Even with the impending return of Kyle Farnsworth, Joe Maddon announced that Fernando Rodney would retain his spot as the Rays closer. Typically, players do not lose their positions due to injury; however, in this case, Rodney has put together an amazing 2012.
Over his ten year career, Rodney has posted a 4.05 ERA and a 1.41 WHiP. He has had control issues, averaging 4.6 walks per 9 innings. His strikeout to walk ratio is a mere 1.8, not exactly a rate that one desires from a closer. In fact, Rodney has been a decidedly average relief pitcher.
This year, at age 35, Rodney has put together a career year. Over 36 games spanning 34.2 innings, he has allowed only 21 hits and a mere 5 walks, while striking out 35 batters. His 1.04 ERA, 7-1 K/BB rate, and 0.75 WHiP are by far personal bests.
While Rodney has four pitches, he has concentrated mainly on throwing his sinker and his changeup this year, using the four seam fastball sparingly. Over the last five years, Rodney used his 30% of the time, his sinker 34%, and his change 33%. He also has a slider, which he threw 2% of the time, but would be a ball in over 47% of the time. This year, he has relied more on the sinker, throwing it 48% of the time. Over his career, the sinker had been a ball 39.79% of the time he has thrown it. This year, his control has been much better, as the sinker has been a ball on only 31.42% of the 226 times he has thrown it. His change rate of 31% is roughly in line with his career average, yet has been swung on and missed a full 25% of the time. Rodney has gone away from the four seamer, throwing it on only 20% of his pitches, and has essentially removed the slider from his arsenal, throwing only 4 sliders this season.
By concentrating mainly on his sinker and change, Rodney has been a far better pitcher than he had been at any other point in his career. After recognizing the pitches that he has had the most success with and using those more often, Rodney has become a force in the back of the bullpen. His control has dramatically improved, and batters are having much less success against him, managing a batting average against of only .172.
The Rays, given their payroll constraints, seemingly like to take on low cost, potentially high return players with proven track records. Thus far, the Fernando Rodney reclamation project has been a resounding success.