Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pedro Feliz: Walk This Way

An interesting happening that did not get any attention in last night's game was Pedro Feliz's performance. Feliz walked in all four of his plate appearances today (none were intentional), which marked a career high. On its own this is not that interesting, but it is worth noting considering Feliz's career history.

In his career, Feliz has never been much for drawing walks. In fact, the 33 he drew last year were the most he's ever had in a season, with the exception of 2005 (38 walks) and 2006 (33). However, he played over 150 games in '05 and '06, while he only played 133 last year. So while he had 0.24 walks per game in '05 and 0.21 in '06, he increased that average to 0.25 last year. Not a huge increase, but this year he is up to 0.43.

Going on the walk totals alone, it's difficult to establish a clear trend. However, what has been notable is the drop in Feliz's strikeouts since joining the Phillies. Feliz struck out an average of 0.57 times per game as a member of the Giants (500 times in 874 games). However, in 163 games with the Phillies, his average has dropped to 0.4 strikeouts per game.

In addition, his BB/K ratio improved from 0.3 (as a Giant) to 0.7 (as a Phillie). In fact, thus far this season he has 13 walks to only 12 strikeouts. If he keeps this pace, he will have more walks than strikeouts for the first time in his career.

As a result, his OBP is a whopping .377, which would be a career-high, and by a lot. His previous career-high in that category is a season in which he batted .276. His second-best OBP season came last year (.302), when he hit .249, which is far more typical, as Feliz is a career .253 hitter.

These stats make it very clear that the Phillies have altered his hitting style, seemingly for the better. It was evident last year that Feliz was making more of an effort to display more patience at the plate, just from watching him. While it did not seem to pay dividends last year, these adjustments can take a while to sink in and we are seeing it this season. (This comes as no surprise to us at The People's Phillies Blog. In fact, our own Jeff Raab called this in our season preview.)

The unfortunate thing is that Feliz has rarely been able to benefit from getting on base so often, as he typically hits 7th and the Phillies have batted .198 out of the 8th spot this season. However, you would obviously rather have him getting on base for the 8 hitter and not being driven in than not getting on, so it's hard to complain about that.

One more potential downside to Feliz's resurgence is the effect it may be having on Greg Dobbs. Dobbs was arguably the best pinch hitter in the league last season, but he's really struggled in 2009, hitting a paltry .143. While Dobbs showed a very strong ability to deliver hits off the bench last season, it's generally accepted that most hitters need to get at-bats with some regularity to be effective.

So it stands to reason that Dobbs was better off last year, when he started eight games in March and April (and hit .333), than this year, when he started just one. Feliz's strong performance, along with his defensive prowess, has given the Phillies little reason to start Dobbs with any regularity and that may be the cause of his struggles at the plate. Of course that's not to say that the Phillies are better off with Feliz hitting poorly, but rather that they might do well do try to squeeze Dobbs into the lineup more often anyway, just to keep him in rhythym.

We'll see if Feliz's transformation to a patient hitter holds up over the course of the season, but thus far it's looking like he's really bought into the Phillies hitting philosophy and has made himself much more valuable at the plate.

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