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Entries in Tampa Bay Rays (46)


Fernando Rodney, Elite Closer(!)?

Few analysts applauded when Tampa Bay Rays inked Fernando Rodney over the winter to close games. While Rodney had nearly 90 career saves to his name, he was also coming off a season with the Angels in which he walked more batters than he struck out and held a career ERA+ (101) right around the league average. That's hardly the stuff of late-inning gunslinging, and the move seemingly didn't jive with the Rays' typically stat-savvy approach.

But, as ESPN SweetSpot's David Schoenfield notes, the crooked-capped Rodney has been lights-out in Tampa:

You know, Fernando Rodney has never really been that good. He had 44 good innings for the Tigers in 2005 and he was tough to hit in 2006, when he had a 3.52 ERA. But from 2007 through 2011, he posted a 4.42 ERA, hardly impressive for a relief pitcher, and allowed a ton of baserunners (1.50 WHIP) as he always walked too many batters (5.2 walks per 9). He lucked into 37 saves for the Tigers in 2009 despite a 4.40 ERA and other uninspiring numbers (41 walks, 61 strikeouts, eight home runs in 75.2 innings).

So of course the Angels gave him $11 million, and then were surprised when it turned he was wild and ineffective.

And then the Tampa Bay Rays signed him. The Rays are always in search of power arms for their bullpen. Sure enough, Kyle Farnsworth gets hurt, Joe Maddon decides to sort of make Rodney his closer, he starts throwing strikes for the first time in his career and now he's 2-0 with 11 saves, no blown saves, no extra-base hits allowed and a .232 opponents' OBP, more than 100 points below his .342 career mark.

Rodney has struck out 19 hitters in 18.2 frames, while also walking just two batters unintentionally and getting lots of ground balls (55 percent of pitches put in play). With 0.8 Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement, Rodney has already provided twice as much value for his club this year than he did from 2006-2011 combined.

While the big dip in walks might suggest that Rodney is suddenly pounding the strike zone, that's not really the case. His percentage of pitches thrown in the zone has climbed, from 46 percent to 48 percent, but that's about average for relief pitchers. The bigger change is that Rodney's mid-90s fastball and low-80s changeup are getting more swings on pitches thrown off the plate:

Pitch2011 Chase Pct.2012 Chase Pct.Avg. for Relievers
Fastball 27.6 33.7 26.6
Changeup 30.6 39.4 35.6
Overall 28.9 34.6 28.5


Most of those extra chases are coming on pitches thrown to the glove side, either well off the outside corner to lefties or just below the knees. Take a look at hitters' swing rate by pitch location versus Rodney during his disastrous 2011, and then in 2012:

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Rodney, 2011

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Rodney, 2012

Those chases on arm-side pitches are also leading to many more swings and misses. Look at Rodney's opponent contact rate by pitch location last year, and then in 2012:

Hitters' contact rate by pitch location vs. Rodney, 2011

Hitters' swing rate by pitch location vs. Rodney, 2012

Hitters have an overall miss rate of 32 percent against Rodney's stuff this year, well above his 21 percent mark in 2011 and the 24 percent average for relievers.

It's too early to declare Rodney an elite reliever after a month and a half, considering he put up middling numbers over the past decade. But right now, he looks nothing like the big-on-stuff, short-on-results slacker that frustrated talent evaluators in Detroit in L.A. Score another one for Andrew Friedman and company.


Best Mistake Hitters since 2010

Highest HR% on Mistake Pitches since 2010
Jose Bautista474183.396.9566.6%16.5%
David Ortiz383176.405.9714.5%15.0%
Matt Joyce25097.389.95811.3%14.7%
Shelley Duncan20475.387.89321.3%14.7%
Jim Thome21483.402.92716.9%14.6%
Russell Branyan17262.306.80619.4%14.5%
Matt Kemp508185.379.8799.7%13.7%
Pedro Alvarez21482.415.91512.2%13.4%
Mike Stanton293116.421.95610.3%13.2%
Pat Burrell24679.408.92111.4%13.2%
Josh Hamilton252124.369.8208.9%13.1%
Brennan Boesch276129.414.8757.0%12.5%
Ryan Braun458178.434.9146.7%12.0%
Brian McCann301109.367.78911.9%11.9%
Carlos Pena361139.296.74112.2%11.9%
Jorge Posada237101.257.64416.8%11.9%
Adam LaRoche24293.376.8179.7%11.8%
Joey Votto420165.466.9759.7%11.7%
Mark Reynolds459170.293.73117.6%11.4%
Carlos Quentin303109.286.7057.3%11.4%
Prince Fielder368159.365.7556.3%11.3%
Albert Pujols407162.379.8144.3%11.2%
Curtis Granderson411110.336.7763.6%11.2%
Kelly Johnson412153.329.7639.2%11.2%

Make a mistake to any of these hitters, and you're bound to pay for it. The above list includes only pitches that crossed the center of the strike zone since 2010. It's no surprise that Jose Bautista has a high HR% on mistake pitches; same for David Ortiz, Matt Kemp and a bunch of others.

I'm somewhat surprised to see Matt Joyce as #3 on the list. Of the 36 home runs he's hit since the start of 2010, 14 have come on pitches right in the center of the strike zone. Eight of those HRs came in 2011 when he hit 19 total long balls.

Nick Swisher has the most hits on mistake pitches with 80, while teammate Derek Jeter's 79 hits has him tied for second with Michael Young.

Mark Reynolds, #20 on the list, also has 30 strike outs on pitches over the middle of the plate since 2010. That's second only to Adam Dunn with 33.


Big Game James

James Shields entered Monday's game against the Boston Red Sox with his team facing the possiblity of getting swept in four straight at Fenway.  He certainly stepped up, holding the Red Sox to no runs and four hits while striking out five over 8.1 innings.

James Shields vs. Red Sox LHB, April 16th, 2012James Shields vs. Red Sox RHB, April 16th, 2012Last year, Shields relied on his fastball only 35.3% of the time; fairly low compared to the league average of 46.2%.  Last night, he mixed up his pitches quite well, and in fact only threw 14 fastballs, accounting for just 14.8% of his total pitches.

In addition, Shields made sure to keep the ball away from righties yesterday, as you can see from the above graphic. Take a look at where RHB hurt him most in 2011:

James Shields vs. RHB, 2011 Regular SeasonShields really limited right-handed batters in 2011 by hitting that outside part of the zone. He followed this pattern yesterday and as a result, the Tampa Bay Rays got a much needed 1-0 victory.

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