Friday, April 02, 2010
Scott Feldman adds cutter, cashes inPosted by David Golebiewski
According to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, the Texas Rangers have signed Scott Feldman to a contract extension that takes the 27 year-old right-hander up to free agency and gives the club a chance to keep him one year beyond that. Arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, Feldman will make $2.425 million in 2010, $4.4 million in 2011 and $6.5 million in 2012. The Rangers hold a $9.2 million option for the 2013 season (Feldman's first year of free agent eligibility), with a $600,000 buyout.
A few years ago, the idea of Feldman pulling down nearly $14 million in guaranteed money would have seemed crazy. After all, Texas' 30th round pick in the 2003 draft was a dime-a-dozen reliever. Feldman underwent Tommy John surgery in the fall of 2003, tossing only seven innings during the 2004 season. The 6-7 hurler switched to a sidearm delivery in the spring of 2005, at the behest of then-pitching coach Orel Hershiser.
Slinging sinkers and sliders from the side, Feldman whiffed 6.7 batters per nine innings and walked 3.2 in 70 minor league frames, spent mostly at Double-A Frisco. He made his big league debut in late August, and placed 15th on Baseball America's list of Rangers prospects following the season. BA praised his fastball for its "plus life and good sink," which led to grounders by the barrelful (63.6 GB% in 2005). As you might expect with a sinker/slider repertoire and such an arm angle, Feldman gobbled up righties (3.13 FIP) and struggled against southpaws (4.15 FIP), walking more opposite-handed hitters than he struck out.
In 2006 and 2007, Feldman shuttled between Triple-A Oklahoma (a combined 3.51 FIP, 7.5 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 51 GB% in 57.1 frames) and Texas (5.91 FIP, 5.5 K/9, 4.7 BB/9, 59 GB% in 80.1 IP). His approach was simple: chuck high-80's to low-90's sinkers over three-quarters of the time, mixing in an occasional slurvy breaking pitch. His control was decent in '06, but it totally abandoned him in '07 when he tossed just 44 percent of his pitches over the plate (50% MLB average that year) and had a 5/17 K/BB ratio against lefties.
The Rangers converted Feldman to the starting rotation in 2008, with Feldman abandoning his sidearm motion for a three-quarters arm slot. The results were..underwhelming. In 151.1 major league innings, Feldman posted rates of 4.4 K/9 and 3.33 BB/9, with a 5.15 xFIP. He used his fastball less often (63 percent, with a -0.63 run value per 100 pitchers), supplementing the tepid heater with a high-70's slider (+0.02 runs per 100 pitches thrown) high-80's cutter (+0.07 runs/100), low-70's curve (+0.71) and low-80's changeup (-0.93). New delivery or no, left-handers still scorched him (5.64 xFIP, compared to 4.67 against righties).
This past year, Feldman shifted his pitching plan considerably. His fastball usage dipped to 44 percent. He instead relied heavily on the cutter (up to nearly 91 MPH), throwing the pitch nearly one-third of the time. Feldman's fastball remained BP-worthy (-0.81 runs/100), but the cutter was a cut above: +2.56 runs/100, the fourth-best mark in the majors among starters. His breaking ball was slightly better than average (+0.14), and his seldom-used change rated at -0.58.
Feldman 2.0 raised his K rate to 5.36 per nine innings, while lowering his walk rate slightly (3.08 BB/9) and inducing a few more grounders (46.8 GB%, compared to 43.5% in 2008). The long-time platoon issues weren't present: a 4.54 xFIP versus lefties, and a 4.42 xFIP against same-handed hitters. He probably wasn't quite as good as his 4.08 ERA would suggest (4.49 xFIP), as his batting average on balls in play was .275. But even so, it's remarkable that an anonymous ROOGY like Feldman managed to turn himself into a league-average starting pitcher. Kudos, Scott.
A journalism student at Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for The Hardball Times, Fan Graphs, Inside Edge, Rotoworld, Baseball Daily Digest and Heater Magazine. He is seeking full-time employment as a baseball writer. Feel free to e-mail him with any questions or comments.