Rangers’ Top 5 relievers: Sullivan’s take

June 8th, 2020

ARLINGTON -- No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is T.R. Sullivan’s ranking of the top 5 relievers in Rangers history.

Rangers' all-time team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RH starters | LH starters

1. Neftali Feliz, 2009-15

Key fact: The 2010 American League Rookie of the Year, Feliz had 72 saves, a 2.73 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP in 2010-11 in helping the Rangers win two American League pennants.

What Feliz did in helping the Rangers reach two World Series makes him the greatest reliever in club history. His strikeout of Alex Rodriguez to end the 2010 American League Championship Series remains the most iconic moment in Rangers history.

Now let’s review his other memorable moment with the Rangers.

Feliz was called upon by manager Ron Washington in the ninth inning of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. The Rangers had a 7-5 lead over the Cardinals and needed three outs to win their first title.

Feliz was making his 18th postseason appearance over two years. In the previous 17, he had allowed just two runs in 17 2/3 innings. Opponents were hitting .107 off him, and he had struck out 21 batters.

He had also walked 12. That’s 6.11 batters per nine innings. Feliz had been 6-for-6 in save opportunities in the 2011 postseason, but he had also walked a batter in four of those six outings.

So many walks, and Feliz was asking for trouble.

Feliz started his Game 6 appearance by striking out Ryan Theriot. Albert Pujols doubled to center, bringing up Lance Berkman, whom Feliz walked on four pitches. Feliz then struck out Allen Craig before giving up the now-famous double to David Freese.

You can’t walk Berkman on four pitches when he is the potential tying run.

Also overlooked from that Game 6 …

Right-handed setup man Mike Adams entered the game with two outs in the bottom of the eighth. The Rangers had that 7-5 lead, and the Cardinals had Yadier Molina at first and Daniel Descalso at the plate.

Descalso hit a routine grounder to shortstop Elvis Andrus, who looked at second and then decided to throw to first. He had an out at second base but Descalso, much faster than Molina, beat the throw. Adams then gave up a single to Jon Jay before getting Rafael Furcal on a grounder back to the mound.

If the Rangers recorded an out on the Descalso grounder, then Feliz faces Jay, Furcal and Theriot in the ninth before Pujols and Berkman.

2. John Wetteland, 1997-2000

Key fact: He is the Rangers' all-time leader in saves, with 150 from 1997-2000.

The Rangers lost a tough four-game AL Division Series to the Yankees in 1996. Wetteland, then in pinstripes, saved all three wins and then four more against the Braves in the Fall Classic. He was named the World Series MVP, then became a free agent.

The Rangers signed him to a four-year contract because they felt a premier closer would make the difference in the postseason. The Rangers won two division titles with Wetteland but were swept by the Yankees in the ALDS both times. Wetteland never had a chance to save a game.

3. Jeff Russell, 1985-92, 95-96

Key fact: Elected to the Rangers Hall of Fame in 2015

Russell was an All-Star as a starter in 1988. Mitch Williams was the Rangers' closer, but he was traded to the Cubs that offseason in a nine-player deal that brought Rafael Palmeiro to Texas.

That left the Rangers in need of a new closer, and Russell asked for the job. Manager Bobby Valentine agreed, and Russell had an outstanding season. He had 38 saves, a 1.98 ERA and an 0.95 WHIP, and was selected as the AL winner of the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year and the Sporting News Fireman of the Year.

Both awards have been discontinued. Russell and Jim Kern (1979) are the only two Rangers pitchers to have won either.

4. Joe Nathan, 2012-13

Key fact: Two-time All-Star

General manager Jon Daniels wanted to move Feliz into the rotation for the 2011 season, but Washington resisted the idea; he was adamant about having a reliable closer, so Feliz stayed put.

The Rangers made the move the following season, and Washington was mollified when Nathan was signed to a two-year, $14.5 million contract. The deal is considered an aberration for the Rangers, because Daniels has otherwise never shown an eagerness to sign a big-name free-agent closer.

Nathan’s two-year 2.09 ERA is the lowest ever for a Rangers pitcher with at least 100 appearances, and he is second with a 0.98 WHIP. He is third in strikeouts per nine innings, with 10.53, but he is the leader with 4.31 strikeouts per walk.

5. Francisco Cordero, 1999-2006

Key fact: Cordero’s 49 saves in 2004 are the most ever by a Rangers reliever.

Cordero was one of six players acquired from the Tigers in a 1999 trade for outfielder Juan Gonzalez, catcher Gregg Zaun and pitcher Danny Patterson. The other players sent to the Rangers are pitcher Justin Thompson, outfielder Gabe Kapler, infielder Frank Catalanotto, catcher Bill Haselman and pitcher Alan Webb.

Cordero turned out to be the most productive of the six. The Rangers included him in a 2006 trade with the Brewers that brought back Nelson Cruz.

Also given consideration:

Jeff Zimmerman: An All-Star rookie in 1999, his career was cut short by Tommy John surgery.

Jim Kern: He was phenomenal in 1979 before arm injuries brought him down.

Darold Knowles: The former Senator was an excellent left-handed reliever.

Danny Darwin: The Bonham Bullet forged an excellent 21-year career by being able to equally start or relieve.

Darren Oliver: Enjoyed an amazing career resurrection as a reliever after just about being out of baseball as a starter.

Dave Schmidt: He was an effective right-handed setup man from 1981-85. Almost forgotten, but quite good.