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Entries in Francisco Rodriguez (2)

Tuesday
Feb112014

Francisco Rodriguez Bucking The Old Reliever Trend With Age 

While Francisco Rodriguez's uniform has thrice changed since his record 62-save season in 2008 as a member of the Los Angeles Angels, one thing has remained constant: His strikeout totals. Punching out 10.1 batters per nine innings that season, Rodriguez went on to record K/9 rates of 9.7, 10.5, 9.9 and 9.0 in each of his four subsequent seasons, and a healthy 10.4 K/9 combined ratio last season with Milwaukee and Baltimore. After signing him to a one-year deal on Friday, the Brewers will be thrilled if that number perpetuates into 2014.

But as Bill Petti of Fangraphs.com showed in an article last May, the average reliever's K/9 rate drops significantly with age. More specifically, the average reliever's rate at age 26 drops by about 2.0 compared to their age 31 season. Yet as we've already noted, Rodriguez hasn't followed this typical reliever trend, as his K/9 rate has actually increased from his age 26 season in 2008 (10.1) to his age 31 campaign (10.9) in 2013. What makes this more intriguing is his declining fastball velocity, which stood at 91.1 MPH last season compared to 92.2 MPH in '08. Given this, how is it that Rodriguez continues to augment his strikeout capacity with age and declining fastball velocity?

It all starts with his secondary stuff, which he commanded masterfully against left-handed batters last season.

Francisco's non-fastball pitch frequency vs. LHH, 2008

Francisco's non-fastball pitch frequency vs. LHH, 2013

Overall, lefties hit .227/.346/.336 against Rodriguez in 2008 compared to right-handers' .205/.276/.295 slash line. A big reason for lefties' high on-base percentage that year was his lack of command -- walking left-handers at an escalated 13.1% rate (and 29.9% strikeout rate). Those numbers went in opposite directions last season, as Rodriguez struck out southpaws at a 35.2% rate while lowering his walk rate to 7.6% against them. Against his 'soft' stuff (i.e. non-fastballs), these increases were much more extreme -- punching out lefties at a 58.1% clip compared to 38.6% in 2008.

The reason for this sharp increase can be seen in the images above; Rodriguez was more efficient at commanding his changeup and curveball away from lefties last season (51.8%) in comparison to 2008 (36.7%). Not only did this improved command positively affect his strikeout rate, but it also helped him increase is ground-ball rate to 52.9% (juxtaposed to 44.4% in 2008) and boost his called-strike rate to 41.4% (opposed to 32.3% in 2008). In two-strike counts, lefties chased at a whopping 64% of his soft offerings and struck out at a 78.1% rate (fifth highest among relievers with 45 innings).

While sample size should be considered when comparing his 2008 and 2013 campaigns (he registered 68.1 innings in 2008 and only 46.2 last season), this is somewhat of an unsound argument against his strikeout increase moving forward, as I'm certain Ron Roenicke and Milwaukee's managerial staff won't call on Rodriguez more than 70 times next season -- even if he's lights out. They'll need to preserve his aging arm if they're anywhere near contention in September.

Considering everything, we can definitively say that Rodriguez is still every bit the strikeout artist he was in his most dominant years -- even with his waning velocity. And that's a credit to his improved secondary stuff against lefties, who gave him trouble even at his best in 2008.

Friday
Jul192013

Francisco Rodriguez now an Oriole

When the Milwaukee Brewers signed 31-year-old Francisco Rodriguez to a minor league deal worth approximately $2 million to $2.5 million back on April 17, fans were unsure of what to expect from the veteran reliever who posted a 4.38 ERA and 1.33 WHIP with the team in 2012. The move, however, was justified by the fact that the team's bullpen struggled in the first month of the season to the tune of a 3.96 ERA and .394 opponent slugging percentage, both of which ranked in the bottom half of NL bullpens in April.

Fast forward three months later, and Rodriguez -- who was jobless on opening day -- has become one of the best late-inning relievers in baseball, pitching as effectively as he did during his historic 62-save 2008 campaign with the Los Angeles Angels. His trade-market value rose to the point that yesterday the Baltimore Orioles acquired him for minor league infielder Nick Delmonico.

Orioles vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said, "Nick Delmonico shows a lot of promise as a hitter, but the major league club needed a little more depth for our pitching staff to accomplish what we want to accomplish this year."

He's a perfect 10-for-10 in save opportunities this season, boasting a 1.09 ERA, 1.054 WHIP and strikeout rate of 26.8% while holding opponents to a .198/.274/.291 slash line over 24.2 innings of work in 25 appearances. Back in 2008, he posted an ERA of 2.24 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 26.7 percent strikeout rate while limiting opponents to a .216/.314/.316 line.

K-Rod - Comparing 2008 and 2013

 

2008

2013

Swing%

40.2%

44.2%

In-play%

37.2%

36.9%

Chase%

22.4%

23.8%

Called-strike%

33.4%

40.%

 

  • Rodriguez has induced more frequent swings this season than in 2008.
  • Opponents are putting fewer pitches in play this season than in 2008.
  • Opponents are swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone this season than in 2008.
  • Rodriguez is throwing more pitches for called-strikes.

Rodriguez 2008 and 2013 pitch frequency

Rodriguez's pitch frequency over both seasons doesn't reveal a prominent change in approach at first glance, but there are a few alterations worth noting:

  • Rodriguez has placed his offerings in the outer half of the zone at a 59.9 percent rate this season, a considerable increase from his 51.5 percent in 2008.
  • Rodriguez has located his offerings in the lower half of the zone at a 52.2 percent clip this season, up from his 50.8 percent in 2008.

Combining Rodriguez's elevated frequency of pitches located on the outer and lower portion of the strike zone, we find that he is among the best relievers in baseball this season in commanding his stuff to that area of the zone.

Comparing Rodriguez's down-and-outside pitch frequency between 2008 and 2013

  • Rodriguez's zone rate on low-and-away pitches this season is 37% compared to 27.3% in 2008.
  • Rodriguez's called-strike rate has jumped from 21.9% in 2008 to 32.4% this season. 

What does this mean for the Orioles?

Rodriguez's 2008 season was one of the most dominating campaigns a late-inning reliever has ever put together.

This season, he's managed to best many of the statistics and rates that he posted in 2008, a product of his command of low-and-away offerings and some luck as exhibited by his .259 BABIP (the league BABIP is .291). While his fastball speed has dropped from 92.2 in 2008 to 91.0 isn't that significant, it is bordering on not very fast, so his command, which he has shown thus far, must remain excellent particularly since he's now a flyball pitcher having given up 25 in 97 PA.