The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have been a power in Major league Baseball for the last decade. Over the course of that time they’ve benefited from a great closer.
Now, with the AL West in their back-pocket, the team is set to see Francisco Rodriguez break the all-time single season record for saves.
Rodriguez, known simply as K-Rod, earned his 57th save of the season on Thursday night by getting the final three outs of the Angels 7-4 win over the Seattle Mariners.
That save tied him with past great Bobby Thigpen for the all-time mark. Thigpen posted his mark with the 1990 Chicago White Sox and it has stood for the past 18 years.
With 16 games left in the season, it’s highly likely that K-Rod will not only break the record within the week but get near 65 saves by season’s end.
My initial reaction is that of amazement. For a closer to be that consistent under pressure is phenomenal.
More intriguing to me is how clutch K-Rod is for the team because without him the Angels could have potentially lost 57 games.
That is a lot of games to have hanging in limbo. If Anaheim had lost anywhere from 17-32 of those contests the division and AL playoff race would have been far tighter.
Bear in mind the Angels clinched the division on Wednesday which is the earliest the division has been won in history.
Their closest division foe was the Texas Rangers, who were 17 and a half games out of first place on Thursday.
In fact the Angels are so good that they’re slugging it out with the Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays for baseball’s best record.
The way the Angels and Rays are playing, they’ll probably do battle with in the postseason.
An interesting subplot for that series would be the reception Tampa closer Troy Percival gets from fans in LA and how effective he is against his former team-mates.
Percival was with the Angels from 1995-2004 and was a key piece in the Angels World Series triumph in 2002. Percival also had a hand in shaping K-Rod into the closer he is today.
Granted much of the Angels’ success so far stems from starting pitching and clutch hitting but K-Rod has much to do with it.
Consider K-Rod’s numbers on the season. In 69 games he has posted a 2-2 record, a 2.42 ERA and punched out hitters 72 times. More impressive to me is the fact that he’s only blown six saves all-season.
Once you look past K-Rod’s flamboyant celebrations and intense nature on the mound, the reason for his success is clear.
Hitters simply cannot handle the movement on his pitches on a consistent basis.
Bear in mind that K-Rod throws essentially four pitches. He constantly hurls cut fastballs away from hitters in the high 90s plus relies on off-speed pitches, namely a circle changeup and two curveballs of different speeds, which have the ability to go south in a hurry and dip in and out of the strike zone.
K-Rod’s dominance though is anything but expected. Four years ago he wasn’t even a closer and eight years ago he wasn’t in the majors.
The fact is though that K-Rod is a special player who finds a way to thrive under pressure. The guy made his mark on the baseball world at 20 years old as a rookie in 2002, helping guide the Angels on an improbable run to a World Series title.
In his first full year as a closer in 2005, he tied for the American League lead in saves with 45 saves.
Yet to me his success is not without cause for concern. K-Rod has already pitched in 69 games and by season’s end could appear in 80. That’s a lot of games for a closer, especially for a team that’s playoff-bound.
Thus I’m worried if K-Rod might eventually have a tired arm or become susceptible to an injury. Any setback for him would be devastating for a team many people like to win the World Series this year.
K-Rod is no stranger to injury either. In 2001 he had issues with his pitching elbow and shoulder. It seemed as if the stress of starting pitching was too much for his arm.
Even if the 26-year-old remains fine for the rest of this year, his pitching days going forward could be short-lived. You only has to look at the career of Bobby Thigpen to see my point.
Thigpen debuted in the big leagues in ’86, at the age of 23, and became the full-time closer for the Sox in ’87. He started out well as he had two straight 30 save-seasons.
After posting 57 saves in 1990, he began suffering back trouble. He would end up constantly battling injuries, stemming mostly from his bad back. Eventually he would play his final major league game in 1994.
Ultimately no one knows how K-Rod’s career will turn out. He could be another Thigpen or he can be next the model of consistency like Trevor Hoffman of the San Diego Padres.
Ultimately, this season will be a memorable one for K-Rod. Without a doubt his new place in the history books will be met with much celebration.
Only time will tell if that occasion will be the one of many celebrations for the Angels this fall.