Milwaukee Brewers: Be Wary of Francisco Rodriguez
According to recent reports, the Milwaukee Brewers are in the market for a free agent reliever with late-inning experience. The Brewers have subtracted key pieces from last year’s bullpen and also have question marks with Tyler Thornburg and Jim Henderson attempting to return from injury. One name that has been linked to Milwaukee recently has been last year’s closer Francisco Rodriguez. Unfortunately, K-Rod is not the right fit for the Brewers.
Rodriguez entered Spring Training last season without a team, and came to the Brewers on a minor league deal. When Henderson struggled throughout Spring Training with his velocity and results, manager Ron Roenicke surprised everyone when he summoned K-Rod from the bullpen in a save situation on Opening Day. He was the Brewers closer from then on throughout the season. On the surface, Rodriguez was worth every penny of his $3.25 mil salary. A 3.04 ERA in 68 innings, 9.7 K/9, and a .985 WHIP accompanied 44 saves in 49 chances. Rodriguez seemed primed to hit the open market in search of a multi-year deal.
Unfortunately for K-Rod, the market for his services has been very slow to develop. While David Robertson and Andrew Miller were considered the top two relief arms on the market and were signed early on, Rodriguez joins Rafael Soriano and Casey Janssen as the three remaining relievers on the market with at least 20 saves from last season. While Franky is the only one of that trio that didn’t lose his closing job by the end of the season, there are still several factors that should cause GM Doug Melvin to stay away.
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The first is problem is likely monetary constraints. After agreeing to terms with arbitration eligible players Gerardo Parra and Martin Maldonado, the Brewers are projected for a little bit under $110 mil in player salary for 2015. I’m sure that given Sergio Romo was able to secure a two year, $15 mil deal after 23 saves and a 3.72 ERA, that K-Rod (a Scott Boras client) will be looking for a similar deal, if not a slightly better one. Unless the Brewers are able to unload some salary, a reunion with Rodriguez at this price is unlikely to fit in the Brewers budget. The Brewers also have a full 40 man roster, meaning that they would need to expose someone to waivers in order to make a spot available (though I explored one option earlier).
While from afar it appears that Franky put up a strong season in 2014, there are several stats that signify that some regression is in order for Rodriguez. The most obvious is his penchant to serve up home runs. After consecutive seasons of 0.50 home runs per nine innings in 2010-2011, K-Rod has seen that number jump to 1.00, 1.40, and 1.90 successively over the past three seasons. His home run to fly ball ratio has increased each of those seasons as well, topping out at a whopping 23.3% in 2014, according to Fangraphs. He’s seen his fastball velocity fall considerably, all the way to a career low 90.7 MPH last year. Pitch F/X valued Rodriguez’s fastball at 5.6 runs below average last season.
Rodriguez appears to have been the benefactor of a lot of good fortune in 2014. While his ERA was 25% better than league average, his field independent pitching mark of 4.50 estimated that K-Rod himself performed nearly a run and a half worse than his results indicate. He posted an insane 93% strand rate last season, almost 12% better than his career average of 81.1%. His 6.7% walk rate was the lowest of his career, and he somehow managed to hold hitters to a .216 BABIP (.300 was league average for hitters in 2014). At age 33 and with 799 appearances under his belt, it seems likely that K-Rod is due for some regression in 2015.
The Brewers struck gold with Francisco Rodriguez last season, signing him to a minor league contract in February that led to an All-Star appearance. However, K-Rod may not have been as good as his stats indicated in 2014. With money tight in Milwaukee, the Brewers need to beware of buying into Franky for another contract this offseason. Given his home run tendencies, Francisco Rodriguez would be a much better fit pitching somewhere other than Miller Park in 2015, and we should hope to see him with a new home in 2015.