Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Numbers Lie: Pedro Feliciano

I was all set to write about Pedro Feliciano this morning, specifically about how ineffective he's actually been despite a superfically pretty earned run average. Feliciano's 2.13 ERA is belied by an incredibly high 1.816 WHIP, generally a far more telling statistic for relief pitchers.

ERA for relief pitchers is unreliable, because relievers frequently give up someone else's runs. If a reliever comes into the game with first and second and nobody out and gives up a two-run double before getting out of the inning, he gets credit for pitching a scoreless inning. That's not true, of course, because two runs scored in the inning. However, they are charged to the pitcher who put the runners on base in the first place, subtly rewarding the pitcher who allowed the runs to score but didn't permit anyone else to cross the plate.

Anyway, Feliciano has been allowing nearly two baserunners per appearance, a rate roughly comparable to Jorge Sosa in 2008. Sosa found himself on the business end of the axe on Tuesday and I was going to write that if Feliciano did not get his act together, he may need to be the next to depart the Mets' bullpen.

Then I took a closer look at the numbers and nearly had a change of heart. Apparently Feliciano has stranded 12 of 13 inherited runners in 2008, which is an excellent ratio and would seemingly speak to his ability to get the Mets out of tough situations. I was all set to cleverly note this statistical anomaly and gently lecture my readers about looking deeper into the numbers before making judgments on players.

But here's the thing; Feliciano's "ability" to strand inherited baserunners makes almost no sense considering how many hits he's allowed (17 in 12 2/3 innings). I could think of only one explanation - he must be bearing down when men are on base and getting needed outs, while losing focus when the bases are empty and allowing too many baserunners.

So I checked it out. Feliciano has inherited baserunners in only seven of his twenty appearances this season. In three of those appearances, he didn't even record an out - all within a five-day span in mid-April. The first time this happened was on April 17, when Felicano came on with two outs in the 11th inning to face Nick Johnson with a man on first. Feliciano walked Johnson and gave way to Joe Smith, who retired Lastings Milledge to end the threat. Even though it was Smith who did the heavy lifting by getting the final out, Feliciano got credit for stranding a runner because the man who was on base when he came on did not score while he was pitching.

On April 19, Feliciano replaced Smith in the eighth inning and give up a single and a walk before giving way to Aaron Heilman. Since Feliciano didn't allow Smith's run to score (Heilman did so with the next better), again he gets credit for stranding the runner.

Something similar happened three days later; Feliciano replaced Smith again, this time with two runners on base. He uncorked a wild pitch that advanced the runner on first but did not score a run, then intentionally walked his batter after running up a 2-0 count with first base open. This time Sosa was called upon to save the Mets' bacon and actually did so by retiring the next two hitters. Feliciano throws four pitches - two of them intentional balls and one a wild pitch - and gets credit for stranding two baserunners!

In the other appearances where Feliciano was called upon with men on base, he was reasonably effective. However, the numbers lie on these occasions as well. The first appearance on April 29 saw Feliciano enter the game with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning. He induced a pop-up from Adam Laroche to get out of the jam and straned three runners in doing so. Then on May 2, Feliciano came in with a five-run lead in the eighth inning and was asked to retire just one batter, which he did. Two men were on at the time, so Feliciano got credit for them.

So to recap: in those two games, Pedro Feliciano threw five pitches, retired two batters and got credit for stranding five inherited runners!! So much for bearing down when men are on base while losing focus when the bases are empty. Someone better check Feliciano's family tree for Irish ancestry!

Pedro Feliciano has not been good this season. He has been extremely lucky, however. If his luck runs out and he doesn't start pitching better, Feliciano is going to be the next Met reliever on the unemployment line.


tim said...

The "hold" stat is also misleading. Coming into a 6-3 game a pitcher can give two runs, making the score 6-5, then finish the inning and get a hold. Your boy Heilman is famous for this.

John Peterson said...

Interesting, but all based on a very small sample size. Feliciano is a good pitcher whom Willie has pitch to one batter every three days. He's better than that. Look at his career numbers.