Wednesday, December 10, 2008

They don't call me "Crank" for nothin'

I’m not sure why, but I always seem to seek out the negative aspects of a trade or signing. Case in point: the Mets’ three-year, $37 million deal for Francisco Rodriguez. Yes, you could argue K-Rod was the best closer in baseball. His major league record 62 saves certainly lends credence to that assertion. (Though we all know save totals are largely a function of team performance. And he still managed to blow seven saves on top of that.)

A further look into the numbers also raises a few eyebrows, if not quite red flags. Generally speaking, the lifespan of a closer is limited (Mariano, the decided exception, notwithstanding). Rodriguez is coming off a career-high 76 appearances – that's more like a middle reliever than a closer – though his innings pitched were about his career average. That said, his strikeout rate dipped alarmingly: from three-straight years of 90+ to only 77; a K/9 IP rate of 10.1, down from 12 over those previous three seasons. Probably not coincidentally, his WHIP was a career-high 1.29.

Of course, only a fool would say that a pitcher with a 10 K/9 IP ratio, a 1.29 WHIP, and the league record in saves isn’t a great pitcher. But those are some downward trends. And while I’m reluctant to even broach the “Gagne” word, you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. Gagne saved 55 games in 2003 and converted 84 consecutive save chances. Then he blew out his elbow and hasn't been the same since.

Even with all that, though, the Mets probably made a good deal. After all, even if K-Rod continues to slip he only has a 3-year deal. Barring a major injury, he’ll still be a productive closer by the time the deal is up. And even if he’s not super-human, he sure improves the Mets’ bullpen and will be more consistent than Wagner or his predecessors ever were.

Just don’t get me started on the Sabathia deal…

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