The Angels Sign Rodney’s 2009 Save Percentage

The Angels agreed to terms with relief pitcher Fernando Rodney today on a two-year, $11 million contract. This might mean that the rumor that the Phillies were interested in Rodney as well at up to $12 million for the two years was false. I hope not, because the notion that the Phillies could not afford Cliff Lee‘s $9 million salary and so trade him away and then go out and offer $6 million to the mediocre Rodney is hilarious.

Either way, Rodney’s an Angel now and there will be a certain set of fans that love this move. Most of them will love it because of Rodney’s save percentage. They’re wrong — saves are an awful way of measuring a pitcher’s value, probably even worse than using wins.

Anaheim gets Rodney’s age 33 and 34 seasons, but as a reliever and with the duration of the contract, his age is not too much of a concern. Rodney had fantastic strikeout numbers the last couple seasons but those took a dive in 2009. Whereas Rodney used to maintain a solid 11-12% swinging strike rate, it was just 9% in 2009, and at least partly because of that, his strikeout rate dropped from about one out of every four batters to less than one out of every five.

That’s a pretty big red flag for me, but not to overstate it, even without that drop in strikeouts, Rodney just isn’t a great pitcher. His walk rates have just been far too high to make the overall package consistently better than average, even at the old strikeout levels. We have Rodney worth about 0.5 WAR a year throughout his entire career and I see no compelling reason for him to better that going forward.

For that half-win, the Angels are paying over $5 million, an astonishingly poor return. And given that the Angels bullpen isn’t particularly weak, I wonder if Rodney is even an upgrade at all. Furthermore, Brian Fuentes has a $9 million option for 2011 that vests with 55 games finished this coming season, so I can see it a likely scenario that the Angels use Rodney to close to avoid that option and thus push high leverage innings further out of reach of Anaheim’s better pitchers.

At best, I think the Angels might be a couple runs better for this move. Most likely, they’re exactly the same and there’s a worrisome chance that Rodney continues his strikeout slide and gets worse.



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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.


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vivaelpujols
Guest

Since basically every team in the history of baseball has paid more for relievers than WAR says they should, can we please acknowledge that the problem might be with our evaluation of relievers?

njd.aitken
Member
njd.aitken

Probably not.

Just because (some) teams evaluate it wrong does not mean the system is wrong.

vivaelpujols
Guest

Wrong is in the eyes of the beholder. When a couple of teams overpay for closers, like the Royals or Yankees, that doesn’t mean that the system is wrong. When basically every team in the game has overpaid for closers at some point (including the Rays this year, even though they have one of the most sabermetrically inclined front office and a very tight budget) that provides a heavy indictment against the system.

Just look at WPA. There are many more relievers with 2+ WPA than 2+ WAR. That implies that WAR doesn’t properly account for the impact of a relievers leverage.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

Well shoot. I just made 3 posts to say the same thing that you have already stated (WPA v. WAR).

As I mentioned, THT’s 2010 book has an article basically making the case for WPA to be the “stat for ace relievers”, instead of WAR … so I ma wondering why FG always uses WAR for relievers?

ThinkBlue
Member

Since vivaelpujols mentioned leverage, it should be noted that Rodney’s WPA/LI was -0.06.

OlSalty
Guest
OlSalty

I don’t think the problem is with our evaluation of relievers. Rather it is with teams being completely obsessed with the later innings of a game moreso than the beginnings for emotional reasons. It is completely crushing to lose a game you were expecting to win based on your starters performance. When it all comes down to it, the runs surrendered in the 8th or 9th are no more important than the runs surrendered in the 1st or 2nd, but you would have a hard time convincing some people of that given how brutal it is to have a win turn into a loss in the 9th.

WY
Guest
WY

I agree, which is probably why teams value above-average late-inning relievers to such an extent. I think that is what VEP meant.

WY
Guest
WY

I agree with vivaelpujols. The problem is with the evaluation of relievers. The market has shown over and over again that there is closer/late-inning reliever “premium” that none of the present analysis seems to capture.

If Fangraphs can dictate that the going rate for a “win” is in the $4 to $5 million range based on what the market dictates, then who is to say there can’t be another rate for late-inning relievers id that’s what teams do?

Joe R
Guest
Joe R

Um

1) Here’s a few names: BJ Ryan, Brian Fuentes, Brad Lidge, Kerry Wood. 4 closers, all up there on the worst contracts in MLB list. I didn’t even mention K-Rod or Cordero in that group.

2) Here’s a list of the guys who have been around for years (or younger good ones) and their corresponding career FIP:

Hoffman, 2.99
Rivera, 2.78
Nathan, 3.43 (but below 3 every year from 2004 on)
Papelbon, 2.63
Wagner, 2.79

So there’s your stalwart list. What’s Rodney’s FIP? /checks. Oh, 4.15.

Fangraphs does well in valuing relievers. The only ones that stick around are ones with high K/BB rates. And when you’re walking over 4.6 guys per 9 in your career, you’re just not very good.

WY
Guest
WY

The “um” thing is tired. You can make your points without resorting to it.

Anyway, there’s still a shortage of relievers who teams view as closers for whatever reason. Even Rivera gets paid more than he “should” based on his WAR values. It is apparent that teams are willing to pay more for late-inning relievers than the standard Fangraphs model would suggest.

vivaelpujols
Guest

Why don’t you take a look at every reliever who was signed to be a closer over the past 5 years. Use a 3 year weighted regressed WAR from FanGraphs and see how much teams are paying per WAR for closers.

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