Last night, the Mets traded reliever Francisco Rodriguez and cash to the Milwaukee Brewers for two players to be named later. Rodriguez goes off to serve as a setup man for the Brewers, while Jason Isringhausen or Bobby Parnell should move into the closer role for the Mets. But the nightmare vesting option, and the nightmare coverage of said option, comes to end.
This morning, there’s been a lot of “does this make the Mets buyers or sellers” talk. The Mets are on the outskirts of the wild card hunt, seven-and-a-half games back with four teams ahead of them, and they just traded away their best reliever. It certainly seems as though they’ve weakened themselves for the sake of next season, which is what sellers do. They’re not exactly opening up their trench coat and asking people if they want to buy a watch. But it seems like anything not nailed down is probably going to be available.
On the other hand: The Mets really didn’t give up much in this trade. It seems like it, because Francisco Rodriguez has garnered so much attention over the past few seasons. But K-Rod isn’t a top closer. He isn’t really even a top relief pitcher. He just isn’t. Since joining the Mets in 2009, here is where Rodriguez ranks among the 135 pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched in relief:
1. Mike Adams – 1.37
2. Jonny Venters – 1.76
3. Andrew Bailey – 1.77
4. Mariano Rivera – 1.80
5. Darren O’Day – 2.12
43. Francisco Rodriguez – 3.05 (68th percentile)
1. Edward Mujica – 6.0
2. Sergio Romo – 5.3
3. Raphael Betancourt – 5.3
4. Mariano Rivera – 5.2
5. Huston Street – 5.1
62. Francisco Rodriguez – 2.5 (54th percentile)
Batting Average Against:
1. Mike Adams – .163
2. Hong-Chih Kuo – .166
3. Carlos Marmol – .168
4. Neftali Feliz – .171
5. Andrew Bailey – .174
43. Francisco Rodriguez – .219 (68th percentile)
Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP):
1. Mike Adams – 0.84
2. Andrew Bailey – 0.90
3. Mariano Rivera – 0.90
4. Neftali Feliz – 0.93
5. Hong-Chih Kuo – 0.99
74. Francisco Rodriguez – 1.28 (45th percentile)
1. Heath Bell – 115
2. Brian Wilson – 112
3. Mariano Rivera – 99
4. Francisco Cordero – 96
5. Jonathan Papelbon – 95
9. Francisco Rodriguez – 83 (93rd percentile)
Since joining the Mets, Francisco Rodriguez has been elite in one category: saves. He’s gotten a lot of saves. (He’s also been elite in blown saves, tied for 7th in that stat.) But 42 relief pitchers have posted better ERAs, 61 have posted better strikeout-to-walk ratios, and 73 have posted a better WHIP. Rodriguez hasn’t pitched significantly better than an average relief pitcher. His ERA this season is 3.16; the average ERA for a NL relief pitcher this season is 3.59. He’s been better than an average reliever, but not by much. If Rodriguez is an elite relief pitcher, I don’t see it reflected in his performance.
Okay, maybe that’s not fair to Rodriguez. He’s a closer, and that’s a tougher job psychologically. Maybe it’s true that not just anyone can close games. But how many of the 41 pitchers with better ERAs over the past three seasons couldn’t handle closing? One out of every ten? One-fourth? One-half? Even if we say one-half couldn’t handle closing — and I don’t think it’s one-half — that still leaves 20 pitchers who
A.) Have pitched better than Rodriguez and
B.) Can close games
There are 30 major league baseball teams, leaving Rodriguez in the bottom third of potential closers even after we knock out half the candidates for psychobabble reasons. If you only knock out one-fourth, Rodriguez wouldn’t be one of the 30 best relievers in baseball.
And even if we look only at pitchers who actually have closed out games — 32 pitchers have closed at least 30 games over the last three seasons. Rodriguez ranks 15th in ERA among that group. He drops to 17th if you adjust those ERAs for the league and ballpark. He’s basically right in the middle among fellow closers, just outside those with tenuous holds on their jobs. And that ignores all the setup men that would be closers on other teams.
It just seems that, at best, Rodriguez is an average closer. It’s probably more accurate to say that he’s a 2nd or 3rd tier reliever, someone who throws 65 innings a season with an ERA a little better than an average relief pitcher. That’s worth something. But how much? Certainly not $17.5 million dollars a season, and probably not even the $12 million he’ll make this season. The difference between a 3.00 ERA pitcher and 4.00 ERA pitcher over 30 innings is about three runs — I don’t think that’s enough to make much of a difference over the last three months of the Mets’ season. Maybe this move makes the Mets sellers, but if you look closer, they haven’t sold anything valuable yet.