Last night stung. Perhaps all the more so, because the D-backs were two outs away from going back to the top of the National League West, with the Rockies having already lost. But it was not to be: a one-out bunt single seemed to unnerve Arizona closer Fernando Rodney, who allowed a solid hit, and then a towering three-run blast down the right-field line. He eventually had to be ignominiously relieved by Tom Wilhelmsen, not even being able close out the ninth, and having allowed six hits to the eight batters he faced.
Every closer will have a bad day or two. Occasionally, back-to-back: just ask Byung-Hyun Kim. Even Brad Ziegler, arguably the best reliever ever to pitch for the D-back, allowed four runs in less than an inning on four separate occasions during his time here. No matter how much fans may howl, teams will not change their closer every time they blow a save, even after such a bloody mess as this outing. [As mentioned in the recap, Rodney’s Win Probability was the worst in a single game by a D-backs pitcher for over nine seasons] They’re right to show patience, and Rodney had converted all six previous save opportunities given to him.
However, the concern had been there from the very first game. There, it took seven batters to get through his inning against the Giants, and the run allowed gave them a lead in the top of the ninth. An even better comeback in the bottom half, Arizona scoring twice, bailed Rodney out to turn his Diamondbacks’ debut L into a W. After a clean save in the series finale, his second and third saves saw him turn what had been two- and three-run leads into one-run games, before finally closing the door. This was followed by an even worse, non-save appearance against the Dodgers, where he was charged with three runs while retiring one hitter.
His last three saves had been rather better - no runs or hits, and all facing the minimum. Personally, I’d been beginning to relax somewhat, and the Fernando Rodney Experience no longer seemed as scary a thrill-ride as it had been advertised. Last night, however: hoo-boy. It was the first time, again since Brandon Lyon in 2008, and only third in franchise history that an Arizona pitcher had blown a save in the ninth inning while allowing five earned runs. [The other being Kim in 2000] Our closer now has an ERA of 11.00. Eleven. Point. Oh. Oh. With the emphasis on the “Oh-oh”.
Worst WP performances by a D-back, 2009-17
|Fernando Rodney||17-04-26||SDP||L 5-8||9-9, BL||0.2||6||5||5||0||1||1||-0.886|
|David Hernandez||11-06-07||PIT||L 5-8||8-8, BL||0||4||5||5||1||0||0||-0.844|
|J.C. Gutierrez||10-04-16||SDP||L 3-6||9-GF, BL||0.2||2||4||4||2||1||1||-0.819|
|J.J. Putz||12-09-02||LAD||L 4-5||9-GF, BL||0.1||2||2||2||1||1||0||-0.815|
|Brad Ziegler||15-05-27||STL||L 3-4||9-GF, BL||0.2||2||2||1||2||0||1||-0.809|
|Will Harris||14-04-03||SFG||L 5-8||8-8, BL||0.2||3||5||5||2||1||1||-0.808|
|Chad Qualls||10-05-14||ATL||L 5-6||9-GF, BL||0.1||3||2||2||1||0||0||-0.808|
|J.J. Putz||12-05-02||WSN||L 4-5||9-GF, BL||0.2||2||2||2||0||2||1||-0.807|
|Addison Reed||15-05-13||WSN||L 6-9||9-GF, BL||1||3||4||4||1||1||1||-0.804|
|Addison Reed||14-09-18||COL||L 6-7||9-GF, BL||0.2||2||2||2||0||0||1||-0.795|
Do we yank the plug? Or do we write last night off an aberration? It’s certainly hard to feel much confidence in our closer, even though he’s throwing harder than any 40-something has ever thrown in the pitch-f/X era, averaging over 95 mph. The peripherals are somewhat better, with a FIP of 5.42 and an xFIP of 4.33, but those are still far from what you want from a man pitching with games on the line. It’s certainly concerning that, over just his first ten appearances there have two utter meltdowns, and he has been scored on in half his outings. With those performances, theatrics like the jauntily off-center cap and bow/arrow seem almost to be mocking fans.
The tension is increased by Arizona’s unexpectedly positive start to the season. If we were bumbling along at the expected level, below .500, blowing the odd game here and there would probably “matter” a good deal less. We’d roll our eyes, mutter something about our long history of failed closers e.g. Heath Bell, and go about our lives. But, save Rodney (hohoho), we would be leading the division this morning. Suddenly, every win feels a lot more crucial; that this defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory against a very weak side, one with the worst run-differential in baseball, makes it all the more aggravating.
Who do the Diamondbacks have, in the way of potential alternatives for the closer’s position? The obvious replacement would be Archie Bradley, but I like him in the longer relief role he currently occupies - that is, if the team decides not to move him back into the rotation, if we need a long-term replacement for Shelby Miller. Rubby De La Rosa is another candidate, but is still some way off being ready to return: last word was he was scheduled to throw in an extended spring training game last Friday. He will also need to prove he is fully healthy before being given any high-leverage work.
Perhaps the most credible current alternative to Rodney would be J.J. Hoover. While he has only six career saves to his name, he was thoroughly solid from 2012-15 with the Cincinnati Reds, putting up a 3.34 ERA with better than a strikeout per inning. While small sample size, his early form this year has been much closer to that level, than his hugely disappointing 2016, with 12 strikeouts to three walks over eight innings, and an ERA/FIP/xFIP of 2.25/1.07/2.47. [His spring numbers were also excellent, for what they are worth: ten scoreless innings with a K:BB of 12:2] If Rodney falters again, we may see Hoover stepping up to replace him.
There are younger possibilities as well, with Jake Barrett, Jared Miller and Jimmie Sherfy having all been mentioned as potential future closers for the Diamondbacks. Sherfy is the most immediately available, and has put up good numbers so far for Reno - although Silvino Bracho would like a word with you about putting any faith in those. Barrett is still working his way back from shoulder inflammation, and at last report, was still not doing much more than throwing live batting practice. Miller has had a brutal start to the season for Double-A Mobile, having been tagged for 11 earned runs in only 7.2 innings. However, seven of those ER did come in one-third of an inning.
Who should be closing?
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