Scott Feldman has spent his entire eight-year major league career with the Texas Rangers. During this time, he's started 101 games and appeared as a reliever in 103 more, posting a .470 winning percentage and a 4.81 ERA. There are a few important numbers that we should look at in order to get a good picture of Feldman's recent performance as well as his expected future performance: K%, BB%, GB%, and FIP.
Let's begin by looking at Feldman's strikeout rates since he became a starter in 2008.
In his last 155 innings, spanning 2011 and 2012, Feldman has posted a 17.7% strikeout rate, the highest rate of his career. Furthermore, over this same span, Feldman recorded the best swinging-strike rate of his career: 7.6%. While both of these rates are below league average, (the average K% is 18.5% and the average SwStr% is 8.5%), they are much more more in line with his 2009 campaign. Furthermore, research shows that moving from the American League to the National League adds approximately .6 K/9 to a pitcher's record. Feldman will be moving from one of the strongest divisions in baseball to one of the weakest, so his strikeout rates could rise even further.
After posting a few years of mediocre walk rates, Feldman walked only 6.0% of the hitters he faced in 2012, which is much better than the league average of 8.5%. While this won't come as a shock to anyone, Cubs starters have recorded the fifth-highest walk rate over the past three years. Feldman's 2012 walk rate was better than that of any Cubs starting pitcher last year. The Feldman and Baker signings likely signal the front office's commitment towards finding pitchers who have better control than what we're used to seeing.
After posting some elite ground ball rates prior to his career as a starter, Feldman has induced ground balls at a league average rate, posting his best rate in 2009, (Feldman only pitched 32 innings in 2011 and most of them were as a reliever). This can likely be attributed to the change in his repertoire. Below is Feldman's pitch frequency by year since 2008.
In 2009, nearly 30% of Feldman's pitches were either sliders or curveballs. In each successive year, Feldman's slider and curveball usage fell until it hit 23.1% in 2012. However, in 2010, Feldman began utilizing his sinker with much more frequency. The slider (44.6%), curveball (48.1%), and sinker (59.1%) all induce ground balls at relatively high rates. While we would expect the increased sinker usage to compensate for the decreased slider and curveball usage, Feldman's slider was well above average in 2009 and was his best pitch that year, while his sinker has not been above average since 2010. Feldman's sinker and slider frequency and effectiveness will be the key to determining the strength of his ground ball rate in 2013.
One of Feldman's biggest issues throughout his career has been his inability to strand runners. Since the beginning of 2011, Feldman has posted a 59.8% LOB percentage as a starter, which is the second-worst mark among pitchers who have thrown 100 or more innings over the past two years. While LOB% is partially determined by a pitcher's talent level, luck is involved, and Feldman's peripherals suggest that his LOB% struggles are likely more a result of luck than his talent level. Feldman's improving strikeout rates and above average walk rates should lead to better LOB rates in the long-run.
Finally, let's take a look at Feldman's FIP over his career as a starter. FIP has been shown to be a more effective predictor of future performance than ERA, which is encouraging when we look at Feldman's recent performance. Since 2011, Feldman has posted a 3.85 FIP, which is above average (4.00 FIP). If Feldman's LOB% falls in line with his peripherals, his ERA should begin to approach his FIP.
Last year, Feldman posted 2.3 WAR in 123 innings pitched. Though he posted a pretty terrible 5.09 ERA, his strikeout and walk rates are better than you would expect, and a LOB% closer to league average could make Feldman an even more valuable pitcher than last year. The consensus $/WAR estimate is between $4 and $5 million. For $6 million, Feldman could be an absolute steal. In November, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs suggested that Scott Feldman "might be one of the best buys on the market," so is it any surprise then that we landed him? It really is a privilege to have Theo and Jed at the helm.