The Rodney/Fuentes Situation

Earlier in the decade, the Angels were known for consistently cobbling together top-tier bullpens. From 2002-2007, L.A. ranked in the top three in the American League in reliever xFIP, taking top honors in 2003 and 2004.

The names, outside of $900,000 bonus baby Francisco Rodriguez, were hardly glamorous. Those Angelic bullpens were anchored by guys like Brendan Donnelly (a 27th round pick of the White Sox who passed through six organizations), Scot Shields (the Angels’ 38th rounder in 1997) and Ben Weber, a 20th round pick of the Blue Jays who didn’t get a legit big league shot until age 31.

Given the Angels’ track record of uncovering bullpen gems, one might find it strange that the team has laid down a big chunk of change on free agent relievers in recent off-seasons. Justin Speier pulled down $18 million while contributing -0.2 WAR. Brian Fuentes compiled 0.4 WAR in 2009 while making $8.5M. He’ll earn $9M in 2010, and has a $9M vesting option for 2011. Fun fact: Donnelly came out of nowhere, again, to post a 0.6 WAR season with the Marlins in 2009. The cost? A minor league deal.

Add Fernando Rodney to the list of high-profile relief signings. The long-time Tiger, 33 in March, inked for two years and $11M recently. It’s a level of compensation that Rodney has not justified during his major league tenure.

The first thing some will point to regarding Rodney is: 37 for 38. As in, he converted 37 of 38 save opportunities in 2009. That sounds impressive, right? Well, looks can be deceiving.

Rodney posted his lowest strikeout rate (7.26 K/9) since an 18-inning stint 2002. His control, never a strong suit (career 4.64 BB/9) was again middling, with 4.88 walks per nine frames in 2009. On the positive side, the righty with mid-90’s gas and a hard changeup did post the highest groundball rate (57.9 percent) and first pitch strike percentage (62.7) of his career.

Even so, he was nothing special. Rodney’s xFIP was 4.42 this past season. For reference, 138 relievers pitched 50 or more innings in 2009. Fernando’s xFIP placed 89th. His 1.49 K/BB ratio ranked 115th. Even by Rodney’s own standards, it wasn’t a banner season. His 77.9% contact rate was his highest since ’02, and well above his 73.3% career mark. His ’09 xFIP was actually his worst full-season mark.

With the Angels, Rodney could now compete with last year’s big-ticket disappointment, Fuentes. The 34 year-old southpaw posted a K rate (7.53 per nine) well below his career level (9.92 K/9), while handing out 3.93 BB/9. His xFIP was a grisly 4.94.

Fuentes couldn’t seem to find his breaking stuff last year. His recent Baseball Info Solutions pitch data lumps all of his mid-70’s breakers together, but the Pitch F/X data suggests Fuentes tosses both a slider and a curve.

The slider has been worth a healthy +0.76 runs per 100 pitches since 2002, with the curve posting a run value around the major league average. But in 2009, those slow, sweeping pitches (all called sliders by BIS) were pummeled for -0.42 runs/100. Fuentes’ contact rate spiked to 80.3 percent, well above his 73.6% figure since ’02.

Here are the 2010 CHONE projections for Rodney and Fuentes:

Rodney: 57 IP, 7.9 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, 4.58 ERA, 0 runs above replacement
Fuentes: 56 IP, 7.9 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 3.54 ERA, +8 RAR

If Rodney and Fuentes were to perform around this level, the Angels would be paying $14.5M for less than one win above replacement.

Heading into 2010, Rodney will garner attention based on his save total and the possibility that he usurps Fuentes for ninth inning glory in L.A. Don’t get carried away, though. For all of the press and cash Rodney and Fuentes will get, the best reliever in the ‘pen might just be pitching in middle relief.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


9 Responses to “The Rodney/Fuentes Situation”

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  1. BX says:

    Let Jepsen close, Bulger set up, and demote both Fuentes and Rodney to 3rd and 4th reliever.

    Best way to win the most baseball games, if that’s the objective of this endeavor.

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  2. The A Team says:

    I haven’t gotten much of a look at Jepsen, are they down on him? I guess I don’t understand why any team would hand out more than 5ish million for anything but the best relievers when finding comparable league min talent takes a little effort and a couple months of experimentation…

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    • After a rough start last season (problems with command), Jepsen became the best reliever in the Angels pen, even taking on some ninth inning work away from Fuentes late in the season. I think they see him as the closer of the future, but he does need to prove consistent with his command. My bet is that Jepsen ends the year as the Angels best late inning option in 2010. His strikeout rate has a ton of room for improvement.

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  3. Anthony says:

    Fuentes’ 2011 option is guaranteed with 55 games finished in 2010. The Rodney signing makes just a tad more sense knowing that (still no good), but I agree they could/should give Jepsen, Bulger, heck maybe even Arrendondo some late inning chances to prevent Fuentes’ option from vesting.

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  4. alexmullen4180 says:

    The Angels non-tendered Arredondo.

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  5. Alex says:

    The Angels are paying for late inning power. It’s reasonable to think they have more playoff confidence in one more power arm than Oliver’s high-80’s stuff. They also have a tendency to spend to their budget and with about $5MM to spend, he was in their opinion – the best they could get for their money.

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  6. Alex says:

    I’d like to state for the record, that the ‘Alex’ listed above is not me, and I don’t share his opinions. The Angels were unlucky that Fuentes didn’t perform well, but they’re just being stupid signing Rodney. Jepsen looks like a nice late round flier with these duds ahead of him in the bullpen.

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  7. Juliana says:

    Why no love for the old man Oliver? If you go by WAR, Oliver alone was twice as valuable as Rodney and Fuentes combined in 2009. That’s not to say Oliver is immortal, but it implies just how mediocre and overpaid the Angels’ new closing duo is.

    The Angels would’ve been better off saving the $12 million they’ll spend next season on Rodney and Matsui and instead putting that towards signing Figgins, who they made little effort to resign. Figgins’ will only get paid $8 million next year, so essentially they could’ve kept Figgins and still signed Rodney since they seemed intent on doing so.

    Sorry for my rudimentary analysis, I’m kind of a noob.

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