Fluke Watch: Francisco Rodriguez

Last week, I looked at Jonathan Papelbon, a closer with questions about his future performance. Here’s another: Francisco Rodriguez (aka K-Rod).

In K-Rod’s case there are once again extraneous factors: Due to his contract having a large option if he finishes 55 games in 2011, one might suspect that the Mets might try to limit his usage (Though the union would fight against this). More relevant for this article, K-Rod is coming off of surgery for a torn ligament in his thumb.

Meanwhile, it’s been well documented that Rodriguez’s fastball has decreased in velocity over time. (This was one of the main arguments against his being given a big contract after his time with the Angels.). Has this trend continued? And has it affected his results? Lets look:

K-Rod’s fastball

K-Rod’s fastball averaged 92.2 mph in 2008 for the Angels. In 2009, it increased to 92.7, but in 2010, his fastball velocity decreased to 91.1. So, over the past three years, his velocity is down 1 mph. It had dropped by 2 mph from 2007 to 2008, so the decrease in his velocity has slowed down.

The horizontal movement on the pitch has basically remained the same all three years: It moves in on right-handed batters between one and two inches, which is basically cutter-like movement. The vertical movement (“rise”—the amount less the pitch drops than we would expect it to due to gravity alone) of the pitch has decreased from 11.98 inches in 2008 to +10.81 inches in 2009, to 9.02 inches in 2010. In essence, it seems the pitch is dropping slightly more than it did previously (though some of this effect could be caused by stadium calibration differences between Anaheim and Citi Field).

In sum, the change on this pitch’s movement and velocity has been relatively small. Has the change in results been small?

Pitch Type Year # Thrown Whiff Rate Swing Rate Swinging Strike Rate GB % In-Wide-Zone % RV100 RVe100
Fastball 2008 562 13.27% 37.54% 4.98% 42.70% 64.41% -0.0488 -0.4781
Fastball 2009 642 18.35% 43.30% 7.94% 27.72% 65.26% -0.7503 -0.5492
Fastball 2010 565 18.60% 45.66% 8.50% 34.12% 70.27% -1.3064 -0.9463

Legend
Whiff rate: (Number of swinging strikes)/(Number of of pitches swung at by batters).
Swing rate: (Number of pitches swung at by batters)/(total pitches thrown).
Swinging strike rate: (Number of swinging strikes)/(total pitches thrown) percentage.
GB %: Percentage of balls hit into play by batters that result in ground balls.
In-wide-zone: Percentage of pitches in a wide (two feet wide) strike zone.
RV100: Run value of the pitch per 100 pitches thrown. Negative results are good for a pitcher. Positive numbers are bad.
RVe100: Expected run value of a pitch per 100 pitches thrown. This value adjusts for luck by using average values of batted ball types instead of the actual results. Once again, negative is good, positive numbers are bad.

The results, shown in the above table, seem to be very positive for 2010. His ability to get swinging strikes with the pitch was up, his ability to avoid fly balls was up a slight tick from 2009, and the pitch was in the strike zone a much larger percentage of the time than in the past two years. This latter result was probably responsible a good bit for Rodriguez’s walk rate being a career low this year. The result was that when you put it all together, the pitch was the most effective it’s been in the past three years in 2010 (see both the RV100 and RVe100)

K-Rod’s use of the fastball was the same against right-handed batters this year as in previous years. (He threw it roughly 60 percent of the time each of the last three years to righties). However, he was using the pitch far more against left-handed batters than ever before: 58.5 percent of the time. This is in contrast to his 50.98 percent usage in 2009 and his 43.6 percent usage in 2008. Given that this pitch has been much better in 2010, it’s hard to see this as being a problem.

So, the decrease in fastball velocity doesn’t seem to have hurt K-Rod’s results. If anything, they’ve helped them. So what about his other two pitches, his change-up and his curve ball?

Change-up and curveball

Neither of these pitches has had a significant change in movement over the past two years. However, both have experienced roughly a 2 mph drop in velocity from 2009 to 2010: The change-up went from averaging about 84.8 mph in 2009 to 82.4 mph in 2010, while the curveball’s average velocity dropped from 79.8 mph in 2009 to 77.7 in 2010.

Could the change in velocity have affected K-Rod’s results with these pitches much?

Pitch Type Year # Thrown Whiff Rate Swing Rate Swinging Strike Rate GB % In-Wide-Zone % RV100 RVe100
Change Up 2008 187 48.98% 52.41% 25.67% 54.84% 51.87% -4.5319 -2.5046
Change Up 2009 251 45.95% 58.96% 27.09% 58.33% 47.41% -3.3788 -3.4333
Change Up 2010 172 39.42% 60.47% 23.84% 62.50% 54.07% -3.7149 -3.4471
Pitch Type Year # Thrown Whiff Rate Swing Rate Swinging Strike Rate GB % In-Wide-Zone % RV100 RVe100
Curveball 2008 359 34.81% 37.60% 13.09% 32.65% 50.14% -0.8949 -0.6859
Curveball 2009 235 28.57% 26.81% 7.66% 38.10% 53.62% 0.2354 0.5463
Curveball 2010 213 32.05% 36.62% 11.74% 50.00% 54.93% -0.2923 -1.0288

The short answer is…. no. The curveball, after a drop in performance in 2009, regained its value this year even as it lost 2 mph of velocity. It’s done so by increasing its Swinging Strike Rate against right-handed batters (to whom it’s thrown most often) and by increasing its ability to get ground balls against left-handed batters.

The change-up’s value is basically unchanged from years previous. Its swinging strike rate is down due to it being less effective at getting whiffs against left-handed batters, but not by a great amount. Meanwhile the pitch’s ground ball rate against left-handed batters has increased greatly (to 68.2 percent) and is pretty good against right-handed batters as well.

K-Rod’s usage of these pitches HAS changed slightly. In 2008, he used the change-up near exclusively against left-handed batters, while in the years since the pitch has been used roughly 12-15 percent of the time against right-handed batters. Meanwhile his curveball use has dropped significantly against both right- and left-handed batters: The pitch is being passed over (somewhat, not completely) in favor of the fastball against left-handed batters (that’s where the aforementioned increase in fastball use comes from) and in favor of the change-up against right-handed batters.

Thus, in 2010, against left-handed batters, he used the curve was used only 16 percent of the time (the least of any of his pitches), while against RHBs it was used 27.7 percent of the time (down from 36.4 percent in 2008).

That said, the usage changes are not likely to hurt K-Rod’s performance…. If anything, I’d think they’d help due to the effectiveness of his change-up against right-handed batters.

A word of caution

It’s important to stress that, as we’re dealing with a reliever here, these results are based upon small sample sizes. This is particularly true of the off-speed pitches, each of which is thrown under 200 (and sometimes under 100!) times to specific-handed batters in a year. So It’s certainly possible that some results have been mere flukes.

Conclusion

The clear conclusion from these results is that K-Rod’s stuff, while maybe not as fast as it used to be in his early days in Anaheim, is still just as good as it was two years ago. It’s possible that the thumb injury will change this, but probably not.

As a result, you should not be concerned too much about Francisco Rodriguez’ diminishing velocity affecting his performance when you think about drafting or bidding for him as a closer for your team. His playing time with the Mets might be an issue, but his performance should be similar to this past year, making him a solid closer option at the very least.

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Comments

  1. Jeffrey Gross said...

    thanks for the insight. I’ve been debating which undervalued RP to target this year. Last year was Capps/Soriano/Wagner. The year before it was Wilson/Lindstrm/Bell.

    I’m thinking this year’s undervalued RP core is Venters/K-Rod/Hanrahan or Meeks

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