No need to beat around the bush. Fernando Rodney had some real struggles while pitching for the Mariners this season.
Opponents slashed .284/.366/.486/.852 when he pitched in save situations in 2015. In short, Rodney had problems keeping runners off the bases in those situations and didn’t have a high enough strikeout rate (only 21.1 percent) to make up it.
With that being said, adding Rodney seems like it could have more to do with moving others into more important roles in the Cubs bullpen than inserting Rodney himself into that kind of high leverage chances.
In reality, all Rodney needs to do is represent an improvement on what Jason Motte was doing in low leverage situations over the last few months. And he did just that on Friday, working around a hit by pitch and a wild pitch en route to tossing a scoreless eighth against the Dodgers.
That is a much more realistic vision of Rodney’s future than the idea of him trying to lock down what can be a very tense ninth inning.
For what it’s worth, Rodney faced 67 batters in low leverage opportunities with the Mariners. Those batters slashed .217/.299/.383 with a .301 wOBA. He also owns a 17.9 K% and 8.95 BB% in those chances. You can see how he has fared in low leverage chances here, via FanGraphs.
Motte faced 91 batters in low leverage situations. Opponents hit .264 and slugged .430 against Motte in those chances to go along with a 17.6 K% and 3.3 BB%.
If Rodney can hold down the fort in these situations, it could open up Joe Maddon’s bullpen to some new possibilities.
For example, Justin Grimm has pitched well enough to earn a role in which he faces more important hitters.
Grimm has made the most of his chances in low leverage (.156 BAA, .254 SLG, 41.2 K%, 5.9 BB%, 68 batters faced) and medium leverage (.119 BAA, .190 SLG, 36.2 K%, 47 batters faced) spots. He has also been OK in the small sample of high leverage chances (.231 BAA, .269 SLG, 25.8 K%, 31 batters).
This could allow Pedro Strop, whose 65 batters faced in high leverage situations is the second most among Cubs relievers, to move into a more favorable position. Strop has struggled at times in high leverage situations (14.4 BB%, .350 wOBA, 23.1 K%), but has been superb in medium leverage spots (.146 BAA, .280 SLG, 29.2 K%).
But for Grimm to move into more high leverage situations and Strop to slide down into more favorable spots, Rodney will likely need to excel in low leverage situations.
And it’s not as if there is an immediate need for Rodney to take high-leverage or 9th innings upon arrival, as Hector Rondon seems to have a stranglehold on those situations.
Rondon’s 100 batters faced in high-leverage spots is the most of any Cubs reliever. He has been rather effective, too, posting a 28 percent strikeout rate, 4 percent walk rate and limiting batters to a .218 wOBA.
When speaking about Javier Baez’s chances of making the team out of Spring Training, manager Joe Maddon said: “There’s no lock in regard to that. I talked about the entitlement program. It doesn’t exist. Everything has to be earned.”
I’m not sure anything captures the spirit of Maddon’s managerial style than those last five words. It has applied for everyone on the roster, so I imagine it will be the same with Rodney. If it gets to a point he is pitching in high leverage spots, it will likely be because he earned it.
Until then, Rodney has to go out, make pitches and earn Maddon’s trust all over again.
Naturally, that is easier said than done.