J.P. Feyereisen, Record-Setter

© Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

I think we could all use a little more positive reinforcement in our lives. Imagine typing away at your desk job (c’mon, it’s not that much of a stretch to guess that you’re reading this at work) when your boss sends you a message. “Hey there,” they say. “You just set a record! You contributed positively to 13 meetings in a row. I’d like to take the webcam you were using for those meetings and put it in the Hall of Fame.”

Wouldn’t that feel great? Sure, it’s kind of meaningless, but let’s assume your job is important enough that people actually go to this Hall of Fame. It would be awesome! Look, the suspenders that a manager wore while suggesting casual Fridays for the first time. Behold the napkins left behind from the first successful working lunch. I’d enjoy getting credit for random records once in a while. It feels good to do something no one else has ever done.

Setting a record, any record, is inherently cool. But setting a record for something that everyone who does your job is always trying to do? That’s an entirely different level. An example: J.P. Feyereisen is out for the remainder of the year, which means that he’ll set a modern record at the conclusion of the season.

It’s not even a ridiculous one, like most pickoff throws without recording a pickoff or highest strand rate in blowout games. No, he’s going for something we all care about: ERA. Feyereisen threw 24.1 innings this year. He didn’t allow an earned run. That’s the most innings anyone in the post-integration era has pitched in a single season without allowing a run. The only pitcher to throw more innings in a season and end with a 0.00 ERA was Earl Moore, who threw 26 scoreless in 1908.

“Most innings without X” records are unstable by their very nature. You won’t see anyone setting this record in a healthy season; it’s simply too many innings. Jacob deGrom’s phenomenal 2021 was cut short by injury and was also one of the most dominant seasons, on a per-inning basis, of all time. He still allowed 11 earned runs. To put up a 0.00 ERA, you need to limit your innings.

But of course, if you limit your innings too much, you won’t set the record. Since 1901, only four pitchers have finished a season with at least 20 innings pitched and a 0.00 ERA, and two of those hit 20 exactly. It’s tough! If you’re good enough to put up a 0.00 ERA for 20 innings, your team probably wants to use you a lot. But if your team uses you a lot, you probably won’t have a 0.00 ERA for long, even if the extra innings you’re giving them are hugely valuable.

Feyereisen fits into that category. The Rays have used him in medium-to-high leverage spots since acquiring him in a trade with the Brewers early in 2021 (Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen for Willy Adames, if you’re keeping score at home). They keep using him in those spots because he keeps deserving it; he has a 1.48 ERA since joining the team last season, the third-best mark in the major leagues over that span. Even in a Rays bullpen dense with impact arms, he’s been one of the best.

I wanted to know more, so I spoke to Feyereisen about it. Did he know he was on a heater at the beginning of this year? It didn’t escape his notice. “Yeah, I knew it, but I didn’t really want to think about it. I actually go on these streaks sometimes,” he told me. “When I first got drafted, I went 31 innings into my pro career before I gave up my first run. And last year with the Brewers before I got traded, I was 17 appearances in without giving up a run. I have a month and a half or two month span where everything feels good and it’s rolling for me.”

Of course, nothing lasts forever, something he well knows. “A lot of the time in baseball, it’s luck too. I had one ball that should’ve been a homer at the time, and (Josh) Lowe robbed it. That would’ve been a run. You definitely have to have things break your way in baseball. There’s a little bit of luck involved for sure.”

The fact that good fortune was involved doesn’t mean Feyereisen didn’t pay attention to his scoreless streak. “I knew, and my teammates knew. When I was finally done for the year, Jason Adam came up to me and said, ‘Well congratulations on a 0.00 ERA this year.’” You can believe that luck is involved all you want; going 22 appearances without allowing an earned run requires a ton of skill.

A quick digression: I keep saying ‘earned run’ because Feyereisen gave up an unearned run, but it wasn’t one of those borderline calls that could have gone either way. In a clash against the Orioles, he had two outs when Vidal Bruján booted a grounder to second. That set up first and second with two outs. Robinson Chirinos then hit a ball on the nose, directly at Randy Arozarena, who simply dropped it, and a run scored on the play. Talk about bad luck.

That run aside, Feyereisen’s season is still flawless when it comes to the crown jewel of pitching statistics, ERA. That makes him the only pitcher in modern times to turn in that much perfect work. “I think it’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t even have known about it until someone alerted me to it,” he told me. It’s impressive despite only being a record thanks to his season being cut short due to injury. “Did I pitch a full season? No. Would I have given up a run? Yes, 100% at some point in time I would have given up a run, that’s just baseball. If you think you’re not ever going to give up a run, you’ll drive yourself crazy thinking about it. But the fact that I was able to do it, yeah it’s still cool. I’m one of two to ever do it.”

Saying he’s one of two might short-change him. Moore, who went 26 scoreless in 1908, did it over three starts. Baseball was wildly different back then; less competitive, lower-scoring, and dense with errors – Moore allowed four unearned runs that year. What’s more, he only had to be good for three games. Doing it over 22 appearances, as Feyereisen did, means more chances for a hiccup, more chances to simply not have it that day, and fewer chances to face a team mired in a funk and add a big chunk of scoreless innings in one day. He mentioned Josh Hader’s 40-game scoreless appearance streak as one of the most impressive relief pitching feats of our era, and I’m inclined to agree.

I don’t want to fall victim to that classic baseball analysis trap of constructing a story of something changing when nothing has really changed. A pitcher as good as Feyereisen is always a threat to go on a scoreless streak just by virtue of being good overall. But something really has changed this year for him – his mentality. “In the past, walks have been kinda my M.O. I walk a lot of guys,” he said. “I went into this year thinking, I’m gonna give him my best, and it’s gonna be in the zone. Basically, that’s what my mentality was: throw it over the plate and see what happens. Getting ahead helped me either finish guys off or get weaker contact, and that mentality of getting the ball over the plate and getting them in negative counts faster helped me a lot.”

A glance at the numbers confirms that his strike-throwing mentality has borne fruit. With the Brewers, Feyereisen had a first strike rate of 55.2%. With the Rays, it has climbed to 67.1%, one of the best marks in the game. He walked only 5.8% of his opponents this year, which would be impressive for anyone, but particularly someone who came into the year with a career 14% mark.

Feyereisen credits the Rays coaching staff for his newfound strike-throwing prowess. “Since I’ve been over here, the thing that they’ve told me is to throw it over the plate and see what happens. What’s the worst case scenario, they hit a solo shot? It’s better than walking a guy and giving up a two-run dinger. Let’s get the ball over the plate and put it in the odds of baseball. They’re gonna get out seven out of 10 times even if they’re a Hall of Famer.”

Is it really as easy as just deciding to throw strikes? Well, kind of. “It’s a commitment not only from me but my catchers behind the dish,” Feyereisen said. “Early on in my career, the plan was to try to steal that first strike with something the hitter can’t get a hold of. With the Rays, we just see what the first 0-0 pitch is, and if we get a strike, then we’re in command and we can attack. I believe that difference helped me out a ton.”

Feyereisen makes it all sound straightforward, as though committing to throwing strikes can turn a solid pitcher into a record-setter. For his flood-the-zone approach to pay dividends, however, he needs to flood the zone with quality pitches. Seeing whether batters can hit it works better when they’re unlikely to hit it.

To that end, Feyereisen credits the Brewers organization. He’s always thrown a backspinning four-seam fastball that flummoxes opposing hitters, but he learned his best secondary pitch fairly recently. “The Brewers taught me my changeup. I didn’t have a changeup at all in the minor leagues, and they taught me one. It might be my best-rated pitch now.” (For what it’s worth, his fastball still grades out better, at least according to our numbers, but the changeup is a close second.)

After the Brewers helped him craft his arsenal, the Rays helped him hone it. Feyereisen credits the Rays for focusing him on what he was best at – in his case, attacking with two excellent pitches. “[The Rays] are really good at finding guys that are good at something and saying ‘Hey, let’s just do this a lot more.’ They take guys that teams have either DFA’ed or released and turn them into something. They find that little thing that you have, and turn it into a big thing.” It sounds simple, but it’s deceptively hard to strip things away without changing what makes a pitcher great in the first place. Of course, if it were easy, more teams would be doing it.

Feyereisen won’t join Tampa Bay’s lights-out bullpen in the postseason this year, but he’ll be watching them closely – and enjoying it. Like the rest of us, he marvels at their depth. “There’s no team in the big leagues that can match our bullpen from head to toe,” he told me. “One through eight, we just have a farm of arms, and it’s a lot of fun to look at stats and [see] everybody’s pitching lights out. It makes baseball a lot more fun when everybody’s nasty instead of just one or two guys.”

Opposing hitters are probably happy he isn’t currently part of that complement. Feyereisen allowed a ludicrous .112 wOBA this year; that’s worse than the aggregate batting line pitchers put up at the plate in 2021. When he took the mound, opposing offenses crumbled to dust. Maybe that number would have climbed with time. Almost certainly, in fact, it would have climbed with time. Feyereisen, meanwhile, would certainly have traded a few earned runs for not missing the balance of the season with injury. But as silver linings go, setting a record that might stand forever isn’t half bad. Whatever the rest of Feyereisen’s career holds, his 2022 season is without precedent.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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7 days ago

Funny thought that occurred to me. Players who have awful (imo) mustaches (Feyerisen, Matt Carpenter, Spencer Strider, Dylan Cease, Nestor Cortes) have played extremely well this year. What are the odds that notoriously superstitious baseball players notice and decide to grow mustaches next season?

7 days ago
Reply to  EonADS

Lucas Luetge certainly noticed.

6 days ago
Reply to  EonADS

I had most of these guys on my team this year and grew out a matching mustache in solidarity with them, so you’re probably on to something.

6 days ago
Reply to  djmax101

You seem to be the type of person I need to recruit for my leagues!