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Pecking Order: The K-Rod blues


When Francisco Rodriguez came to the New York Mets, I thought he was in for a rude awakening. First, he'd be on a much bigger stage than in Anaheim, and second, he was now in the same bullpen as J.J. Putz -- a bona fide Major League closer that could eat into K-Rod's ninth-inning duties should he struggle. I also felt that K-Rod was a bit of an injury risk, largely because of his jerky motion and slight frame. But here we are, over two months into the season, Putz is on the DL, and K-Rod is looking sharp as ever -- mowing down batters on the world's biggest stage.

Aside from his notable 0.98 WHIP and .153 BAA, Rodriguez has some bizarre batted ball splits. His GB/FB rate of 0.51 is the lowest (by far) of his career, and 20 percent of batted balls are infield fly balls (IFFB%, or essentially, pop-ups). I know we all analyze numbers like mad in this business, and constantly look for ways to explain that a low BABIP is a terrible thing (his is also quite low at .229), but I can't figure out how inducing lots of pop-ups is a bad thing for a closing pitcher. Pop-ups aren't usually a matter of luck, since even a perfect swing -- from a timing standpoint -- yields a line-drive, a moon shot, or a ball fouled directly back and out of play. Pop-ups are usually induced by a combination of a batter's poor timing and a pitch's sharp movement, just like broken bats. In only two seasons of Mariano Rivera's career, 2004 and 2008, did he post an incredibly high IFFB%. In these seasons, two of his best statistically, his IFFB% was a preposterous 26.2 and 24.5, while his BABIP was .285 and .234. I'd say there's a correlative link.

Sure, K-Rod will get hit a little more as his BABIP creeps upward during the season, but I'm willing to gamble that he's made an adjustment to induce more pop-ups by getting in on the hands of hitters more effectively -- and that's a great approach to have as a closing pitcher.

Stats as of June 10, 2009

Matt Lindstrom, FLA 11-for-13 (85%), 24.1 IP, 24 Ks, 5.92 ERA, 1.85 WHIP Next in line: Leo Nunez Third in line: Kiki Calero

Fernando Rodney, DET11-for-11 (100%), 25 IP, 19 Ks, 4.68 ERA, 1.36 WHIP Next in line: Brandon Lyon/Joel Zumaya Third in line: Ryan Perry (Minors)

Scott Downs, TOR 8-for-9 (89%), 25.1 IP, 25 Ks, 2.13 ERA, 0.95 WHIP Next in line: Jason FrasorThird in line: B.J. Ryan/Jesse Carlson

Matt Capps, PIT13-for-15 (87%), 18.2 IP, 12 Ks, 5.30 ERA, 1.77 WHIP Next in line: John GrabowThird in line: Sean Burnett/Jesse Chavez

José Valverde, HOU 2-for-4 (50%), 8 IP, 11 Ks, 5.63 ERA, 1.25 WHIP Next in line: LaTroy HawkinsThird in line: Chris Sampson

Huston Street, COL10-for-11 (91%), 24.1 IP, 25 Ks, 2.96 ERA, 1.07 WHIP Next in line: Manny Corpas Third in line: Alan Embree

David Aardsma, SEA9-for-10 (90%), 28.1 IP, 31 Ks, 1.91 ERA, 1.31 WHIP Next in line: Mark Lowe Third in line: Miguel Batista

Ryan Madson, PHI 2-for-3 (67%), 13 HLDs, 28.1 IP, 31 Ks, 2.22 ERA, 1.06 WHIP Next in line: J.C. RomeroThird in line: Chad Durbin

Ryan Madson has three good pitches (mid-90s fastball, low 90s cutter, low 80s change), and he's produced a comparably low Z-contact rate (78.2%) this season. If Lidge misses extended time, he could have unrivaled value on the waiver wire. George Sherrill finally makes his transition off the fence based on his unanticipated success in a closing role. It's his job to lose. Jose Valverde appears ready to assume closing duties and gets a promotion here. Just when I go saying something nice about Fernando Rodney, the 32-year-old has a meltdown, albeit one probably brought on by overwork (five appearances in six days). Huston Street continues to impress, and his peripherals (3.57 K/BB, 9.25 K/9, 1.07 WHIP) bode well for him maintaining his job. Scott Downs has a stronghold on the closer job in Toronto, and David Aardsma lost a threat when it was revealed Brandon Morrow would be converted to a starter once again. Morrow is in Tacoma and will work his arm up in Triple-A before re-joining the big club.

Brad Lidge, PHI: Sprained right knee We're not sure if the knee is truly sprained, or if something more is wrong after the Phillies revealed he's had inflammation all year. For now, he's on the 15-day DL retroactive to June 7, but GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. said he won't be activated until the joint is healthy. Ryan Madson takes over as the Phils' closer.

Chad Qualls, ARI: Forearm soreness/stiffness According to the Arizona Republic, Qualls doesn't feel too confident about having a healthy arm, describing his prospects of his returning to full strength as "a grind." A DL stint is possible, and might be what Qualls owners need for him to regain some of the dominance he displayed early on in the season. Tony Pena will see the bulk of save opportunities in his absence.

Frank Francisco, TEX: Shoulder tightnessFrancisco, like Qualls, was off to a fabulous start before developing arm issues, this time in the shoulder. The guy's BAA is currently a devastating .157, but that's a number that will invariably escalate if he tries to rush back. A stint on the retroactive DL could be just what he needs. C.J. Wilson and Eddie Guardado will split the save chances.

Troy Percival, TB: Right shoulder tendonitis He probably won't be ready for some time, although for now, retirement seems to be out.

Joey Devine, OAK: Elbow surgeryDevine underwent Tommy John surgery and is out for the remainder of 2009.

Mike González, ATL 8-for-11 (73%), 27 IP, 35 Ks, 2.67 ERA, 1.26 WHIP Next in line: Rafael SorianoThird in line: Peter Moylan

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Andrew Bailey, OAK5-for-8 (63%), 37.1 IP, 44 Ks, 1.93 ERA, 0.91 WHIP Next in line: Brad Ziegler Third in line: Michael Wuertz

Mike MacDougal, WAS0-for-0 (N/A%), 4.2 IP, 3 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 1.29 WHIP Next in line: Joe Beimel Third in line: Julian Tavarez

J.P. Howell, TB2-for-7 (29%), 4 HLDs, 30 IP, 37 Ks, 2.10 ERA, 1.13 WHIP Next in line: Dan Wheeler/Randy Choate Third in line: Grant Balfour/ Joe Nelson

Mike MacDougal takes over as the Nationals closer-of-the-moment, and it appears Joel Hanrahan has lost the job for good. Don't be swindled by MacDougal's NL numbers -- he put up atrocious stats in the AL while he was still with the White Sox (12.46 ERA, 3.23 WHIP, .389 BAA, 7 BB, 3 K in 4.1 IP). He might be good for an occasional save, but don't look for his conversion rate to be much above 75 percent. The situation in Tampa Bay has become much like the Nats' -- with a new go-to-guy in the ninth every week. Perhaps J.P. Howell provides the best opportunity to hold down the job, since his peripherals (3.08 K/BB, 11.10 K/9, .202 BAA) are the most inspiring out of the Rays' bullpen. Andrew Bailey continues his impressive rookie run and seems to have completely wrested the job from Brad Ziegler, albeit without a formal announcement.

Mariano Rivera, NYY 14-for-15 (93%), 25.1 IP, 30 Ks, 3.20 ERA, 1.11 WHIP Next in line: Phil Coke/Alfredo AcevesThird in line: Brian Bruney (DL)

Jonathan Papelbon, BOS14-for-15 (93%), 25 IP, 28 Ks, 2.16 ERA, 1.40 WHIP Next in line: Takashi SaitoThird in line: Hideki Okajima/Daniel Bard

Francisco Rodríguez, NYM 16-for-16 (100%), 27.2 IP, 31 Ks, 0.65 ERA, 0.98 WHIP Next in line: Bobby Parnell Third in line: Pedro Feliciano

Jonathan Broxton, LAD 14-for-16 (88%), 30 IP, 49 Ks, 1.50 ERA, 0.70 WHIP Next in line: Cory Wade Third in line: Ramon Troncoso

Joe Nathan, MIN12-for-14 (86%), 22.1 IP, 26 Ks, 2.01 ERA, 0.90 WHIP Next in line: Matt GuerrierThird in line: Jesse Crain

Heath Bell, SD17-for-18 (94%), 25.1 IP, 31 Ks, 1.42 ERA, 0.99 WHIP Next in line: Cla Meredith/Greg BurkeThird in line: Edward Mujica

Trevor Hoffman, MIL 15-for-15 (100%), 17 IP, 15 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 0.47 WHIP Next in line: Carlos VillanuevaThird in line: Seth McClung/Todd Coffey

Francisco Cordero, CIN15-for-15 (100%), 26 IP, 24 Ks, 1.38 ERA, 1.12 WHIP Next in line: David WeathersThird in line: Arthur Rhodes

Joakim Soria, KC7-for-7 (100%), 10.1 IP, 11 Ks, 1.74 ERA, 1.26 WHIP Next in line: Juan CruzThird in line: Kyle Farnsworth

Bobby Jenks, CWS13-for-14 (93%), 20 IP, 17 Ks, 3.15 ERA, 1.20 WHIP Next in line: Matt Thornton Third in line: Octavio Dotel

Kerry Wood, CLE8-for-10 (80%), 20.1 IP, 25 Ks, 5.31 ERA, 1.57 WHIP Next in line: Matt HergesThird in line: Jensen Lewis

Brian Wilson, SF15-for-18 (83%), 27.2 IP, 29 Ks, 3.58 ERA, 1.37 WHIP Next in line: Jeremy AffeldtThird in line: Justin Miller/Merkin Valdez

Ryan Franklin, STL13-for-14 (93%), 22 IP, 16 Ks, 1.23 ERA, 0.77 WHIP Next in line: Jason MotteThird in line: Kyle McClellan/Chris Pérez

Brian Fuentes, LAA16-or-19 (84%), 21 IP, 22 Ks, 4.71 ERA, 1.48 WHIP Next in line: Jason Bulger/Justin SpeierThird in line: Jose Arredondo (Minors)/Scot Shields (DL)

Kevin Gregg, CHC10-for-12 (83%), 25.1 IP, 28 Ks, 4.62 ERA, 1.50 WHIP Next in line: Carlos Mármol Third in line: Angel Guzman

George Sherrill, BAL12-for-14 (86%), 23.2 IP, 22 Ks, 2.66 ERA, 1.23 WHIP Next in line: Jim Johnson Third in line: Danys Báez