Building the Free Agency Case for Francisco
Rodriguez: If the Price is Right

By Sanjay Pothula and Danny Malter, Sportswriters

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With the offseason MLB free agency over, teams have begun to report to Spring Training in Florida. However, Francisco Rodriguez, a high-profile closer, still remains without a team. Although having many accolades as a top closer for many years, teams have merely inquired with him about signing. This quiet interest is not much of a surprise as Rodriguez is angling for a two year contract worth nearly $10 million (1). As his mixed 2014 campaign showed, Rodriguez is not the same closer he was during his tenure with the Angels. Yet, at the right price, he could help bolster a weak bullpen.

For whichever team signs Francisco Rodriguez, inconsistency should be expected. His performance stands not to regress based on stable velocity and spin rates. However, as his pitch graph shows, Rodriguez has proven to be unreliable with his three pitch selection – fastball, changeup, and curveball. Though he has used his fastball nearly 55% of the time in a three year period, his fastball cluster graph shows an extremely wide radius (Fig. 1). In other words, it is obvious to note that the fastball, Rodriguez’s favorite pitch, proved to be an unreliable pitch offering. Another reason for Rodriguez’s struggles, as a closer, is his propensity for giving up the long ball. In 2014, he gave up 14 home runs at an alarming 23% FB/HR (flyball/home run) ratio. In relation to relievers with 50+ innings in 2014, Francisco Rodriguez led the league in each respective category.

Figure 1

As the data shows, Rodriguez’s struggles with the long balls is no fluke. During specific counts, he proved to be vulnerable to giving up a crucial hit. Especially, in a 0-0 count, most batters either took or feasted on Rodriguez’s fastball down, low, and away (Fig. 4). In this situation, batters hit .409 with 3 home runs in 22 at-bats. In 3-2 counts, he was the most prone to giving up a home run. In this situation, it was surprising to see that Rodriguez went with a fastball in or down the middle of the plate (Fig. 3). As a result, hitters swung and were fairly successful against Rodriguez with 5 home runs and 9 walks. Although all these faults will frustrate managers and general managers alike, there are specific reasons why Francisco Rodriguez can still be a good player in the MLB.

With the many frustrating cons associated with Francisco Rodriguez, it is really easy to be negative on his future performance. Still, he has some positive traits that prove to be worthwhile on a short term deal. First of all, there is no discrediting his accolades as a closer. For many years with the Angels during the early 2000’s to late 2000’s, he racked up a ton of saves. This culminated in a MLB-record 62 saves in 2008. In addition, in 2014, he ranked within the top 5 for saves with 44 saves over the course of 68 innings. Regardless of his infuriating inconsistency, these accolades point to the fact that he has a proven track record for accumulating saves. Though he tends to put games into blown save situations, in most cases, he gets the job done in the 9th inning. Last season, he had the second-highest LOB% (Left-On Base pct.) of 93%. This abnormally high LOB% would normally be a cause for concern because the closer usually take on only 3 outs in the 9th inning. Yet, he converted 90% of his save opportunities, an always strong characteristic in his career. His success in getting saves can be highly contributed to his nickname itself, K-Rod. He has always put up high K/9 numbers throughout his career (Career K/9 10.83). His fastball velocity has declined inevitably over the course of five years. However, with similar delivery release points in his three pitch selection - fastball, changeup, and curveball -, he has been able to still generate a lot of strikeouts through deception (Fig. 2).


Figure 2                                                                                                   

In the past five years, Francisco Rodriguez has been an enigmatic closer. As the data shows, in 2014, he was predictable with his pitch selection especially in specific counts and struggled with his control. Thus, this combination resulted in his high propensity for giving up the long ball. Yet, with all of his shortcomings, Rodriguez has always proved to be great at one thing; getting the save. Although his inevitable unpredictable performances on the mound will frustrate managers, there is no denying that he can be an integral piece to a team’s bullpen with 348 career saves under his belt. My predictive model has him at one year $2.5 million based on his past three seasons performance. With Sergio Romo, a fair comparable, receiving a two-year $14 million deal this past offseason, Francisco Rodriguez should receive a one-year deal for $5 million.


Figure 3: 3-2 count pitch percentages                                                      Figure 4: 0-0 count pitch percentages

Below are a couple examples of Francisco Rodriguez’s inconsistency on the mound. As shown in the left image, against the Red Sox on 4/5/14, he demonstrated his recent success as a closer with his noticeable strikeout ability. However, as explained before, Rodriguez has demonstrated frustrating inconsistency/control issues as shown in the right/bottom most images against the Padres on 8/27/14. In this game, he blew a save by giving up a walk and a home run in an inning of work. In the first at-bat of the inning, Rodriguez threw a fastball to Rene Rivera that was right down the heart of the plate resulting in a home run. This is just one example of Rodriguez’s poor control, but it is an issue that teams must accept in signing this enigmatic closer.


1. Hurcomb, Michael. "Report: Reliever Francisco Rodriguez Seeks $10 Million Contract." : Fantasy News. CBS, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
2. "Baseball Statistics and Analysis | FanGraphs Baseball." Baseball Statistics and Analysis | FanGraphs Baseball. Fangraphs, n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2015.
3. pitchRx

NOTE: All statistics accurate as of 02/18/15

By Sanjay Pothula and Danny Malter