DENVER, CO - JULY 17: Relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez #57 of the Milwaukee Brewers delivers against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 17, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. Rodriguez earned a hold as they Brewers defeated the Rockies 4-3. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
I haven't been able to really give much of my reactions on the acquisition of Rodriguez, but I think there's no question it's a huge win for the Brewers. Some team is going to give up a lot of prospects for Heath Bell, and the difference between Bell and K-Rod for the rest of the year is about a third of a run every nine innings-- Bell's projected at a 2.6 FIP and Rodriguez at 2.9. Melvin rob swindled the rest of the league on this one, and not having to worry about the games finished clause made things all the better.
*I reserve the right to complain if he decided to put any of the top 3 or 4 prospects on the PTBNL list. But if it's McClendon and an outfielder, that's still well below what K-Rod should have cost.
Anyways, Kyle asked for a bit of a profile on the guy and I was happy to comply because I wanted to check out his past a bit too. I always loved me some K-Rod as a younger kid. His crazy run in 2002 was awesome, to refresh what happened, Rodriguez was a starter throughout the minors and only moved to relief to start the 2002 season due to some arm injuries. He was a mid-September callup for the Angels that year and was added to their post-season roster on what we still call "The K-Rod rule", in which a team can use a player not otherwise eligible to replace an injured player on the 25-man. His first 5 wins in the major leagues were in the playoffs, with 2 coming in the World Series. He only threw 5 regular season innings that year, and-- this is one of the coolest things ever-- had a negative FIP. 5 2/3 innings, 13 strikeouts, 2 walks, no home runs= -.04 FIP.
He became a dominant setup man (ahead of Troy Percival) with the Angels and then eventually became their closer and set the single-season save record in 2008 when he accumulated 62. (Side note: the save is a very stupid stat, mostly because it takes way longer to explain than, say, OPS, but most professional writers/analysts will defend it with everything they have, but 62 is still impressive).
From 2004-2007, K-Rod never struck out fewer than 12 batters per 9 innings. He's remained around 10 in these more recent years, and has actually improved his control a bit, walking 3.3 per 9 in 2010 and 3.4 per nine so far this year despite a career average over 4. His stuff has gotten a bit less filthy over the years, with his swinging strike percentage falling from a peak at 14% down to about 10% now, but 10% is nothing to be ashamed of. For example, Axford's also at about 10.5% in his career. There's other evidence of him becoming a wiser pitcher in the past two years. Batters are now making contact with more of his pitches than at any time before in his career. They're also making contact with a lot of pitches they swing at outside of the strike zone, and way more than they did earlier in his career. Though that could be a sign that he's losing some of his stuff, his groundball rates have also shot up in the past two years, so I'm going to look at that as a positive.
In terms of stuff, K-Rod's not too difficult to figure out. If you're a righty, it's going to be fastball/breaking ball, and if you're a lefty, it's going to be fastball/change. He didn't start throwing the change much until about 2007, and it's become one of his primary weapons, thrown about 20% of the time. Pitch f/x is splitting up his breaking pitches into slider and curveball, but I think it's one pitch thrown with a few variations and different velocities because there's a lot of inconsistency with how they're classified. The BIS Data from Fangraphs is also confused, it says he hasn't thrown a slider since '08 but didn't throw a curve in '07. I'm going to assume, unless he tells me otherwise, that he has one filthy "slurve", we'll call it. And it's a good pitch, having been substantially above average over the course of his career. In terms of runs above average over 100 pitches, his fastball is .3 (very good for a fastball), the slurve is about 1.8, and the changeup is 3.5.
There's no question K-Rod has lost plenty of fastball velocity, from his young days of throwing mid-90s to the present average of just over 90. It's of little concern when you look at how his strikeout rates have stayed high and how he's made adjustments to compensate.
Rodriguez is a heck of an addition for a bullpen that probably didn't even need an addition. I'd project Axford as just slightly better going forward, but they're both great high-leverage options. Hopefully RRR is able to quickly see that he's best suited by establishing Saito and Hawkins as the full-inning pitchers to lead to the 8/9 combo of K-Rod and Axford, and can start using Kameron Loe as a guy that gets out righties, and Estrada as a multiple-innings guy only. The only thing needed now is a lefty. And a shortstop, of course.