Francisco Rodriguez Traded to Milwaukee

by Eno Sarris //  

With a $17.5 million option looming over every game Francisco Rodriguez finished this year, the Mets chose to get out from under the money and traded their closer to Milwaukee for some players to be named later. While the move won’t mean much in Milwaukee, it does leave a vacuum in New York that must be filled.

John Axford will continue to close in Milwaukee unless he gets hurt. In many ways he’s been better than Rodriguez this year, and he’s much cheaper. K-Rod’s option vests if he finishes another twenty or so more games this year, and the Brewers can’t spend that money. Axford owners should not panic.

But in New York there’s a closer’s role change in the offing. The primary candidates are set, so let’s suss them out one by one.

Jason Isringhausen was the early favorite to be the next closer. He holds the team lead in holds and used to be the primary setup man. The fountain of youth has treated him to a sub-3.50 ERA after missing most of 2010 recovering from surgery. But look “closer” and the numbers don’t look as nice. His strikeout rate (6.59 K/9) and whiff rate (6.4%) are well below average for a reliever. He’s walking more than four per nine. He has a .213 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and he’s stranded 80% of runners, numbers that usually trend towards .300 and 70% respectively. As those numbers regress, he might have some struggles ahead.

Hometown hero Pedro Beato is tied for third in holds and has perhaps ‘deserved’ his low-threes ERA more than Izzy. At least, his BABIP is .224, but his strand rate is 52.4%. As both numbers regress, he might stay in about the same spot. The ‘problem’ with Beato is that he’s more of a ground-ball pitcher than a strikeout pitcher. He only strikes out 5.4 batters per nine, and even with a nice 2.7 BB/9 and 54.3% ground-ball rate, he doesn’t have the strikeout rate of a closer. Only one of the top 35 relievers sorted by saves has a strikeout rate well below six per nine, and Matt Capps is not a closer to emulate right now.

That leaves Bobby Parnell as the best option for the role. First, the negative. Parnell has had a career of showing great velocity (95 MPH average on his fastball) and poor control (3.82 BB/9 career). While he was only throwing the fastball and not striking people out (7.7 K/9 before this year), this was a problem. Now, the positive. Parnell is throwing his slider more than ever this year, and this has resulted in the best strikeout rate of his career (10.95 K/9). A recent stretch of better control (three walks since June first) has Parnell showing average control (3.28 BB/9). Strike out three batters for every one you walk, and you’re ready to be a closer. Especially if you’ve got a flamethrower of an arm.

Some Mets fans might doubt the fact that Parnell has the mentality to close. He has had some issues in the past. On the other hand, this year’s version looks like the best version, and the numbers say he’s the best option. Good luck hunting for saves.

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