In the crazy world of Closers 2012, I'm glad there's one guy we can look at with full trust and admiration, a set-it-and-forget-it option.
Come on down, Fernando Rodney.
There's been a different Tampa Bay saves leader in every year of the Joe Maddon Era (which began in 2006), and it sure seems like that streak will continue. Pitching coach Jim Hickey made a slight adjustment with Rodney's push-off point on the pitching rubber before the season, and for some crazy reason that's lead to Rodney's unhittable start. The tilted-cap closer is 9-for-9 on save chances, with a matching ERA and WHIP (both stand at 0.73). The latest conversion came Thursday against Seattle, a painless ninth inning (infield error, fly out, GIDP, shake hands).
The shocking stat with Rodney is his K/BB rate: he's fanned 12 batters through 12.1 innings against just two walks. Detroit and Anaheim fans want to know where this came from; Rodney had more walks than strikeouts in the OC last year, and his last few seasons in Motown were marked by constant wildness.
So long as Rodney is throwing strikes, the rest of the profile falls in place nicely. He's always been able to generate ground balls (49 percent for his career) and he does a reasonable job keeping the ball in the park. His average fastball checks in at 95 mph, and his change is a swing-and-miss pitch. It's never been a question about stuff with this guy.
Tampa Bay should get Kyle Farnsworth (elbow) back at some point this year, but I don't see him as a major threat to the Rodney story. First and foremost, we can't make any hard assumptions on Farnsworth, given that he's on the 60-day DL and he's yet to do any throwing. Even if everything magically fell into line for Farnsworth health-wise, he can't return until the first week of June. Secondly, it's not like the Rays have any long-standing relationship with Farnsworth. He basically was Last Year's Rodney, the untrustable retread who blossomed under the watch of Maddon and Hickey. Tampa Bay knows the secret better than any other club: when it comes to relief pitching, a cheap recycling option is generally smarter than a high-priced import.
I'm willing to put Rodney down as a Top 12 closer from here on out, even with the Farnsworth issue unresolved. Are you with me? Would you take Rodney over Joe Nathan, or J.J. Putz, or anyone on the Angels? Are you buying Rodney, or Rappin' Rodney? Let's toss this around in the comments.
While you practice your change-up and slide your hat to the side, let's look at some other stories from the Thursday sandlots:
• With Heath Bell and Steve Cishek both unavailable for Miami's series finale at San Francisco, Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica worked the eighth and ninth innings, respectively. Mujica's handshake looks better in the box score than it did on the tape: two of the outs came on deep fly balls. At least he was unafraid to pound the strike zone; eight of his ten pitches were strikes. I still prefer Bell over anyone in this bullpen - follow the money - with Cishek the best hedge.
Say this for Ozzie Guillen's Marlins: they're having fun on the bases. Miami stole four bags on Thursday (all at the top of the order), and they're tops in the majors with 28 swipes through the opening five weeks. Jose Reyes had a steal in every game of the series, while Emilio Bonifacio is 12-for-12 on the year. Hanley Ramirez still has to look at that ugly .198 average (Reyes and Bonifacio aren't that far ahead of him), but he's running too (six steals). The Marlins ranked 20th in stolen bases last year.
Shutting down the Giants is no difficult feat these days, especially with Pablo Sandoval on the shelf with a broken hand. Will Bruce Bochy finally give Brandon Belt a fair shot now that the lineup is begging for an impact hitter? Belt had four hits and a walk over the final two games of the Miami series.
• Mike Moustakas was the star of Kansas City's 4-3 victory over New York, clocking a homer, driving in three runs, and ending the game with a super defensive play on Alex Rodriguez's swinging bunt. If Moose doesn't convert on that do-or-die chance, Derek Jeter scores the tying run and the game plays on. I'm surprised Moustakas isn't at universal ownership yet; he's off to a .318-12-4-15 start, and there's always been a high-upside pedigree here. He'll be given a lofty rank when the corners are Shuffled Up later today (sorry for the one-day delay; closer news from Thursday commandeered the floor.)
If you're in a deeper league and can open your heart to a Royal, outfielder Jarrod Dyson might be worth your time. He's hitting .321 (with two walks and two steals) over his brief trial with the Royals, and he had a pair of hit in Thursday's game. Lorenzo Cain (hip) has already taken a setback in his rehab, so Dyson's trial time gets extended. Dyson already has 22 steals in just 51 MLB games, and he's run wild in the minors (176 bags over 403 games). He's available in 99 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
• The big story from Cincinnati was the implosion of Carlos Marmol (we covered that over here), but Chicago fans had other reasons to be optimistic. Starlin Castro, Bryan LaHair and Geovany Soto hit solo homers in the game - it's a "mark your territory" clout from LaHair, while it's an "about time" blast for Castro (his first) and Soto (his second). And the forever-underrated Ryan Dempster didn't show any problems from his DL stint, mowing the Reds down over eight terrific innings (3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K). He's in line to be one of the best bargains of the season; too many drafters held his back-luck 2011 against him. The component stats for Dempster have been remarkably similar for the last few years; don't be thrown by last season's ERA.
• Once again we're presented with a Brandon Morrow conundrum: to trust or not to trust? He was money in a three-hit shutout at Anaheim (0 BB, 8 K), his third win in a row. But can he cut his teeth in the AL East? Morrow has allowed just one run in his four out-of-division starts this year (covering 28.2 innings), but he's been knocked around in-division (13 IP, 10 R) — and he hasn't even faced the Yankees or Red Sox yet, the two toughest matchups of all. Morrow works at Oakland next week, obviously a cushy assignment, before returning to in-division battles (Tampa Bay). I expect pushback from the Morrow Sympathizers, but I think this is an outstanding time to shop him.
• The no-hit Nationals continue to make things work: Thursday's victory was a tidy 2-1 decision over Ian Kennedy and the Diamondbacks. Intriguing Ross Detwiler pitched to air contact and succeeded (6.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 2 K, 11 fly balls), while minted No. 3 hitter Bryce Harper had the game-deciding RBI double. I'd nonetheless put Harper on my shop-now list - I think you can probably find someone in your league who's expecting immediate miracles - but it's looking more likely that Harper will stick with the club even when Ryan Zimmerman returns to action. Henry Rodriguez has rallied nicely from last Saturday's wild-pitch carnival in Los Angeles: he had a win and a save in the Arizona series, with two strikeouts and no walks.
Speed Round: What's gotten into Joe Blanton this year? Look at that 2.83 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and a zesty 21 strikeouts against just three walks. I suppose he's earned the right to be streamed against the Mets next week, then we'll reevaluate. Maybe this is just another case of a control master being slightly ahead of the hitters for the first quarter of the season . . . Chris Perez's leash keeps getting longer and longer: he's now converted nine saves in a row, the latest coming Thursday at Chicago . . . Another day, another Pedro Alvarez homer (he also had a single). He shifted to the No. 5 slot in the middle of the St. Louis series. He'll be one of the fun (if tricky) ranks in the Friday Shuffle; he's rebounded nicely from last month's Arcade Hatchet Job. Alvarez is still out there in 64 percent of Yahoo! leagues, for some reason . . . Sergio Santos is optimistic he can return in 2-3 weeks, not that you ever want to take a player's self-proclaimed timetable all that seriously . . . There are rumblings that the Padres might be done with Jason Bartlett and Orlando Hudson very soon, which could open the sleeper door for forgotten jackrabbit Everth Cabrera. The speedy Cabrera is off to a .315/.364/.370 start in Triple-A through 22 games, and he's a perfect 12-for-12 in stolen bases. In deeper leagues, the time to stash is now . . . It's a shame Coco Crisp can't seem to stay healthy. He's on the DL with an inner ear infection, which means the Jonny Gomes circus act will see more time in left field . . . The Mariano Rivera story obviously needed it's own post: we've covered that here. Hang tough, No. 42.