Due to the speed of the game and its intrinsic call for repetition, baseball players at the highest level of their craft might be the closest thing to athletic machines you will find in this world. But baseball players are human, and humans are not machines. Every player has a chink in the armor. A hole in their swing. A gambler’s tell. Most of their flaws are barely perceptible or occur too close to the critical point to take advantage because baseball players excel at concealing flaws. It is an essential component to sustaining a major league career.
Nevertheless, sometimes a Fernando Rodney happens.
We can see with our eyes that Fernando Rodney is getting shellacked night after night. The Blue Jays have eyes too, and a kind enough heart to inform the Mariners prior to leaving town Sunday that Rodney had been tipping his pitches. This very important piece of information was mentioned by Dave Sims during Monday night’s broadcast.
Make no mistake however – the Blue Jays ONLY had their best interest in mind. You see, this was the last meeting between the Mariners and Jays of the 2015 season. What the Jays essentially told the Mariners was this: "Thanks for the free runs. Now please put an end to this Fernando Rodney pitch-tipping horseshit and beat the teams we need you to beat so we can make the playoffs." And who can blame them?
The Mariners worked with Rodney the following day:
Mariners coaches believe Fernando Rodney has been tipping his pitches. They saw some differences before his delivery and he's working on it— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) July 27, 2015
There was no mention of exactly how Rodney was tipping his pitches so I pulled up his last outing against the Blue Jays from July 25. Honestly, it took longer for mlb.tv to load than it took to find Rodney’s fatal flaw. Behold the Chicken Dance:
When Rodney was about throw a fastball, his upper glove-side arm is high (red box) and nearly parallel to the ground, with his elbow pointed at the hitter (yellow line). When he was about throw a changeup, his upper glove-side arm is tucked closer to his body, not parallel to the ground, and with his elbow aimed somewhere between the mound and home plate. Both images were taken at the absolute highest point his upper glove-side arm ascended to prior to delivery. I looked at all of his pitches from July 25 and froze them in the exact same way. Rodney was doing this against every single batter, every single pitch, with no exceptions.
And I use the word "was" because Rodney made the adjustment prior to Monday night’s game against Arizona. In the past, before he began tipping his pitches, Rodney aimed his elbow at the batter "fastball style" whether he was throwing a fastball or change. Against Arizona last night, Rodney had his chicken wing tucked close to his body "changeup style" for all changeups and fastballs. Hooray! Fernando Rodney, who is getting paid $7M and has been worth approximately -$7M, might be fixed.
But the very serious questions fans and writers will begin asking are as follows: Why did the Mariners, with their own eyes, fail to notice Rodney was tipping his pitches? How could they have not grown suspicious when, night after night going all the way back to May*, hitters were consistently – too consistently – timing their stride and squaring up the pitches Rodney offered, regardless of count, location or movement? Didn’t it seem odd that hitters weren’t getting fooled? Whiffing out front of a change? Missing late on a fastball? After all, it’s not like Rodney’s stuff has diminished since his excellent 2014 season. His fastball velocity is identical with slightly more movement on both the x and y axis. The same is true for his changeup. Rodney’s stuff was not the issue.
So why didn’t somebody in the Mariners front office get curious enough to check the video? And if they did check the video, how could they have missed something that an average baseball enthusiast was able to spot in 30 seconds? And what about the Mariners coaches and players, with their combined years of experience and their exclusive perspective perched along the dugout rail, in the bullpen and on the field? Was even one eyebrow raised?
Perhaps this is why I am struggling to blame Rodney. Players get out of whack from time to time. It is the job of coaches, scouts and certain members of the front office to diagnose those problems and help bring them back. Nobody with the Mariners helped Fernando Rodney. The Blue Jays helped Fernando Rodney, and only when the timing was strategic to their own personal gain.
As an organization, it often seems the Mariners are the last to know things, to adapt and change. If they did in fact allow their All-Star closer to implode repeatedly for nearly three months without noticing what we observed with rudimentary access to streaming video, that is yet another and particularly damming piece of evidence that this front office is not the group to pull the Mariners from the ocean floor.
* The Oakland A’s may have been the first team to take advantage of Rodney’s telegraphic flap, going all the way back to May 10. It was their fourth time facing Rodney this season, and it was the first time I was able to spot the differences between deliveries for every pitch, although they were less pronounced. Rodney’s mechanical disintegration progressed, reaching peak level vs the Blue Jays on July 25.