ANAHEIM CA - JULY 01: Relief pitcher Fernando Rodney #56 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim celebrates after getting Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers to pop out in the eighth inning at Anaheim Stadium on July 1 2010 in Anaheim California. The Angels defeated the Rangers 2-1. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
But the second most anticipated season preview belongs to none other than Fernando Rodney. I mean, the Tampa Bay Rays would not give him $2M guaranteed with a 2013 option worth $2.5M if they thought he would post his fifth straight season with a FIP over 4.00 and xFIP over 4.25, right?
Rodney has not exactly been the model of excellence over the past four seasons with an ERA of 4.46, FIP of 4.34, and xFIP of 4.47, all of which are below the league average over those four seasons. This is in large part thanks to a BB/9 of 5.58 which is the third worst mark (min 210 innings) in the Majors over that time period, bested only by Oliver Perez and Carlos Marmol. His 7.88 BB/9 in 2011 is simply laughable.
Pitchers with those types of numbers do not get guaranteed Major League contracts, let alone ones with an option and guaranteed $2M. The Rays must see something beyond that and the DraysBay staff may have figured out what that is.
Steve Slowinski has already pointed out that Rodney had the most "whiff-y" pitch in 2011 among pitchers on the current Rays roster with a whiff rate of 46.15% on his change-up. Whelk gave us a beautiful visualization of Rodney's pitch selection that you can sort by years and count. Whelk also told us why the Rays would want Rodney and it was largely due to his change-up and the fact that he thinks pitching coach Jim Hickey can fix him.
Rodney's change-up has easily been the most valuable weapon in his arsenal throughout his career with a combined wCH and wSF of +32.8 including a +2.5 in 2011 despite it being the first time he threw the pitch under 26% of the time since his rookie season in 2002.
The lack of change-ups meant that Rodney threw his slider 10.3% of the time, his highest mark since 2002. His wSL in 2011 was +0.7, so it had some value, but why would he go away from the change-up the most often since his rookie season? This is something the Rays will likely make sure does not happen again.
Jason Collette pointed out that Rodney went away from his change-up after falling behind in the count. Rodney may not have the best command or control in the game and it certainly has not helped him gain any favors from umpires. Take a look at his called strike zone plot from 2011:
As you can see Rodney received very few favors from the home plate umpire last year while receiving a very large number of strike calls against him.
It has been well documented that new Rays catcher Jose Molina is a pitch framing artist. I do not think it was a coincidence that the Rodney signing came nearly two months after the Rays signed Molina. If the Rays can get half of those that were actually strikes reversed it could go a long way in helping Rodney regain some of his previous form.
Rodney also has a mid-90s four-seam fastball that Brooks Baseball says averaged 96.41 mph and a power sinker that nearly matched the four-seamer's velocity at 96.06 mph. The sinker has led to three straight seasons of groundball rates above 50% including a career best 58.4% mark last season and he keeps the ball in the park.
At first glance Rodney looks like a pitcher with good stuff but little-to-no idea of what to do with it or where it is going when he throws it. The Rays have the proper pieces in place to bring the best out of what Rodney brings to the table.
It worked when Joaquin Benoit came to Tampa Bay sporting a 4.79 ERA, 4.50 FIP, and 4.63 xFIP. He threw the second highest percentage of change-ups in his career and improved his walk rate to an outstanding 1.6 BB/9 from a career mark of 4.3 BB/9 in his season with the Rays. Why can't it work with Rodney?