Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim closer Francisco Rodriguez should be commended for breaking the single-season record for saves. His miraculous season is truly one for the ages, as he seems poised to become the first athlete ever to record 60+ saves in a single Major League Baseball season. But why K-Rod, as he is affectionately known, and why now?
There are four answers: 1) The Angels’ offense can best be described with the word “meh.” 2) The rest of the Angels bullpen is worthy of setting up a dominant closer like K-Rod. 3) The rest of the AL West should be demoted to AAA. 4) K-Rod is a force of nature.
The Angels have good hitters, and plenty of them. But their manager, Mike Scioscia, firmly believes in “small ball,” in having baserunners try to manufacture runs instead of waiting for home runs.
The offense is geared toward conceding outs in the name of trying to eke out enough runs to win the game. The Angels therefore win many games by slim margins and seldom win by blowout. It is difficult to score multiple runs in an inning when sacrifice bunts and flies are a team’s primary offensive weapons.
It’s kind of like trying to rob someone with a butter knife: As long as that someone doesn’t have a bigger knife, he will fork over his cash. Effective, though not dramatic. The Rally Monkey usually provides the most dramatic, entertaining moments at Angel Stadium. Because of their offense, the Angels usually build up a small lead by the time the starter exits the game. They hand this slim lead to the bullpen.
The Angels’ bullpen is one of the most effective in baseball because the relievers on whom they depend most are consistent. The bullpen’s 3.60 ERA ranks sixth in the Major Leagues, but that includes the handful of poor outings by rarely used relievers. The reliable relievers they use frequently are lights out.
Scot Shields, the Angels’ 8th-inning set-up man, boasts a 2.78 ERA with 29 “holds” — appearances that preserve the closer’s save opportunity. Jose Arredondo, another devastating Angels reliever and the heir apparent to the closer’s role (Francisco Rodriguez will likely sign a massive free-agent deal elsewhere this offseason), has dominated, posting a sickening 1.33 ERA with 15 “holds.” Basically, once the Angels’ starter departs with a small lead that the offense has built up, that lead will be maintained until the ninth inning, when K-Rod enters the game.
But why do the Angels always have a small lead? Why don’t they trail much of the time? Because their schedule is one of the worst in baseball. Their three division rivals, who they play roughly 19 times each this year, are a combined 49 games under .500, which is one of the main reasons the Angels are 35 games over .500. Much like when I play laser tag against seven-year-olds, the Angels simply outclass their competition, execute their strategy and win.
Rodriguez himself, however, is the biggest reason for his personal success. He has blown only six saves in 64 chances, posted a 2.38 ERA and caused many hitters to call their mothers crying after embarrassing themselves on national television. His violent pitching motion disrupts hitters’ timing enough that his fastball-curveball one-two punch become as unstoppable as Mike Tyson … before he tattooed half of his own face.
But great closers who have save opportunities have come before K-Rod and not broken the record because they fatigued more easily. Sometimes closers will appear in 50 games each year. The Yankees rely heavily on Mariano Rivera but have only used him 59 times this season. K-Rod has 70 appearances. His arm must be made of used tires, because it bounces back each day from the previous day’s strain. His nearly inhuman ability to handle high workloads with a high level of intensity and performance has literally never been seen before.
That’s why he’s the record-holder. Well, that and his snazzy Rec Specs.