Neftali Feliz, who has had an up-and-down type season in 2014, had another one of his sub-par outings yesterday in a 3-2 Texas loss in Houston. In topping out at 91 mph on his fastball, his performance was hardly the worst of the day. That honor belonged to Neal Cotts, who in the 2nd half of the season has put up an ERA of 4.91. Unfortunately, his xFIP of 4.35 prior to yesterday's outing, according to FanGraphs, suggests that many of his struggles have been of his own doing.
With the recent late-inning struggles of the bullpen, a heavy focus has been placed by many in the local media on Neftali Feliz. The reason for that, I'd suspect, lies only with the distinction that Feliz bears the title of closer.
More specifically, if you look around, there are countless numbers of articles positing that the Rangers are in some sort of trouble regarding the role of closer heading into the offseason and, consequently, 2015.
To that, I say that I don't care. Really, I don't.
After Texas let Joe Nathan walk following the 2013 season, I felt that the reason was an underlying faith in the bullpen as a whole rather than a projection of the eventual struggles Nathan has faced since making the move to Detroit. In Joakim Soria, the Rangers were proven right. Soria was among the best relievers in baseball, with the acquisition of Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel in exchange for him before the trade deadline serving as a testament to that. As sure as we sit here and nitpick Neftali Feliz, it's highly likely that Texas will approach the offseason with the same mindset going forward.
That isn't to say that it won't be interesting to watch Feliz moving forward, just that there shouldn't be an inherent focus on filling a defined role -- in this case, the role of the closer.
As the front office approaches what is sure to be an interesting offseason, I've got a feeling that Jon Daniels and his staff will be more focused on building a whole bullpen rather than defined roles. People can talk all day about the guts it takes to take the ball in the 9th inning and close out a victory, but at the end of the day, the bullpen -- and the starting rotation, for that matter -- must be good enough to hold a lead long enough for the 9th inning to matter a whole heck of a lot.
As an example, consider this: In 2013, Joe Nathan put up an ERA of 1.39 with Texas. This season, his ERA has ballooned to 5.14. Despite that, his 2013 and 2014 xFIP figures of 3.27 and 4.07, respectively, are not so different that you'd suddenly say that Nathan is an awful pitcher.
When we then consider that the Texas bullpen put up an ERA of 2.91 in 2013 while Detroit's bullpen has put up an ERA of 4.43 this season, it's fairly easy to see that Nathan has been part of something a bit less spectacular than he was just a season ago.
In fact, Detroit's bullpen this season has already given up 27 more earned runs than the Texas bullpen of a season ago, and there's still a month left to go in the 2014 campaign.
It may be that you're on the side of the fence that still values meaningless statistics such as saves, but if not, it's fairly easy to see that it's much more beneficial to build an entire pitching staff rather than focus on who will take the ball in the 9th inning of games you hope to be winning by that point.
It's with that, I think, that this whole diatribe is meant to put some focus on the present. Over the next month, Texas will have the opportunity to further evaluate some of the newer faces in the bullpen, and perhaps give some new guys a shot to earn a Spring Training invite. From there, it would appear on the surface that Jon Daniels will have a multitude of options from which to build a solid bullpen.
If Neftali Feliz is able to further recover from Tommy John surgery and come into 2015 with some extra reliability, then great. He could serve as a fantastic late-inning option if that ends up being the case. If not, however, I just don't see this causing some massive headache for the front office, because if the bullpen is strong as a whole, there's a better than decent chance that someone will be able to adequately fill a role that, in recent years, has been great for associating a song to the pitcher entering the game from the outfield gate.