's really perplexing as to why it's regressed. These bumps in the road and ugly stats are going to come and go when a pitcher doesn't have a high K rate and success won't be as consistent as somebody who can strike out batters at a healthy rate. Luckily, Feldman isn't taking up much in the way of salary and it looks as though he should eventually enjoy more success. Hopefully for the Rangers, it's sooner rather than later as they make their playoff push.

 

Thanks to Fangraphs.com for the statistical data.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.