Should The Indians Sign Francisco Rodriguez?

thejake4eternity
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Kyle Downing:  Yo, bro!  The Indians should sign Francisco Rodriguez! He’d be a great fit on the team.

Matthew Bretz:  No, bro!  They should stick with the bullpen as is, without any other major-league signings.

KD:  Cody Allen was among the major-league leaders last year in relief appearances, and although he did a fantastic job with it, the Indians could use one more veteran reliever to spell him and Brian Shaw in heavy workload weeks.  K-Rod has a great track record, and although his FIP was less than attractive last year, his xFIP (FIP normalized by a league-average homer-to-fly-ball ratio) looked solid and put him right in line with his career numbers.  Even better, he posted a career-best BB/9 rate last year; a sign of potential good things to come.  Cody Allen will be getting expensive through arbitration soon, but if K-Rod can steal a few ninth-inning appearances from him now and then, it might keep his salary more affordable (arbitration panels tend to overvalue the save stat).  He could probably be had on a one-year deal at this point in the offseason, meaning no long-term commitment and a great chance to add another high-strikeout arm to the back of an already deadly bullpen.

MB: On the surface, signing Francisco Rodriguez wouldn’t appear to be a bad move. He is coming off a very solid year as the Brewers closer where he posted a 0.99 WHIP and .197 BAA. However, looking beneath those numbers shows some troubling signs. His BABIP was the lowest since 2003 at just .216, whereas his career mark is .274. His Left-On-Base percentage (LOB%) was also a career best at 93.0% versus his career mark of 81.1%.  Both those suggest there was a good bit of “luck” involved in K-Rod’s 2014 success. He did post a career best walk rate as mentioned; however, he also posted a career worst HR-rate in 2014. In fact, since 2011 his HR/FB ratio has gone from 6.5% to 12.3% to 15.2% to 23.3%. Sure some of that likely has to do with the ballparks he’s played in (Milwaukee and Baltimore) but a troubling trend regardless.  There’s also the matter of money. While I do think K-Rod could be had on a one year deal (even though he’s rumored to be asking for two), reports are suggesting he want’s $10M to sign. Sure that very likely won’t be what he gets but that’s an awful lot for a guy that not even be the closer.

KD:  I think there’s an actual shot that he could be used as the “closer”.  Terry Francona has talked about using Cody Allen as a flexible high-leverage fireman, putting out fires or facing tough batters in whatever inning he’s needed.  This would leave the ninth open to K-rod, to rack up occasional saves and keep Allen’s price tag down.  Sure, K-Rod’s price tag isn’t very attractive, but you’re right to say that he probably won’t get $10 million.  The Indians should at least be in on him if he were to drop down to the $6-$7 million dollar range.

As for the luck numbers, it’s true that his BABIP and LOB% were career highs; that’s one of the reason he managed to retain such a low ERA even though his HR/FB ratio was sky high.  I’d be willing to bet that all three of those stats will normalize a bit this year, which would essentially even out his ERA to a number similar to 2014.  All told, he definitely had a weird year last year, but the improved walk rate over his past two seasons and his classic K-Rod strikeout rate are enough to warrant a solid contract for a contending team that’s well-known for its bullpen usage.

MB:  I’m all for using someone else as the closer to allow Cody Allen to work where needed and help keep his coming arbitration values down. However, that latter part becomes a moot point if you overspend on a closer such as Rodriguez in 2014 to try and save money down the line. At some point you’re just spending more now versus later. I’m not convinced Rodriguez is worth even $6M to the Indians in 2015.  As you said, his BABIP and LOB% are likely to normalize next year, which doesn’t bode well for him. And while his HR-rate may come down some his recent history suggests it’ll still be an issue for him. Over the last two years he’s allowing 1.65 homeruns per nine innings. So while the reduced walk rate is great, I’d rather see a few extra walks than the game changing longballs he’ll be allowing. Troubling part as well is that the longball issue can’t all be blamed on the park as last year he actually had a higher homerun rate on the road than at home. At this stage Rodriguez reminds me too much of Axford. Sure much better control but even more prone to the devastating homeruns. Rodriguez’s price would have to drop a lot more than $6-7M for me to consider him a real option.

KD:  You hit the nail on the head: the Indians might just be spending more money now versus later.  Which would be brilliant considering that the number of arbitration-eligible players in Cleveland next season will reach double digits, and players like Brantley, Kipnis, Santana and Gomes will all get salary bumps as well.  Cost savings for Cody Allen could go a long way in salary flexibility for the 2016-2017 seasons, especially since those savings would be multiplied by 3 (each of his 3 arbitration-eligible seasons).  For that purpose, K-Rod seems like a steal.  He’d be a great addition to the bullpen, and his salary would end up saving the Indians money down the line.  Considering that his velocity hasn’t shown a notable decline in the past two years, it’s not unreasonable to think that his HR/FB rate is mores likely to regress to his career norms than it is to remain at a sky-high 23%.  And let’s not forget the bottom-line results:  All told, he still saved 44 games last year and kept his ERA at 3.04.  That’s far more than we can credit to Axford.  $6-$7 million is right in line with the price of a win, and considering he could end up saving the Indians over $3 million in future salary by stealing saves from Cody Allen, that could prove a valuable signing this year.

MB:  While $6-7M is right in line for the price of a win, Rodriguez hasn’t been even a one-win pitcher since 2011 (per Fangraphs), which is actually the last time John Axford was a one-win pitcher. Now I’m not one to sit here and swear by WAR for relief pitchers. Honestly not the biggest fan of the stat for relievers due to small samples but looking at the last three years does give a better pitcher in my eyes (larger sample size), and from 2012-2014 Rodriguez has only mustered a 0.1 fWAR.  Another thing that worries me is his second half numbers the last two years. Rodriguez really got rocked after being dealt to Baltimore in 2013 and last year after the break he only pitched 22.2 innings (after throwing 45.1 before the break). To compare, Nick Hagadone threw 19 innings last year after the break for Cleveland. So why did the Brewers closer and “best reliever” threw so little? Did Milwaukee know something about his arm? Did he get overworked? Hard to say but it’s just another red flag that pops up when considering K-Rod.

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