We’ve finally gotten to the week where we cover everyone’s favorite position. Who doesn’t love projecting and just generally thinking about relief pitchers with all of their spare time? It can’t just be me, right? For this week’s Tale of the Tape, we’re pitting two veteran division rivals against each other, both of whom possess the all-important “established closer” tag. Although neither are to be considered top tier options, both will be owned in all leagues, and figure to play significant roles in their respective team’s playoff chances. It’s Fernando Rodney vs. Huston Street.
Of course, this is the category you’re most concerned with for your relief pitchers in a standard scoring league. Rodney took the battle last year 48-41, but you can’t rely too heavily on year-to-year save totals to project players going forward. Looking forward to 2015, both teams figure to be in the race all season long, and should provide each closer with ample save opportunities. The Angels are probably slightly better on paper, which gives Street a slight edge. However, the Mariners will likely have a poorer offense, meaning more close games and more save opportunities. It’s a toss-up, but I’ll give Rodney the edge given Seattle’s offense and the fact that he’s been used more often in the past.
Winner: Rodney, slightly
Beyond saves, you’re also going to be looking for an added boost to your strikeout total from the RP slots. Rodney held the advantage here in 2014 as well, cruising to a 76-57 victory. I wouldn’t expect much to change for the year to come, which means that Rodney, who has held a higher strikeout rate in two of the last three years, figures to retain this edge. On top of that, Seattle’s closer consistently tosses more innings than Street. This category may end with a smaller margin of victory than it did a year ago, but I’m confident Rodney will take it again in 2015.
Street was spectacular here in 2014, putting up a 1.37 compared to Rodney’s also good 2.85. It’s true that the former’s ERA jumped when he was dealt to the American League, all the way up to a whopping 1.71. Obviously, reliever ERA is highly volatile, but it’s worth noting that Street has done this for three years running now, with his highest mark in that span being the 2.70 mark from 2013. Rodney, to his credit, has also been very good over the last few years after a lot of mediocre years in the early part of his career. He also possesses the higher ceiling, which we saw during his insane 2012 season with Tampa Bay. Still, Street has been the more consistent producer, giving him an edge here despite the likely regression from 2014.
Just like in ERA, Street dominated WHIP last season by putting up a 0.944 mark that was 25th among all relievers with at least 30 innings. As with Rodney in strikeouts, it’s hard to see this going in another direction in 2015. While Street’s strikeout totals have typically fall under a batter an inning, he makes up for that with a great ability to limit base runners. He’s always shown very good control, walking more than eight percent of his opponents just twice and generally sitting around six percent. When you add to that his ability to induce weak contact (.220 opponents’ BABIP since 2012), you have someone who will post strong WHIPs. Rodney, meanwhile, loses his control and command much more often. Street is a fairly easy call here.
As stated in the intro, both Rodney and Street are tagged as “established closers.” For all the mocking it gets, there is some legitimacy to that title. Most of the time, it goes to players who have proven to be solid and consistent performers, which both of these guys have done. Because of that, there’s little reason to worry about them losing their job. Joe Smith is directly behind Street and is very good, but given the latter’s salary and the cost to acquire him from San Diego, it’s hard to imagine the Angels giving him anything less than a long leash. Similarly, Rodney is being paid $7 million this season and lacks anyone significant breathing down his neck. Both players will keep their job unless they fall flat on their face for an extended period of time. No one has an edge.
Rodney has been able to stay extremely durable for the last few years, averaging 67 innings over 68 appearances since the start of 2012. He hasn’t hit the disabled list since 2011, and doesn’t even have an injury listed on his player page since spring training of 2012. The downside of that is the fact that he’s thrown a ton of innings in recent years, and that wear and tear on a soon-to-be 38-year-old is not encouraging. Meanwhile, Street has had some nagging leg injuries in the last couple of seasons, and while they haven’t turned into anything serious, there’s a chance of them popping up again in 2015. Looking further back, he’s had various arm problems, but the same goes for Rodney and both suffered them long enough ago that they shouldn’t matter too much at this point. The fact that Street is seven years younger and has also been used less in the recent past gives him a slight edge here.
Winner: Street, slightly
Now we reach the important stuff. There’s no better way to judge a closer than the music he walks out to. Rodney opts for “Animal” by Martin Garrix while Street enters to “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin. Really, there’s no contest here. Rodney’s choice is kind of catchy I guess, but I’m not a big fan of EDM, and it doesn’t really strike me as good pump-up music. The video is a trip, but that doesn’t help him. Street’s, on the other hand, is a great song, both generally speaking and in terms of pump up ability. He also gets 50 bonus points for choosing a song from N64’s Goldeneye.
I love bat flips. I love pitcher stare-downs after big strikeouts. I love huge celebrations after walk off home runs, and I love the way pitchers and catchers fling their equipment in the air after no-hitters. Players showing emotion is awesome and should be encouraged. With that being said, I hate Rodney’s “Shoot Dem Arrows” celebration. Some may call me a hypocrite or a biased Red Sox fan. Those people would be right, but that’s okay. However, Street does literally nothing after getting a save from what I can tell. After the final out he calmly walks to whoever made the out, gives them a high five then casually enters the handshake line. Come on, man. Live a little. Begrudgingly, I have to give this to Rodney by default.
Okay, back to things that actually matter. While Street may be a safer choice, Rodney possesses the higher ceiling. It’s the same ceiling we saw in his 2012. If he can get back to that level of limiting base runners, watch out. That year he walked just five percent of his opponents while allowing a .225 BABIP. If he can do that while maintaining his 25-plus-percent strikeout rate, you’ll have one of the best relievers in the game on your team for a bargain price. It’s not likely to happen, but it’s there, and it’s better than the best-case scenario for Street.
Once again we have a very close battle, with each player taking four categories, and each taking three that actually matter. Both are safe bets to rack up saves all year, though they’ll do it in different ways. If you need extra strikeouts from your pitching staff, take Rodney. If you’re more in need of help in ERA and WHIP, Street is your guy. If your other reliever is a relatively safe bet, take the ceiling that Rodney possesses. If you’re taking a gamble elsewhere in the pitching staff, snag Street. Really, it’s all dependent on what the rest of your team looks like. Still, in this case where relievers have so much variance, I’m going to take the guy with the bigger ceiling, so Rodney takes this one.
And the winner is… Fernando Rodney
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