Astros: Is Michael Feliz a different pitcher in 2017?

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Apr 6, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Michael Feliz (45) looks up after getting an out during the sixth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 6, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Michael Feliz (45) looks up after getting an out during the sixth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /
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Feliz is not fitting the mold of the 2017 Astros bullpen.

The bullpen is something that Houston Astros fans should be proud about early in the 2017 season. With a 2.91 ERA and a .187 batting average against as a pen, the Astros lead the American League with 93 strikeouts in only 74.1 innings pitched. It’s easy to see why. The Astros have three relief pitchers, Ken Giles, Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock (Yes, that Brad Peacock) that average over 13 strikeouts per nine innings in their limited amount of work.

Strikeouts have been the success story of the Astros bullpen so far this season. Early on in the season, though, right-handed reliever Michael Feliz has kind of strayed away from the strikeout-heavy approach he had one year ago.

In 2016, Feliz struck out batters 35.2 percent of the time with 95 strikeouts in 65 innings pitched. However, in his first eight innings of work in 2017, he only has seven strikeouts. He has been successful though, giving up only two earned runs on seven hits and one walk.

With only seven appearances under his belt, this is a small sample size for Feliz. However, it is intriguing to see how he has been consistently getting hitters out without generating strikeouts.

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Feliz’s approach is very different than an average Astros pitcher. Instead of relying on the strikeout or the ground ball, 83.3 percent of contact made against him is either line drives or fly balls. This can be a dangerous way to pitch especially in a hitter-friendly ballpark such as Minute Maid Park.

The amount of fly balls and line drives is due to the combination of velocity and location. First, Feliz’s average velocity on the four-seam fastball has increased up to 96.2 mph since his MLB debut in 2015. Also, the average velocity on his secondary pitches, a slider and a change up, has increased as well. As for the location on his pitches, Feliz has thrown 59.4 percent of his pitches for strikes.

So far, this approach has been favorable for Feliz. Hitters are only hitting .233 against him with a BABIP of .261, which is a career low.

However, there is a sign that the strikeouts for Feliz may be coming soon. Using the fastball/slider combination 97.5 percent of the time, hitters are swinging at 51.3 percent of the pitches he throws. That is normal for a batter. However, the contact percentage against him is at a career low 66.7 percent and hitters have swung through strikes a career high 17.1 percent of the time.

Again, this is a miniscule sample size to go so in depth about a topic like this. However, with the Astros bullpen relying on the strikeout to get hitters out, this is a definite storyline for Astros fans to be aware of.

Next: Astros play it safe with George Springer and Jose Altuve, lose series

Feliz has the stuff to get hitters out via the strikeout. However, he is showing fans, so far in 2017, that he may have more that one way to get hitters out.

***Stats provided by FanGraphs and MLB.com***

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