MLB
February 26, 2013 posted by Chuck Anderson

What To Do About Fernando Rodney?

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Fernando Rodney, RP, Tampa Bay Rays

Fernando Rodney was a spectacular late round find in 2012.  He finished with 48 saves and a 0.60 ERA, the top relief pitcher and seventh-ranked player overall in fantasy last season.  He entered the year thought of as a shaky placeholder for Kyle Farnsworth.

2012 was the first year Rodney had an ERA under 4.00 since 2006, his first season ever with fifty innings pitched and an ERA under 3.00.  He had his best K/9 since 2007 and, more importantly, his best walk rate ever at 1.81.  A shift on the rubber was credited for his improvement, but how much can we attribute to the change?

Some basic metrics imply there is regression ahead.  Rodney benefited from a .220 BABIP against, an 89.4% strand rate, and a 4.4% HR/FB ratio.  An ERA jump is in order, but he did the work of a quality pitcher.  All the indicators came in under 3.00 with only xFIP over 2.50.

Rodney did not change his pitch selection much.  He discarded his slider, but 2011’s 10.3% was a clear outlier.  He had a little more heat on his fastball, but a 0.6 mph improvement does not retire hitters that much better on its own.  Fangraphs’ Pitch/FX has him increasing two seam fastballs from 13.9% of the time to 29.2%.  However, Baseball Cube qualified nearly half of his 2010 fastballs as two seamers.  He then decreased to 27.99% and 29.23% in 2011 and 2012 respectively.  The lesson here is when it comes to the finer details of pitch classification we have a long way to go.

 

Rodney kept pitches in the strike zone 44.6% of the time, below his career average.  His First Strike Rate was 60.6%, but that is not responsible for his improved control.  He got to an 0-1 count 62.7% of the time in 2011 and walked 7.88 per nine.  He matched that number in 2010 and walked 4.88.  The key was inducing more swings as well as more swings and misses.  Batters chased 35.4% of pitches outside the zone, up from 30.5% in 2011.  He got more whiffs both in and out of the zone.  The changeup was his key pitch.  It had a 14.84 whiff rate is 2010, 16.22% in 2011, and 25.68% in 2012.  He needs to keep throwing the change well to succeed against left-handed hitters, they see the pitch nearly 60% of the time.

Over half of Rodney’s fantasy value came not from his outstanding ratios, but from his 48 saves in 50 opportunities.  In that category alone ESPN rated him 5.74 points above average.  A more standard total, like 31 saves, gained 3.62 points.  In 2012 only Baltimore’s Jim Johnson received more save chances than Rodney.  Tampa will win more games than they lose, and has a good starting rotation.  They are likely to give their closer more chances than the average team, but it is only prudent to take about ten saves off Rodney’s total when projecting for 2013.

The Rays have two other relievers capable of closing.  Joel Peralta had a 3.21 xFIP, 11.28 K/9, and 4.94 K/BB with 37 holds and only three blown saves.  Jake McGee might have been even better:  2.33 xFIP, 11.87 K/9, 6.64 K/BB with nineteen holds and two blown saves.  Rodney has one year and $2.5 million left on his contract, not a deal prohibitive to the team making a change.  McGee probably has the best odds of closing for Tampa in 2014.

Projecting Rodney off last year’s performance would result in a low-to-mid-2.00s ERA with slightly more than one strikeout per inning and more saves than the average closer.  Rafael Soriano had a similar year in 2012 and was a top ten reliever, albeit close to the back end.  Rodney is ranked #7 by both ESPN and Yahoo so he appears to be properly valued.  His specific draft position depends on each league’s attitude regarding closers.  The biggest risk is that the league adjusts.  That is not a more significant risk than any other reliever around his position.

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