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So Far, K-Rod Is Excelling as the Brewers’ Set-Up Guy

by Wendy Thurm on August 12, 2011

Just after the 2011 All-Star Game ended, we learned that the New York Mets had traded closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Milwaukee Brewers.  Everyone in baseball was expecting the Mets to deal Rodriguez before the July 31 trade deadline to avoid his onerous vesting option: $17.5 million if K-Rod completed 55 games this season.  At the time of the trade, Rodriguez had already completed 34 games for the Mets and, barring injury, would have triggered the vesting option.

 

The trade to the Brewers was a bit of a surprise, if only because the Brewers already had a very good closer in John Axford. And so the buzz began: would Axford continue to close games for the Brewers? Would K-Rod take over the closer’s role?  Good questions, considering comments by K-Rod’s new agent, Scott Boras, in the week before the trade:

“He’s a closer, he’s one of the game’s best closers. And he wants to remain a closer.”

But that never happened.

K-Rod the good Mets closer has become K-Rod the very good set-up guy.

Since the trade, K-Rod has appeared in 12 games for the Brewers: 11 appearances in the 8th inning and 1 in the 9th but in a non-save situation.  By every metric, Rodriguez has performed better for the Brewers than he did for the Mets.

Let’s look first at the traditional pitcher stats:

In 42.2 innings for the Mets, K-Rod had a 3.16 ERA, a 1.406 WHIP, and a K/BB ratio of 2.88.

In 12 innings for the Brewers, K-Rod has a 2.25 ERA, a 1.250 WHIP, and a K/BB ratio of 3.20.

These numbers are consistent with K-Rod’s improved performance in keeping runners off base.

 

Year Tm G BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip
2011 MIL 12 .213 .288 .277 .565 .323
2011 NYM 42 .265 .335 .392 .727 .347
Generated 8/12/2011.

 

Perhaps you’re thinking what I was thinking before I looked even further.  That by pitching in the 8th inning and not the 9th inning, and by avoiding save situations, Rodriguez was pitching in lower leverage situations, and that those lower leverage situations are leading to better performance.

Wrong.

The overall leverage index for K-Rod’s 12 innings with the Brewers as the set-up guy is higher than the leverage index for the 42.2 innings he pitched for the Mets as the closer. Proportionally, too, K-Rod has pitched in a greater percentage of high leverage situations for the Brewers than for the Mets.

 

Year Tm aLI LevHi LevMd LevLo
2011 NYM 1.84 20 7 15
2011 MIL 1.96 9 2 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/12/2011.

 

Meanwhile, since K-Rod arrived in Milwaukee, John Axford’s saved 10 more games for the Brewers, for a total of 33 on the season.

What this tells me is that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is using his best bullpen arms in a way that maximizes the Brewers’ chances of winning each game.  K-Rod is succeeding. Axford is succeeding.  And the Brewers are winning.

Hey, Clint Hurdle. Take note.

 * * * * * * * * * *

Next week, we will take a look back over the last 20 years at other closers traded mid-season who then transitioned to other roles–either as starters or as non-closer relievers.

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