Rodney should be in running for AL Cy Young
Despite historic season, Rays closer won't garner enough support from voters
Fernando Rodney had 48 saves. The Rays closer had an 0.60 ERA, lowest for a reliever in baseball history.
"He had the greatest year that any relief pitcher could ever possibly have," Braves special assistant Jim Fregosi said bluntly.
For that, Rodney has already been named the American League Comeback Player of the Year, Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year and the Rays' Most Valuable Player. What Rodney will not be is the AL Cy Young Award winner when the results of the balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America are announced Wednesday night.
Despite Rodney's stellar stats, he was not among the finalists. And that will stoke the old argument about whether relievers have a fair shot at winning an award that is supposed to encompass all pitchers. In the last quarter century, 46 of 50 winners have been starters. The only exceptions are Eric Gagne (2003), Dennis Eckersley (1992), Mark Davis ('89) and Steve Bedrosian ('87).
Even those who generally agree that starters should get first consideration agree that Rodney, who wears his hat crooked and shoots imaginary arrows after each save, should have gotten more support his time around.
"I'm not one generally to think that a reliever should be considered for the Cy Young," admitted Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "But when you set the record for the lowest ERA in the history of baseball, I don't know how you're not in the top three.
"I'm biased, but I feel like our guys should be 1-2. Both David [Price] and Fernando were tremendous."
Fregosi is just as flabbergasted.
"In the American League, there's no pitcher who had a better year," Fregosi said. "The only ones who should be in the running are him and Price as far as the Cy Young Award. And he's not a finalist? That's not my problem. Because he did have probably the finest year a relief pitcher has ever had. I think it's really a shame that starters are considered more than relief pitchers. Our guy in Atlanta [Craig Kimbrel] had as good a year as anybody."
The 35-year-old Rodney was so successful because he artfully matched his above-average fastball with a devastating changeup.
"I'm surprised, to tell you the truth, when anybody puts the bat on one of them," Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey told the Tampa Bay Times.
There may not be a general manager who pays closer attention to building a bullpen than Kevin Towers of the D-backs.
"I've never quite understood the voting. I don't quite get it," Towers said. "A lot probably depends on markets. There are some markets where there's more visibility and exposure. There have been a couple relievers who have won it. But it doesn't happen that often. Those guys are as important as the starters. That starter's only in there once every five days. That closer can be in there four or five days in a week, and if he doesn't get those last three outs of the ballgame, or those big three outs in the eighth, I don't care what [Justin] Verlander did or whoever. Hey, it could cost you the game.
"I think relievers are starting to get compensated the way they should. For a long time, all the money went to the starting pitchers. There were a few closers who made good money, but I think clubs are finding out that if you don't have [Giants closer Sergio] Romo or guys like that to come in and close games out for you, it's tough to get very far."
Since relievers pitch relatively fewer innings, one bad outing can inflate an ERA beyond repair. What's remarkable about Rodney is that he didn't have a game like that. He gave up five earned runs all season, as many as two on just one occasion in May. Rodney didn't allow an earned run after Aug. 9.
"It's tough to do what he did. Very tough," Towers said. "Those aren't easy outs, either. With a reliever, I don't look at ERA as much as WHIP or strikeout-to-walk ratio or ground-ball rates. I mean, you have one bad outing and you can blow your ERA from 0.60 to 4.00. Which means he didn't have one, which is a pretty comfortable position to be in. At the end of the year, you've got to feel pretty good having a guy with an ERA like that."
Rodney won't win the AL Cy Young Award this year. Which will end up being about the only thing he didn't accomplish this season.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.