Wednesday, May 16, 2012
MLB's best closer ... Fernando Rodney?!?!
By David Schoenfield
You know, Fernando Rodney has never really been that good. He had 44 good innings for the Tigers in 2005 and he was tough to hit in 2006, when he had a 3.52 ERA. But from 2007 through 2011, he posted a 4.42 ERA, hardly impressive for a relief pitcher, and allowed a ton of baserunners (1.50 WHIP) as he always walked too many batters (5.2 walks per 9). He lucked into 37 saves for the Tigers in 2009 despite a 4.40 ERA and other uninspiring numbers (41 walks, 61 strikeouts, eight home runs in 75.2 innings).
So of course the Angels gave him $11 million, and then were surprised when it turned he was wild and ineffective.
And then the Tampa Bay Rays signed him. The Rays are always in search of power arms for their bullpen. Sure enough, Kyle Farnsworth gets hurt, Joe Maddon decides to sort of make Rodney his closer, he starts throwing strikes for the first time in his career and now he's 2-0 with 11 saves, no blown saves, no extra-base hits allowed and a .232 opponents' OBP, more than 100 points below his .342 career mark.
Can he keep it up? Look, I've learned never to bet against Maddon, but we have a long track record of wildness from Rodney. I doubt the Rays were the first team to tell him, "Throw more strikes."
Anyway, it's been an interesting season for closers, with nearly half the teams in baseball needing to replace their projected closer since spring training began. Of 33 relievers to record at least three saves, only 16 of them have an ERA under 3.00. We have 46 starting pitchers with an ERA under 3.00. Fifteen closers have an opponents' OBP under .300; 52 starters do. (Yes, there are more starters than closers, but still ... shouldn't the guy pitching three innings a week be a little more dominant?)
While Rodney has been perfect, closers have struggled:
- Miami's Heath Bell has three losses, four blown saves, a 10.03 ERA and 30 baserunners allowed in just 11.2 innings. He's basically unusable right now, even if he's a Proven Closer.
- Jose Valverde, Mr. Perfect a year ago for Detroit, is proving you can walk a tightrope for an entire season but that your luck will eventually run out. He has two blown saves, a 5.51 ERA and 12 walks in 16.1 innings.
- Frank Francisco has three losses for the Mets, two blown saves, an ERA on the wrong side of 8, one ejection and too many walks.
- Henry Rodriguez, who replaced the injured Drew Storen in Washington, throws 100 mph but has three blown saves (two of which were losses). I guess he's not a Proven Closer.
And so on. Let's just say you know it's a strange season when we're singing the praises of Fernando Rodney.