The moment it was announced that Billy Wagner needed Tommy John Surgery and would likely miss the entire 2009 season (the remainder of his contract with the Mets), Mets fans began anointing Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez as the new closer.
The current Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim closer sits atop most Mets fans' off-season wish lists. His record-breaking 62 saves during the 2008 season just added fuel to the fire of Mets fans' desire for Rodriguez.
Unlike the masses, I don't think signing Rodriguez to the lucrative deal he is looking for would be such a good idea. Sure, K-Rod is a good closer at this point in time, I will not deny that; but, for several reasons, I don't want the Mets to sign him.
According to Rodriguez's agent, Paul Kinzer, he wants at least five years at "Mariano money." Mariano refers to Yankees' closer Mariano Rivera who before the 2008 season signed a three-year deal worth $45 million. So, Rodriguez will be looking for a five-year contract worth about $75 million.
Rodriguez is good, but he is not Mariano Rivera. With the Mets needing to fill holes in other areas such as middle relief, starting pitcher, and possibly second base, it would not be wise to spend that kind of money in one place.
Saves Are a Misleading Stat
Francisco Rodriguez recorded 62 saves this season, breaking the single-season record of 57 held by Bobby Thigpen. This led many fans to declare Rodriguez as the best closer in the major leagues. I disagree.
Rodriguez had 69 save opportunities in 2008. The closer with the next highest amount of save opportunities in 2008 was Houston's Jose Valverde with 51. Rodriguez had 18 more opportunities than any other closer. EIGHTEEN MORE OPPORTUNITIES! Of course he's going to have more saves than anyone else if he gets that many more opportunities.
Rodriguez did convert 90 percent of his save opportunities, which is very good, but there were closers who fared better. Phillies closer Brad Lidge converted all 41 of his save opportunities, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera had a 98 percent conversion rate, and Royals' closer Joakim Soria converted 93 percent of his save opportunities. Among closers with at least 20 save opportunities, 11 converted at least 87 percent of their save opportunities.
In my opinion, Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, and Joakim Soria are better closers than Francisco Rodriguez.
K-Rod on the Decline
Francisco Rodriguez stormed onto the seen very late in the 2002 season. During the Angels run to the World Championship in the playoffs, Rodriguez was an important part of the Anaheim bullpen. The baby-faced 20-year-old was armed with a 98-mph fastball, and earned the nickname "K-Rod" by striking out 28 batters in 18.1 postseason innings.
However, since taking over the closer role in 2004, things seem to have changed a little. K-Rod has lost some velocity on his fastball, which now tops out at 94 miles per hour. Also, with the exception of 2006, K-Rod's stats have been on a steady decline. Here is his WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched, K/BB (strikeouts per walk), and K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) from 2004-2008:
Over the years, Rodriguez has been allowing more base runners while walking more batters and striking out fewer batters. This is definitely not a good trend.
Rodriguez's 2008 WHIP of 1.29 places him 69th among relievers with at least 40 innings pitched. At some point, base runners will lead to runs.
I will not argue that Rodriguez is a good closer. However, looking at this steady decline leads me to believe that he will not be a good closer in a couple of years.
That is why the Mets should not sign him to a 5 year contract, and should not pay him "Rivera money", because fans will expect a Rivera quality closer, and that is not what they will get.