The Worst Season of Francisco Rodriguez's Career

Don’t let the save totals fool you: this is the worst season of Francisco Rodriguez’s career so far.

 

(Editor’s note: all statistics are as of September 2) Rodriguez is still having a very good season, at least on the surface. Saves aside, K-Rod also has a 2.47 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 58 innings. But he also has 29 walks and has benefitted from a .270 BABIP.

Furthermore, Rodriguez’s strikeouts have been declining ever since his incredible season back in 2004.

K/9

BB/9

xFIP

2004

13.2

3.5

2.63

2005

12.2

4.3

2.97

2006

12.1

3.5

3.22

2007

12

4.5

3.53

2008

10.3

4.5

3.58

 

Of course, 10.3 strikeouts per nine is still very good. But it’s not at the same rate as the rest of his career. Rodriguez has always walked a lot of batters; this wasn’t a problem when he was striking out 12 batters per nine, but his high walk totals could become more problematic if he’s not able to raise his strikeout totals once again.

If we look even deeper at K-Rod’s repertoire, we find even more troublesome data. Fangraphs gives velocity data going back to 2005 – for Rodriguez, we can see that his fastball velocity is only 91.8 MPH this year, as compared to 93.6, 94.8, and 93.3 MPH over the last three years. Additionally, K-Rod has lost some of the velocity and bite on his devastating slider – so much so, in fact, that pitch F/X has classified many of his breaking pitches as curve balls this year, rather than sliders.

Last season, pitch F/X clocked Rodriguez’s slider at 82.29 MPH, whereas this season the same pitch is clocked at only 80.21 MPH. Furthermore, K-Rod’s slider in 2007 was a lot tighter last year than it is this year: last year, he got four inches of downward break on the pitch, whereas this year he has gotten only one inch of downward break. He has actually gotten more break away from right-handed batters this year – 6.6 inches, as compared to 4.8 inches last year. However, the two-plane break that K-Rod had been getting on his devastating slider is diminished, and, as such, the pitch is not as dominating as it used to be.

Rodriguez is still very difficult to hit against, due to the tremendous amount of movement on his pitches. However, this year his control problems have been even worse than in the past: only 60% of his pitches have been strikes – the lowest total of his career – and only 54% of his first pitches have been strikes. He has gotten into more 3-0 counts (9% of the time) than any other season in his career, and has gotten into fewer 0-2 counts (19%) than any other season. His overall strikeout rate is down, and yet he has received more called third strikes than usual this year, suggesting even less dominance (as evidenced by the relative lack of swings and misses with two strikes).

Finally, Rodriguez has fared exceptionally well this season with runners on base, thus limiting the amount of runs that he has given up. In his career, K-Rod has been slightly better with runners on (.543 OPS against) than with nobody on base (.600 OPS against). This season, however, K-Rod’s OPS with runners on base (.498) is much lower than his OPS with no one on (.717), thus leading to an inordinately low number of runners who reach base scoring.

Rodriguez has still been very good this year; but, save total aside, he has also been very lucky. His ability to throw strikes and his fastball velocity are both down. His slider is less tight than it used to be – it’s no longer getting the two-plane break that it was getting before, and it’s being thrown at a slower velocity. These are all very troublesome signs, and they’re coupled with a lower strikeout rate (and a still-high walk rate).

It’s very possible that K Rod’s “struggles” this season are due to the fluke of a small sample size. Relievers pitch so few innings in a given season that it’s very easy for their results to fluctuate while their actual skill remains the same. And Rodriguez has still had a good season (although not nearly as good of a season has his save totals and ERA might suggest).

However, Rodriguez does not appear to be the same pitcher that he was over the last four years. His apparent decline is definitely something to consider in the wake of his impending free agency.

 

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