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The Three Pack: Early Returns on Michael Feliz

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Pittsburgh Pirates Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to “The Three Pack”, a weekly feature in which I’ll give you three quick thoughts on anything and everything related to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Michael Feliz has pitched fairly well in his return to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 25-man roster. Here’s a look at what’s new and exciting about his return:

Building a better Fastball

Feliz is throwing a tick more four-seamers by volume in 2019 to date (70.7 percent) than 2018 (67.7 percent), but even with the caveat of small sample size — Feliz has thrown just 3.2 innings in the majors this season — the peripherals around the pitch are more encouraging.

I was particularly impressed with Feliz’s ability to complete two consecutive strikeouts with the four seamer in the same location across two different batters last week:

Again, this is only across 3.2 innings. However, if Feliz has gained some confidence in his four-seamer, it could become a steadier pitch befitting its high usage.

Flood the Zone

Feliz has never been able to get hitters to chase at a significant rate — they did so at a 23.8 percent rate last season compared to the MLB rate of 28.6 — so he might as well fill the zone with strikes. But they need to serve as smarter strikes. Hitters tagged his zone stuff to the tune of 81.7 percent zone-contact in 2018. 2019 has seen a small improvement to date, but for those improvements to be lasting, Feliz will need to stabilize his four-seamers movement, which has fluctuated wildly year-over-year:

Having to come into the zone due to your lack of established breaking stuff is a much easier pill to swallow when it moves properly.

Find the Right Role

This last one falls more on Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. To get the most out of Feliz, he might have to work on learning just when he can thrive the most. In 2018, he had “reverse splits” in terms of leverage:

Low Leverage: .350 wOBA / .480 SLG / 27.0% K-Rate
Mid Leverage: .322 wOBA / .368 SLG / 23.8% K-Rate
High Leverage: .259 wOBA / .280 SLG / 34.4% K-Rate

That doesn’t make any sense. But a lot hasn’t made much sense about Feliz to this point. To get the most out of him, he needs to be put into the right situation, with the right pitches. And those pitches have to be working.

Otherwise, things can get ugly in a hurry, much as they did at an alarming rate last season.