Detroit Tigers: Same Old Bullpen Song and Dance

Aug 6, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez (57) in the dugout during the game against the New York Mets at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 6, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez (57) in the dugout during the game against the New York Mets at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /
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You cannot run from it, Detroit Tigers fans. The Detroit Tigers have a bullpen issue. More specifically a closer issue. While the bullpen has been great for most of the year the back end is on the decline.

This is the day Detroit Tigers fans had to know was coming. It may be a curse or just bad luck but the Detroit Tigers once again have a problem at the back end of the bullpen. It took 110+ games for it to come out; but, now nightmarish flashbacks of Matt Anderson, Joe Nathan and the later years of Jose Valverde are running through the minds of Tigers fans. It may not be that bad yet but things can go south quickly.

The best way to describe Detroit Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez‘s last four outings are simple: almost blew a save, should have blown a save, lost the game but didn’t blow the save, blew the save and lost the game. If that was confusing let’s recap Rodriguez in his last four appearances:

On August 5 Rodriguez came into a 4-2 ball game against his former team, the New York Mets. K-Rod gave up a hit and a run but earned his 31st save of the season. This was only his second appearance since July 26 so this minor hiccup was forgivable and really a non-issue. At least until the next day when he faced the Mets again and surrendered three hits only to be bailed out by a laser beam throw by J.D Martinez. The game ended with Martinez cutting down the tying run at the plate and helping K-Rod earn his 32nd save of the season.

Things really started to go south when Ausmus brought Rodriguez in for a third straight day in a tie game with the Mets at home. Conventional wisdom says Ausmus made the right move, which ends up back firing on him when K-Rod gives up a go-ahead homer in the ninth. Fast forward to the fifteenth inning of Tuesday’s ball game in Seattle where K-Rod gives up two runs in the bottom half of the inning in a game where the Tigers led multiple times, including the top half of the inning.

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I think that is a long enough trip down memory lane. What that recap shows you is there is a problem at the back end of the Tigers bullpen. Over his last seven games, K-Rod is 0-2 with a 12.00 ERA. Opponents are hitting .500 off him in that stretch with an OPS of 1.244. Even worse, he has not struck a hitter out in a week.

If seven days is not enough to get the point across, 28 days should do the trick. K-Rod has a 4.09 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP over the last four weeks. According to BrooksBaseball’s Pitch fx, K-Rod is mixing up his pitches in each outing but everything is getting hit. In his first outing against the Mets, Rodriguez relied primarily on his change up. Every hit he surrendered that night was via the change up. In the third game against the Mets, Rodriguez threw more sinkers. That did not work either as hitters hit .500 off it that day. Basically, nothing is working right now.

But don’t get too down on K-rod just yet. Let me introduce you to a stat I invented while thinking about K-Rod’s last few outings. I call it “3 Up 3 Down Percentage”. Too often people ask me “why can’t we just go three up, three down in the ninth inning?” Like I have the answer to that, right? So I dove deeper into K-Rod’s numbers and looked at the number of games where he faces three batters in one full inning of work. This is not the number of perfect innings and therefore the stat holds nothing against him for allowing a baserunner and inducing a double play. This is strictly three batters faced in one full inning of work.

K-Rod’s 3U3D percentage is 45 per cent in 2016. Though it always seems like he is struggling to retire the side in order, the numbers show he is doing so at a decent rate. The number appears to be just decent until you compare it to the other nine relievers who are in the top ten in saves this season. K-Rod’s 45 per cent tops all ten leaders, some by a wide margin. The major league leader in saves, Jeurys Familia, has retired the side in order in 41% of his appearances this season. Even fire-balling closer Aroldis Chapman, who is not in the top ten in saves due to an early season suspension, falls below Rodriguez in 3U3D percentage.

Now take this stat for what it may be. It is, of course, something I made up. However, the numbers are real and if anything they show how efficient a closer can be. If my made-up statistics are not g satisifactory, here are some real ones that might seem more comforting. Tuesday’s game could have been the product of his environment. K-Rod has pitched much better at home this season. His 3.86 road ERA is alarming but his 2.61 home ERA suggests he may pitch better with the crowd behind him.  As for the Mets games, Rodriguez has a 5.00 ERA this season in non-save situations including Sunday’s loss.

Next: The Tigers Lose in 15 innings

Making excuses for K-Rod does no good though. No matter where he pitches or what situation he pitches in, he needs to get hitters out. For the time being the team will and should ride it out with the 34-year-old veteran reliever. Fans may be unfairly critical of Rodriguez because of the way his Tigers career started and the team’s horrible history with closers. While that is no fault of his, his poor performances are and K-Rod will need to pick it up in order to get back on the track he had been on all season.