The Evolution of K-Rod

Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez threw a scoreless 8th inning last evening versus the Cardinals, his third consecutive scoreless frame of the 2011 playoffs.

While no longer one of the game’s elite closers, Rodriguez has found a niche as a reliable set-up man for Brewers closer John Axford. Since joining the Brewers, Rodriguez has not only changed roles in the bullpen, he has changed his approach to getting hitters out. This season has seen “K-Rod” post the second lowest K/9 of his career (9.92), but it’s also seen the righty walk the fewest batters per nine (3.27) of his nine-plus year career.

His 2011 GB/FB rate of 1.65 is the best of his career, but since leaving the Mets and spacious Citi Field in mid-July, he’s posted a 1.90 GB/FB rate, up from 1.51 prior to his trade. Rodriguez deserves credit for adapting his approach to his new surroundings. Perhaps Rodriguez has successfully changed his approach from the “here comes a fastball, see if you can hit it out” mentality that can come with pitching at Citi Field. (Mets Pitching Coach Dan Warthen has stated that the dimensions of Citi can negatively affect a pitcher’s concentration, but that is a topic for another day.)

Regardless, Rodriguez has continued to evolve since he joined the Brewers. He no longer features the mid-90s fastball and death slider that spurred the Angels to their 2002 World Series victory – now he’s sort of a crafty righty reliever with his fastball averaging 90.3 MPH and his slider morphing into an average curveball over the course of the last several season. However, his changeup (CH) has been the pitch that Brewers fans have become accustomed to Rodriguez relying on. With the Mets in 2011, he offered the pitch 16% of the time; with the Brewers, 23.2%. He’s also throwing his curveball more with Milwaukee, throwing it 25.4% of the time versus 18.2% with the Mets, but that pitch has given his 2011 teams just 0.7 wCB (Curveball runs above average) while his wCH comes in at an impressive 7.5 in 2011 with that number being split to 3.9 in 31 Games with Milwuakee and 3.6 in 42 Games with New York.

Still just 29 years old, Rodriguez, despite his violent delivery, has been on the DL just twice in his career — a 15-day trip in 2005 for a forearm strain, and a 60-day stint in 2010 after tearing a ligament in his thumb during a scuffle with his father-in-law.

In 2011, Rodriguez pitched his most innings (71.2) since 2006, and his pLI was just a hair down (1.81) from his career average of 1.89. Rare is it to see a former shut-down closer move to a set-up role with such aplomb, but Rodriguez has achieved this with the Brewers. With John Axford day-to-day after taking a line-drive off his fore-arm on Sunday, perhaps K-Rod will move back into the closer role for a game or two. With the entire industry watching this post-season, he could continue to make his case for a multi-year deal in free-agency this off-season.

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13 Responses to “The Evolution of K-Rod”

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  1. Mario says:

    Come on – “versus”, not “verses” and “verse”, which are both musical terms

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    • justin says:

      ditto, I noticed this too

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Your concern is appreciated. Given our interest in providing timely content and the constraint of our authors’ various and respective personal schedules, a number of the posts you see here aren’t copyedited until they’ve gone live.

      Ultimately, we think the trade-off is worth it, even if means minor usage errors might make it to pieces on the front page. We trust our authors to do good work — and, almost without exception, that trust is warranted.

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  2. shibboleth says:

    Wow I didn’t realize he was only 29 years old. Kudos to him for refining his game.

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  3. Charlie Morton's Electric Stuff says:

    If 9.92 is the 2nd lowest K/9 rate of your career, you’ve probably been doing something right.

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  4. Cecil Cooper's Twin says:

    He has been the difference in making the Crew a legit WS threat. We were set to be a playoff team after the trade for Marcum and Greinke, but K-Rod’s arrival and performance have allowed his manager the luxury of needing only 6 innings from the starter each night.

    It has also allowed Saito/Hawkins to be used for 7th inning duty. Both are still effective pitchers, if they are not overused. The starters typically make it to the 7th so that builds in extra days off for our ‘elder statesmen’.

    K-Rod could be a closer on a team that is completely lacking bullpen arms, but I believe you are right and his most valuable role is now as a setup man.

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  5. JSprech says:

    The Brewers bullpen might just be the difference maker this postseason. Have you ever heard of a team that gets by in the postseason with a shaky and unpredictable bullpen? Those teams blow leads and lose games. Trading peanuts for K-Rod solidified the bullpen in a tremendous way… you get to push your lesser relievers into lower importance situations. Let’s not forget that the Brewers started this year with Kameron Loe setting up for Axford. (Albeit that Loe is better than people give him credit for, and the whole strict set-up/closer progression is stupid and outdated).

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  6. Yirmiyahu says:

    If you look at relievers who’ve pitched 125+ innings in 2010/2011, K-Rod ranks 7th in ERA and 8th in FIP. He’s still one of the best relievers in the game. It’s a shame he was viewed as a disappointment and run out of NY simply because Omar Minaya decided to pay him a stupid amount of money.

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  7. Phantom Stranger says:

    K-Rod’s career is funny as a reliever. He started out with a great fastball and wicked slider, and now gets batters out with a nasty changeup. I’m not sure the changeup is good enough though to fool hitters if he loses much more on his fastball.

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  8. Matty Brown says:

    So god damn sick of complaints about minOr grammatical/spelling issues. Who Cares?!?

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  9. Ryan Martin says:

    Verses, verse…good spot!? Let the “musicians” go sing in the rain while baseball and content fans appreciate a well written piece on K- Rod.

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