Thursday, December 11, 2008

I'll Be The Judge: Francisco Rodriguez

2008 Season: Francisco Rodriguez - better known as K-Rod around the league for his propensity to strike batters out - set a single-season saves record by locking down 62 games for the Los Angeles Angels in 2008. In every other statistical category, it was actually the worst season of his six-year career.

K-Rod had a career high in WHIP (his second straight season above the 1.2o range) and career lows in strikeout rates and batting average allowed. He averaged less than one inning per appearance - a sign that the Angels overly specialized K-Rod's role in the bullpen instead of leveraging his talent for high-need situations. Oh, and he blew six saves - although that still gave K-Rod a very respectable 91.1% save conversion percentage.

Contract Status: This really is an incredibly club-friendly deal. Cot's Contracts is saying that K-Rod will make just $8.5 million in 2009, with successive years at $11.5 million after that. The $17.5 million option in 2012 is just awful, but it only becomes guaranteed if K-Rod doesn't miss significant time in 2010 or 2011. Otherwise, the Mets can buy at the option at $3.5 million and look to re-sign K-Rod to a more realistic longterm deal - remember, he'll only be 29 at the end of the guaranteed portion of the contract.

K-Rod was supposedly looking for 5 years, $75 million at the beginning of the off-season; the general manager who would've acquiesced to such a ridiculous request should've had their sobriety level checked. Kudos to Omar Minaya for getting K-Rod at Brad Lidge money (although he had to tack on an option year based on incentives that will be fairly easy to attain). The other 29 GMs are thanking him too - this signing single-handedly lowers the bar financially for every other closer on the market. Brian Fuentes in particular will probably struggle to get more than $11 million a year now - early reports had him commanding an average annual value in the $13 million range.

The Verdict: K-Rod will be remembered for the rest of his career as the guy who set a single-season save record in 2008, and it's a record that will probably stand for some time. Still, it was not a particularly good season by any stretch - his WHIP was higher than former Marlins closer Kevin Gregg and his batting average allowed was higher than fellow free agent Fuentes. Astros reliever Jose Valverde was among the handful of closers who had a better K/9 rate than the man whose nickname was borne from his ability to strike batters out.

In the end, K-Rod was extremely lucky to have so many late-game leads to protect and danced out of trouble often enough to get his name in the record books. He deserves some credit for this - in the end, it really doesn't matter if a closer has a 1-2-3 ninth inning or if they load the bases without giving up any runs. Today's closers are measured not by their dominance but whether or not they succeeded in their highly-specialized roles. K-Rod unquestionably succeeded in his.

2009 Outlook: I think K-Rod will be very, very good in a similarly specialized role with the Mets. I expect a save conversion percentage above 90 percent, which for the Mets could be the difference between a playoff berth and yet another excruciating late September collapse. The increased WHIP and decline in strikeout rates may also just be a matter of a pitcher learning how to pitch. Perhaps K-Rod now understands that strikeouts are pretty, but allowing balls to be put in play makes for a more efficient (if less statistically dominant) reliever. His raw stuff is so still good that 2008's K/9 rate of 10.15 was actually considered a cause for concern.

One last thing: we've been hearing rumors for years that K-Rod's funky delivery and stressful slider were an arm injury waiting to happen, but he's made it through six full seasons without disaster striking. I have no reason to believe it will at this point.

1 comment:

TW said...

I didn't realize the deal was that good for us, a two year deal for Manny or a frontloaded deal for Lowe or Sheets is certainly not out of the question