Scott Feldman has had a rough couple of years. After having a breakthrough season in 2009, he struggled through 2010, was left off the team's playoff roster, underwent microfracture surgery in November, 2010, wasn't put on the active roster on the major league team until July, 2011 (and only then after having cleared waivers and having made it clear he would not accept an outright assignment to AAA), and since then has toiled primarily in a long relief/mop-up role. He made his first start in the majors this season on August 30, 2011.
Nevertheless...is it possible that Feldman will start a playoff game for the Rangers this year?
As we know from last year, if Texas makes the playoffs, they're going to need four starters. The Rangers aren't likely to try to make guys start on short rest, and as a result, in either a five game series (if there isn't a sweep) or in a seven game series, you'll need a fourth starter.
But Feldman as the fourth starter? Why Feldman? He's terrible, right?
Not really...at least not so far this season:
|2011 - Scott Feldman||1-0||8||1||0||0||0||0||22.0||16||7||7||2||5||15||2.86||.95|
Yes, it is a small sample size. You don't want to put a ton of weight on 22 innings. But Feldman has been pretty good so far this season, both in terms of raw ERA and in terms of his peripherals (3.64 FIP/3.25 xFIP). And as we know from 2009, when Feldman has his sinker sinking, he can be an effective pitcher. Not an ace, not a TORP, but a solid mid-rotation starter.
A month ago, the response to this would have been, "Who cares? Our problem will be determining which of the deserving starters to bump from the playoff rotation, not grasping at straws to fill the #4 spot." I don't know that that's the case anymore, though.
I think that, right now, there are two locks in the playoff rotation (again, assuming the Rangers make it that far) -- C.J. Wilson will be the Game 1 starter, and Colby Lewis will take one of the remaining four spots, though which one, I couldn't tell you.
After that, though, it is hazy, and probably depends on how guys finish off the season.
Had everyone in the rotation finished the season strong, I would have assumed that Derek Holland would take his bipolar act to the bullpen, with the team not wanting risk getting one of his short, homer-rific starts. Now, though, I'd say he's the guy, after Lewis and Wilson, most likely to be in the rotation. Holland has 165.1 innings so far this season, which is a career high (even including the minors), but it isn't a huge jump over what he's done in the past, and he's not showing signs of fatigue.
No, it is Matt Harrison and, in particular, Alexi Ogando who I have the biggest questions about right now, and whose performances may be opening the door for Feldman to sneak in.
Ogando's innings have been a concern, and topic of discussion, all season...I (among others) suggested that Ogando would be back in the bullpen when Tommy Hunter, or Brandon Webb, or Feldman, or someone was ready to go back into the rotation, and the fact that that hasn't happen is a credit to Ogando and the high level he's performed at for much of this season.
The problem, however, is that the wheels appear to be falling off for Ogando right now. That shouldn't be shocking -- Ogando pitched less than 80 innings in 2010. With 154 innings in 2011, Ogando has pitched as much this season than he has in his entire career prior to 2011.
And while he's held up surprisingly well up to now, the workload seems to be taking its toll on him. In 29 innings in August, Ogando has a 7.14 ERA. The peripherals aren't as bad -- he's got a 4.66 FIP and a 3.95 xFIP -- but his BABIP is .375, and his line drive rate is 30.3%.
If you just look at the peripherals you could say Ogando is going through a rough patch but is basically fine, and that's he's just the victim of some bad luck on balls in play and homers on fly balls. But what the line drive rate and elevated HR/FB percentage tell me is the same thing that my eyes see when I've watched him pitch -- he's command is awful, and he's leaving the ball out over the plate, which means more hard hit balls. The BABIP isn't elevated because of bad luck, it is elevated because hitters are teeing off on him.
Ogando said after the game that he's having issues with his mechanics, and as Joey Matches points out, that's often a sign of fatigue. The command issues become even more significant for Ogando because of his lack of an effective off-speed pitch to use against lefties. In order to get lefthanders out, Ogando has to have impeccable command of his fastball...with that command having deserted him, he's getting killed by lefties.
The issue isn't as cut-and-dried for Matt Harrison. Harrison is at 155 innings this year, and he's thrown more innings than that before -- he logged 167.2 innings between the majors and minors in 2008. He threw just 72.1 innings in 2009 between the majors and minors, though, and 85.2 in 2010, meaning Harrison has pitched about as many innings this year as he did in the previous two years (majors and minors) combined.
Harrison complained of a dead arm after his last start, resulting in him getting skipped in the rotation for Feldman on Tuesday. Harrison's August hasn't been much better than Ogando's, as he's put up a 6.07 ERA in 29.2 innings. Like Ogando, Harrison's peripherals aren't bad -- he's got a 2.91 FIP and a 3.55 xFIP for the month, but is hurt by a .347 BABIP. But the fact that he's dealing with fatigue, and the Rangers already felt it necessary to skip one of his starts, means that you've got to keep an eye on him going forward and see if he bounces back.
At this point, I've got more confidence in Harrison than in Ogando over the course of the rest of the season, but I'm not feeling real confident in either of them (or Holland, for that matter). And I'd suspect the team isn't, either.
And because of that, Scott Feldman may have a chance in the month of September to step up and make a claim to a postseason rotation spot. If we have the 2009 version of Scott Feldman, he's probably good enough to be worthy of being a #4 starter in the playoffs. The Rangers thought enough of the 2009 version of Feldman to give him a nice contract and lock him up through the 2012 season. And I think that if the Rangers see the 2009 version of Feldman over the final month of the season, and they end up in the playoffs, there's a good chance he'll be a starter in October.