I personally felt one of the better moves of the off-season was the Detroit Tigers signing Joe Nathan. While he’s only one man, a good closer puts other bullpen guys into more natural roles and if you watched the 2013 playoffs, you know that the Motor City Kitties need some bullpen help if they’re going to win a World Series with the core of Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, etc.
But here’s the thing that I can’t help but wonder. Will the Texas Rangers really miss him? While I won’t deny that Nathan is one of the best closers in the business and has dependability in his corner, the two men vying to replace him — Tanner Scheppers and Neftali Feliz — aren’t exactly slouches.
- Neftali Feliz
Before the Cincinnati Reds began going through the seemingly annual drill of wondering whether or not Aroldis Chapman will become a starter, the Rangers were doing that with Feliz. I don’t get it. I understand starters bring more value than relievers, believe me.
But in this era of baseball where everything is specialized and so many games are decided in the late innings by the bullpen, you have to have a good closer to compete. In Neftali Feliz, the Rangers had a good closer, one good enough to anchor the bullpen of two American League Championship winning teams.
Neftali Perez: 2010-2011
To be completely fair, Feliz was actually fine as a starter in 2012. He just got hurt about two months into the season, had Tommy John surgery and we didn’t see him again until last September. It’s certainly understandable for fantasy players to be hesitant about putting much confidence in a guy coming off of that kind of injury. But, remember two things.
- We’d be here all night if I tried to come up with all the names of pitchers who have incredibly well from T.J. surgery, and I’m sure I’d still miss a few. It’s a big injury because of how much time you miss, but the success rate in pitchers is so high that it’s an absolute travesty that both John and Dr. Frank Jobe — the man who performed the surgery on him — aren’t in the Hall of Fame. I’m not even remotely joking.
- Feliz won’t even turn 26 until May 2. He’s not exactly at the end of his career. Remember, we just saw Brian Wilson come back from a second T.J. surgery and pitch well at the age of 31.
In general, I don’t have many concerns. I definitely gave him conservative projections in the Rangers preview, but even those would be pretty solid for a closer.
But even if he struggles, the Rangers have another good closing option.
- Tanner Scheppers
Before getting too deep into how Scheppers may do as a closer, it’s worth noting that with the injury to Derek Holland, Scheppers may end up in the starting rotation, which would obviously keep him from starting. Still, the idea of him closing is far from out of the question.
Scheppers doesn’t have the closing experience of Feliz, but he also doesn’t have the same looming questions in regards to injuries, either. As a matter of fact, I play in a league that counts both saves and holds, and Tanner Scheppers was the 15th ranked relief pitcher in 2013, while Nathan was 6th. When you look at the numbers, it’s not hard to see why.
2013 Stats: Joe Nathan vs. Tanner Scheppers
Now, Scheppers is a little different from the prototypical closer. While he struck plenty of hitters out in the minors, he’s had a K/9 rate of 7.3 in the majors, which is definitely below what you’d expect from a closer.
But plenty of closers are a little more pedestrian in that category. Now, Scheppers won’t be Craig Kimbrel or anything like that, but Jim Johnson has nailed down more than 50 saves in each of the last two seasons, and he strikes out fewer hitters than Scheppers. Mariano Rivera was more proficient at strikeouts than Scheppers or Johnson, but had a career K/9 of 8.2.
The point is that there are certainly exceptions to every rule. Scheppers can throw strikes, prevent hitters from getting on base, and keep the ones who do from scoring, which is what matters from any closer, reliever, or pitcher in general.
On paper, you’d think the loss of one of the game’s best closers would be a really bad thing. But when you really take a look at Neftali Feliz and Tanner Scheppers, you’ll see two guys who look like pretty competent replacements.
Based on his prior experience and more classic skill-set, Feliz is the guy that you should be targeting as a closer. Unless your league counts holds, Scheppers is likely going to be a good reliever who provides little fantasy value, as you usually want more of a strikeout guy to utilize the MRI strategy.
But in either one of these guys, the Rangers will be looking at a competent pitcher to handle the ninth innings in Texas. Either one of these two would also be very competent in the closer’s job for your fantasy teams. Nathan is a great closer, but his replacements in Texas should do just fine.