We’ve known for a very long time that the Diamondbacks were in need of bullpen reinforcements. Things looked kind good in early 2016 with Daniel Hudson, Tyler Clippard, and Brad Ziegler all being better than average relief arms. That group was due to make something like $14.3 million in 2016, and while the triumvirate proved effective more often than not, it’s not as if the three were exactly cheap (they were on track to tie up about 16% of team payroll). Instead, the D-backs flipped Ziegler, then flipped Clippard as Daniel Hudson’s season was starting to fall apart. By August, the bullpen transformation was complete, and not in a good way. Jake Barrett was the most reliable arm, but he had his issues. Come season’s end, the bullpen was clearly the team’s weakest link. So, stability was a priority, which is why at the Winter Meetings, the team added…
Fernando Rodney? Broke-off hat Fernando Rodney? Rippin’ arrows into the sky Fernando Rodney? Forty years old before Opening Day Fernando Rodney? The answer to all of those questions is clearly “yes.” There can be only one Fernando Rodney, after all. Over 767 career games, Rodney’s earned 261 career saves. That places him 32nd on the all-time saves list, where he should pass Bob Wickman at some point in the near future for 31st, though Craig Kimbrel‘s right on his tail. Still, Rodney does bring #veteranpresents to the bullpen and sits 5th amongst active relievers in saves. I mean, that’s impressive in its own right, but there are a couple of obvious problems with this perspective.
First, saves are a bad way to evaluate a relief pitcher. We’ve explored this before, and while there’s perhaps some merit to the idea that he’s filled the role before, it doesn’t necessarily portend that he’ll be good at filling that role in the future. Second, it was a tale of two seasons for Rodney, where he was simply stellar with the Padres before a midseason trade to the Marlins where things became rather bumpy. Take a look at his two stops last year:
It should be noted that Rodney yielded most of his save opportunities in Miami to A.J. Ramos, a guy we attempted to trade for in the 2015-2016 Offseason Plan. Instead, we called for relief help in the 2016-2017 Offseason Plan, but didn’t target Rodney before he was dumped on us right before publishing. That’s okay, and we’d still like to see further additions (Mike Hazen would, too), but Rodney is, technically, a start. He comes on a cheap deal with a base salary of $2.75 million and some performance incentives, not unlike the kind of deal we proposed offering Greg Holland (though we predicted he’d need a much bigger base salary).
The financial commitment is bearable given that number of actual American dollars is pretty low for a guy who will get a chance to close, and it lasts just one year. It’s the kind of deal you could afford to eat should he pitch poorly for the first two months of the season, cutting bait and moving on. It’s also the kind of deal that makes Rodney an easy trade candidate midseason should he get off to a good start but the Diamondbacks play poorly overall. The financial commitment is so negligible that Rodney can be flipped to a contender, saving Arizona some cash and netting a prospect in return. He fetched righty Chris Paddack last June, a young pitcher who was seen as a guy on the rise, at least until he tore is UCL and headed for Tommy John before things between the Padres and Marlins got ugly. It’s not inconceivable that the D-backs could pull something similar should Rodney work out on their watch. It’s at least a fall-back option.
What it all comes down to, though, is simplest of things: Fernando Rodney’s ability to pitch effectively. There was once a time that the right-hander was sat in the upper 90’s and could touch the triple digits. It’s been four years since then and the velocity has fallen off for Rodney, but when you throw that hard, “falling off” is a little less treacherous. He still showed plus velocity on his fastballs, with his four-seamer and sinker consistently between 94-96 mph. Of note, however, is the fact that Rodney’s average fastball velocity dropped by a full mile-per-hour over the course of his 2016 campaign. Is that a sign of further decline? He’d held steady in the 95-96 range since 2014, but that can only be expected last up so long, and he is about to hit 40. A drop in velo wouldn’t be any kind of surprise, though the rubber-armed Rodney has been pretty resistant to significant decline considering his age.
Perhaps the biggest issue Rodney had last year, once he hit Miami and his season went south, was his control. His walk rate spiked up in a way that made it nearly impossible for him to succeed. He managed to avoid any home runs in his 28 games in San Diego, hardly a surprise given the park factors at play in PetCo. He wasn’t so lucky in Miami, however, as he surrendered five runs wearing the orange and black and blue and green and silver and yellow. His BABIP also did some strange things, though his batted ball profile remained mostly steady. Observe:
A question we should ask is this: did Rodney pitch worse in Miami or was this just regression to the mean? Rodney’s pitches held mostly solid throughout the season with the exception of the small velocity notes above. He continued to get more than 50% ground balls. While he had one major spike in hard-hit balls (July) and one major crater (May), he was generally in the acceptable range of 21-23% hard hit balls. His BABIP, though, that did some weird things. It looks like Rodney was nothing short of a monster in May, not very good in July, but saw expanded damage done against him in the final months of the season despite plenty of grounders and normal hard-hit rates. Sometimes the ball just falls in. Sometimes you hang one and instead of it getting popped up, it gets smashed out. These things happen, it’s baseball.
Without getting into every nook and cranny of Fernando Rodney, it appears that he was a reasonably good pitcher last year at the tender age of 39. He suffered some really good luck and some really bad luck, but in between, he was okay. And for an incentive-laden deal with a base salary of $2.75 million, the team could have done worse. The ground balls and strikeouts are great, the home runs and walks a little concerning. I guess that’s what you get when you shop the bargain bin. Though it wouldn’t have taken much more to lock in more predictable performances.
— Jeff Wiser (@OutfieldGrass24) December 8, 2016
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FanGraphs Stats Glossary
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Cot's Baseball Contracts
BP Base Running Stats
Previously on The Pool Shot, the guys explained some of their favorite advanced stats. Hitting, including wRC+, HHAV and batted ball; pitching (38:00), including FIP, xFIP and SIERA; and baserunning and defense, including UBR, UZR and DRS (58:00).