Gregory Polanco
Milwaukee Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez still dominant after all these years
Gregory Polanco

Milwaukee Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez still dominant after all these years

Updated Mar. 4, 2020 7:13 p.m. ET

Thursday night, Francisco Rodri­guez blew a save.

This wasn'€™t as notable as I€'d hoped. Not really so long ago, Rodri­guez was perfect: 30 save opportunities, 30 saves. Obviously nobody cares about a closer on a crummy team, but I'€™ve argued in the past that when a closer is actually perfect (or very nearly so), he actually deserves some real attention, maybe even some real Cy Young consideration. Innings be damned. If you believe that context, in the form of situational performance, matters.

Well, Rodri­guez blew a save a couple of weeks ago and he blew one Thursday night when Gregory Polanco led off the 12th with a game-tying homer. So now Rodri­guez has two blown saves and a 2.54 ERA and probably won'€™t garner a single point in the Cy Young balloting, and probably shouldn'€™t.

He'€™s having a nice season, though, and will probably finish with the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career. Which is partly a sign of the times --€“ seems like everybody'€™s doing it these days --€“ but also says something about Rodri­guez'€™s staying power. Which is particularly interesting because it wasn'€™t that long ago that we were ready to write him off, right? Maybe more than once?


By the end of 2009, it looked like the walks might eat Rodriguez alive; over the previous three seasons, he'€™d issued nearly five free passes per nine innings. Which doesn't usually work for a closer.

In fact, Rodriguez was not a full-time closer in 2010 or '€™11, but did improve his walk rate and did pitch better, generally.

And then in 2012 and '€™13 he closed hardly at all, totaling only 13 saves in those seasons.

So it was time for Rodri­guez to go off gently into the good night as a setup man, right? Flitting from team to team and hanging on for long as possible?

Hardly. Returning to Milwaukee for a second stint last year, Rodri­guez racked up 44 saves and posted the (then) best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career. On the debit site, he gave up 14 home runs in only 68 innings. So that was cause for concern, I guess.

But now this. An even better strikeout-to-walk ratio and a perfectly normal number (6) of homers allowed. Oh, and get this: Unlike most mid-30s veterans, Francisco Rodri­guez is actually something of a bargain, as he took a huge pay cut when he signed a two-year contract (with a team option for a 2017) with the Brewers a couple of years ago. Rodri­guez is earning only $3.5 million this season, when he's worth maybe three times that much.

Or not. There'€™s no consensus about how to properly value relief pitchers, and FanGraphs somehow has Rodri­guez not worth even one full Win Above Replacement. Which still makes him "€œworth"€ more than $3.5 million, but not a ton more. Let'€™s just agree that most teams would be thrilled with a closer like Rodriguez for that price. The Brewers will have for a bit more, as they owe him $13.5 million over the next two years, assuming they pick up that option.

Will Rodri­guez still be pitching so well in 2017?

I wouldn'€™t bet much against him. Rodri­guez reached the majors when he was 20, so it seems like he'€™s been around forever. But he doesn'€™t turn 34 until January, and one wonders just what the rest of his career could look like. With 382 saves, Rodri­guez is somehow first on the active list, and he'€™s seventh all-time.

When the Nationals traded for Jonathan Papelbon, he expressed the aim of taking the career saves record away from Mariano Rivera.

We scoffed, but of course anything'€™s possible. Still, it'€™s worth mentioning that Papelbon is about a year older than Rodri­guez ... and about a year behind him, saves-wise.

One warning sign: Rodriguez'€™s fastball now hovers around 90, and this season he'€™s relied on his changeup more than ever ... which just happens to be the formula that carried Trevor Hoffman to 601 saves and maybe eventually the Hall of Fame.

OK, so it'€™s too early for that sort of talk. Maybe the message here is simply that relief pitchers are unpredictable. Usually we'€™re reminded of that when they fail. But pitchers like Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon and Francisco Rodriguez remind us that with their successes. Which is actually a lot more fun to write about.


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