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Friday, August 17, 2012
Rodney making change for the better

By Alvin Anol, ESPN Stats & Information


Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesFernando Rodney has had a lot to celebrate in 2012 including his MLB-best 37 saves this season.
Fernando Rodney recorded his MLB-best 37th save on Monday, tying his career high for saves in a season that he set with the Tigers in 2009. He is also just eight shy of the Rays single-season record of 45 by Rafael Soriano in 2010.

It's a return to form for Rodney, who is eons away from the struggles that plagued him the past two years while with the Angels. The key to Rodney's success in 2012? A virtually un-hittable changeup.

Even in 2009, Rodney's most successful year prior to this season, his changeup was average at best. Opposing hitters batted .248 against the pitch that year with a .796 OPS.

But this season, he's allowed just eight hits in 83 at-bats ending with his changeup. That .096 opponents' batting average is the lowest in the majors among pitchers who have thrown at least 250 changeups this season.

He's also recorded 38 strikeouts (to just three walks) via the changeup in 2012, the most among any reliever this season.

One particular aspect of Rodney’s 2012 changeup stands out - the variance in speed relative to his fastball. Currently, the difference between his average fastball (which already hovers just below 96 mph) and his average changeup this season is 13.5 mph.

In fact, the variance between his average fastball and average changeup has only grown the past four seasons. Velocity, though, has never been a problem for Rodney. Locating pitches, however, has been.

In 2009, Rodney sported a walk rate of 12.4 percent. In his first season with the Angels in 2010, it increased slightly to 11.4 percent, but inflated to an AL-worst 18.7 percent in 2011 (Min. 150 PA).

In 2012, Rodney has cut down on his walks considerably (3.8 percent walk rate) by pounding the strike zone with his fastball.

Entering Friday, 65.1 percent of his heaters have gone for strikes after only 58.9 percent were strikes in the previous three seasons combined.

And improved fastball command only serves to complement his devastating changeup - Hitters have chased 41.8 percent of Rodney’s changeups outside the zone after chasing only 33.4 percent of such pitches from 2009 to 2011.

Rodney enters Friday with a 0.81 ERA, best among all pitchers that have faced at least 200 hitters this season. Should he continue to pitch well, Rodney’s bounceback season should make him a favorite for AL Comeback Player of the Year.