It’s being reported that the Mets and Francisco Rodriguez have agreed to a 3-year, $37MM deal pending a physical. And it’s also believed that the deal includes a fourth year option that vests based on certain performance criteria being met.
Although I will probably be rather excited the first time I see K-Rod coming out of the CitiField bullpen, I have mixed emotions about this.
On the one hand, I had initially imagined the Mets paying far more to fill their closer role in 2009 and beyond. There was so much ink spilled about the ineptitude of the New York relief corps in 2008 that I figured the Mets brass would make poor reactionary moves. You see, I feel that the team’s front office often make moves to create short-term excitement among its fans and beat writers and in the process lose sight of the long-term goals. But this deal is short enough to keep things sane and doesn’t exceed the $15MM/year that I figured K-Rod would get.
However, there are only a few others whose perspectives I value more than ESPN’s Keith Law, who jointly utilizes statistics and scouting reports better than just about anyone. On his list of the top 50 free agents, K-Law ranks K-Rod 16th overall, writing:
Yes, that’s a purty number in the saves column, but it serves to obscure some troubling signs in K-Rod’s stuff and peripherals. He’s sitting 91-93 mph now with good life, but his once-devastating slider is far less sharp, and he pitches much more off his fastball than he did before, mixing in an average changeup more frequently than he did in the days when he earned the “K” in his nickname.
His strikeout rate has been falling with the quality of his pitches, and the average length of his outings has dropped, which might be a sign that he can’t be stretched out for two innings if need be; he didn’t record more than three outs in any game during the regular season. Among players likely to get contracts of four years or longer, K-Rod probably represents the greatest risk of a flameout.
K-Rod’s Pitch F/X information shows that in 2007, his average fastball was 95.5 mph. This past season, however, it dropped quite a bit to 92.9 mph. And like Law noted, the slider that broke 6.65 inches in ’07 was now only breaking 4.8. And yes, this is kind of a big deal.
If you look at his strikeouts per nine innings over the last five seasons, you’ll notice a trend: 14.3, 12.5, 12.8, 12.2, 10.3. You can get away with a diminishing strikeout rate if you don’t walk too many batters, but Rodriguez has been in Oliver-Perez-territory when it comes to issuing free passes. Unless K-Rod can somehow reverse or at least stop this trend, the Mets won’t be getting a lock-down closer, but rather, just a serviceable one.
For now, the team is allowing the fanbase to get excited, bagging the biggest name on the relief market. It will avert the criticisms that the front office faced when the Mets were stumbling out of contention for the second year in a row and sell some more tickets. And to the Mets, maybe that alone is worth a good chunk of the $37MM. But if you were looking for value, this isn’t exactly it.
Man, I’m glad it’s only three guaranteed…