With the starting rotation looking to be set in stone for Opening Day, there’s just one problem that could derail the Washington Nationals’ quest at a World Series title. With Tyler Clippard now in Oakland, where he could start the year as the closer due to Sean Doolittle’s injury, how does Matt Williams line up his bullpen for the late innings in terms of set roles?
As of right now, it looks as if the closer is going to be Drew Storen. While the 27-year old Storen put up some solid numbers as the closer in the second half of last season, there are still doubts that he can be the shut down closer in the ninth inning that fans are looking for.
While the Rafael Soriano signing didn’t work out the way Mike Rizzo and company thought it would, I would argue it shouldn’t hinder the Nationals’ quest at finding a closer who can jump right in if Storen does not succeed in that spot to start the season. There is one closer on the market that hasn’t received much interest, but one that can be a good find at the right price.
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The reliever I am talking about is Francisco Rodriguez. Last season, the 33-year-old Rodriguez was a NL All-Star in the first half, saving 27 of his 30 chances, including a streak of 15 in a row to begin the year. The problem for the former Met was in the second half when he had a ERA of 3.97 despite saving 17 of his 19 chances.
The five-time All-Star has seen his fastball drop in velocity in recent years. According to Fangraphs, Rodriguez has gone from averaging near 95 miles per hour on his fastball with the Angels in 2006 to 90.6 with the Brewers last season. That being said, K-Rod is going to his changeup more often, something he did 29% of the time last season (most of his career).Due to the declining velocity, Rodriguez K’s per nine innings have also gone down. His 9.7 K’s per nine innings were tied for the second lowest total of his career (2009 with the Mets).
Yes, the numbers show Rodriguez is towards the latter stages of his career, but could this be a low risk, high reward option for the Nationals when you consider Rodriguez hasn’t really been shown much interest from other teams this winter.
Even when his stuff is on a bit of a decline, K-Rod still saved 44 games in 49 opportunities for a Brewers’ team that collapsed down the stretch in 2014. If Rodriguez can cut down the 14 home runs he gave up last year (most of his career, he could be a reliever that fills either a setup spot or the closer spot for a contending team.