Talking Baseball

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Posted by Dave on Wednesday, June 02, 2004

A Recounting of Greatness: Francisco Rodriguez

Tonight, I witnessed a pretty typical performance from a pretty atypical player, Fransisco Rodriguez. This is that typical performance, on paper:
IP   H  R  ER  BB  K  HR

1.1 1 0 0 0 4 0
Yes, K-Rod blew away four of the five batters he faced. Yes, this is typical. Look at his game log, if you don't believe me. It's just littered with similarly dominant performances. On April 14th he had the same line against Oakland sans the hit (more on that blemish in a second). In fact, he has struck out the side at least four times in twenty-three appearances. Excluding those appearances, he's struck out at least two batters in ten of the remaining nineteen appearances. Right now, his 14.46 K/9 is best for all major leaguers.

If you haven't inferred from the ridiculous strikeout totals, he's also exceptionally good at preventing runs. His miniscule ERA of 0.64 is only bested by Armando Benitez. Did I mention he rarely walks people? He has a BB/9 of 2.25. He's bettered by only the elitest of relievers in hits per nine innings at 6.11. Basically, what I'm telling you is that the Bible is lying. On the Seventh Day, God didn't rest - he created Francisco Rodriguez.

Sick, wicked, filthy, incredible, best. These are words that will be invoked when you ask anyone how they'd describe Fransisco Rodriguez's stuff. He may not get the press yet, but this guy has the chance to be the best reliever of all-time. It's so easy to say this because Rodriguez is just 23 years old. Barring injury and a normal career path, Rodriguez will maintain this level of performance and should, unfathomably, get better. Tonight I got to witness burgeoning greatness in the form of K-Rod. Finally, here's the promised eye-witness account:

First Victim - Kevin Millar: Rodriguez came in with two on and the Sox threatening with the go-ahead run at the plate - no matter. As is generally the case with K-Rod, Millar failed to cowboy up and make contact in this at-bat. I'm currently trying to reconstruct my memory of the five batters K-Rod faced - but I'm reasonably certain K-Rod started him with a fastball outside for strike one. Next pitch was a slurve that ate the hands of Millar, but it was just barely inside for ball one (a questionable call, reminiscing). Strike two came on a flawless K-Rod slurve. K-Rod's slurve is generally around 75-80 MPH and it breaks about 2 feet down and a foot to the left - I kid you not. Kevin actually swung at strike two, but it didn't matter, it painted the outside corner and was at the knees of Millar. Strike three came on yet another slurve. I will never forget the replay they did from the side - Millar swung at least a foot over the pitch. Major league hitters of Millar's caliber are rarely embarrassed so horribly.

Lone Survivor - Kevin Youkilis: Molina called for the slurve on pitch #1 of the at-bat and it was very similar to Millar's strike-two pitch. Except, somehow, Youkilis made contact. It was a chopper to third and I have no doubt in my mind that Troy Glaus would have made the play with relative ease. Chone Figgins, Glaus' inexperienced defensive substitute, caught it on the second hop (when he should have caught it after the high first hop) and then proceeded to air-mail the throw. Youkilis was given the hit, but it wouldn't be far-fetched to say that the hit was generous.

Second Victim - Andy Dominique: Recently called up from Pawtucket, Dominique was purely over-matched in this encounter. Hard to imagine that K-Rod is actually 5 years younger. Three straight strikes, the last two being wicked slurves - Dominique never had a chance.

Third Victim - Johnny Damon: This at-bat is what forced me to write this article. K-Rod's slurve is often discussed as one of the nastiest pitches in baseball - Rob Dibble, no stranger to Nastiness, deemed it as the 2nd-nastiest pitch in MLB behind Eric Gagne's change. Often overlooked, however, is K-Rod's fastball. His heater touches 95 on the gun and has some cutting action. It's not Rivera's cutter, but it's not Colon's straight fastball either. K-Rod displayed the pinpoint control necessary to be a truly elite reliever in this plate appearance by Damon. K-Rod started Damon with a knee-high pitch on the inside corner. I thought I had just witnessed the perfect pitch until I saw strike two, which was also a fastball that painted the outside corner at the letters. Johnny Damon, everyone in the stadium, and I expected to see the knee-buckling slurve on pitch #3. His signature pitch, Rodriguez hadn't thrown it yet during the at-bat. I thought I had really seen the perfect pitch on strike one or two until this pitch was delivered. K-Rod didn't waste the 0-2 pitch in painting the outside corner at Damon's knees. Three pitches, three fastballs, and Damon walked solemnly back to the dugout shaking his head.

Fourth Victim - Mark Bellhorn: I have mostly forgotten this at-bat, but the combination of Bellhorn's and Damon's efforts made me realize something; you will rarely get a hitter's pitch vs. Rodriguez. Damon would have been swinging at three straight pitcher's pitches had he attempted to make contact with K-Rod's fastball. This at-bat was similar to Damon's. Although the pitches were not as picture-perfect as in Damon's AB, they were all pitcher's pitches. Bellhorn never took a swing because he knew he'd likely be hitting into an out if he made contact. So after the first ball, he just watched three strikes breeze by him. K-Rod left the mound visibly enthused about his performance, pumping his fist and yelling. He should have been excited - I had never seen a more dominating relief appearance.

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