The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl! Holy crap, everyone, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl. The Seahawks just gave the city of Seattle it’s second-ever major championship, and that’s amazing. It’s incredible, and deserves to be celebrated at every given opportunity. This post, for example, is an opportunity to celebrate the Seattle Seahawks and their current status as reigning NFL champions. That’s a thing that just happened, and it’s so, so marvelous. Seahawks! Super Bowl champs! Just had to get that out of the way.
The Seattle Mariners bullpen, as you may have noticed, sucked last year. It sucked a lot. There was the bloated 4.58 ERA, second-worst in the majors. By FIP they were 19th, but 19th is still bad. The 9.53 strikeouts per nine was second-best in the majors, but the unit’s 3.99 walks per nine was third-worst. They allowed the second-highest batting average on balls in play and the seventh-most homers per nine. Bottom line: strikeouts are nice and all, but the bullpen sucked. The biggest highlight was dynamite rookie closer Danny Farquhar. Seeking to improve their situation, the Mariners have all but officially bumped Farquhar from his role by signing a 37-year-old to finish games for the next two years.
First, a few facts about Fernando Rodney. Yes, he’s almost 37. Born in 1977 and everything. He’s signing for two years and $14 million dollars, so right in between what fellow old guys Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit got. Like those other two, he’s a former Tampa Bay Ray. He’s been in the majors since 2002, but was really never anything too exciting until 2012. In 2012 he signed with the Rays and promptly pitched 74.2 innings of 0.60 ERA ball. That ERA, by the way, is the best of all time. The best EVER of all time. Last year he wasn’t a good because of course he wasn’t, but he was still awesome. Last year he struck out 11.07 batters per nine, his best ever mark. He didn’t have the best ERA ever, but he was undeniably excellent. That’s why he’s signing an eight-figure deal to pitch at ages 37 and 38.
Rodney’s late-career renaissance has been sparked largely by two things, the first of which is an increase in velocity. Always a hard-thrower, Rodney’s average fastball velocity jumped from 95.5 in 2011 to 96.1 in 2012 to 96.5 in 2013. That’s a visible increase between ages 34 and 35, then another visible increase between ages 35 and 36. This is just bizarre, but given the viability of the sample size we ought to look at this as a real gain.
Second, nobody’s questioning that Rodney’s work with Tampa Bay pitching coach Jim Hickey played a large role in his revival. The Hickey stuff is tough to quantify because of the nature of the gains made. Rodney has always had a problem with walks. He’s at 4.47 BB/9 through 571.1 career innings, so yeah, this is a thing about him. He walks a lot of guys. Rodney worked extensively with Hickey when he got to Tampa Bay and somehow’d himself to 1.81 BB/9 in his historic 2012. For reference, his BB/9 in 2011 was 7.88. Hickey saw something he could fix, and fixed it. Then came 2013, and Rodney was back at it with 4.86 BB/9. But the strikeouts were way up over 2012, so who knows. The Mariners don’t employ Jim Hickey, and this may or may not matter.
Right now, in 2014, Fernando Rodney looks like a good-not-great reliever. If he has another weird year with no walks then yeah, he’s great. With no walks just about any high-K reliever is great. But what Rodney also is is a “proven closer,” and he’s being paid market rate to be one. That’s fine, given that the Mariners have loaded up on bargain players like Scott Baker and Corey Hart this offseason. The M’s paid fair market value to get better, and really all that should matter is that they get better. But Rodney, being a “proven closer,” is going to slot into the 9th inning in Seattle. And this has a benefit that goes beyond just him being a good closer.
Danny Farquhar, former Mariners closer, is no longer the Mariners closer. What he is, however, is the Mariners best reliever, and personally I don’t think anyone else is really that close. The closer is pretty limited in his duties, really, as most managers like to keep their designated 9th inning guy in the 9th inning. While that means lots of high leverage outings, it isn’t necessarily the most high leverage outings. Farquhar now gets to be the Mariners’ answer to Jake McGee or Trevor Rosenthal. By pitching when needed instead of only in save situations, Farquhar automatically becomes a more valuable asset than he as a closer. It also helps keep his price tag lower in arbitration, making this a win-win. And if Rodney struggles, no worries, the Mariners have a dynamic young closer waiting in the wings.
Bottom line: the Mariners are a team desperately trying to add wins in order to make a run at the playoffs. Fernando Rodney makes the Mariners a better team right away. He adds depth and talent to a bullpen that was just so, so desperately in need of both. He allows the team to better utilize their current assets. He wears his hat sideways and shoots imaginary arrows after recording each save. Before today, the Mariners needed a pitcher like Fernando Rodney. Today, the Mariners have Fernando Rodney. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl. Go dance in the streets.