Expensive Angels in Relief

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signed closer Brian Fuentes away from the Colorado Rockies following the 2008 season, guaranteeing the left-hander $17.5 million over two years with a $9 million vesting option for 2011. Then, this past offseason, L.A. added former Detroit Tigers closer Fernando Rodney on a two year, $11 million dollar contract. On Monday night against the Tampa Bay Rays, the $28.5 million dollar setup-man and closer duo combined to allow four runs and a -.294 WPA in the 8th and 9th inning. The Angels did manage to come back and win the game 5-4, but their record is still only 15-19 and the bullpen figures to be an issue going forward with Fuentes and Rodney serving as the anchors.

Fernando Rodney is simply not a standout reliever. Over the last three years, he’s walked 92 batters in 165.2 innings, for a rate of 5.00 BB/9. The projection systems all saw him as close to that mark, and as such CHONE and ZiPS projected FIPs of 4.50 and 4.38 respectively – marks that put Rodney at roughly 0.2-0.4 wins above replacement in around 60 innings. He rediscovered himself as a heavy ground-ball pitcher last season, inducing 57.9% ground balls, but his walk rate was still high and the drop in strikeouts actually resulted in a higher FIP at 4.56. Despite throwing 75 innings – quite high for a reliever – Rodney only accrued 0.3 wins above replacement.

Rodney’s numbers have been slightly worse than those of last season. Rodney’s strikeouts are down again and his walks have crept back up to the point that he’s striking out exactly as many as he’s walking, at 10 each, or 6.14 per nine innings. However, he had posted a 2.45 ERA this year prior to last night’s appearance, completely based on a slightly high 80.5% LOB rate and an absurdly low .113 BABIP. Expect him to start allowing more runs as his walk issues will eventually come back to bite him as more hits start falling in.

Fuentes’s season has been odd as well, but in a much different way. The Angels closer blew his second save of the season after allowing his 3rd home run of the season in only 7.2 innings. Unless something has snapped with Fuentes and his stuff is no longer unable to suppress home runs, there is no way that his home run rate remains that high. I don’t believe that is the case – he clearly is still able to induce swings and misses and strikeouts. Fuentes was running a spectacular 12.15 K/9 and an acceptable, albeit high, 4.05 BB/9 entering last night’s appearance.

Fuentes’s poor luck with home runs has been slightly balanced out by a .234 BABIP, leading to a 4.05 ERA entering last night’s blown save. Things should start to even out soon for Fuentes, but don’t be surprised if he arrives at a similar ERA to what he is at now. Fewer fly balls will leave the yard, and more hits will start falling in. Given the fact that we’ve actually seen a drop in velocity from 90.0 to 89.4 on his fastball, Fuentes’s strikeout rate will probably fall as well. It’s highly unlikely that hitters continue to whiff on 30.8% of Fuentes’s offerings in the zone as they have thus far, as his stuff isn’t as good as it was in previous years. He’s never posted an in-zone whiff rate higher than 21.2% in any season where he has pitched a significant amount of innings. Overall, that leaves Fuentes as an unimpressive 4.00 FIP type pitcher, as CHONE and ZiPS projected entering the season.

Between Rodney and Fuentes, the Angels have two pitchers who are merely running on their reputations and save counts from prior years. As a result, more long nights like Monday from that expensive duo could very well be in store for the Angels.



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The Usual SusBeck
Member
The Usual SusBeck
6 years 1 month ago

Does the money keep Kevin Jepsen out of the closer spot this year? His peripherals are and have been pretty ridiculous recently.

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 1 month ago

Actually, money might thrust Jepsen into the closer’s role this year. Fuentes’ deal vests if he finishes 55 games this season, and if he’s continually out-performed by Jepsen, he’s got no grounds for a grievance. Of course, delusional Angels fans tried justifying Rodney’s dumb deal by claiming it would be an excuse to get out of Fuentes’ dumb vesting option, but replacing one crappy, overpaid closer with another was never the solution – finding someone better was.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 1 month ago

I actually wrote an article recently for bleacherreport calling Fuentes the 14th best “closer” in the AL (and that doesn’t even count better setup men like Joba Chamberlain), and has two (TWO!) Blue Jays on the list.

It’s well documented that the Angels have a closer fetish. Why Jepsen was a non-option for 2010, I will never know.

Maybe now the Angels will finally find out that their “way” is unsustainable and they need to spend for something other than “veteran presence”

BX
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BX
6 years 1 month ago

I actually DON’T see that happening.

I see Jepsen as part of a trade to bring more relief help to the Angels when Fuentes and Rodney struggle as more likely than Jepsen becoming the closer.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 1 month ago

Jon Rauch is on pace for almost 40 saves, better go give him 3 years / $18,000,000.

Mark
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

They’re also paying Justin Speier $5.2 million and Scot Shields $5.3 million. That’s $25 million between 4 relievers of questionable quality.

The Joe From 1993
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The Joe From 1993
6 years 1 month ago

There was a time when the Angels put together a sensational bullpen in a very cost effective manner.

The 2004 Angels (WAR/salary/how acquired)

Francisco Rodriguez: 4.0 / $375k / amateur free agent
Scot Shields: 2.4 / $375k / 38th round draft pick
Kevin Gregg: 1.5 / $301.5k / free agent
Brendan Donnelly: 0.8 / $375k / free agent

Total WAR: 8.7
Total cost: $1.427 million (rounded)

Why did the Angels forget that spending millions on a bullpen is not necessary?

http://www.fangraphs.com/winss.aspx?team=Angels&pos=all&stats=pit&qual=0&type=6&season=2004&month=0

Not David
Guest
Not David
6 years 1 month ago

I don’t think they ever realized how to put a cheap bullpen together. I think it’s a case of dumb luck that all those guys came around at the same time.

B N
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B N
6 years 1 month ago

I was thinking the exact same thing. I had always thought of the Angels as a team that really knew how to put together a bullpen in a smart way. … And then they threw a boatload of money at Fuentes. I scratched my head and thought: “Well, clearly they have devoted more time to this than me. They must know something I don’t.” After these last couple of seasons though, plus signing Rodney, I’m definitely in head-scratch mode myself.

Maybe they have just been getting lucky in the past?

The Joe From 1993
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The Joe From 1993
6 years 1 month ago

No. It wasn’t luck. It was necessity.

Prior to Arte Moreno’s acquisition of the team, the Angels were operating under a much tighter budget. They didn’t have the luxury of throwing big dollars at middle relief pitchers. In the early 2000s then GM Bill Stoneman’s strategy was to stock the bullpen with power arms. During this time he picked up players like Ben Weber, Brendan Donnelly, Derrick Turnbow, and Bobby Jenks. Some worked out, some didn’t. But ultimately the Angels had excellent bullpens circa 2002-2005 that didn’t cost a fortune.

Xeifrank
Guest
6 years 1 month ago

As poorly (and lucky) as Rodney has pitched this season, he is the leader in the newly minted shutdowns – meltdowns category with 11 shutdowns and 0 meltdowns. Jepsen is at 11-2 and Fuentes 3-2.

David
Guest
David
6 years 1 month ago

I watched the game yesterday. Fuentes was having awful control problems with his breaking ball – 1 HBP, 1 wild pitch behind the batter, a bouncer way outside that would have been a wild pitch had it not been for a great grab by Napoli. One of the runs that accounted for the blown save was caused by a walk to Zobrist I believe – if you strike him out, then Longoria never comes up and he escapes the inning with 1 run and a save.

My point is, I think most of Fuentes’ problems this year can be chalked up to control problems. Any left-handed closer, no matter how good his stuff, will give up a game-tying double to Evan Longoria once in awhile.

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