Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez threw a scoreless 8th inning last evening versus the Cardinals, his third consecutive scoreless frame of the 2011 playoffs.
While no longer one of the game’s elite closers, Rodriguez has found a niche as a reliable set-up man for Brewers closer John Axford. Since joining the Brewers, Rodriguez has not only changed roles in the bullpen, he has changed his approach to getting hitters out. This season has seen “K-Rod” post the second lowest K/9 of his career (9.92), but it’s also seen the righty walk the fewest batters per nine (3.27) of his nine-plus year career.
His 2011 GB/FB rate of 1.65 is the best of his career, but since leaving the Mets and spacious Citi Field in mid-July, he’s posted a 1.90 GB/FB rate, up from 1.51 prior to his trade. Rodriguez deserves credit for adapting his approach to his new surroundings. Perhaps Rodriguez has successfully changed his approach from the “here comes a fastball, see if you can hit it out” mentality that can come with pitching at Citi Field. (Mets Pitching Coach Dan Warthen has stated that the dimensions of Citi can negatively affect a pitcher’s concentration, but that is a topic for another day.)
Regardless, Rodriguez has continued to evolve since he joined the Brewers. He no longer features the mid-90s fastball and death slider that spurred the Angels to their 2002 World Series victory – now he’s sort of a crafty righty reliever with his fastball averaging 90.3 MPH and his slider morphing into an average curveball over the course of the last several season. However, his changeup (CH) has been the pitch that Brewers fans have become accustomed to Rodriguez relying on. With the Mets in 2011, he offered the pitch 16% of the time; with the Brewers, 23.2%. He’s also throwing his curveball more with Milwaukee, throwing it 25.4% of the time versus 18.2% with the Mets, but that pitch has given his 2011 teams just 0.7 wCB (Curveball runs above average) while his wCH comes in at an impressive 7.5 in 2011 with that number being split to 3.9 in 31 Games with Milwuakee and 3.6 in 42 Games with New York.
Still just 29 years old, Rodriguez, despite his violent delivery, has been on the DL just twice in his career — a 15-day trip in 2005 for a forearm strain, and a 60-day stint in 2010 after tearing a ligament in his thumb during a scuffle with his father-in-law.
In 2011, Rodriguez pitched his most innings (71.2) since 2006, and his pLI was just a hair down (1.81) from his career average of 1.89. Rare is it to see a former shut-down closer move to a set-up role with such aplomb, but Rodriguez has achieved this with the Brewers. With John Axford day-to-day after taking a line-drive off his fore-arm on Sunday, perhaps K-Rod will move back into the closer role for a game or two. With the entire industry watching this post-season, he could continue to make his case for a multi-year deal in free-agency this off-season.