AL Cy Young Race Is Closed: Fernando Rodney Should Win

This time of year, starting pitchers get all the looks for the Cy Young award and why not, they pitch the most innings and have the longest effect on games of anyone during the game.

There have been several relief pitchers that have won the Cy Young, but like starting pitchers and the MVP, it is few and far between.  But every so often, there comes a reliever that should get the attention of the media and their league.

This year, we have one in the American League that should be under major consideration: the Tampa Bay Ray’s closer, Fernando Rodney.

Where did Fernando Rodney come from exactly?  This has not been some elite pitcher over his career.  He has had only one sub-3.00 ERA in his career and that was 2005 with the Tigers.  As far as closing, before this year he only had one season where he accumulated over 15 saves; in 2009 (37).

Not only was he not supposed to be the closer this year.  He wasn’t even supposed to be the setup man!  But fate had it ruled differently.  Incumbent closer, Kyle Farnsworth, coming off a career year himself in 2011 (2.18 ERA, 25 saves), found himself on the 60-day DL after straining his elbow in Spring Training.  Popular thought was that Joel Peralta, or fire-throwing prospect, Jake McGee would get the shot at closing.

Instead, manager Joe Maddon would choose to go with Rodney, who had previous closing experience with the Tigers.  What occurred next would be the greatest closer season of all time:

– As of the final game of the season, Rodney’s record stands at 2-2 with a record-breaking low and Eckersley-surpassing 0.61 ERA, 47 saves, and a 76:15 K:BB ratio.

– His ERA is currently lower than his WHIP (0.78) and opponents have only batted .167 against him.

– He has only given up 5 total runs all season.  Those 5 have been spread out quite nicely as well – Rodney has given up runs in no more than one game in each month.

– He has only one month where he gave up more hits than saves completed.

– His 631 ERA+ (among qualifiers and non-qualifiers) leaves him 2nd in the league only to Al Alburquerque, who has only pitched 13.1 innings this year to Rodney’s 74.1.  Eckersley had only a 195 ERA+ in his Cy Young and MVP 1992 season (via Timothy Burke).

– According to Baseball-Reference.com, Rodney’s WAR (Wins-Above-Replacement) is 3.7, only sitting behind 10 starting pitchers.  Traditionally, SPs have an easier time having a higher WAR than RPs.  According to Rob Neyer of SB Nation, only one reliever ever has had the highest WAR in a season: Rich Gossage in 1976, but he had to throw 142 innings to attain his 8.1 WAR.  Only 3 relievers ever with over 7 WAR, so in this live ball era of pitching, what Rodney has done is even more impressive.

There are other suitable Cy Young candidates: White Sox’ Chris Sale, Mariners’ Felix Hernandez, Tigers’ Justin Verlander, and Rangers’ Yu Darvish.  But maybe this year will be different.  On the American League hitting side, there’s two candidates in Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera having completely unique seasons and combating for the MVP.
Unique seems to be in this year.  Will Rodney be the other benefactor of it?

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