Looking at another pitcher who found benefits in a small shift.
Last April I chronicled Fernando Rodney's shift on the mound and the potential ramifications. Though examining similar shifts bore no predictive fruit—pitching, as it turns out, is more complicated —it was a fun topic that showcased the creativity put forth by the league's pitching coaches. The new season will bring new changes to uncover and analyze. But before we forget about 2012 let's take one final look back at the year in shifts.
Max Marchi was kind enough to assist me, as he did in the first piece, by providing the PITCHf/x data complete with his own ballpark adjustments. The top-10 shifters, as ranked by absolute difference in horizontal release point from 2011 to 2012, are presented in the table below. This methodology benefits those who made one big shift from the first year to the second rather than those who made a number of small moves, which is to say fervent shifters like Francisco Liriano (who moves based on the batter's handedness) are absent from the list. Rodney is amusingly absent as well, since he failed to meet the playing time requirement of 1,000 pitches in both seasons. Rest assured, he would've finished at the top.
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Meet Rob Murphy, the man on the all-time ERA leaderboard.
Fernando Rodney has passed Dennis Eckersley for the lowest ERA (minimum 50 innings) in forever history. At Hardball Talk, Aaron Gleeman has the all-time leaderboard: Rodney and Eckersley in the top two spots, a couple Deadball guys fourth and fifth. And third, Rob Murphy. A man who pitched entirely in my baseball-following lifetime and of whom I'd swear I've never heard. So who/how?
Brett Lawrie was right to be upset about the two strikes that got him ejected on Tuesday, but framer extraordinaire Jose Molina had as much to do with the calls as umpire Bill Miller.
On Tuesday night, the Rays beat the Blue Jays 4-3. All of the scoring was over by the seventh, but the real action occurred in the bottom of the ninth, when Brett Lawrie was ejected by umpire Bill Miller after arguing balls and strikes, first with loud body language, then with loud words, and finally by transforming his helmet into flying suspension bait. Lawrie probably brushes his teeth more intensely than you’ve ever done anything, so you can only imagine what he looks like when he’s called out on borderline pitches in a close game against a division rival. Actually, that’s not true—imagining it isn’t the only thing you can do. You can also watch this video:
Don't overreact to an unprecedented casualty rate for closers.
There’s an old adage in fantasy baseball to “draft skills, not roles.” The reasoning behind this is that the cream will rise to the top, that the better player will eventually take on the more prominent role. This advice is often given in regard to closers, but it’s advice which I’ve expressed my disagreement with on multiple occasions. While “draft skills, not roles” is a romantic notion, studies I’ve run in the past have shown that role is far more important than skill when it comes to saves and that closers in waiting are generally poor investments.
When Fernando Rodney received the first two save opportunities following Kyle Farnsworth’s injury, one site said that “while it would be nice to think that the 35-year-old will continue to close out games so effortlessly, his track record and bullpen competition probably make him one of the biggest sell-high candidates in baseball.” Rodney proceeded to roll off seven more (consecutive) saves en route to becoming one of the most valuable closers in baseball over the first six weeks. He had the role, which is more difficult to lose than most assume.
What numbers do we look at when no number is large enough?
In 2011, the Angels began the season with Fernando Rodney as their closer. Oh, man, was Fernando Rodney bad at baseball a year ago. Rodney was the Angels’ closer, and he was also one of the worst relievers in baseball. He converted his first save, and he blew his second save, and he was replaced by Jordan Walden. Jordan Walden made the All-Star team. The Angels didn’t add a closer in the offseason. The Angels didn’t suggest any sort of closer controversy was brewing. The Angels didn't leave the issue of the ninth inning open-ended at all. Jordan Walden spent his winter chopping wood, shoveling snow, and quietly being the Angels’ closer. “What do you do?” people would ask him at parties. “Awwwww,” he would say, trying to be humble, because nobody likes a boaster, “I’m involved in recreation.” Pressed, he would acknowledge that he closed baseball games for the Angels. Women would casually touch his arm.
He saved his first game, and he blew his second game, and he was replaced by Scott Downs. Fernando Rodney is a closer, and Jordan Walden no longer is. That was very fast! One blown save. Four and a third total innings, and nine baserunners. If his season were a start, it would be Clayton Kershaw’s April 15 start. Very, very fast.
Presenting the three filthiest pitches from the first week of the season.
If you followed any games last season on MLB.com’s Gameday application, you saw “Nasty Factor,” which assigned a number to each pitch based on its perceived nastiness. If you have followed any games this season on Gameday, you’ve seen “Scout,” which describes the action like this: “Sergio Romo is having trouble locating his four-seam fastball” and so on. We’re about to watch the three best pitches* thrown in the first week of the season, and, frankly, Nasty Factor and Scout can’t do these pitches justice. So enjoy the moving pictures, and then read the expert analysis provided by some MLB.com apps that are still in development.
The Rays are known for their shifts, but not like this.
Kyle Farnsworth’s elbow discomfort not only landed him on the disabled list, but opened up one of the game’s more interesting early season position battles. Under normal circumstances, Joe Maddon would not have to choose between Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta to close out games, yet here he is, doing just that on a day-to-day basis. So far, Rodney looks to be the leader, having notched three saves in three opportunities—two due to Peralta’s ineffectiveness. The most recent came on Wednesday, with Rodney tossing a one-two-three inning after the Rays came back in the ninth inning.
Will a recent change in closers have any impact on the Angels, or is the order of late-inning outings immaterial?
As the season began, Fernando Rodney’s hold on the Angels’ closer job was believed to be tenuous. Other than possessing the “proven closer” label, there wasn’t much about Rodney to recommend him for the role. His “success” as a closer, such as it was, was more a testament to how overrated the role is, not his own ability to pitch.
Despite those concerns, few would have expected him to surrender the title as early as he did: Rodney was removed from the closer role on Tuesday, after just two outings and one blown save. What was it about the one-and-a-third innings Rodney had pitched so far this year that wasn’t already apparent from the previous 398 innings under his belt? Sure, the most recent innings were worse, but anyone can pitch that poorly in less than two innings. A more impressive sign of mediocrity is being able to pitch a hairsbreadth away from replacement level for eight seasons, which Rodney had already accomplished.
Mike Scioscia has had enough with Fernando Rodney, which means the closer gig is Jordan Walden's now.
Fernando Rodney is out, and Jordan Walden is in. Angels' manager Mike Scioscia made the call this afternoon, announcing that Rodney would not close games for the Halos. Walden has struck out five hitters in his 2 1/3 innings pitched this year, while Rodney has given up a pair of runs and struck out two over his 1 1/3 frames.
Granted, we're talking about extremely small samples here, but, given the rush of Scioscia to replace Rodney just four games into the season, it's safe to say he was looking for an excuse to remove him from the gig. Rodney was a questionable closer to begin with—we're talking about a pitcher who has punched out just 7.1 per nine over the past two years, and against 4.8 walks per nine. He's not exactly contributing to your strikeout rates, WHIP, or, thanks to his 4.41 mark from 2007 through 2010, your ERA, either. If anything, it's a relief to have someone like him, whose lone value came from saves, removed from your lineup.
There's value in even the worst of situations, if you know where to look for it.
Sometimes, I wonder why I even bother discussing the Orioles in this section. As Rob Neyer noted, the 2010 edition of this once-proud franchise has the same record through 66 games as the 1988 crew, who started 0-21 and finished up at 54-107. They've gone through about twenty closers, to the point that I wonder when Armando Benitez is going to surface, and that means that each week it seems to be someone new. This week, I'm going to hedge my bets and have two Oriole relievers on the list.
As expected, Alfredo Simon was activated from the disabled list and made his debut yesterday in a non-save situation, with the Orioles insisting all along that he'd be eased back into the to the closer's role upon his return. Nothing has caused us to think they'd deviate that plan, so Simon remains on the list. Yet with the Orioles being the Orioles, they could be forgiven for jumping at the first sign of life from anyone on the roster, and that's why we're adding David Hernandez this week as well. Hernandez wouldn't seem like a prime candidate for success, since the reason he's in the bullpen in the first place is that he lost his starting job after eight lousy starts in which he put up a 5.31 ERA and walked more (28) than he struck out (27). Yet he's allowed just one run in 8.2 relief innings since being converted, flashing his 93 MPH fastball and increasing his K rate from 5.7 as a starter to 7.3 as a reliever. He's picked up two saves, as well. While I still think Simon will get a chance to reclaim his job, it's not like he was that good, with a dangerously high walk rate. To be honest, I'd be surprised if either one of them claimed the job, with this looking very much like a "hot hand" situation for the few save opportunities the O's find themselves in. Keep an eye on this over the next few days to see how they play this, but gun to my head, I like Hernandez right now.