For me personally, as an Angels fan, I grew to hate current Mariners closer Fernando Rodney because of his erratic control and inability to close out games cleanly as he converted just 17 of 28 save opportunities with a 4.32 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, and 79 K/63 BB in 100 IP with the Angels from 2010-11. So naturally, when he went on to have one of the greatest seasons ever by a closer with the Rays the year after leaving the Angels (0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 76 K/15 BB in 74.2 IP, 48 for 50 in save opportunities), I despised him even more.
Rodney also seems to be the type of player that has surely made many enemies throughout the league, whether it is his thug-like appearance by wearing his hat intentionally crooked to the side, or his arrogant signature post-save routine that he does by pretending to grab an arrow and shooting it into the sky. I know that he has at least ruffled the feathers on the Angel wings of Albert Pujols and Mike Trout as evidenced by each of them performing the same “shoot the arrow” action toward Rodney when getting a big hit and run in the 9th inning off of him in a game last year, after Rodney did a premature arrow celebration at the end of the 8th inning. What a great moment in sports.
So after Rodney’s historic 2012 season, he went on to still be a quality closer with the Rays again in 2013 and then with the Mariners in 2014. But one had to wonder just how long this would last given his 2002-11 track record of being a below average relief pitcher and as his age got into the upper 30’s. Judging by the looks of things so far this season, his time as a quality Major League closer might be up. Rodney may not be on the hot seat quite yet, but I’m sure he is feeling a little bit of a burning sensation on those glutes of his.
Even though Rodney has converted 12 of 13 save opportunities this year, he has hardly been sharp in doing so, especially as of late as he has been scored upon in 4 out of his last 5 save chances to close out a game, but he luckily escaped without a blown save in any of those games. Overall, Rodney owns a 6.23 ERA and 1.62 WHIP, and both of his strikeout and walk rates are trending in the opposite directions of the past few years.
What appears to be hurting Rodney the most is his two-seam fastball. With no drastic change in velocity or movement on the pitch, it could be that Rodney has been tipping his pitches and that is the reason why hitters are teeing off on that pitch as they are making contact on it 91.8% of the time as opposed to 85.0% last year, and hitters are only swinging and missing on the pitch 3.0% of the time as opposed to 6.3% of the time last year. And as a two pitch pitcher, with a changeup being his second pitch, if he is in fact tipping his pitches, then by process of elimination hitters know what to expect every single pitch.
If it is a case of tipping his pitches, then that is something that can be worked on and fixed and Rodney can go on and turn in another quality season as a closer. But maybe it’s just that time of his career where he is losing his mojo. I would much prefer the latter as I don’t want to see him and his arrogance closing out any games anymore, and the Mariners have a young 25-year old righty who could flourish in the role. His name is Carson Smith.
Smith has shown the ability to dominate hitters in his time in the upper Minors and now also in his time in the Majors. Smith had a brief experience with the Mariners last year as he did not allow a run in 9 appearances, and this year so far he has really established himself as an elite setup man to Rodney. He comes at batters with a sinking fastball, a wipeout slider, a curveball, and the occasional changeup. This pitch repertoire allows him to induce a ton of ground balls (64.3%) and generate a lot of swings and misses (12.5%). And he does this all while showing great control (2.25 BB/9). He currently has a 0.90 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, and 10.42 K/9.
By all accounts, Smith is the Mariners best relief pitcher, and if Rodney continues to struggle then Smith should be more than capable of stepping in to close out games. Also a factor in all of this is the fact that Rodney’s contract is up at the end of this season. Should the Mariners fall out of contention then Rodney would make for a pretty attractive trade piece for any contending team looking for bullpen help. And at the very least, the Mariners should be prepared to let Rodney walk at the end of the year to insert Smith as their closer for the next several years. So I view Smith as a must have for dynasty leagues, and a definite grab and stash for non-keeper leagues for this year.