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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.