The Nationals’ success this year has been possible only despite their bullpen, which has seemingly tried very hard to make victory impossible as one of the worst relief corps in baseball. Their front office’s latest attempt to change that should do very little—the reported signing of Francisco Rodriguez, who was cut by the Tigers last week.
Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports has reported that the deal is done, while others are saying only that it’s close. Whatever the terms of the signing, it’s difficult to imagine it being anything other than a low-cost move that should hold fairly little risk—which is something, sure, but something that still leaves plenty of work for the front office to do on the bullpen.
Rodriguez has been steadily declining from his 2008 peak for a while now, but this season has dramatically been his worst yet. The 35-year-old currently has a 7.82 ERA, with peripheral numbers that aren’t too much better. He’s been responsible for nine meltdowns this season, more than he had in all of last year even though he’s pitched fewer than half as many innings so far. Primarily responsible? The fact that he’s been giving up a wild 3.2 home runs per nine innings, by far the worst rate in baseball for a reliever. More than half of the batted balls he allows are fly balls, and more than a fifth of those become home runs.
All of that—it’s bad! And yet not that much worse than what the Nationals’ pen is currently doing. With a collective ERA of 4.88, they’ve forced Washington’s starters to pitch more innings than 28 of the other 29 teams. It hasn’t been a matter of especially bad luck or poor health or a few relievers underperforming; it’s simply been that it’s a bad bullpen, giving the performance that anyone can reasonably expect from a relief corps that has allowed both Oliver Perez and Enny Romero to record saves.
This, maybe, is most telling: The only bullpen with a worse home run rate than the Nationals is the Tigers, whose rate is so bad precisely because they have employed Francisco Rodriguez. May Washington keep hoping for that trade for David Robertson or Kelvin Herrera or Justin Wilson or Ryan Madson or, almost quite literally, anyone else.