Francisco Rodriguez is getting hit too hard


Take a deep breath. Take another deep breath. Screw it, this isn't working, go ahead and pour yourself a shot of whiskey to help calm those fragile nerves. Tigers closer Francisco "Frankie" "K-Rod" "STOP THROWING THOSE PITCHES THERE" Rodriguez is getting hit awfully hard, and that's probably not a great sign for the guy who's going to be pitching the ninth inning of close games.

Let's not get terribly ahead of ourselves, of course. It's still too early to light everything on fire and run around the room pinwheeling our arms, screaming that nothing has changed, the Detroit bullpen is cursed, and so on. We'll do that at the end of the month. For now, let's just look at the early data and make a note to keep an eye on things.

Rodriguez has only pitched in three games so far in 2016, two of which were officially "save situations." He blew the first save opportunity, and notched the second one. His latest appearance was during Tuesday's game against the Pirates in a blowout (the score was 8-2 when he entered the game) -- not a save situation, but he hadn't pitched in five days, so it was probably time to take him off the shelf again.

Here's how those three outings break down.

Game #1: you blew it

Rodgriguez entered the game against the Marlins with a 7-4 lead, and by the end of the inning, the game was tied. Yes, there were some bad breaks in there, a chopping grounder that bounced clear over the infield, a low changeup that the batter somehow dug out of the dirt and lined into left field for a double, things of that nature.

But when you read that game's play by play data, you'll also see words like "line drive," "deep left field," and "lineout." K-Rod was hanging a lot of changeups over the plate, and batters weren't missing it. Add that to a bit of bad luck, and you've got a blown save.

Game #2: getting lucky

The Tigers had a nice 7-2 lead over the Marlins, until Logan Kensing gave up a double and two singles, making it 7-3 with runners at the corners. Baseball has these weird rules about what qualifies as a save situation, and managers have even weirder ideas about following these rules when deciding whether to bring in their closer, so with the tying run in the on-deck circle and the situation officially in "save" territory, K-Rod came in.

With two outs, he walked the first batter he faced, loading the bases and bringing up Giancarlo "I Dare You To Hang One" Stanton. You can't make this stuff up.

This story ends happily, with K-Rod living up to the "K" part of his nickname and striking out Stanton on a filthy curve/slider, but the lead up to that had a few red flags:



Pitches number two and three in that scary little graphic are a changeup and a fastball, respectively, and they're both in the low-to-mid 80s, just begging to be launched into the seats. Thankfully, mercifully, Stanton got a little too excited at the possibility of murdering another baseball and ended up fouling off both pitches.

Still. You can't leave those meatballs out there, Frankie. That's a dangerous path that leads to a field full of misery and hurt feelings.

Game #3: seriously, you're getting lucky

This wasn't technically a save situation, since the Tigers were beating the Pirates 8-2, but K-Rod very nearly made it a save situation. The final box score will tell you that he gave up a double and then safely retired the next three batters in order.

Box scores are dirty rotten liars sometimes. It was nowhere near that easy.

Here, as in his first outing, the play by play data says things like "lineout," "deep center field," and other annoying things. He got Francisco Cervelli to fly out, but ... 

 



That's too much distance for my tastes, and that's not a good spot for an 89 MPH fastball.

K-Rod then got Gregory Polanco to lineout, but again, that was an extremely well-hit ball that only stayed in the infield because of the acrobatic efforts of a diving Miguel Cabrera. God help me if I ever have to type a sentence like that again. When Miggy is bailing you out with web-gem plays, it's time to reconsider a few things.

Here's the red flag: over his career, K-Rod has maintained a ground ball rate in the range of 40 to 50 percent, and a line drive rate closer to 20 percent. At the moment, those numbers are flipped for 2016 -- a 20 percent ground ball rate, and a 50 percent line drive rate.

Yes, it's early, and yes the sample size is small enough to be very skewed by a handful of at-bats, so we're just going to take another deep breath and calm down while we see how the next few outings go. Maybe K-Rod is still regaining his feel for the changeup after the offseason, maybe he's still shaking off the winter rust, or maybe he's just slightly more hittable after using that changeup to make batters look silly for all of 2015.

At least he's still getting swings and misses, and that's what you want out of a closer. His whiff rate is about 17 percent so far this year, and he leveled out at 14 percent last year. Both of those numbers are better than 2014 Joe Nathan's 9 percent. I'll take the whiffs. You can build on that.

Please get it under control, Frankie. We fans want some drama-less ninth innings this year. I think we've earned it.
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