StaTuesday: Feliz can take aim on Brewers’ all-time save leaders

Free-agent signee Neftali Feliz arrived at Brewers camp and while he wasn’t anointed Milwaukee’s closer, he seems to the likely choice.

Manager Craig Counsell only said that Feliz will be counted on to “get important outs” for the Brewers, but that’s been Counsell’s mantra about relievers since he took over the job.

Feliz is the only player on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster with any real experience closing out games in the majors — he has 99 career saves, including 40 in 2010 with Texas — and in his brief time as manager Counsell has shown he prefers to have one pitcher primarily finish out games.

In 2015, Francisco Rodriguez had 38 of Milwaukee’s 40 saves. The other two were by Kyle Lohse, one of which was a three-inning save in a 10-3 victory and the other occurred in a 13-inning win.

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Last season, it has been expected that Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith might split the closing duties, depending on a need for a righty or lefty on the mound. Jeffress ended up with 27 saves and Smith none before both were dealt away.

After the trades, Tyler Thornburg became Milwaukee’s closer and had 13 saves. The Brewers had six other saves in 2016: two were extra-inning saves, one came in October after Thornburg blew a save in the ninth, two occurred after the regular closer was given a day off after pitching in back-to-back games and the other was a two-inning save in which the Brewers scored two runs in the ninth to make it a four-run lead, thus the regular closer was no longer needed.

So even if Counsell for whatever reason doesn’t go with Feliz at the back end, his short history shows that he’d likely settle on one closer regardless. But Feliz certainly makes the most sense.

Even if Feliz is deemed a trade chip later this summer, based on his history and Jeffress’ performance last year, Feliz has a good shot to have one of the top-25 all-time single-seasons years for a Milwaukee closer, as far as saves is concerned.

Feliz would need just 24 saves to tie for 25th on Milwaukee’s all-time single-season saves list. Only 11 Brewers relievers have reached 30 saves in a season, and it has been done just 14 times overall.

Pitcher Year Saves
John Axford 2011 46
Francisco Cordero 2007 44
Francisco Rodriguez 2014 44
Danny Kolb 2004 39
Derrick Turnbow 2005 39
Francisco Rodriguez 2015 38
Bob Wickman 1999 37
Trevor Hoffman 2009 37
Doug Jones 1997 36
John Axford 2012 35
Dan Plesac 1989 33
Mike Fetters 1996 32
Ken Sanders 1971 31
Dan Plesac 1988 30
Rollie Fingers 1982 29
Doug Henry 1992 29
Rollie Fingers 1981 28
Salomon Torres 2008 28
Jim Henderson 2013 28
Mike DeJean 2002 27
Jeremy Jeffress 2016 27
Pete Ladd 1983 25
Bob Wickman 1998 25
Dan Plesac 1990 24
Derrick Turnbow 2006 24
John Axford 2010 24
Rollie Fingers 1984 23
Dan Plesac 1987 23
Mike Fetq 1995 22
Danny Kolb 2003 21
Tom Murphy 1974 20
Tom Murphy 1975 20

If Feliz could get to 25 saves, that would put him in a tie for 25th place on Milwaukee’s all-time saves list. If he could come close to his single-season high of 40 (between 34-40 to be exact), Feliz could be No. 18 all-time on the list in just one year.

He’s fairly certain to crack the top 33, as that’s the number of pitchers in Brewers history who have 10 or more saves. Feliz might be able to do that in a month.

Player Saves
Dan Plesac 133
John Axford 106
Rollie Fingers 97
Francisco Rodriguez 95
Bob Wickman 79
Mike Fetters 79
Derrick Turnbow 65
Danny Kolb 61
Doug Henry 61
Ken Sanders 61
Francisco Cordero 60
Doug Jones 49
Mike DeJean 47
Trevor Hoffman 47
Bill Castro 44
Chuck Crim 42
Tom Murphy 41
Bob McClure 34
Pete Ladd 33
Jim Henderson 31
Eduardo Rodriguez 30
Curt Leskanic 29
Solomon Torres 28
Jeremy Jeffress 27
Frank Linzy 25
Mark Clear 22
Bob Gibson 13
Tyler Thornburg 13
Diego Segui 12
Tom Tellmann 12
Jerry Augustine 11
Jim Slaton 11
Eric Gagne 10

With Feliz on a one-year deal, we might be having this conversation again next year.

Really, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Of all the 33 pitchers who have 10 or more saves with the Brewers, only 10 had 200 or more relief appearances with the club, and of those 10 just five pitched at all in this century (and one just barely): Bob Wickman (1996-2000), Mike DeJean (2001-03), Derrick Turnbow (2005-08), John Axford (2009-13) and Francisco Rodriguez (2011-15).

Dave Heller is the author of the upcoming book Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth’s Shadow as well as Facing Ted Williams Players from the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns