Fernando Rodney, Jordan Walden and Mike Scioscia's Easy Decision
Four games into the Angels' season, there is a clamoring among fans for Fernando Rodney to be taken out of the closer role. Rodney struggled to record the save during Thursday's opener after allowing one hit, one walk and two strikeouts on 26 pitches in the ninth inning.
His performance on Sunday exhibited Rodney's major flaw: terrible command of his fastball and changeup. Despite his excellent velocity (95.6 mph 2010 average) and movement, Rodney will consistently miss the strike zone. Coming into close out a two run lead on Sunday, Rodney walked three out of the first four batters he faced. Those first four batters saw 19 pitches and six of them were in the strike zone. His fastball ratio was even worse with five of his first 15 fastballs were strikes. Rodney's poor control allows hitters to sit on his fastball, which was Wilson Betemit's approach on his game-tying two-run double.
It is debatable whether Mike Scioscia should have been made him the closer in the first place. Rodney's zone percentage, the number of strikes seen in the strike zone, had decreased in each of the three previous seasons. In addition, his strikeout rate had decreased from 10.93 K/9 to 7.01 K/9 during the same period. Even with a great groundball to flyball ratio, Rodney has averaged .3 WAR over the last three seasons, which is the total for an average MLB relief pitcher according to Fangraphs' WAR totals.
Jordan Walden is Mike Scioscia's answer at closer, and he knows it. In a very small sample size, Walden has shown better control and strikeout numbers than Rodney. He has recorded one walk and five strikeouts in his 2.1 innings pitched. Walden has averaged 96.2 mph on his fastball this season with a slider that has averaged eight inches of downward movement.
One should usually ignore small sample sizes, but it is hard to see a downside to making a switch. If he struggles, Scott Downs could take the spot when he returns from the DL. Rodney's stats indicate that he is nothing more than an average relief pitcher; who has recorded a steady 4.25-4.50 xFIP over the last few season.
It is time for Mike Scioscia to see if he has something special in Jordan Walden.
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