Saving in Anaheim

Francisco Rodriguez secured his 57th save of the season last night, tying Bobby Thigpen‘s record set in 1990. Much has and will be made when Rodriguez breaks the record and that’s unfortunate because it’s one of the worst statistics in baseball and using it cheapens what Francisco has accomplished as a premier relief pitcher for the past half-dozen years.

That’s not to say that Rodriguez doesn’t deserve the record. He has the highest entering leverage index among relievers with a reasonable sample size so he’s certainly been earning at least most of his saves. It’s just that the save statistic is borderline meaningless, a view never better illustrated than the situation in which Rodriguez earned his record tying 57th save. Rodriguez entered the game in the top of 9th with zero outs and two baserunners on. He had a four run cushion however and proceeded to yield two line drives and a pair of groundballs. For that, Rodriguez took one step closer to breaking the single season saves record and further helping himself this winter as he enters the free agent market.

Rodriguez built his reputation based on his phenomenal run through the 2002 postseason as the Angels got past the Giants for the World Series crown. He certainly didn’t let up afterward with a solid enough 2003 season, but he really exploded and reached his peak in the 2004 year as he cut his homerun rate and spiked his strikeout rate to just shy of 37%, a fantastic figure. The 2005 season was a bit of a fall back, but he managed to rebound in 2006. Since then however, it’s been a steady decline. Which is not to say Rodriguez isn’t good, he clearly is, just that he’s been getting gradually worse.

His ability to throw strikes is diminishing, down to near 60% now and he’s missing fewer bats than ever before while posting the highest walk rate, the highest hit by pitch rate and the lowest strike out rates of his career. Francisco Rodriguez has been a fantastic pitcher since he emerged on the scene in late 2002, but he looks clearly to be on a decline and he’ll be coming off a (meaningless) record-setting season. It’s a recipe for an overvalued contract that’s not likely to bear much fruit for whichever team signs on the dotted line.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.