Last week, Colin Zarzycki reviewed the Milwaukee Brewer bullpen on RotoGraphs. The projected bullpen included the likes of Jim Henderson, Brandon Kintzler, Tom Gorzelanny, Michael Fiers, and Will Smith, among others. The 12 names on the depth chart combined for 12.009 years of MLB service time, with Gorzelanny accounting for half of that total. The depth chart contained some intriguing upside, but was certainly lacking in experience. Enter Francisco Rodriguez, again.
Rodriguez nearly doubled the amount of service time on the depth chart with his 10.115, 304 saves, and 730 games pitched in a career that has spanned 12 seasons. He brings along a consistent ability to miss bats, but his overall body of work has been anything but consistent in recent seasons.
All pitchers evolve throughout their career as they adjust to their velocity failing them and eventually their body failing them. Rodriguez’s velocity is down slightly from his prime, but has remained relatively healthy throughout his career to silence the critics of his violent mechanics who believed his right arm would one day become detached from his body and fly toward home plate. He has been on the disabled list just twice in his career, most famously for injuring his thumb in a fight with his father-in-law late in the 2010 season. Through it all, he continues to pile up strikeouts as his K/9 has been at least 9.0 for 11 consecutive seasons which puts him with some elite company.
Rodriguez has been able to slow the aging curve of his strikeout rate that besets relievers as they age despite some rather unusual seasonal variations in his splits.
From 2004 through 2007, Rodriguez’s K/9 splits alternated dominance with one another, but his ability to strike out righties went into a three-year decline while his ability to strikeout lefties went into a four-year decline. His splits alternated in 2010, as his K/9 rates against batters have moved further apart in recent seasons. The decrease in his K/9 against righties has affected his batted ball outcomes, particularly in the past two seasons.
After permitting just 18 extra base hits in 413 plate appearances from 2010 to 2012 against righties, Rodriguez permitted 11 in just 88 plate appearances last season, 9 of which came in his brief time with Baltimore. His struggles were directly related to how comfortable righties were against his fastball as 10 of the 11 aforementioned extra base hits came on fastballs and righties hit .500 with a 1.473 OPS against the pitch. Rodriguez struggled to keep his fastball consistently down in the zone as many of those extra base hits came on fastballs elevated in the zone. From 2010 to 2012, righties his .244 against his fastball with a .677 OPS.
Conversely, the reliever has been increasingly more effective against lefties, where his changeup takes over as his secondary pitch. Rodriguez’s changeup has maintained positive pitch values throughout his career, and it makes his fastball more effective. Over the past four seasons, lefties have hit .274 against his fastball with a .798 OPS, but their results have decreased each of the past three seasons. Last season, Rodriguez limited lefties to a .180 average against his fastball with just a .581 OPS. His batted ball outcomes against lefties are a sharp contrast to his results against righties.
Rodriguez returns to a situation where he had success in 2012 and 2013 after proving to be a poor fit in Camden Yards and the American League East. Milwaukee certainly needed more experience in their bullpen and Rodriguez certainly brings that in his return to the Brewers. While he has issues to address in regards to his effectiveness against righties, he should be able to rebound from 2013 and help neutralize the better left-handed bats within the division as well as the league.