When the Brewers traded for single-season saves record holder Francisco Rodriguez during the All Star break last season, the looming question pertained to who would receive closer duties: Rodriguez or John Axford. The move paid off, with Axford setting a franchise-record for saves (47) and “K-Rod” becoming arguably the top set up man in the league.
Some thought the move would prove invidious and create a bullpen drama within the team; instead, Rodriguez surprised everyone by accepting the Brewers $13 million arbitration offer. K-Rod is easily the highest-paid eighth inning reliever after accepting what may have been a bluff from the Brewers.
The right-hander posted a 1.86 era and held a 4-0 record in 31 games for the Brewers in 2011. His K/9 rate was the second-lowest of his
career, but Rodriguez found his success more so in his command–his BB/9 rate was the lowest of his career. He and Axford formed one of the more lethal one-two combinations at the back of any bullpen. Manager Ron Roenicke noted it was like having two closers to choose from.
While in Chicago, Houston, St. Louis, and, to a degree, Pittsburgh are still looking for the answers in the back end of the ‘pen, the Brewers have two record holders to close out games. The rest of the bullpen may lack depth, but if Rodriguez and Axford can repeat their 2011 successes, that depth can be made up easily.
The 30-year-old Rodriguez may have faded off some people’s radars after failing to post foofaraw numbers from 2009-2011 with the New York Mets and may still be best remembered from his flame-throwing days with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of the West Coast of Angel Stadium of the Landing Place of Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. Those days are gone and Rodriguez is relying much more on his concupiscible changeup and curveball. He threw the change 23.3% of the time with the Brewers last season after not using it more than 2% of the time until 2007.
Generally accepted talk last season was that Rodriguez was proving himself to still be a viable closer and receive a multi-year free agency deal. He utilized a typical three-pitch repertoire of most closers. K-Rod’s consisted of the fastball, change, and curve. His vulpine Uncle Charlie worked slightly better in 2011, posting a positive wCB for the first time since 2008. Once again, his wCH was impressive, coming in at a 6.4 mark. Those two off-speed pitches have become much more prominent for Rodriguez. In 2008, his last season with the Angels, he combined to throw the two 17.8% of the time; that number was up to 39.8% last season.
Staying healthy is not much of a concern for Rodriguez–in ten Major League seasons, he has only landed on the DL twice. As do many pitchers, K-Rod’s velocity has come down with age. He averaged a career-low 90.3 mph on his fastball in 2011.
The 1.86 era may not be repeated again in 2012, but K-Rod and Axford should prove to be one of the league’s top bullpen duos.
2012 RtB Predictions: 67 G, 2.79 era, 4 SV, 78 K, lots of bottles of lens cleaning solution