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Is it time to pull the plug on the Fernando Rodney Experience? v2.0

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. No, on second thoughts: don’t...

Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Yeah, we have been down this road before. Back in late April, Rodney finished the month with a couple of hellish performances. He allowed eight runs over 1.2 innings, blowing consecutive save opportunities. And we asked the same question at that point. While the general mood of the fanbase was “Get him out of there!” - only 13% of the 752 voters wanting him to retain his position is closer - Rodney was clearly undeterred. Indeed, he had two of the best months ever by a Diamondback reliever in May and June: He allowed just two hits and an unearned run over 18.2 innings, striking out 20 batters.

But bad Rodney has apparently returned, with a vengeance at the start of July. Some fans have already forgotten he blew the save on Sunday as well (I was told on Twitter that talk of removal was over-reacting to one blown save), perhaps because the offense had a chance to regroup in the bottom of the ninth and turn it into a walk-off win - much as they did after Rodney gave the San Francisco Giants the lead on Opening Day. So that was a slight bump in the road, compared to the dreadful sink-hole which opened up beneath Fernando and the D-backs last night in Dodger Stadium.

For Rodney didn’t just blow a save, or even blow a three-run lead. He did so without recording a single out. He faced six batters and all six reached, on two hits and four walks. No D-backs relief pitcher has had a worse outing in the history of the franchise. The only comparable one was over six years age, when David Hernandez also failed to retire the six batters he faced, and took the loss against the Pirates. [Greg Swindell in 2002 and Matt Mantei in 2000, also had similar 0 IP, 6 BF games, but both of those were in blowout losses]

By Win Probability, you’ve to go back further to find a worse game in Arizona history. Rodney’s -89.6% was the lowest since a Brandon Lyon appearance in April 2008. And it would have been worse still, save Torey Lovullo bolting the stable door after the horse had bolted, bringing T.J. McFarland in to get the coup de grace. If it had been credited to Rodney as well, this would be second-worst ever, trailing only a similar Matt Mantei blown save of a three-run lead from April 2004 against the Padres. And this doesn’t even factor in, that last night came as we the D-backs were on the verge of a win against the team with whom they were supposed to be fighting for the division.

But if Torey Lovullo stuck with Rodney after his consecutive, ugly blown saves in April, is there any reason to think he won’t stick with Rodney after consecutive, ugly blown saves in July? There is one big difference in the situation, however. After Rodney’s two blowns saves in April, according to Fangraphs, we were still a relatively long shot for the playoffs, at 29.4%. After these two, however, our playoff odds at the same source are 90.0%, more than three times better. A pretender can afford to have an unreliable closer. A contender... Not so much. Rodney’s performance is certainly in stark contrast to those of most other teams with playoff aspirations.

The chart below shows the leading teams, in terms of Fangraph playoff odds, and how their closer has been doing so far. I’ve excluded the Nationals and Yankees, as neither team has anyone with more than eight saves to this point. This gives us a dozen closers, all but one of whom have appeared between 30-37 times to date.

2017 closers

Greg Holland COL 34 32.1 1-0 1.39 28 1 96.6% 2.9 12.0 0.99 .156
Alex Colome TBR 36 38.1 2-3 3.99 23 4 85.2% 2.2 8.2 1.33 .246
Craig Kimbrel BOS 35 36.2 2-0 1.23 23 2 92.0% 13.0 16.0 0.52 .113
Roberto Osuna TOR 37 35.0 2-0 2.06 22 3 88.0% 15.7 12.1 0.71 .177
Fernando Rodney ARI 33 30.1 3-3 5.64 21 5 80.8% 1.9 10.1 1.35 .211
Kenley Jansen LAD 34 35.2 4-0 1.01 20 0 100.0% 28.0 14.1 0.59 .150
Kelvin Herrera KCR 35 34.0 1-2 4.50 19 2 90.5% 4.7 8.7 1.26 .265
Ken Giles HOU 33 31.1 1-2 3.45 19 2 90.5% 3.3 11.2 1.12 .202
Seung-Hwan Oh STL 37 39.2 1-4 3.63 17 3 85.0% 3.5 8.6 1.34 .266
Cody Allen CLE 34 33.1 0-4 2.70 16 1 94.1% 4.1 13.2 1.29 .240
Wade Davis CHC 30 29.0 2-0 1.86 16 0 100.0% 3.8 13.0 1.00 .175
Corey Knebel MIL 41 40.2 0-1 1.11 13 3 81.3% 3.2 15.7 1.11 .163

Where does Rodney rank among these 12 closers?

  • ERA: 12th
  • Save percentage: 12th
  • K/BB: 12th
  • K/9: 9th
  • WHIP: 12th
  • BA: 8th

He’s not even average in any of those categories, and is dead last in most of the ones which matter. A save percentage of 80.8% is not good, as a though experiment will show you. Let’s consider a hypothetical reliever who concedes exactly one run every inning he pitches; never more, never less, so has a 9.00 ERA. Pretty awful, right? But assuming an equal distribution of save opportunities, he’d have a save percentage of 67% - he’d convert all the two- and three-run leads, while blowing the one-run ones. So, Rodney’s performance this year, as far as converting saves go, hasn’t been all that much better than our pretty awful imaginary bullpen inhabitant.

We saw last year what happened with Rodney, who fell off a cliff in the second-half, after virtually the same point in the season. Through July 3 last season, Rodney’s ERA was 0.29. Thereafter? 6.23. Small sample size warning applies, but Rodney’s velo also appeared to be a bit down last night, a worrying suggestion he might be running out of gas. Per Brooks Baseball, his four-seamer averaged 94.9 mph; that’s almost a full click below what it was during his dominant spell last month, when it averaged 95.8 mph. I’d rather not be doomed to repeat past history, thank you very much.

The obvious candidate to take over is Archie Bradley, who seems likely to take over the role in 2018 regardless. Last night was particularly striking: Bradley mowed through the heart of the Dodgers order, getting four outs on nine pitches, including two strikeouts, before Rodney came in and went number two on the pillow. But the difference between their two sets of statistics overall this season is also pretty stark.

Rodney vs. Bradley

Rodney 5.64 30.1 23 21 19 2 18 34 3.65 1.352 6.8 5.3 10.1 1.89
Bradley 1.15 39.0 27 5 5 3 8 47 2.44 0.897 6.2 1.8 10.8 5.88

Certainly hard to argue Bradley isn’t ready. The most credible counterpoint would be that Bradley is most valuable in an ‘Andrew Miller-esque’ role, used for high-leverage moments, whenever they occur, rather than being backed into a “save situation only” corner. But, personally, I’m simply done with Rodney as closer. It took two months of dominance to overcome the last pair of blown saves, and those were likely much less traumatic than what we endured last night. He may have forgotten about it already, as good closers are supposed to do. I certainly haven’t, and suspect I’ll feel little or no confidence seeing him enter games, the rest of the season.