Dear Tigers Fans: Your Francisco Rodriguez hate is misplaced

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MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins
Sep 22, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez (57) delivers a pitch in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Tigers won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.

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Are you exasperated about Francisco Rodriguez? Do you complain to your friends about how bad he is?

If the above statements apply to you, it’s time for an intervention. You may want to sit down. Things are about to get serious. This is important information that you need to hear.

REAL TALK: If you think Rodriguez is a bad closer then you have a fundamental misunderstanding of baseball. 

(I suppose it’s possible that your emotions are clouding your judgment but, probably the former.)

Now, you’re probably in the denial stage right now. It’s okay. Breathe. You can work through this. Read on and you’ll understand why the facts do not support the case of Rodriguez as a terrible closer. In fact, they state just the opposite.

A Fundamental Misunderstanding

People who say that KRod is a terrible closer have an unfortunate misunderstanding of what the job of a closer is. I know this seems obvious but, the job of a closer is to (wait for it…) win games. Rodriguez does exactly that with a very high rate of success.

Forget about ERA.

Forget about giving up hits.

Forget what you (think you) know about fastballs, sliders, and change-ups.

Focus on the wins. That’s all that matters when discussing a closer.

Rodriguez has 436 career saves. That’s the best among active players. So far in this young season, he is tied for 3rd place in the entire MLB with 6 saves.

In his career, Rodriguez has a save percentage of 85.5%. That means nearly 9 times out of 10 he preserves the win. For those of you who aren’t that impressed by that stat, consider this. Mariano Rivera is widely considered one of the best closers of all time. His career save percentage was 89.1%. One final note: the MLB save percentage for the 2016 season was 67.52%. KRod is nearly 20 percentage points higher than that over the course of his career.

Does it seem like KRod puts a lot of batters on base? Sure it does. Does he seem to give up a lot of hits and/or home runs? Yep. Does that mean that the Tigers don’t win? NOPE.

As golfers are fond of saying, “there are no pictures on the scorecard.” It’s not about how it looks. It’s about the bottom line. A closer is there to win games. Period. Rodriguez does just that. Is he perfect? No, but, he is one of the best in the league.

An Overlooked History of Quality

Another common refrain among stressed Tigers fans is that “we’ve never had quality closers.” Again, the facts refute this immediately. Did you know that half of the Top Ten active save leaders are former or current Tigers?

  • Francisco Rodriguez (#1)
  • Joe Nathan (#2)
  • Jose Valverde (#4)
  • Fernando Rodney (#5)
  • Joakim Soria (#7)

Jim Johnson is just outside the pack at #11.

The Explanation

The question is: if the facts don’t support the idea that Rodriguez is a terrible closer, why do so many people have this opinion? 

The answer: It’s easy to focus on the bullpen for two reasons.

1) “You had ONE job.”

It’s true – closers have only one job. To get the win. Unfortunately, some fans think that having only one job makes that particular job easy.

It doesn’t.

If it was easy to be a closer, everyone would do it. Just because a player has only one goal doesn’t mean achieving it is a picnic.

2) Failure for closers is usually catastrophic because it costs the team the game. When a save is blown and the team loses, it’s easy to jump up and down on the closer. Unfortunately, that’s not a particularly nuanced view and doesn’t always factor in the reality of the context.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays
Apr 19, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias (1) lays on the ground after an apparent injury and second baseman Ian Kinsler (3) and trainer comes to check on him after they lost to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Detroit Tigers 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take April 19th, 2017 as an example. This is the game where many people complained that KRod gave one away to the Rays in the 9th.

The game ended on a wild throw from Jose Iglesias to first base in an attempt to make a game-ending double play. Rodriguez got the stat for the blown save.

It’s true that KRod loaded the bases. He is responsible for those base runners.

However, Iggy and Ian Kinsler failed to turn the double play. According to ESPN.com, their percentage on making that play is very high. They are considered to be one of the best double-play combinations in baseball. I was shocked when the double play wasn’t turned successfully. Shouldn’t the defense be held partially accountable as well?

It’s not KRod’s job to keep the bases clean. It’s his job to keep runs off the scoreboard. Yes, he got himself into a no-out, bases loaded jam. But – he got the next hitter out and then got the ground ball required for the double-play. He put the game in the hands of his gold glove defense and, unfortunately, they didn’t deliver. Had that play happened in the 3rd inning as opposed to the bottom of the 9th, it would be less noticeable.

I’m not saying KRod gets no blame for that blown save, but rather, it’s a team game and there is a shared responsibility.

Conclusion

There is no question that the bullpen ERA for the Tigers is high. This was very well researched by DSN Tigers editor, A.J. Reilly, in a recent Section 313 piece. However, Rodriguez is still closing at a very high rate of success.

It’s not always pretty, but, he’s getting the job done. Rodriguez mirrors the history of Detroit a little bit in that way. If you can’t get behind that as a Tigers fan, I’m not really sure what to tell you.

[stats provided by Baseball Reference]

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