The Feliz Enigma

There's little discussion surrounding this topic: right now, Pedro Feliz is one of the top 3 hitters on the Giants, with Grissom and Bonds. There's also little debate about how his versatility gives the Giants a lot of options. But there is plenty to discuss, debate, and disagree on when it comes to what Feliz's future holds.

Pedro Feliz, whose name literally translated in Spanish means ‘Peter Happy', has given the Giants and their fans plenty to be happy about. Finally. He made Bill Mueller expendable, freeing Mueller up for the trade for Tim Worrell back before 2001. It was after an incredible 2000 season in AAA, where he hit .298 with 33 home runs, that expectations were raised. But Feliz failed to seize his opportunity. He batting .227 in his rookie campaign, losing a job he was pretty much handed once veteran Russ Davis was released in midseason, and has been a .250 hitter since then. This came despite his power, which he showed some serious flashes of in 2003, hitting 16 home runs in limited time.

This year, he's been the Feliz the Giants had been hoping for. Though his natural position of 3B is owned by Edgardo Alfonzo, Feliz has earned an effective full time starting job filling in at first base and shortstop this year in platoon like situations, and he's responded by hitting around .300 for most of the year, and keeping the power up with 8 home runs through 2 months of the season.

There is no question that Feliz is very important to this team this year. If he falters, the one guy that's been a good bat behind Bonds this year may be gone. Sure, Alfonzo has a better batting average when batting 5th (.278 compared to Feliz's .226), but Feliz has 15 RBI in 93 AB when batting 5th compared to Alfonzo's 4, and Feliz is the only player to hit a home run while batting 5th (he's hit 5). The question is: is this the real Feliz or is this a flash in the pan?

It's not a silly question; the truth is that it's a serious one that will be the key to how he's used this season, and what happens in the offseason. And Giants fans should be especially cautious because of one name from the past: Marvin Benard.

Now, there was no denying that Marvin gave 150% every time on the field. His effort was enjoyed and appreciated by most Giants fans. It was the production that was a problem, and the large contract he was signed to young.

The thing was, it didn't look like too bad a deal at first. Benard had flown through the minors producing well as a high average hitting outfielder with leadoff potential, eventually hitting .304 in Fresno in 1995. He was brought up to the majors, and had a tough time adjusting, hitting near .250 and then .228. But in 1998, he exploded and hit .322 with 21 doubles in 121 games, and looked for all the world like he had figured out the majors. When he followed that up in 1999 with a season of hitting .290, with sudden double digit power and become a threat to steal on the basepaths with 27, he was looked at as a solid young ballplayer, and Brian Sabean signed him to a three year, $11.1 million dollar contract extension.

Soon, the player who was affectionately called ‘The Midget' and ‘The Littlest Giant' hit a wall. His average dropped, and all of his performance dropped with it. The mental mistakes he made in the outfield were amplified. In 2002, he started to rebound, but suffered some serious injuries, problems which have forced him out of the majors for now and appear to have all but ended his career.

Of course, it wasn't all his fault. Though Bernard hustled, he was never, ever a true center fielder. Yet he was continually placed there in 2000 and 2001. It didn't help that he was moved from Candlestick's very average sized center fielder, where his range and poor first step was hidden a little, to Pacific Bell Park's huge center field and right center gap. Without a true center fielder, Marvin suffered. And the harder he worked to improve himself, the more he pushed himself further than he could go. No one can scientifically prove that led to his leg problems that have ended his career, but I certainly believe they did.

The truth is that Marvin was a smart signing in 1999. He had an excellent track record in the minors, had gone through a normal period of adjustment to the majors, and had performed in back to back years. It was through misplay, frustration and outside factors that led to his downfall.

Now, in 2004 without Marvin on the team, Pedro Feliz is wearing the Midget's old number 7, and the dilemma returns.

Is Pedro a flash in the pan? He's exceeded expectations by keeping his average high for this year, and has seemed to adapt to offspeed pitches, even hitting a few of them for home runs. However, he's still a career .250 hitter in the majors, and except for his breakout year in Fresno, wasn't much better in the minors, where he was a career .268 hitter. It's not hard to see Feliz's swing turn into a hinderance at times, especially when he slumps. He also has a very poor batters eye, with only 3 walks on the season. For a while, he was flirting with the unenviable distinction of having a higher batting average than on base percentage (yes, it's possible). Hitters should develop a better eye as they gain experience, but in his fourth year, Pedro hasn't seemed to.

And even if he can keep up a reasonable performance as a hitter (let's face it, a .275 with his power is acceptable), what is his future on the Giants? Alfonzo is likely the third baseman of the future, with a large contract until 2006 which is probably untrade-able. And Feliz has often said that he wants to be a third baseman. He has done well enough at first base and shortstop, but still exposes some defensive weaknesses. Though the infield is not as damaging as the outfield can be to play, should the Giants consider the way misplaying Marvin affected his production? I can't see how they couldn't.

Whatever the Giants think of Feliz, they should tell him now. If they feel he is a long term option at first base or shortstop, both in need of a full time replacement after this season, they need to inform Feliz of it now so he can consider if that is what he wants to play the prime of his career as, and to let him concentrate on it. If that is not an option, or if the Giants decide that Feliz is not a good candidate to continue at his level, then the time to trade him is now. At 29, he's not a young fox anymore, but he's a valuable piece to many teams with his power and versatility, and he is entering his prime. His trade value could be at a flashpoint, and should be utilized by our GM, who has shown his best prowness in trades rather than free agency.

It's time to start making that decision with the trade deadline only 60 days away. The shape of the Giants now and in the future depends on that decision perhaps more than any other one Sabean has to make. Either he's a prime piece that rebuilding post-Bonds will occur around, or he's a prime piece of bait to get one of those rebuilding pieces.

OTHER NOTES FROM THE WEEK THAT WAS:

  • A number of pundits have described the NL West as being weak this year, and they're right. But they're ignoring one other key point: so is the entire National League. Consider this point: coming into Monday, while the Giants are only 2.5 games out of the divisional lead, they are also an astoundingly close 4.5 games out of first place in the entire League. However, between the Giants and the league leading Marlins are 7 other teams in that 4.5 games of distance, and two other teams are only another game back. This year, the league is very wide open, and at this point, only Montreal, Arizona and Colorado seem incapable of making a move for the playoffs.

  • Another serious point about the playoffs is how the dominant teams in the regular season aren't always dominant in the post season. Last year, the NL had two 100 win teams (Atlanta and San Francisco), a wild card team that was seemingly out of it early in the year, and an NL Central winner that essentially backed into the division championship by losing less than their competitors, and won the division with less than 90 wins. Still, neither of the 100 win teams made it past the first round.

  • And as bad as it felt to get swept by Pittsburgh, Chicago lost 3 of 4 to Pittsburgh this past weekend as well. It's not just us.

  • What a difference a month makes. Get a load of the differences between April and May (through Saturday) for some players:

    EDGARDO ALFONZO:
    April: 16-73, .219 (BA)/.296 (OBP)/.288 (SLG), 5 2B, 0 HR, 6 RBI
    May: 28-85, .329/.380/.424, 2 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI

    PEDRO FELIZ:
    April: 20-69, .290/.296/.406, 2 2B, 2 HR, 13 RBI,
    May: 23-84, .274/.282/.524, 3 2B, 6 HR, 14 RBI

    A.J. PIERZYNSKI:
    April: 17-72, .236/.267/.250, 1 2B, 0 HR, 7 RBI
    May: 19-62, .306/.338/.500, 4 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 10 RBI

    DUSTAN MOHR:
    April: 1-24, .042/.179/.042, 0 XBH, 3 BB
    May: 7-27, .259/.417/.519 1 2B, 2 HR, 8 BB

    JASON SCHMIDT:
    April: 1-2, 5.63 ERA, 16.0 IP, 8 BB, 11 SO, 1.50 WHIP
    May: 4-0, 1.62 ERA, 39 IP, 9 BB, 43 SO, 0.77 WHIP

    KIRK RUETER:
    April: 0-3, 6.12 ERA, 25 IP, 8 BB, 6 SO, 1.88 WHIP
    May: 1-1, 4.55 ERA, 31.2 IP, 12 BB, 12 SO, 1.39 WHIP

    BRETT TOMKO:
    April: 1-1, 7.57 ERA, 27.1 IP, 9 BB, 14 SO, 1.72 WHIP
    May: 0-2, 2.97 ERA, 30.1 IP, 13 BB, 13 SO, 1.52 WHIP

    The Giants have definitely needed the turnarounds by a lot of these guys.

  • As much as people booed on Sunday when Alou went in to take Schmidt out, I really like his strategy the last few starts for Schmidt. There has been a lot of worry and complaining about how Alou has let Schmidt throw far too many pitches, but remember that Alou took heat from Schmidt himself last year for implying that Schmidt wasn't tough enough to throw Game 4 in the playoffs. Alou must balance the desire of his pitcher versus the game (and not worry about the fans), and he's struck the perfect balance. As Schmidt has gone into the ninth inning in each of the last 3 games, Alou has had relievers warmed up as Schmidt has gone back out on the mound. This allows Alou to tell Schmidt that he can throw it all if he can, but that he'll also pull him if, and only if, Schmidt gives him a reason to. In Chicago, Schmidt didn't and flew through the ninth. At home the past two starts, it's been Schmidt giving up a hit or a walk in the ninth that led to his hook, and that's something even Schmidt should be able to understand. It may be unpopular with the people who want to see Schmidt go a full game, or the people who want Schmidt to throw no more than 100 pitches a game, but it's smart managing that has probably earned back Schmidt's confidence in his skipper.

  • The Giants needed an 8 game winning streak to get to .500. Here's hoping that by the end of June, the Giants make it so it would take an 8 game losing streak (or more) for the Giants to fall back to .500 again. (And then not going on a streak like that would be better.

    Go Giants!



    Love me, hate me, idolize me, or laugh at me, just don't ignore me. Let me know what you think: write me at kevin@ugcfilms.com .

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