The return of Thirty Pitches
By Nathan Petrashek
The Brewers bullpen falls squarely in “meh” territory right now. They’re league average just about everywhere, which is still an improvement over last year. But let’s just say trotting Mike Gonzalez (2-something WHIP) and John Axford (4.8 HR/9) doesn’t do much to light my fire.
Not to sound too summer blockbusterish, but an old terror is returning to haunt the Brewers organization. You might remember him by his pseudonym, Thirty Pitches of Terror, or simply K-Rod. Either way, Francisco Rodriguez has a visa and has been assigned to Class A Brevard. If he can make it back to the Brewers, he’ll get around $2 million on a minor league contract signed this spring.
“Thirty Pitches of Terror” isn’t exactly fair to the formerly elite reliever, the guy who, but for a colossal screw-up by his agents, might still have a closing gig today. In 2012, K-Rod tossed over 30 pitches just twice, though he came close to that in a handful of other appearances. Generally, it took K-Rod a reasonable 15-17 pitches to get through an inning. But “Fifteen Pitches of Terror” doesn’t quite have that doomsday ring to it.
Brewers fans are perhaps understandably apprehensive about the looming reunion with this menace. 2012 was undoubtedly the worst year of K-Rod’s career. He amassed a 4.38 ERA over 72 innings, walked batters at a higher rate than anytime since 2009, and his strikeouts per nine dropped to a career low. On the heels of a stellar 2011 campaign, K-Rod managed to completely destroy any trade value by midseason 2012, and didn’t even get a major league offer this offseason.
Thing is, K-Rod’s 2012 wasn’t all bad, and where it was, it was historically so. The last two months of the season Rodriguez appeared in 27 games and amassed a 2.81 ERA, with a 26/5 strikeout to walk ratio. He actually gained a few ticks on his fastball in 2012, and that and his change were both well above-average pitches last season. Rodriguez’s FIP was over a half-run better than his season ERA, which ballooned in part because of his career-worst strand rate. And K-Rod’s homerun-flyball ratio of 12.3% was nearly double that of 2011. So there’s some room for hope.
I obviously believe Rodriguez’s time as an elite closer is over. But it looks to me like a decent chance that at 31, Rodriguez still has something left. K-Rod has a few weeks to show his wares in the minors before the Brewers have to make a decision on him, so we’ll have to see where he’s at. Basically, he’s on a minor league deal with a trial period and reasonable big league salary, should he make it that far. I’d roll the dice on that, and it could very well be another win for GM Doug Melvin.