Aside from Germán Márquez, if I were to point out the Rockies player I believe the most in despite poor 2022 results, Ryan Feltner would be that player. As Kenneth Weber recently wrote in Feltner’s chapter of Ranking the Rockies, the promise was there despite the final numbers and the ups-and-downs (of which there were plenty):
- Seven-innings of one-run ball at Coors Field against the Marlins on May 30th for his first MLB win.
- Getting knocked out before reaching the fifth inning three times in four games throughout June, but with a dominant six inning, two-hit, one-run performance at San Diego in between.
- Allowing five runs in the second inning against the Giants on September 29th, only to settle down and dominate the next four innings.
Feltner’s season had it all.
The righty had three different stints with the big league club, but only in his last one did he get a shot to start consistently. In August and September, he was finally a part of the rotation, just as his pitch mix started to take shape into something that could take advantage of his strengths. As Feltner himself has mentioned in the past, he’s still putting his arsenal together, and you could see it this season with three pitches in particular:
Feltner began the season with a pretty traditional four-seam/slider/curveball/changeup mix, putting heavy emphasis on the four-seamer (4SF) and slider (SL), which made up almost 75% of his pitches in the early stages of the year. As the season went on, Feltner’s 4SF usage went down in sync with his sinker (SNK) usage going up, and by his last few starts Feltner was mostly a sinker-slider pitcher.
This is all to say: don’t take Feltner’s results in 2022 at face value. For a young developing pitcher going through a significant arsenal change and having to deal with the challenges of elevation, Feltner held his own, and while his peripherals weren’t good, they weren’t horrible either:
Ryan Feltner in 2022
Much like with Gomber, Feltner probably didn’t “deserve” that 5.83 ERA. Continuing with our Gameplan series, we’re going to take a look at Ryan Feltner as a pitcher. We’ll look at his strengths, his weaknesses, and how I think he could deploy his arsenal in order to reach his potential, as well as some changes that could be made to his actual pitches. If you’re interested in the previous entries on this series, the links are down below:
- Crafting a gameplan for Antonio Senzatela
- Crafting a gameplan for Germán Márquez
- Crafting a gameplan for Austin Gomber
Let’s get on with it!
What Ryan Feltner Does Well
As always, we kick things off with Feltner’s strengths — the tools we can use as building blocks for a pitcher’s style and approach. We’re looking for pitches or data points that are either flat out good or deviate from average in any way. Remember: if a pitch is different from the masses, it can very likely find success in one way or another.
HIS SINKER IS PRETTY GOOD
In the last entry of my Gameplan series, we tackled Austin Gomber, and the main headache we had was the lack of a passable fastball. Then, we came to the conclusion that we had to severely limit Gomber’s fastball usage and help him introduce a new fastball (his sinker) to work around it. With Feltner, that’s not a concern because while his four-seamer isn’t that good all by itself (we’ll talk about that pitch later), the sinker he introduced this past season is a quality fastball, period. I’ve written about it before in relative detail, but it won’t do harm to repeat some of it.
Feltner’s sinker has excellent downward bite, partly generated by its extremely inefficient spin (which, in this case, is good) and seam-shifted wake. He releases the pitch in a way that allows gravity to take over and impact the flight of the ball more than usual, which is what creates that extremely vertical, bowling ball profile. His feel for commanding it is pretty impressive given how new it is to him, and even its velocity is pretty solid: thanks to Feltner’s good extension down the mound, his average perceived velocity on it is 94.3 MPH, 104th out of the 291 pitchers to throw at least 100 sinkers in 2022.
This is a good pitch: it has above average velo and good movement. Its vertical profile could even mean we can reasonably expect it to perform decently against lefties compared to more horizontal sinkers. Is it a pitch we should be throwing 50% of the time? Absolutely not. But it’s still a good, solid fastball we don’t have to gameplan around. It won’t be a strikeout pitch, because sinkers are almost never that, but it’s a groundball pitch. Maybe just as importantly, it’s a fastball Feltner can use reliably without fear of it getting hammered 400 feet as soon as it leaks over the plate. His four-seamer is a bit more complicated, but we’ll go over that pitch when we get to it.
HIS SLIDER IS A PLUS PITCH
Feltner threw his slider more and more last season, and for a good reason: it’s his best and most versatile pitch. Batters hit .208 against it in 2022, and the expected numbers looked even better. Feltner is capable of manipulating his slider and giving it many different shapes and velocities, much like Daniel Bard. Take a look at this chart depicting the velocity of every slider Ryan threw in 2022:
Something clicked for him later in the year and he began altering the shape, velo and purpose of his sliders to fit the situation. Needless to say, I love this change. The harder, shorter sliders that push 89 MPH at times are ideal to draw swings and misses and chases out of the zone, and the slower sliders in the low 80’s have big depth and two-plane movement, perfect for flipping in the zone for a called strike. This is a multi-faceted pitch — a good pitch — and one we can build Feltner’s arsenal around, especially against righties.
HIS CHANGEUP IS COORS-PROOF (AND GOOD)
Feltner’s changeup is a fascinating pitch for a nerd like me as far as the metrics go. Feltner takes spin and velocity off the ball very well, routinely stripping 10 MPH and 600-700 RPM off his fastball, but it’s the way he spins the ball that jumps out at me. Of the 484 pitchers with changeups that qualified in 2022, Feltner has the 7th-lowest active spin at just 61.2%. In simple terms, this means that on top of his low spin, only 61.2% of that spin is creating movement, and there’s some seam-shifted wake going on her as well. When combining this spin profile with a little dose of Coors Field, the end result is, quite possibly, the most vertical changeup in baseball. Feltner’s cambio has less armside run than his four-seamer, let alone his sinker, and it has a full inch less or run than any other qualified changeup in MLB (for 2022). It’s a massive outlier in terms of movement.
But does it perform? Well... yes! Feltner’s changeup, which he’s thrown almost exclusively to lefties, has a .136 wOBA against so far in the majors. Opponents are just 3-for-31 with 10 strikeouts against that slowball (lefties are 0-for-23 with seven K’s), and have whiffed on almost 40% of their swings against it, a terrific rate. Watching Ryan pitch, his confidence in this offering and his feel for locating it wasn’t all the way there yet last season, which probably explains why he threw it only about 10% of the time against lefties. As he grows into his own, expect this unique changeup to be a crucial part of his arsenal. It’s good, folks.
But wait a minute. What was it about his change being “Coors-proof”? I didn’t forget, don’t worry. Let’s explain that now. When you think about what Coors Field does to pitches, there are a few main rules of thumb you can use, simplified for ease of use:
- The more spin-based a pitch’s movement is, the more it suffers at altitude. Spinning a baseball can create significant movement in large part because the ball isn’t perfectly round. The seams interact with the air as the ball heads towards home plate, a dynamic that’s part of the Magnus Effect. At Coors Field, however, the altitude makes the air far less dense, meaning there is simply less air for the baseball to interact with. This means that spin-based movement won’t be as sharp. Elite backspinning power four-seamers flatten out by a few inches, big loopy curveballs lose some bite, changeups and sliders that rely on heavy side-spin to create some degree of sweep tend to flatten out a bit.
- Gravity is your friend. Technically speaking, gravity is less potent the higher the altitude, but contrary to the beliefs of Madison Bumgarner, Coors Field is not the moon. As such, gravity works just fine, and offerings that rely far more on gravity to create movement than the typical pitch, such as gyroscopic sliders (think Germán Márquez), splitters, low-spin sinkers and changeups with very low spin efficiency like Feltner’s won’t see their movement affected all that much. Everything drops more at Coors, so you might as well lean into it with the right pitches. This dynamic is why I was a huge fan of the Rox picking up Dinelson Lamet and his terrific gyro slider, for example.
- Coors Field is the ender of horizontal movement. Because of everything we’ve talked about, the more horizontal a pitch’s profile, the more it’s going to suffer. Big sweeping sliders and curveballs are the most affected by altitude in this regard, but high-spin changeups (think Devin Williams or Pablo López) with screwball-ish action also tend to see a big decrease in raw movement.
Feltner’s changeup, then, fits wonderfully for a Rockies pitcher. It’s a low-spin cambio, it has an extremely vertical profile and its low spin efficiency guarantees gravity does a lot of the heavy lifting. It’s perfect, and it’s a quality pitch.
HIS LOW RELEASE POINT GIVES HIS FOUR-SEAMER UTILITY
When talking about Austin Gomber’s fastball, we mentioned Vertical Approach Angle (VAA) a lot (in short, the angle at which a pitch crosses home plate), and we’ll be doing so here with Ryan Feltner. Feltner is not a small pitcher whatsoever (he’s listed as 6-4, 195 lbs), but his natural arm slot is more of a low three-quarters type and he has what some may call a “drop-and-drive” delivery:
Ryan Feltner, Sick 79mph Slider...and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/IjUrBd8zCE— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 30, 2022
His mechanics give him a much lower release point than is typical for a pitcher of his height. In fact, 6’4” Ryan Feltner (5.23) has an almost identical release point to 5’8” Marcus Stroman (5.25 feet). This matters, because it gives his four-seamer significant utility up in the zone. Despite not locating his four-seamer very high in the zone (2.7 feet of height on average, a little bit lower than the 2.81 feet that MLB hurlers averaged as a whole in 2022), Feltner’s VAA was still -4.4º — the flattest among Rockies pitchers in 2022 and flatter than many very successful fastballs across MLB. Feltner’s not a soft tosser either: his effective velocity was well over 95 MPH in 2022, which isn’t strictly plus in today’s day and age, but is solidly above average anyway.
This means that despite very middling raw movement, the two other variables we should mainly look at when determining the viability of a four-seamer, VAA and velocity, are both good. As such, his four-seamer has definite utility when thrown up in the zone, especially when facing batters with steep, uphill swings. When combined with his quality sinker, this gives us two fastballs with very defined strengths that complement each other, a significant advantage when putting a gameplan together. There is no need to make a pitch out of thin air as we needed to do with Austin Gomber, and no need to differentiate the movement profile as we needed Germán Márquez to do.
These are some really excellent strengths. We have a good sinker, a four-seamer with great utility, a quality multi-faceted slider and a good changeup with a perfect Coors-proof spin profile. We have weapons against righties, lefties, steep swing paths, flat swing paths, you name it. Feltner also throws slightly harder than the average starter and has no real issues filling the strikezone. This is a fantastic foundation for a starter, and I hope you guys can see just why I believe in Ryan as a starter as much as I do.
What Ryan Feltner Does Not Do Well
Now, for the things Feltner does not do as well. Believe it or not, it’s not a lengthy list in my book.
TOO MANY FASTBALLS
On today’s edition of “right-handed Rockies pitcher throws too many fastballs”, we have Ryan Feltner. He’s far from the worst offender on the team, but he’s thrown about 55% fastballs so far as a big leaguer, which is too high. As I’ve said before, I like his sinker and his four-seamer has good utility when thrown to the correct batters, but I’d still consider his fastballs as a unit to be relatively average, so I would suggest lowering that usage into the 40-45% range or so. I believe that as he gets more comfortable with his changeup, some of that pitch’s usage with substract from the heaters, so this is probably something that will be fixed by itself.
Unlike Márquez and Senzatela, Feltner doesn’t throw an amount of fastballs in traditional heater counts that skyrockets past league average, but he does throw more than your normal hurler across the board, particularly on first pitches (63.3% to 52% MLB average), so there’s another small change we could make. Batters hit .480 and slugged 1.040 against first-pitch heaters from Feltner in 2022, and four of the sixteen homers he gave up this past season came in these situations. This is an easy fix, so we won’t dive too deep into it.
HIS FOUR-SEAMER IS STILL A SITUATIONAL PITCH
I talked Feltner’s four-seam up a lot in the VAA section, but when looking at the bigger picture, it remains very much a situational offering we need to use with caution in order to get good results out of it. In Ryan’s fastball power rankings, the four-seam is a clear second to his sinker in terms of profile, shape and utility, and we should deploy it as such. We can scout opposing hitters in advance and identify their swing path, what they hit and what they don’t hit, and determine how often we want to challenge them up in the zone with our four-seamer based on that data.
I emphasize this point a lot, but this really is a very important one. We can get solid results out of average pitches if we use them properly, and Feltner’s four-seamer is a premium example. If we commit to locating this pitch in the upper third with consistency and throw it hard enough against the right hitters, we’ll probably get good outcomes. Could it be that some of those get hit for extra bases at some point? Yes, but if the process is good, over time it will even out.
HIS CURRENT CURVEBALL IS MIDDLING
This is the main area we can work on with Ryan, in my opinion. Especially now that he’s begun manipulating his slider and throwing some low 80’s sweepers here and there, his curveball is at danger of lacking a role in his arsenal. The curveball he throws right now is average all the way: mostly average velo (77-79 MPH), mostly average movement. He did throw it harder as the season went on, averaging 79.2 MPH in September and occasionally going over 80 MPH, but it was all still in the vicinity of average. Since we have a very middling curveball right now, we can hypothetically take it in any direction we want, and we should make a change because his curveball doesn’t really have a defined role within his arsenal as it stands. It’s not hard enough to serve as a swing-and-miss pitch, but it’s not a slow curveball with incredible depth either. This will be one of the few major changes I’d suggest.
Those are Feltner’s weaknesses then, in my eyes. Throwing too many fastballs has to do more with approach than anything else and should be a relatively quick fix. His four-seamer is likely to always remain a relatively situational pitch more than an offering he can truly rely on no matter the batter unless he somehow gains a bit of carry on it (which isn’t entirely out of the question), but the big missing piece is his curveball’s role. Currently, it’s a firmly average curveball, and while that’s fine, I believe that can be improved.
Finally, we’re here. We’ll go over Ryan’s pitches one by one, beginning with his fastballs and ending with his curveball, the main pitch we’re going to make some changes to.
SINKER (92-95 MPH)
The sinker should, in my opinion, be Feltner’s primary fastball. Here’s a few details about some of the usage patterns I’d favor:
- Less sinkers to LHH, more to RHH. Since 2015, right-on-left sinkers have a .375 wOBA against, but right-on-right sinkers have a .335 wOBA against. Unless we’re facing a lefty with a very flat bat path or a righty with a significantly uphill swing, in basic terms I’d recommend basing our sinker usage heavily on the handedness of the batter at the plate. This would lead us to becoming more sinker-slider heavy against righties, which sounds like a solid plan to me.
- 25-35% usage. If we’re going to get our fastball usage down to somewhere around 45%, and if we’ve established that our four-seamer is our secondary fastball, we want our sinker usage in the neighborhood of 30%. Basic math, of course, but I do want to put the general percentages out there so the gameplan is clear.
And... that’s it! No, really, that’s all there is to it as far as large checkpoints go. This is a good, simple pitch to throw for strikes. Among fastballs, sinkers get hit the most, but they also shine at contact management, a very valuable asset when taking our home ballpark into account.
FOUR-SEAMER (93-96 MPH)
We’ve already explained the dynamic of Feltner’s four-seamer: it’s a pitch we can get good results with, but we need to be very particular about how and when we throw it.
- Go after batters with steep, uphill swings. Scouting reports exist for this reason. Who do we target? What does this batter struggle to cover? What can’t he hit? What does he mash? And so on, and so on. We have to use this to our advantage. Feltner’s four-seamer has gotten crushed in the majors, but batters have also whiffed about 20% of the time when swinging against it, which is not a bad rate at all for a Rockies pitcher. In particular, when thrown at least at 2.9 feet of height (upper third and higher), Feltner’s whiff rate on his heater is almost 30%.
- We’re aiming for the upper third of the zone. While we may be able to steal a called strike at the knees here and there, the success area for Feltner’s four-seamer is up in the zone, where we can use VAA to our advantage and combine it with his solid velocity to overpower hitters who struggle to cover the upper third (there’s quite a few hitters like that across MLB). Pitchers also tend to create better hop on their fastball when aiming high than they do when aiming low (sometimes guys can “push” the ball down in the zone, inadvertedly creating run on the pitch).
And that’s it. In my eyes, our four-seamer usage should be almost independent of batter handedness, although it does make sense to throw a few more four-seamers against lefties in the place of our sinker. We’re trying to weaponize our four-seamer with our two good variables: solid velocity and flat VAA. All in all, our fastball usage (sinkers + four-seamers) should ideally be around 45%.
SLIDER (81-89 MPH)
Feltner’s best pitch at this point. He can manipulate it and give it many different shapes depending on context.
- No major changes to his current usage. Feltner threw his slider about 29% of the time, but he threw it close to 33-34% of the time in September. I’m a fan and, in fact, we could even throw it a bit more against righties, somewhere in the 35-40% range. The many faces of his slider make overexposing the pitch less of a concern.
- Fewer and harder sliders to LHH. Feltner already made part of this change in his final few starts: his slider averaged well over 86 MPH against lefties in September, about 2 MPH harder than before. That’s good, because right-on-left are very dependent on velocity to succeed, more so than right-on-right sliders. R-on-L sliders at 87+ MPH have a .258 wOBA against over the past three seasons, R-on-L sliders at 85 MPH or below have a .303 wOBA against. His slider usage dropped to about 25% against lefties, and I think that can be even lower if we make good adjustments with his other pitches.
- Save most of the slower sliders for RHH. As it’s been covered before on many sites, the sweeping sliders that are becoming popular across the game have many advantages, but also one drawback: larger platoon splits than usual. In Feltner’s case, since we’re already throwing harder sliders against LHH, it makes sense to keep the slower, larger variations of his sliders almost exclusively for RHH. Feltner can create quite a bit of horizontal movement when he tries to, and sliders of this kind are also known for creating many weakly hit flyballs.
Really, not much to add to his slider. Feltner has already started to make the changes I would suggest, so this is more of a confirmation. You should throw your best pitch a lot and Ryan does just that, especially against righties. No need to make drastic changes here, let’s keep it around 25-30%.
CHANGEUP (83-85 MPH)
As we went over before, Feltner has a Coors-proof changeup with a very unique profile, and it’s been a killer pitch for him in limited usage. There’s really only two things I would say about it:
- Keep it far away from RHH for now. We already have more than enough weapons against righties, there’s no need to try to sneak a changeup past the barrel of a righty as far as I’m concerned. Unless Ryan gets extremely good at locating it, of course. Speaking of:
- Just keep throwing it to LHH. From a pitch design standpoint, Feltner’s changeup already works to me, so our natural progression with the pitch is to just throw it more and have our pitcher grow more comfortable with it.
Real simple stuff, but you don’t need to do crazy things when a pitch already works. We’d be aiming for, more or less, 25% usage against lefties as one of main putaway pitches.
CURVEBALL (80-82 MPH)
Here’s where we get to making changes.. I mentioned that Feltner’s curve is in no-man’s land right now, and we can theoretically take it in any direction we want. As you might’ve guessed, I favor the path of adding velocity to this pitch, even if it costs us some movement. For breaking balls, velocity is a huge indicator of success. The less reaction time a hitter has, the better, and many times you’d sacrifice raw movement for a few extra ticks of velocity. Harder breaking balls draw more swings, more chases, and create more strikeouts in general. And for MLB curveballs in particular, the 80 MPH barrier is a crucial one to cross. The difference is pretty staggering:
MLB Curveballs Since 2015
|Velo||wOBA||K%||EV (mph)||LA (º)||Chase%|
|Velo||wOBA||K%||EV (mph)||LA (º)||Chase%|
|> 80 MPH||.229||40,3%||87.1||7.2||33,4%|
|< 80 MPH||.288||26,0%||86.3||11.1||24,3%|
The almost 60 points of difference in wOBA will surely jump out at you, but take a look at the chase rate as well. Slow curveballs often get picked up earlier than hard curveballs during ball flight, leading to better swing decisions when it comes to chasing bad pitches out of the zone. Essentially, this means that you cannot reliably depend on a big, slow curveball as your putaway two-strike pitch, but a hard curveball will likely do a fine job in that role. Therefore, our goals and ideas with this pitch are:
- Help Ryan at least reach the 80 MPH barrier. Even if it costs us movement and we end up in the 45ish inches of vertical movement (with gravity) range instead of the mid 50’s, we’ll take that if we can get to 81+ MPH or so. It would still be more than enough of a shape and velo difference from our slider (which is typically around the 35 inch threshold) to make the two pitches be two different entities.
- Throw it more to LHH than RHH. This is where our new, reshaped curveball comes in to take up the slider usage we lose against lefties. Right-on-left curveballs thrown at 80+ MPH have a pretty excellent .241 wOBA against over the past three seasons (remember, even 87+ MPH R on L sliders had a .258 wOBA against), which is actually slightly better than right-on-right (.254 wOBA). We can throw it for called strikes, for chases down and out of the zone, and generally use it quite often against southpaws. Our slider will be our main weapon against righties.
- Don’t be afraid to throw it for strikes a bit more often. Like Germán Márquez, Feltner tends to throw his curveball in the zone less than the typical pitcher. Unlike Márquez, however, Feltner’s curveball is not an elite chase pitch. We can’t reasonably expect a chase rate well over 30% even if we gain some velocity, so we need to flip it in there for strikes here and there.
The curveball has, by far, the biggest adjustment to be made. One could argue that Feltner could simply scrap it given how he manipulates his slider, but I don’t agree. A solid 80-82 MPH curveball would have its own place in his arsenal and make Feltner far less predictable against lefties, also giving him a natural weapon to pair with the four-seamer we want to throw high in the zone.
As you might’ve noticed, there really weren’t many drastic changes to be made with Feltner in my eyes. Aside from optimizing (and lowering) his fastball usage and making a significant change to his curveball, we didn’t suggest many earth-shattering changes, and that’s for good reason. Many of the pieces are already set in place, and now it’s a matter of Feltner getting consistent starts and executing. I believe he’s going to do it, and do it well.
Ryan Feltner is a classic case of a young and talented pitcher who made his debut before his identity and gameplan were fully set in stone, and thus struggled a bit initially. He has the tools to be a really good pitcher, however. I’d say that he has the best stuff of any Rockies starter not named Germán Márquez. He throws strikes, has solid velo, throws a good multi-faceted slider and his arsenal is relatively cohesive as a whole. Our vision would have Feltner becoming a heavy sinker-slider pitcher against righties, with the four-seamer in the back pocket for uphill swings and occasional curveballs we can throw. Against lefties, we’d revert to a more balanced mix of changeups, curveballs, sinkers, four-seamers and hard sliders.
With how many question marks the Rockies have in their rotation at the moment, Feltner looks poised to get a real shot at establishing himself as a big league starter, and this writer believes he’s going to knock it out of the park. Young, talented players are very exciting, and they’re not just in the position player side for Colorado. I’m looking forward to seeing the right-hander taking the mound every five games for the guys in purple.
This is a study made through my own research and conclusions. In order for it to be truly complete, it would require things such a biomechanical breakdown and some feedback from the pitcher himself, among others, which is data I don’t have access to. Please take what I present more as a suggestion than a stone-cold fact.
★ ★ ★
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