Fernando Rodney is in very rare territory

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The Rays have had the magic touch with lightly regarded relievers before, but Fernando Rodney is easily their biggest success story yet.

The 35-year-old Rodney recorded his 31st save Wednesday, moving himself into a tie for the major league lead, and lowered his ERA to 0.74 with a scoreless inning in a 4-1 win over the A’s.

With the season nearly two-thirds over, Rodney is on pace to join Dennis Eckersley as the second reliever ever to save 40 games with a sub-1.00 ERA.

Eckersley saved 48 games and posted a 0.61 ERA in 73 1/3 innings for the A’s in 1990. That wasn’t his Cy Young and MVP year, though; he got those awards two years later when he finished with 51 saves and a 1.91 ERA in 80 innings.

Just 11 pitchers since 1900 have posted an ERA under 1.00 in at least 50 innings. It happened four times during the deadball era and once by Bill Henry in 1964. The rest to do it were modern relievers:

Rob Murphy (1986 Reds): 0.72 in 50.1 IP
Eckersley (1990 A’s): 0.61 in 73/1 IP
Chris Hammond (2002 Braves): 0.95 in 76 IP
Jonathan Papelbon (2006 Red Sox): 0.92 in 68.1 IP
Dennys Reyes (2006 Twins): 0.89 in 50.2 IP
Eric O’Flaherty (2011 Braves): 0.98 in 73.2 IP

Papelbon, the only closer besides Eckersley in the group, finished with 35 saves in 2006.

After Papelbon, a few others have managed 40 saves with ERAs just above 1.00:

John Smoltz (2003 Braves): 1.12, 45 sv
Jose Mesa (1995 Indians): 1.12, 46 sv
Eric Gagne (2003 Dodgers): 1.20, 55 Sv
Armando Benitez (2004 Marlins): 1.29, 47 Sv

So Rodney could best them all this year, which would be especially amazing considering that his best ERA in the five years from 2007-11 was a 4.24 mark. His career best in a full season was 3.52 in 2006, though he did come in at 2.86 in 44 innings in 2005.

I should also note that Atlanta’s Craig Kimbrel could possibly save 40 games with a sub-1.00 ERA as well if he’s near flawless from here on in. He’s pitched 40 innings and allowed six runs so far, giving him a 1.35 ERA to go along with his 30 saves.

Joey Votto: “I tried to get fatter. I succeeded at that apparently.”

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We’ve poked fun often at the spring training trope of players showing up to camp in the “best shape of [their] life.” Reds first baseman Joey Votto has turned that entirely on its head. Talking about his offseason, the 2010 NL MVP said, “I tried to get fatter. I succeeded at that apparently. We did all the testing and I am fatter,” Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto, of course, wasn’t trying to say he’s not in shape; he was just using some of his trademark self-deprecating humor.

Votto did get serious when discussing the state of the rebuilding Reds. As Buchanan also reported, Votto said, “I think we’re starting to get to the point where people are starting to get tired of this stretch of ball. I think something needs to start changing and start going in a different direction. I’m going to do my part to help make that change.”

Votto, 34, is under contract with the Reds through at least 2023, so he still has plenty of incentive to help see the rebuild through. He has been nothing short of stellar over the last three seasons. This past season, he hit .320/.454/.578 with 36 home runs, 100 RBI, and 106 runs scored in 707 appearances across all 162 games. Votto led the majors in walks (134) and on-base percentage and led the National League in OPS (1.032).

Despite Votto’s presence, both FanGraphs and PECOTA are projecting the Reds to put up a 74-88 record. The club had a pretty quiet offseason, expecting to enter 2018 with largely the same roster as last year.