I love looking back at MLB history.
*Correction* I love looking back at random MLB history. And there’s nothing more random than Fernando Rodney’s 2012 season.
Fernando Rodney has been in the Majors since 2002 and is currently entering his 16th big league campaign on his 10th different team. By that fact alone, you’d probably think that Rodney has been a middle-of-the-road-reliever for basically his entire career. And you would be right. Over his 885 professional innings, Rodney has a 3.70 ERA with a 113 ERA+. He’s been barely above league average since coming into the league.
Which is why his 2012 season, the greatest season by a relief pitcher in MLB history, is so fascinating.
Rodney had signed with the Tampa Bay Rays after a not-so-good season with the Angels in the fall of 2011. He was fresh off of a where he posted a 4.50 ERA, a 1.68 WHIP, a grotesque 0.93 strikeout to walk ratio, and an 85 ERA+. Just for the people who don’t speak baseball statistics, ERA+ is a metric that measures who good pitchers by taking said pitchers ERA and normalizes it across the league while accounting for factors like ballparks and opponents. 100, in terms of 100+, is exactly the league average. Don’t get it? You don’t have to. I consider it a fairly accurate stat on measuring how good a pitcher truly is, and I personally put a lot of stock in it.
For instance, look at Edwin Diaz from last season. He had a tremendous season; 1.91 ERA, 57 saves, 0.79 WHIP, and a 208 ERA+. That’s really good, right? Yes, of course it is. When looking at ERA+, Diaz was over 100% better than the rest of the league. Wowza, how could anybody possibly be better than that???
Well, remember how this started with Fernando Rodney, let’s get back to that guy.
In 2012, Rodney threw 74.2 innings. He allowed 5 earned runs.
That comes out to a microscopic ERA of 0.60. He also had 48 saves in 50 chances, a 0.77 WHIP, a 5.07 K/BB ratio (he’s always been a little eager to hand out free passes), and a 9.2 K rate. Oh, and he had a 641 ERA+.
That was not a typo. Fernando Rodney, a man with a very pedestrian career 113 ERA+, posted a 641 season. It was the highest of all time in the modern era with a minimum of 70 innings pitched. He had done it. The man who shot the non-existent arrows into the sky had achieved the greatest season we had ever seen by a reliever. He finished 5th in the Cy Young voting that year and honestly should’ve won it. He finished behind David Price, his teammate, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, and Felix Hernandez. All the metrics point to Rodney EASILY having the best season of the 4 of them. Was it because it was Rodney’s a closer? Because Eric Gagne and Dennis Eckersley have both won Cy Youngs. In fact, after looking deeper, Rodney had a significantly better season than the Eck and Gagne when they won it.
I knew that Rodney had done something incredible, but I wanted to know how he stacked up against other great relievers best seasons. I looked at the numbers for Eckersley, Gagne, Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, Trevor Hoffman, John Franco, Lee Smith, Mariano Rivera, Koji Uehara, Billy Wagner, and Francisco Rodriguez, and with the exception of Craig Kimbrel in 2012 and Eckersley in 1990 (surprisingly not the year he won the Cy Young) none of them were in the same area code as Rodney.
He stood head and shoulders above the best efforts of the all-time greats.
You’d think that at 35 years old, maybe Rodney had turned a corner in his career. He seemed poised to go on a crazy run to end his career and be aligned with some of the best closers of all time. But where things get weird is that he went back to being the same exact pitcher he was before his masterful year. Since 2012, Rodney has played for 8 different teams, pitched to a 3.64 ERA with a 1.35 WHIP and a 111 ERA+. He’s just average.
It makes no fucking sense. I’ve literally lost sleep over this. Fernando Rodney’s 2012 might go down as the biggest anomaly in the history of sports.
Imagine if someone like Marcus Smart suddenly averaged 32 points per game, or if Marcus Mariota came out next year and threw for 5,000 yards and 40+ touchdowns. Both of those things are way more likely to happen than 35-year-old Fernando Rodney having a 0.60 ERA in a season.
It’s the greatest pitching season by a reliever that we have ever seen. And it was done by the most random pitcher possible.
Then Zach Britton came in 2016 and had to ruin everything BUT LET’S NOT TALK ABOUT THAT.
Photo: Joy Absalon- USA TODAY Sports