BLOW-PEN Report: Cubs, A’s, Astros, and Rays

In previous BLOW-PEN Reports, I have talked about Steve Cishek needing to be replaced by A.J. RamosNeftali Feliz making way for Shawn Tolleson, Addison Reed not being the man for the D-Backs, and Fernando Rodney to eventually be replaced by Carson Smith.  So far, so good with those predictions.  Today I bring to you another edition of the BLOW-PEN Report to check in on four situations that require our attention.

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CHICAGO CUBS

On Saturday, Hector Rondon, who began the season as the Cubs closer was inserted into a save opportunity to begin the 9th inning, but after walking the leadoff batter he was relieved by Pedro Strop who proceeded to close out the game cleanly for the save.  After the game, manager Joe Maddon told reporters that it wasn’t a case of changing who his closer was and that he just wanted to put his team in position to win the game.

So then on Sunday, Rondon appeared yet again to protect a lead, but this time it was to begin the 8th inning where he pitched a perfect inning but failed to strike anyone out.  But this time it was not Strop who pitched the 9th inning for the save opportunity.  Instead it was Jason Motte, former Cardinals closer.  Motte pitched a perfect inning with one strikeout for his first save of the season.  Maddon then went on to say that Strop was unavailable, but if he was unavailable then it was not because of a large recent workload since he only pitched twice in the last three days with a 9 pitch outing and a 14 pitch outing.

I am finding it hard to put much value into what Maddon has said, which makes it hard to know what to make of this situation, but I’ve said it so many times now — Maddon has done some interesting things with his bullpens in the past, so with this development, the closer situation can be very fluid the rest of the season.  Rondon didn’t exactly do a whole lot to merit any type of demotion from the closer’s role, but he also wasn’t pitching lights out either with a 3.09 ERA and 1.29 WHIP and 10 for 13 in save opportunities entering Sunday’s game.  But no one else in the Cubs bullpen was exactly performing significantly better than Rondon either.  Whatever the case, Rondon may have fallen out of Maddon’s favor, which would contradict what Maddon said after Saturday’s game.  If that is the case, then Strop and Motte are candidates for saves moving forward, and even lefty Travis Wood.

Strop has very little experience closing out games, but he does have powerful stuff and the ability to miss a lot of bats as his strikeout rate on the season currently is 10.04 K/9.  Motte does have the closer experience having saved 42 games for the Cardinals in 2012, but he has not been the same pitcher since returning last season from Tommy John surgery.  Motte’s velocity has been nowhere near his pre-Tommy John levels, which has adversely affected his ability to strike batters out.  Motte’s strikeout rate this season is a measly 5.91 K/9 and he’s also having a little trouble limiting the walks with a walk rate of 3.38 BB/9.  Wood is just a wildcard who couldn’t hack it in the rotation, so he was moved to the bullpen in mid-May.  Since the move to the pen, Wood has had a 2.84 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, and 9 K/3 BB in 6.1 IP, and he would probably only be an option for saves in a situation where the opposition has a lot of lefties coming up in the 9th inning.

If I have learned anything about Maddon over the years from his time as a bench coach with the Angels to managing the Rays, it is that he has an incredible baseball mind and will do unconventional (but smart) things to help his team to win ball games, and he does not really care for labeling a single pitcher as his closer.  For fantasy baseball team owners, Maddon is a big headache in this regard and it’s going to be difficult to predict what his next move will be the next time his team has a 3-run or less lead in the 9th inning.  Then to complicate matters even further, the Cubs are one of a few teams who are considering signing current free agent Rafael Soriano.

If I had to guess at this point, I would say that Motte would be the leading candidate for saves as Rondon appears to be in the doghouse, and Maddon probably is putting some value in the fact that Motte was one of the game’s best closers for a year and has the closer mentality.  But I would not trust Motte at all to do well if given an extended look since he’s just not striking many batters out.  But Strop is also a good speculative add and would probably have a greater chance of success than Motte.  But ultimately, unless the Cubs bring in someone via trade or signing Soriano, then I think that this will be a closer by committee situation the rest of the way. Continue reading

BLOW-PEN REPORT: Fernando Rodney and His Broken Arrow

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SEATTLE MARINERS

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. Continue reading