K-Rod's agent, Paul Kinzer, insists that such talk is misinformed. He says that Rodriguez is more comfortable throwing his fastball at lower velocities because it gives him better command.
"I saw him hit 96 (mph) twice and 97 once late in the season when he needed a big out against Raul Ibanez with the Mariners," Kinzer said Saturday. "The velocity is there when he needs to reach back for it. He told me he's just more comfortable around 92-93.
Francisco Rodriguez fastballs, 2008: 638
Francisco Rodriguez fastballs >96.0 mph, 2008: 2
Francisco Rodriguez, pitches to Raul Ibanez in September:
Francisco Rodriguez average fastball, 2007: 95.5
Francisco Rodriguez average fastball, 2008: 92.9
In 2007, 92% of Rodriguez's fastballs clocked in at 94+ mph, and 65% of them were strikes. In 2008, 13% of Rodriguez's fastballs clocked in at 94+ mph, and 44% of them were strikes.
Kinzer is right on one thing: Rodriguez did have better fastball command at lower velocity. While fewer than half of his 94+ fastballs were strikes, the rate jumped up to 64% on fastballs under the threshold. Here's the problem, though - just a season ago, Rodriguez was throwing considerably harder, and when he was throwing considerably harder, he was still finding the zone. Something has changed. So we're left with one of two conclusions:
1) Rodriguez, who has been in the Major Leagues since 2002, only recently discovered that he's more comfortable around 92-93, and he had to "reach back for it" on but two occasions last year
2) Rodriguez is no longer capable of throwing as consistently hard as he used to
If we choose to side with the former, then we may infer that Rodriguez is like the slowest learner of all time. We may also infer that he was reaching the shit out of himself in seasons past, which, whatever, that's weird. Paul Kinzer would have you believe that Francisco Rodriguez - an elite-level closer already with a pair of ASG appearances and Cy Young nominations - deliberately decided to change the way he pitches somewhere between 2007 and 2008. Because things obviously weren't working for him before.
If we choose to side with the latter, then hey congratulations we're not retarded.
Francisco Rodriguez is a good closer. Of that there's no question. But there are already a lot of miles on his arm, and he's coming off the worst season of his career in which his fastball dropped a few ticks. That's bad. Those are two major red flags, and you better believe the league is aware. I would not want to be a fan of the team that ends up footing his contract, because while free agency is almost always about paying for what a guy's already done (as opposed to what you expect him to do), this one takes that to another level.
Good luck to you, future Rodriguez employer. You will have signed the guy with arguably the highest collapse potential on the market. I hope the one extra win or so in the short-term makes a big enough difference.