Jorge Cantu is a pretty good hitter. In 2009, he hit .289/.345/.443 for a .788 OPS. However, baseball does not require a pitcher to face Jorge Cantu every at-bat. They'll have to face some better players, and more often some worse players, for an overall average opposing batter much worse than Jorge Cantu. Why is this relevant? Because in 2009 Pedro Feliciano did face Jorge Cantu every time he pitched.Of course not literally, but for pitchers with a minimum of fifty innings pitched, Pedro Feliciano faced hitters with an average OPS higher than any other pitcher in baseball (.796, actually higher than Cantu's). And what did Feliciano do to these hitters? He held them to a .231/.288/.394 average. He basically turned Jorge Cantu into a worse version of Omir Santos. While DIPS theory is important, it would only credit Feliciano, as he was not at all benefiting from anything resembling a quality defense.
Feliciano's other numbers reflect his dominance in 2009. He had a 3.55 FIP, a 3.05 xFIP, and 3.44 tRA (the lowest of his career), all while facing some of the most stealth competition in baseball. Sure, the batters Feliciano saw were most likely at a disadvantage in terms of handedness, but this is irrelevant. In fact, this is what we should be commending Feliciano for: being able to turn good hitters into bad ones by exploiting weaknesses.
What's also important is when Feliciano pitched. He was usually in close games facing the superstar players on the opposing teams (i.e. Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn, Brian McCann, etc.), giving him a WPA of 1.91, the highest of his career by .7. Here are Feliciano's 2009 splits:
Righties: 4.49 xFIP, 5.19 FIP, 1.59 K/BB, 21.8 LD%, 43.6 GB%
Lefties: 2.40 xFIP, 2.80 FIP, 6.83 K/BB, 12.3 LD%, 63.2 GB%
I also think a fundamental problem with LOOGY analysis is that their value is not properly assessed via WAR thanks to the relatively small amount of innings they pitch. Feliciano was only worth .6 WAR last year (.4 less than Santos), but was clearly more "valuable" than that. While fWAR does take into account leverage index, it's still difficult to buy the final numbers. For a more detailed conversation on that issue, look here.
Feliciano's 2009 was great. He got batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone (28.9% of the time), turning above average hitters into career minor leaguers at the most important stages of the game. If the Mets are playing more competitive baseball in 2010, maybe his late game excellence will be realized even more.
Pat Andriola is a writer for The Hardball Times. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or on Twitter @tuftspat.