Detroit Tigers: Neftali Feliz has a Chance to Solidify Himself as the Tigers’ Closer for 2016

With news coming out of Detroit that Brad Ausmus will continue to manage the team next season, and thus keep his job, it’s now a time of evaluation for the Tigers as the team decides which non-core players to keep around next season.

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With a number of starting players set in stone (Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander, James McCann, etc.) the likely focus of the evaluation process will be positions where there is uncertainty. Naturally, the most uncertain area of the Tigers’ roster will be under close examination. That uncertain area? The bullpen. More specifically, the back end of the bullpen.

Alex Wilson has performed admirably for Detroit, pitching wherever he’s needed. The former Red Sox pitcher owns a 2.19 ERA in 70 innings and is one of the few relievers with job security heading into next season. However, Wilson’s ERA is nearly a run higher in save situations then it is in non-save situations. He’ll pitch effectively wherever the Tigers pitch him, but ideally the team would probably have Wilson throwing in the seventh or eighth inning in front of a lockdown closer.

Where that closer emerges from (free agency, trade, the minor league system, etc.) remains to be seen, but the Tigers have one building block in Wilson.

With so little certainty in the bullpen heading into next year, especially with Bruce Rondon being sent home early, now is the time for relievers not named Wilson to make their respective marks.

One reliever who could benefit greatly from Rondon’s absence is Neftali Feliz.

The former Texas Ranger still owns an unsightly 7.33 ERA for the Tigers, but a closer look at his numbers reveals a much better product. Feliz’ FIP, or of fielding independent pitching, is 3.78. Additionally, over his last 12 appearances (12.2 innings), the ex-Ranger has a 2.13 ERA and is holding batters to a .178 batting average. Over those innings, Feliz has struck out 11 batters while only walking one. Opposing hitters have managed a .457 OPS against the reliever.

Looking at those stats, Feliz clearly has the talent to be a significant contributor to the Detroit bullpen. He may even end up as closer. As of now, he has three saves in a Tigers’ uniform, two of which have come in the last two wins for the team. With Rondon no longer with the team for the duration of this season, Neftali Feliz has a chance to cement himself as a late-inning option for the Ausmus heading into next season.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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