The Diamondbacks initially signed Fernando Rodney to a 1-year deal loaded with incentives with the intention of using them as their closer. The deal paid him a base of $2.75M, but with a maximum of $5M. Rodney was coming off a 2016 season where he was lights out as the Padres closer, allowing 1 run in 28 2⁄3 innings and being selected as an All-Star. In the 2nd half he struggled in a setup role to now former Marlins closer AJ Ramos, pitching to a 5.89 ERA in 39 games. With the Diamondbacks out of the market for top-end closers like Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon, and Kenley Jansen, the Dbacks were certainly going to have to take a risk on a bargain option like Rodney and hope he can stabilize the back-end of the bullpen.
The early returns on Rodney were not very good. In April, Rodney struggled in 10 games. Rodney pitched to a 12.60 ERA, with a 13/7 K/BB ratio and only converted 6 of 8 save opportunities. That month ended on a very ugly note with Rodney twice blowing 2-run leads to NL West foes. Batters hit .356/.453/.614 and it looked like a surprise Dbacks team had a potential long term problem on their hands that would sink the ship. Throughout the tough struggles that Rodney endured the last week of April, Dbacks manager Torey Lovullo never wavered in his support for Rodney never and certainly never considered making bullpen changes. The best chance for the Dbacks to contend late in the year was Rodney tuning things around.
Which is exactly what happened. For the rest of the season, Rodney has pitched to a 2.04 ERA, holding batters to a .127/.233/.159 line, striking out 44 vs. walking 17. Walks are still somewhat of an issue for Rodney at 11.7%, it’s not much higher than his career average of 11.4% and he’s striking out 27.8% of hitters on the season, which would be the 2nd best mark of his career. During that time, his ground ball rate has spiked up to 52.9% and line drive contact has been suppressed to a minuscule 11.5%. Considering the high probability of a line drive becoming a hit, it’s no surprise that Rodney is only yielding a .127 opponent batting average.
Another good way to measure a closer is by Win Probability Added. A good closer will have a strong number over the course of the year. Fernando Rodney’s WPA stands at 1.47, which curiously enough places 3rd on the team behind Archie Bradley (2.55) and Jorge De La Rosa (1.76). Rodney ranks 33rd amongst MLB relievers in WPA, which is an acceptable number. Another stat that uses WPA is the shutdown (>6% WPA) and meltdown (<-6% WPA) metrics. Rodney on the season has 33 shutdowns vs. 7 meltdowns, roughly a 4.71 ratio which I consider to be a solid mark. Obviously he hasn’t been as dominant as Bradley, but we can agree the numbers say that Rodney has been successful in what the Dbacks have asked to him.
Rodney has had some meltdowns over the course of the year after May. He’s blown 3 of 33 save opportunities, including his worst meltdown of the year against the Dodgers on July 6th in which he allowed 4 runs without getting an out. After that game, the public mob wanted Rodney deposed as closer. Fortunately, Lovullo has forgotten more baseball than we as fans will learn and kept Rodney in the closer role. Since then, Rodney has pitched to a 1.86 ERA with a .147/.230/.209 slash and a 23/6 K/BB while converting 15 straight save opportunities. Rodney has proven once again that he can move on from a bad string of outings and continue to perform when called upon.
The Diamondbacks took a gamble in December, hoping that paying Rodney $5M instead of paying a “proven closer” $15M a year. Two of the closers who signed in the offseason to that amount, Mark Melancon and Aroldis Chapman, struggled in 2017 and were pulled from the closer role on their respective teams. Rodney on the other hand has been the Dbacks closer all year and has compiled 36 saves in 41 chances while pitching solidly for most of the year. Rodney and Bradley have stabilized the back-end of the bullpen, a big reason behind the Dbacks are 82-58 and have a stranglehold on the top Wild Card spot.