Francisco Rodriguez and His Fastball

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For the first two months of the season, Francisco Rodriguez constantly kept Mets fans on the edge of our seats, but ultimately got the job done.  From the start of the season through May 30th, K-Rod saved 15 games in 16 chances and posted a 1.73 ERA despite a WHIP of 1.462 and K/BB of 2.00.  Then the calendar turned to June and finally everything caught up with him.  In 11 appearances (amounting to 11 innings) this month, Rodriguez has allowed 10 earned runs on 14 hits and two walks, while also serving up three homers, the only three he’s allowed this season.  Out of the 14 hits, nine have been for extra bases and in only four of the appearances has he not allowed any baserunners to reach.  Frankie may want us to relax when he enters the game, but he’s been making it difficult lately to do so.

K-Rod is not the same pitcher that he used to be.  Back in 2006, Rodriguez thew his fastball at an average speed of 94.8 mph, according to FanGraphs.  In ’08, the year he saved 62 saves and ensured himself a hefty contract, the velocity on his heater dipped to 91.9 mph.  In 2011, his average fastball clocks in at 90.1 mph, the lowest velocity of his career.  Part of the drop-off this year can be attributed to the inclusion of a new two-seam fastball in addition to his standard four-seamer (note: in the “Pitch Type” and “Pitch Type Values” sections of FanGraphs, the difference between a four and two-seam fastball is not taken into account.  According to PitchFX, his two-seamer clocks in at 89.8 mph.  However, he throws it only 2.9% of the time, meaning that it can’t have too large of an impact on his overall fastball velocity.  From now on, unless specified, when I refer to Frankie’s fastball, it will mean both his four and two-seamer).  Unfortunately, the fastball has been K-Rod’s worst pitch this season.  Naturally, it’s the pitch he throws most often.

Frankie throws the cheddar (as Keith Hernandez would say) 66.7% of the time, well above his career average of 56.4%.  The pitch thus far has been worth -1.0 runs below average.  Last season, when K-Rod was throwing a 91.1 mph heater, the pitch was worth 5.9 runs above average.  His best pitch has been the changeup, thrown 15.3% of the time, so far worth 4.0 runs above average.  His curveball, thrown 18.0% of the time, has been worth -0.4 runs below average.

In all likelihood, part of the reason his changeup has been so successful is because he doesn’t throw it as often as his other pitches.  In particular, with Rodriguez throwing fastballs two out of every three pitches, who would expect an off-speed pitch if, say, the count was even or the hitter was ahead?  But the bottom line is that everything works off the fastball, and Frankie’s fastball just hasn’t been up to snuff this season.

Out of the 14 hits allowed this month, eight have been off K-Rod’s fastball.  That ratio might not seem so bad because he throws the pitch so often, and in general the fastball is the most used pitch by pitchers.  However, hitters aren’t just picking up bloop singles off Rodriguez’s heater-they are mashing.  Out of those eight hits, there were three singles, a double, a triple and three long balls.

It’s not likely that Frankie’s fastball will experience a rise in velocity as the season progresses.  Since he obviously can’t abandon the pitch or throw it much less frequently, he’s going to have to do a better job of locating it, which might present a different challenge given his career BB/9 of 4.0 (this year it’s down to 3.6).  Hopefully K-Rod can get it together soon and return to his old ways: making the final three outs interesting but ultimately closing the door.

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