25 July 2013

O's Acquire Francisco Rodriguez, Get Marginally Better

Even if you're just a casual fan, you've likely heard by now that the Orioles acquired reliever Francisco Rodriguez from the Brewers in exchange for infield prospect Nick Delmonico. Heading into this season, Delmonico was ranked by Baseball America as the O's fourth best prospect (behind Jonathan Schoop but ahead of Eduardo Rodriguez). According to Baseball Prospectus, he was the O's sixth best prospect.

First, let's stop to note Rodriguez's previous off-field antics, which I'll briefly discuss (but won't have any effect on the breakdown of the trade below). In August 2010, he punched the father of his girlfriend after a game. He pleaded guilty to assault charges and received a sentence of 52 weeks of anger management. Then in September 2012, he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his new girlfriend. The case was dropped, though, because his girlfriend and the housekeeper, an eyewitness, went back to Venezuela. Some may have different opinions on whether or not such behavior matters when signing or acquiring a player, but facts are facts. Back to the analysis.

Rodriguez signed a minor league contract with the Brewers in mid-April, and he'll be a free agent after this season. He's also making a bit more than $2 million. So the O's are parting with Delmonico for a few months of Rodriguez's services. Rodriguez did start the year in the minors, pitching two innings each in single- and triple-A, and he was eventually promoted to the major leagues in mid-May.

In 24.2 innings with the Brewers, he had a 1.09 ERA and 10 saves (if you care about things like save totals). An ERA that low is obviously great in any situation, but it's misleading. His strikeouts are up and his walks are down from last season, which are both positives. But he's been lucky on balls in play (.250 BABIP vs. .276 for his career), his 99.1% strand rate is ridiculously high (the major league average is 73.2%), and his 28.3% ground ball rate would be the lowest of his career by nearly 10%. Again, we're dealing with a little more than 24 innings, and weird things can happen in such a tiny sample. But more hits are probably going to start dropping in against him, more runners are going to score instead of being left on the basepaths, and if his low HR/FB rate jumps any higher, he's going to see an increase in homers allowed, especially if his fly ball rate (50%) stays close to where it is. (Ed. note: Just wanted to clarify that last part. Because he's been giving up a lot of fly balls, any jump in his HR/FB rate would not be a good thing. I probably could have worded that better.)

So it's not surprising to note that Rodriguez is due for some regression, but he's still a useful bullpen piece that Buck Showalter gets to experiment with. Rodriguez should fit in nicely with Darren O'Day and Tommy Hunter to form a troika of right-handed relievers to pitch anytime in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings in front of Jim Johnson. So that part is helpful.

But was that bullpen upgrade worth a mid-level prospect in Delmonico? That depends who you ask. Two writers I read regularly, Keith Law and Jonah Keri, differ on the topic. Law, who writes more from the scouting side of things, thinks the O's paid a "steep price" in the trade (Insider access required). Keri, though, believes the O's "didn't give up a ton" in parting with Delmonico, noting some of his weaknesses and then equating him to "something of a lottery ticket."

Some fans weren't happy when the O's traded for Scott Feldman because he's merely a decent but not great rotation option. But he's already thrown 26.2 innings for the O's (and has pitched better than his 4.73 ERA indicates) and has plenty of starts to go. Rodriguez, on the other hand, may not surpass that inning total by much, yet you could argue that the Brewers (with Delmonico) made out better than the Cubs (with Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop).

In a way, it's hard not to admire Dan Duquette's gumption. When the Orioles have seemingly soured on a prospect or someone they've signed to a minor league contract, they're not afraid to cut ties with that player. Obviously shipping Delmonico to Milwaukee is different than losing someone like Jair Jurrjens or Jon Rauch, but the O's deemed Delmonico expendable and used him to shore up the bullpen.

I don't agree with the thinking that because the O's have Manny Machado and Chris Davis manning the corners that it's OK to part with any corner infield prospect. Why? Organizational depth is important. Players get hurt. And promising players, even ones viewed as expendable, can be traded in a package for more value in return. Feldman has been a nice pickup; hopefully Rodriguez pitches well, too. But if the Orioles are really "going for it," would it have been wiser for them to pool some of these mid-level assets in order to acquire a better player? That depends on the specifics of a potential deal, of course, but a front-line starter would look a whole lot better than Feldman or Jason Hammel right now.

Maybe that's a pipe dream, but I still think the Orioles could have done better in this situation. Shoring up the bullpen is perhaps the easiest thing on a major league roster to fix, but this trade didn't reflect that. Then again, if Delmonico never develops in the Brewers system, this trade probably won't matter that much.


Unknown said...

For what it's worth, I was in the press box at Norfolk's Harbor Park when the trade was announced. The "amateurs" (including myself) thought that the Orioles gave up far too much; the "professionals" thought that it was a good deal for the Orioles.

Paul said...

Matt you are right this is a risking trade. However, the question is how many people make it from single A ball to make the majors. He was a prospect that may have helped in the future. Rodriguez helps out now.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Joe: It probably helps that Rodriguez is a "proven closer" -- that matters to a lot of people. Fans like saves.

Paul: Yes, that's true. But Rodriguez doesn't help out THAT much, plus they're selling low on Delmonico, in my view. But again, hopefully it works out.

Jon Shepherd said...

Well...how much does Rodriguez help out now? You are replacing Jairo Ascencio and his ilk on the roster. That means that Rodriguez or Hunter will be taking over those 20-30 innings that don't matter because the team is far ahead or far behind. A small fraction of those innings will actually be important ones. So, you deal away a low probability minor leaguer (as they almost all are) for the ability to control bleeding in a blowout or bending in a favorable blowout in exchange for someone who might be useful in the future.

To me, it just is a pointless move because you can get someone cheaper for those junk innings. Additionally, you want to stack marginal prospects to get more meaningful, long term pieces. For instance, does Delmonico for Rodriguez make more sense than Delmonico and another second tier prospect for Veras (if one needs to go on the relief side of things)? With Veras you get next year, too.

I just don't see in the near term or long term it being of much value to the team. Now, if the Orioles had one or two less right handers then it would make sense to me that the team really needs this piece. However, I just don't see it here.

Triple R said...

Delmonico had a 22.4% K rate in SINGLE A BALL--I can't see him being much more than a three-true-outcome hitter at best.

Meanwhile, K-Rod is still striking out 25.7% of his batters faced--granted, not as good as his career rate of 29.3%, but still excellent, and much better than Hunter or Matusz. Speaking of which, K-Rod's 3.34 SIERA is actually better than Hunter (3.42) and Matusz (3.60). He'll definitely be an upgrade over those two.

Jon Shepherd said...

K-rate is really not as informative as the batting average. Either way...both are less important than the scouting on him. He had a slight chance to be special. If he could have stuck at third (unlikely) it would have been an easier path. So, we should not simply dismiss Delmonico. There are skills there.

Re: Rodriguez. There is nothing definite about relief pitching. K rate for relievers also is not always the best way to measure them. Finally, those SIERA numbers are basically the same. Again...junk innings are what is going to be affected.

You got rid of a second tier talent for improved junk inning relief. Second tier talent individually is unlikely to turn into something, but you can stack that value and get something more useful and impressive that will greatly impact the team in the future.

So, eh, improving junk innings just is not a big deal to me. Rodriguez, baseball-wise, might be a solid move in a vacuum, but is pretty worthless when you consider the specific situation the Orioles are in.

Unknown said...

Except, Jon, it's not just an improvement over junk innings. If Rodriguez becomes the eighth-inning reliever, (assuming that he's an improvement) then this improves the team in critical innings. This might happen. If you believe that Rodriguez will pitch well, then you make the trade.

Jon Shepherd said...

Even if Rodriguez pitches in critical innings, it puts similar pitchers in low leverage situations.

I don't really see much difference between him, O'Day, and Hunter. From that viewpoint, the only impact is better pitching in junk innings whoever that junk pitcher becomes.

Unknown said...

And that's the real question. If you believe that Rodriguez is better than O'Day, Hunter et al, then it's a potentially big deal. If you don't, then it's not.

Jon Shepherd said...

Right...but how much better is Rodriguez than O'Day or Hunter? How many more runs is Rodriguez saving over the course of 25 innings in the 7th or 8th innings over those other two. So, let's say O'Day and Hunter are 4.00 ERA pitchers...they will give up 11 runs over 25 innings a piece. Let's say that Rodriguez is a 3.00 ERA pitcher...he will give up 8 runs over 25 innings. So, is a "big deal" 3 runs in high leverage situations and maybe 6-7 runs in low leverage situations (if we have a 4 ERA pitcher take over for a 6 ERA pitcher in low leverage situations or in other words when the outcome of the game is not in doubt)?

I have difficulty seeing how under those conditions (which is probably the best possible outcome situation) how useful of an addition he is.