This is the 13th straight season that Scott Feldman has appeared in a Major League baseball game. The 34-year-old is by every definition an old, grizzled veteran. Yet, in the early goings of the season, we’re seeing a change from Feldman, a new trick from the old dog.
From 2009 to 2013, the season in which Feldman was involved in a minor transaction that sent him from Chicago to Baltimore, the righty put up several quality seasons, establishing himself as a solid innings eater at the back end of a rotation. That led to him signing a three-year deal with Houston in free agency.
But he struggled with injury once he moved to the Astros. After having a strong season inducing soft contact with the Orioles and Cubs in 2013, Feldman has yet to record a season that’s been at all similar to that 3.7 WARP campaign. As a matter of fact, Feldman hasn’t recorded a season above 1.0 WARP in the three years since he departed Baltimore. Each season, Feldman has posted a DRA of 4.30 or more — often much more. But much of his struggle is the product of injury.
After a largely uninspired 180 1⁄3 innings in 2014, Feldman’s 2015 was much more disappointing. A pair of injuries hamstrung Feldman and cut his season short at 18 starts and 108 1⁄3 innings. Houston decided to use him in the bullpen in 2016, where Feldman found some success, but a deadline deal to Toronto didn’t go well, as he ran a 8.40 ERA in 15 innings of relief. With a WARP barely above replacement level (0.2), the phrase “washed up” came to mind, and the Reds signed him to a one-year deal for a paltry $2.3 million.
But through Feldman’s first two starts of 2017, things have been very different. From a results standpoint, he’s been hugely successful, only allowing three runs over 10 2⁄3 innings. But Feldman’s peripherals have improved as well, particularly his strikeouts. To this point in his career, Feldman has struck out batters at a 14.6 percent clip. Through those 10 2⁄3 innings of 2017, however, he’s sitting at 27.9 percent, which is good enough to have him tied for 20th among starters. On top of that, his groundball rate is also down substantially. His career rate is up at 47.3 percent, but over these two starts it’s down to just 29.6 percent.
Obviously, this is over just two starts, so there’s no telling if this trend will continue. However, a change in Feldman’s approach may signal that it’s more than just randomness, and worth watching.
Since adding a cutter in 2009, Feldman had relied heavily on the pitch in all situations. It was his most-used pitch through the 2016 season. The usage rate on his cutter clocked in at 37.3 percent, while his sinker rate sat at 32.3 percent and his changeup rate at a measly 5.9 percent. This season, his sinker usage rate is up marginally to 32.8 percent, the highest of his pitches, while the cutter rate has slipped to 32.3 percent and the curveball rate has held steady at 23 percent. The biggest change is that his changeup usage rate is up all the way to 9.9 percent.
The last time Feldman threw that many changeups was 2012, when he threw the pitch at a 8.9 percent clip and accumulated 1.9 WARP with the Rangers. From 2013 to 2016, Feldman threw his cambio only 3.9 percent of the time, so at least through the first two starts this has been a real shift for him. Of course, there were things other than the changeup behind his success in 2012 or his more recent struggles, but it’s a notable change that also coincides with two excellent starts.
We are early in the season, but Scott Feldman’s Reds career is already showing a side of him that we haven’t seen in the last few years. The strikeout-happy starter’s changes to his repertoire seem to be yielding some early results, and are worth keeping an eye on as we advance in the season.
Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.