Brian Wilson. Mariano Rivera. Brad Lidge. Jonathan Papelbon — and in 2011, either Jason Motte or Neftali Feliz. Moreso than any other position in baseball, the dominant closer has become the common thread amongst World Series winners. Both Tony LaRussa and Ron Washington have to feel confident in handing the ball to their designated closers. In essence, it’s a race to get to the closers. Let’s take a look at the two who will be participating in the Fall Classic.
Motte has been in the Cardinals organization since 2003, when he was drafted in the 19th round out of Iona College. Oh, and he was drafted as a catcher, a position he played until 2006. That year, the Cardinals converted him to the mound based on his arm strength, and in 2007 they and placed him on the 40-Man Roster to avoid exposing him to other teams in the Rule V Draft. It was an experiment that is starting to look genius. This season, Motte — armed with a fastball averaging 96.3 MPH — registered 8.34 K/9 and 2.12 BB/9, equaling a stellar K/BB rate of 3.94. He allowed just 6.5 H/9 and was remarkably stingy (or lucky) in allowing the long ball. He served up just two in 68 innings, a miniscule HR/9 rate of 0.26. Home runs represented just 2.9% of the fly balls Motte allowed in 2011. This postseason, Motte has been flat-out dominant. Sure, the 8 IP, 1 H, 7/0 K/BB and 4/4 in saves line is impressive, but consider that he’s thrown a total of 87 pitches this post-season, and 69 of them have been strikes. What we are seeing is a flame-throwing, strike-throwing machine — a true rarity in this game.
Motte’s counterpart, Neftali Feliz, also runs his fastball into the upper 90s, but with less precision. Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Atlanta Braves in 2005, Feliz came over to Texas in 2007 as part of the Mark Teixeira trade. Unlike Motte, Feliz has not coupled his electric fastball with superior command. This season saw him post fairly pedestrian 7.8 K/9 and 4.33 BB/9 rates (1.88 K/BB). Still, he was tough to hit. He allowed just 42 H in 62.1 IP and was tough to take deep, especially down the stretch — the last of the four home runs he allowed this season came on June 22nd at home against the Astros, a remarkable accomplishment given that half of his games were played in homer-happy Arlington, TX. Feliz has now accrued significant postseason experience, and his numbers show that he’s the same pitcher, regardless of the time of year – walks a few too many, but does not allow many hits. His 15.0 innings have seen him unintentionally walk eight hitters, but he’s allowed just six hits in that same span.
Perhaps, Feliz’ future is in the rotation: C.J. Wilson’s impending free-agency could spark those discussions in the Rangers front-office once again. Regardless, he’s their closer now, and the guy that will undoubtedly be the favorite to be the last man standing this World Series. But the Cardinals like their guy, too, and in the battle of the closers, they get the edge.