29 July 2013

How Valuable Is Francisco Rodriguez in the Orioles' Bullpen?

A version of this article appears at Baltimore Sports and Life.

I wrote a version of this article a few days ago for Baltimore Sports and Life.  However, I wanted to share it here as well as my writing here will see an uptick over the upcoming playoff run for the Orioles.  So, with some moderate excitement, I am back in a deadline deal sort of way.

Tommy Hunter / credit: Keith Allison
Is there really anything more to say about the Orioles' acquisition of Francisco Rodriguez?  I certainly think so and it does not have to do with the pall cast over the deal with the known and alleged incidents of violence that are attached to the team's new relief pitcher.  No, I do not wish to discuss my perspective Rodriguez pleading guilty to attempted assault to avoid jail time when he attacked his at-the-time fiance’s father or about the time he attacked Mets’ bullpen coach during a game or the allegations of repeated abuse that the prosecution came up with or about the Milwaukee abuse case that was dropped when his at-the-time girlfriend (who was allegedly attacked) and the sole alleged witness (a housekeeper) went back to Venezuela and were no longer around for the trial.

What I want to discuss is how this deal rates as a baseball acquisition.  To what extent does Rodriguez improve this team.  What are best case scenarios in a general sense using simple numbers to see how big a deal acquiring Rodriguez was for the success of the team.  To do with, I want to assume the following:
  1. With 58 games left, there are about 25 innings left for the 7th inning righty, 8th inning righty, and middle relief / junk inning righty.
  2. Francisco Rodriguez is a 3.00 ERA pitcher (let’s assume he is really solid down the stretch).
  3. Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day are 4.00 ERA pitchers (let’s assume they struggle down the stretch to the point that they are underperforming their current ERAs of 2.80 and 2.20, respectively).
  4. Jairo Asencio and whoever are 6.00 ERA pitchers (this is likely a pessimistic view as to what the default 4th righty in the pen could do).
So, here is what we get without Rodriguez using the above assumptions.

7th Tommy Hunter 25 4.00 11
8th Darren O’Day 25 4.00 11
Junk Jairo et al. 25 6.00 17


This is what happens with Francisco Rodriguez as the 8th inning righty, again, according to the set assumptions:

7th Darren O’Day 25 4.00 11
8th Francisco Rodriguez 25 3.00 8
Junk Tommy Hunter 25 4.00 11


These two tables note that the acquistion of Rodriguez saves the team nine run.  That is roughly worth one win based on standard sabermetric practice (that number jumps around year to year).  However, is it adequate to simply look at those nine runs and assume it is worth a win.  Are runs more or less important are the end of the game or in situations where these pitchers pitch to the point where grouping it all together makes for unfair comparisons?

The Leverage Index suggests that maybe we need to drill down a bit further.  To those of you who do not know, the Leverage Index calculates how important a situation is in a game based on the number of outs, baserunners, men on base, and the score.  A neutral scenario would have a Leverage Index of one.  A consequential plate appearance would be greater than one.  Here are the Leverage Indices of Orioles relievers when they enter a game:

Pitcher gmLI
Jim Johnson 1.81
Darren O’Day 1.42
Brian Matusz 1.15
Pedro Strop 1.12
Troy Patton 1.01
Tommy Hunter 0.95
Jairo Ascencio 0.89
Kevin Gausman 0.78
Steve Johnson 0.76
Luis Ayala 0.75
TJ McFarland 0.67
Alex Burnett 0.61

Those numbers pass the sniff test.  Johnson, O’Day, and Matusz are often placed in on the mound in tough situations.  Strop may seem like an outlier, but the team tried their best to keep him as a setup man and then 7th inning man until his performance found the team shipping him to the Cubs.  The point I am trying to make here is that even though the different between the two assumed righty sets above amount to 9 runs, 6 of those runs are saved in junk innings that normally would have gone to guys like Burnett, Johnson, Gausman, and, yes, Asencio.  Those scenarios were ones where the game was largely in the Orioles’ favor or their opponents’.  With that in mind, those runs given up in low leverage situations are not very meaningful because of the run differential in those game situations.

Instead, the important runs in the optimistic scenario that was detailed earlier in this post would be the focused on the three runs that do not score thanks to 3.00 ERA Rodriguez on the mound instead of 4.00 ERA O’Day in the eighth inning, but we need to determine how valuable those runs might be.  As mentioned earlier as well, a general appreciation of what a run is worth (about 1/9th of a win) would suggest that having Rodriguez is worth about a third of a win due to those three runs saved.  However, runs scored in high leverage situations are likely to be worth a different amount than runs scored in less important situations

Here is the score differential of the July outings when O’Day entered the game:

Dif Runs
July 24th 0 1
July 21st 2 0
July 19th 2 0
July 13th -4 0
July 11th 1 0
July 9th -3 1
July 7th 1 0
July 5th 1 0
July 3rd 0 0

Five (or 56%) of his July outings were games where the differential in score was 0 runs or the Orioles being up by 1.  If that stays the same then of those 25 8th innings to come, 14 of them will be games where the score is tied or the team is holding on by one run.  That difference now is about 2 runs (slightly less) in what you could expect between a 3.00 pitcher and a 4.00 pitcher.  That suggests than maybe the value of a third of a run more important, might be lower than that.

However, assume that for 12 of those innings pitched, Rodriguez and O’Day would be the same pitcher, but for the other two innings Rodriguez would give up no runs and O’Day would give up a run in each performance.  Well, how does that impact win probability.

Dif Win Probability
1 85
0 48
-1 14
Dif Win Probability
1 89
0 63
-1 30

Why are the probabilities different?  It almost all comes down to the home team having two innings to score while the visitor having only one.  If we look at the worst case scenarios (as a vistor going +1 to 0; as a home team going 0 to -1), we have decreases in win probability of 37% and 33%.  In other words, not letting runs score in the worst cases possible detailed above means a 3.00 pitcher is worth about 0.7 wins more than a 4.00 pitcher.  In other words, the runs saved in the 8th inning in high leverage conditions are roughly twice as important than they are in general based on the assumptions I have made here.

Where we are left is that under ideal circumstances, it is probably safe to assume that the addition of Rodriguez will benefit the team with an extra game in the win column, at most.  More likely though, his impact will be far less felt.  Differences in runs saved in high leverage innings will likely be rather inconsequential and applying Hunter to even lower leverage innings will likely be even more inconsequential.

In the end, the team gave up a second tier prospect in Nicky Delmonico.  A position player who was 100th ranked in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects has a 1 in 3 chance of being a useful starter in baseball.  At best, Delmonico was just south of 150th and probably no worse the 200th.  More than likely he will never make a dent on a MLB roster.  Even more important, Delmonico would have had zero impact on the Orioles in 2013 when they are competing for a playoff spot.  In other words, one would be pressed to call him a meaningful prospect.

However, Delmonico does not need to be a meaningful prospect to have value.  I’d suggest that his ability to augment a trade package is probably worth more than him being traded straight up for a reliever who at best makes the 2013 Orioles a +1 win team.  It is difficult to ever know what is possible in trades and it is an illness in the brain that us followers of the game tend to want to believe in an abundance of trade opportunities, but I do think that a package of Delmonico plus one would likely bring back to the Orioles a player of greater importance than Rodriguez.  Of course, this contention is somewhat unfair.  It is difficult for the addition of Rodriguez to stand up against a comparison of something that does not exist.  The vagueness of the unknown is certainly a draw for many to embrace and questioning Oriole front office authority has been a talent that has been thoroughly developed over the past decade and a half.  That said, I maintain that the health of the franchise is better served when second tier prospects are stacked instead of being doled out one at a time.


Anonymous said...

While K-Rod may add a win, what's a guy with his baggage going to do team chemistry? That win could be easily negated if he's a problem in the clubhouse.

Not saying he will be that, but his character issues place him at odds with the personality profile of typical Oriole.

Time will tell.

Triple R said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again-O'Day is NOT a 4-ERA pitcher. He's been outperforming expectations his whole career, and I see no reason why he'll stop now.

Plus, who could say no to this face?

Jon Shepherd said...

Triple R...say it all you wish. The goal of this post was to figure out at most what Rodriguez could be worth. As I mentioned, this is an optimistic perspective as to what KRod brings. The likely outcome is that he brings far less to the table or, in other words, the deal was likely pointless.