Mr. Pudge Goes to Washington

Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reports that Ivan Rodriguez has signed a two-year, six million dollar deal with the Washington Nationals. While a quick glance at his career suggests a Hall-of-Fame level player, Pudge’s (isn’t there some law about recycled nicknames?) best years, or even decent years, are clearly way off in the distance, and at 38 years old, he’s likely on his last contract.

Rodriguez always had a good defensive reputation, and a glance at Rally’s WAR suggests that it was justified, particularly in the late 1990s, when he put up several seasons in the +20 range. That was a long time ago, however, and as you’d expect his skills aren’t what they used to be. CHONE projects him as a +3/150 defender; above average, but not spectacular.

As for his bat, Pudge had some great seasons back in the day, but one thing he’s never been known for is a willingness to take a walk.

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Rickey Henderson he isn’t. It is interesting that the one season in which “I-Rod” was actually above average in walk rate was the surprising 2003 Marlins championship team. He has consistently swung at pitches outside the strike zone 15% more often than league average. That approach worked well when he was younger and could regularly post a batting average over .300 with some power, but the “swing at everything” approach is a young man’s game, as Pudge has slipped from a still-valuable-for-a-catcher .330 wOBA in 2006 all the way down to a .287 wOBA in 2009. CHONE projects I-Rod as a .250/.285/.371 hitter for 2010, or -28 runs/150 games. I have him ever-so-slightly better, at .252/.279/.376, or about -24/150 (.282 wOBA).

Per 150 games, let’s say he is a -26 hitter, +3 defender, +12 for catching, +20 replacement level = 0.9 WAR player. However, catchers, particularly 38-year old catchers, almost never play 150 games, and Rodriguez hasn’t played 150 since 1997. 120 is optimistic. With that in mind Pudge is closer to a 0.5 WAR player than a 1 WAR player.

There’s not much left on the market in terms of free agent catchers this season, especially with Gregg Zaun already signed. Apparently, even Miguel Olivo is drawing interesting from multiple teams. And the Nationals’ catching situation in particular doesn’t look promising — Jesus Flores isn’t a world-beater (although CHONE says he’s better than Rodriguez), and is coming off an injury-marred season. Still, what is the point of signing a 38-year old formerly great catcher for 2 years for the Nationals? If he’s a 1 WAR player (and that’s pretty optimistic), this might be a slightly good deal for the team, but what is the potential upside? Is the one extra win Rodriguez might provide over a cheaper alternative going to launch the Nationals into a wildcard spot in 2010?

Ivan Rodriguez may have something left to offer someone, but not as a starter for this kind of money on a rebuilding team. I look forward to reading quotes from the Nationals about how Pudge is a “legend” who is a “veteran presence in the clubhouse” and will “work well with our young pitching staff.”




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


28 Responses to “Mr. Pudge Goes to Washington”

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  1. Steve says:

    2 years for Pudge? Insane.

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  2. The A Team says:

    Perhaps the Nationals are hoping that Rodriguez can provide invaluable tutelage to Strasburg, Lannan, Zimmermann, Martis, and any number of other young, forgettable players.

    I say that facetiously although that may very well be the thought process they are using. In the past I had heard rave reviews about Pudge’s ability to help his battery mates, but recently I’ve only seen negative or neutral comments about his ability to work with a staff.

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  3. JoeR43 says:

    I-Rod is a Hall of Famer, but obviously overrated as a hitter, even in his prime.

    Now? Well, have fun with this guy, Washington, you have the powerless Bengie Molina.

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  4. Matt B. says:

    Careful, the Detroit ‘Pudge is our hero’ will be praising this one soon! Terrible signing…

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    • Detroit says:

      HA!, from seeing him when he played for Detroit I saw his overrated bat and game calling skills firsthand. Not to say he was bad, he just was never the greatest in those two respects. His defense declined from one of the best to average in his years here. The only good thing he did was help get other good players here. I was overjoyed to see him get traded, just wish we could have gotten more in return than Kyle Farnsworth.

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  5. opisgod says:

    ITT: The placeholder for Bryce Harper.

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  6. Maybe DC is trying to impress their fans? Or Scott Boras pulled a fast one on relative newbie Mike Rizzo. If they really wanted Pudge, though, the second year might’ve been necessary to draw him away from a team closer to contention. Either way, he’s better than Josh Bard, Wil Nieves, or Jhonathan Solano. Flores might need to spend April in AAA after missing so much time.

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  7. Ken says:

    No, this signing definitely reeks of “Veteran catcher guiding rookie flamethrower in his first season a la Crash Davis/Nuke Laloosh”. I know there were rumors about them trying to sign John Smoltz for the same reason, but he wont be able to walk out to the mound every time Strasburg gets in trouble. So really, I think they could have signed just about any veteran backstop, but at least Pudge has the respected name that the young pitchers on that staff would be more willing to listen to. It clearly doesn’t look like the Nationals are trying to “win now”.

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  8. Rich in NJ says:

    Pudge’s propensity to call FBs hurts the development of young pitchers, particularly relievers.

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  9. Paul Zummo says:

    I look forward to reading quotes from the Nationals about how Pudge is a “legend” who is a “veteran presence in the clubhouse” and will “work well with our young pitching staff.”

    That’s already the spin being put out there by the local beat guys, including Thom Loverro (who thinks this is a bad signing, but thinks that’s the upside of the deal). The other positive spin is that this is a sign that at least the Nats are willing to spend money. Okay, but throwing your money away on an aging backup catcher is generally not considered a “positive” thing for most organizations.

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  10. Nats Fan says:

    UGGGHHHHH!!!!!! This is an awful signing!!!! Damn you Rizzo!!

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  11. longgandhi says:

    Just playing devil’s advocate here – and before I start I want to make clear that I don’t think he’s worth the money for what he’ll do on the field – but what if he was signed for what the Nationals said he was being signed for: to be a mentor to Flores. I don’t think he’s gonna be able to teach him anything about hitting (at least I hope not), but he was one of the best defensive catchers of the last generation. What if he can teach what he knows about the work behind the plate the way Ted Williams did with hitting? What if his coaching makes Flores an excellent fielding/calling backstop? Not saying he will, but if there’s a chance he could do that, what would that be worth? And what if he can do that with Derek Norris during spring training? And Bryce Harper in 2011? What would that be worth?
    Rodriguez was a bell cow for the Tigers; when he signed, other free agents started considering the Tigers as an option. I’m not saying he’ll have the same impact in Washington, but I imagine there are plenty of pitchers that wouldn’t mind him behind the plate. I imagine if there was a sabermetrics contest, and one team had Bill James, Voros McCracken and Tango while the other team had a bunch of nobodies, most of you would prefer to be on the team with the famous guys regardless of how competent the nobodies might be, even though two of the famous ones are well past their prime. Nothing wrong with that; it’s a normal human reaction.
    We’ll have to see how this plays out, but if signing Rodriguez makes Ben Sheets or John Smoltz or whatever decent free agent pitcher think that Washington might not be a bad choice for the next year or two without the Nats having to overpay to get him, how much is that worth?
    Again, I agree he’s not worth $3 million a year for what he’ll produce on the field, and I have my doubts he’ll have much impact on the young pitchers for how little he’ll be catching, but signings don’t happen in a vacuum and maybe there are other ways a Hall of Fame player can demonstrate his value. No?

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      “but signings don’t happen in a vacuum and maybe there are other ways a Hall of Fame player can demonstrate his value. No?”

      I have made similar comments before and basically met with either a “No” or a “prove it” type comment. That is acceptable because one is making a declarative statement without real, statistical proof.

      I don’t think you can “prove it” because you would basically have to have 2 seperate realities in which to compare: a developing pitching staff WITH and WITHOUT Pudge/Veteran … and you cannot have “both”.

      Clearly, with the signing of veteran catchers, those GM/Managers/Coaches seem to feel there is some value to their contributions to their teams.

      I don’t want to name drop or make myself seem important or anything like that, but I was able to talk to rookie reliever throughout the year, and he talked quite a bit about how Chris Snyder and Jon garland made him feel “right at home” and helped with a lot of little things off the field that would have been much more difficult without such type of “mentors”.

      Now, being able to “prove” that those influences had any impact on the on-field performance is impossible. But, in some cases like this, I humbly defer to the comments of the players, managers, etc … since there does seem to be some value (either real or perceived) in “veteran players” serving as “mentors”.

      Before this year, given my new experience of being able to talk to a pro, I would NOT have even been close to my estimation of how difficult it is in MLB, from the mental side of the game/profession .. particularly as a young player.

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  12. exxrox says:

    Well I think it is no secret that the flaw of sabermetrics is that it annihilates the “personal” or clubhouse side of the game, and focuses only on on-field performance.

    I also believe it is no secret that Pudge’s influence to the team will be much greater off the field, rather that on it. Naturally saber-styled analysis will be against this type of player, but just as great coaches have a largely underlooked influence on the team (the team is composed of more than just 25 guys, who also go largely statistically ignored), (former) great veterans probably stand to have their place as well.

    In a bubble, 6 million looks traumatic, but look at the other FA catcher options being mopped up for unusual deals; perhaps the market for them is just out of proportion or beginning to change this year.

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    • exxrox says:

      I will add that catchers in particular seem to have a much broader clubhouse role that many will refer to as defensive skills, that are not in any way quantifiable enough to be included in UZR and other rating systems.

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  13. CircleChange11 says:

    To share a story that serves no real evince-based purpose, but just sheds some light on how the “Crash Daivs – Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh” thing may be more relevant than we might surmise …

    … when said rookie showed up after the call up, in blue jeans no less. “Veteran” Chris Davis took him to a clothing store, instructed the tailor to make the reliever some custom shirts, picked out some dress shoes for him, etc and PAID for all of it. Garland, likewise, led him “by the hand” (if you will) around the clubhouse, introduced him to everyone, etc. Both guys essentially taught him some of the “non-field” details of being a ‘Major Leaguer’, and he would have been “lost without them”.

    There are also aspects of older guys being able to reassure a young player during tough times (and the player being able to believe the veteran), rather than making mountains out of molehills.

    Conversely, I had college teammates who left college early for the pros … and HATED it … describing situations where teammates hoped you failed, so they could take your place/role. Teammates can, and do, have an off-the-field impact on aspects that *may* affect on-field performance.

    Certainly Strasberg is going to come up to ML’s sooner than later, and the ex[pectations are going to be nothing short of “Do what Rocket did”, and there’s to need to be “someone” that can guide him through the process when it doesn’t happen as fans and media predict.

    I know this isn;t going to convincing to those that are “stats-based” or anyting like that, that’s not my point. I am only illustrating how some players do, positively and negatively, affect aspects of the profession that does affect on-field performance.

    Just talkin’ ball, it’s what I do.

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  14. exxrox says:

    It would be nice to see the author come back and discuss these alternate viewpoints at some time.

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    • Which viewpoints in particular?

      If they need someone just to teach.. hire a coach. That’s a lot cheaper. It’s certainly less than they’re overpaying Pudge.

      As for catcher’s era or “handling the staff…” Keith Woolner’s classic studies found no measurable evidence for this.

      http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=1489

      I’m going to need to post this a lot

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        The most valuable thing a catcher can do in regards to “calling pitches” is “be on the same page as the pitcher”. It sounds simple, but it’s not as common as one would like. It’s a pain in the ass, to have to break up your pace shaking off signs, stepping off so the C can start over, etc.

        We saw an extreme example of this in the WS.

        I think people look at it incorrectly. It’s not as if some catchers have the mystical ability to call a pitch that the batter was totally not expecting. That’s just foolish … and well, an easy Strawman to destroy.

        It is extremelly comfortable being able to just pitch and call what the catcher is calling because he’s perceptive at what you are doing that is working, what hitter’s are having a difficult time with, the scoutring reports, etc.

        Sometimes we get too damn dumb about this stuff as if Glavine’s “out pitch” is a slider with one catcher and a “change-up” with another. It’s the same for all pitchers, you throw what’s working best at the time. Like I said, the most important thing is to be “in synch” with your catcher, preferably also congruent with scouting reports and what was decided at team meetings, etc.

        The last thing you want is you catcher to be a “time out” that intterupts your pace and focus. Frustrating.

        Pitchers throw what THEY want to throw most of the time. You just ask for your catcher to be on the same page as to NOT interrupt what you’re doing. We go too far with assuming that catcher have lots of variance in how they call a game. I will say that catchers can have some variance in how they RECEIVE a game, namely in how they set up (timing, target, etc) and frame pitches, that can get you some advantages here and there.

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      • longgandhi says:

        “Hire a coach”… because all teachers are equal, right? Maybe they should have gone after Tom Emanski. Do you have a list of superior catching coaches, their qualifications and their salary demands the Nats should have considered? Sometimes a once-great player can be a very incisive teacher. How many pitching coaches “taught” Randy Johnson before Nolan Ryan helped him figure it out in one meeting? How much was that worth?

        And what about the bellcow effect? Already Matt Capps and Jason Marquis have stated that they are now considering signing with the Nats specifically because they signed Rodriguez. If they choose Washington for the same money (or less) than what they would have taken to sign with other teams, how much is that worth? Neither guy is really a huge impact player but if that causes a domino effect of other quality players looking at the Nats as a possible destination whereas before they had no interest, how much was Rodriguez worth then? Do Jason Kendall or Greg Zaun have that kind of cache?

        It seems you have some formula that derives the total value of a person and his potential value enabling you to sum up Rodriguez’ in a tidy little number and state unequivocally $3 million is too much. We have a good idea what he’s worth on the field but I would love to see what the other aspects are worth. Please share.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        There seems to be a deliberate attempt to marginalize any situation where “baseball men” (not my term) would be given any type of “advantage” in terms of assessing a situation. Spreadsheets in place of scouting, etc.

        I see no reason why stats and scouting should not be used in tandem, rather than at the exclusion of the other.

        Just because something is not easily calculated nor numberically quantified, does not mean it does not exist nor that it is not valuable.

        Sometimes, it seems both sides lose track of the value of both.

        It would seem to me, that when teams offer these veteran catchers/players some type of contract that does not make sense in regards to the “on field stats”, that rather than just assume all GMs are dumb or neanderthals, that maybe there is some value to these players that is not obvioius with the statistics. It just seems crazy to me that the default position (in all area of critics really) is that “those in charge do not know anything”, rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt. It’s a false dichotomy that is set up so the “critic always wins”.

        I don;t get it. I am NOT at all suggesting sites stop evaluating such things with statistics and player value calculations, just that perhaps the tone of such rigid conclusions should change or perhaps be open to other possibilities, variables, etc.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        “numberically ”

        Just laughing at my own typo.

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  15. Just a little test… Pay no attention…

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  16. exxrox says:

    There is no statistic that can measure the value of coaching or clubhouse authority. Chemistry is often called a myth around these parts, but I know from experience (big family) that people perform better or worse in relation to their surrounding environment. Maybe the difference is statistically negligible, but when you get a team (which is more than just the 25 men on the scorecard) living together for 8 months of a year, this stuff becomes increasingly important.

    Whether or not it was worth 3 million dollars not isn’t up to me, but I don’t think that you can just quantify the baseball game like this. Doesn’t fangraphs still hold the position that saber stats are only PART of the equation? Turning each player into a figure like that is scarily similar to the structure of our globalized capitalist system..it is dehumanizing and fails to consider the personal aspects behind the numbers.

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