Arbitration settlements are coming in today, and two notable relievers are in the news. Francisco Rodriguez got eight million, and Juan Carlos Oviedo (aka Leo Nunez) got six million. Both are stuck behind closers that should keep their jobs if healthy — do they have any fantasy value?
K-Rod first. The 29-year-old has aged reasonably well, as he’s kept his double-digit swinging strike rate without too much erosion. Last year’s 12% swSTR% (8.5% is average) was not the same as his the number he put up in his debut (14.4%), but recent research suggests that relievers see their strikeout punch peak earlier and drop faster than starters. So the fact that he still manages to strike out more than a batter per inning is a feather in his cap.
He’s also shown better control as he’s aged, cutting his walks down from around four and a half per nine down to just over three the last two years. The key to both his ability to retain his strikeout rate as well as his improve his control might be related to a change in his pitching mix. As his velocity has dropped off of his 94+ MPH days of gas (his average fastball velo was 90.3 MPH last year), Rodriguez has turned to his changeup increasingly. Our pitch values have enjoyed the pitch — over the past four years it’s been his best pitch (+30.3 runs). At the very least, the changeup should make Rodriguez a source for strikeouts and holds.
He’s still no John Axford, who has a year of youth and a face full of mustache on Rodriguez, but there is a crack of light for K-Rod. Once upon a time, Axford couldn’t put the ball over the plate. His larger-sample walk rates in the minor leagues include a 5.18 K/9 in Triple-A in 33 IP in 2009 and a 6.92 BB/9 in 95 High-A innings in 2008. Even his rookie season showed a 4.19 BB/9 in 58 innings. The excellent strikeout rate is there, but if the bad walk rate rears its’ ugly head again, Rodriguez could actually take the closer’s role back. Since Axford is under control until 2016, it’s not likely that his leash will be short, but crazier things have happened.
Speaking of crazy things, the pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez was awarded a six million dollar contract for 2012 — and his legal situation is still not clear. He won’t face charges in the Dominican Republic for faking his name and age, but the 29-year-old still faces hurdles for his return. The United States government and MLB baseball have to allow him to return — but the fact that his team tendered him a contract is a positive sign in this regard.
The Marlins like him, they just don’t like him enough. Heath Bell is now in town, and the round mound of strikeouts has the three-year contract that will award him plenty of leash. Dave Cameron talked about park effects and Bell some, but there’s a little added nugget beyond keeping home runs in the park: PetCo augments strikeouts by 7-10% depending on handedness. So not only did Bell show his worst strikeout and swinging strike rates of his career last year, but now he’s going to a park that may or may not help him in that department.
Still, Nunez wasn’t a favorite son in Florida and is probably closer to a trade than taking any closer role. And you could say the same for Rodriguez in Milwaukee. At his $5 average cost in ottoneu, Nunez is probably a dropper in all settings other than linear weights — and even then, his decent FIP, strikeout and holds numbers might be pretty easy to find on the waiver wire for a dollar. Rodriguez only costs a quarter more, has a better FIP and strikeout rate, and is much more likely to be an attractive trade target to a team needing relief at the end of the year. He’s much closer to being a hold in linear weights leagues.
Honestly, both guys are deep-league, last-round sleeper fodder in non-holds leagues. If either is relevant, it’s K-Rod by a nose.