For as great of a season as Fernando Rodney had it doesn’t seem like enough was written about him. Add that to the list of sentences I never thought I’d write. Before the season the Rays signing of Rodney for $2 million seemed strange. His ERA and FIP were above 4.00 the previous four years and he was coming off of a season in which he walked more batters than he struck out. Cash strapped Rays + wildly ineffective reliever = head scratching move.
The Rays have a good track record of turning out quality relievers, resurrecting the careers of Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell. Rodney is now the crowning jewel of that group and the best reliever in the American League in 2012.
Rodney is a great example of why a lot of the time it’s not a great idea to pay for saves. He was barely drafted. He began camp as the setup man for Kyle Farnsworth but was thrust into the closers’ role when Farnsworth went down with an elbow injury. The Rays obviously saw something the rest of baseball didn’t, changing Rodney’s placement on the mound and eliminating his leg kick in an effort to lessen his control problems. It worked. His BB/9 dropped by ~3.00 to 1.81.
The increased control allowed Rodney to dominate with the same two pitches he’s always thrown; the fastball and changeup. When he’s able to locate his changeup it’s nearly unhittable thanks to a 14mph drop in velocity from his 96mph fastball. He has the confidence to throw it in any count as well, always keeping the hitter guessing. He threw 396 changeups in 2012 and opposing batters hit .071/.118/.080 against it. That’s not a typo: .071/.118/.080. The pitch helped him set the major league record for reliever ERA at 0.60 and lent him the bulk of his fantasy value. Here are his reliever ranks:
ERA (0.60): 1st
Saves (48): 2nd
WHIP (0.78): 2nd
He ranked as the second best reliever according to Yahoo! and the best according to ESPN. He struck out only 76 which didn’t crack the top 25, but was still good for a 9.16 K/9. Simply going by ERA and saves, which is a large part of what we judge closers by in the fantasy realm, it’s one of the best relief seasons in major league history which makes him an easy choice for AL reliever of the year.
Erik writes for DraysBay and has also written for Bloomberg Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ehahmann.