Oakland Athletics 2016 Preview: Will Fernando Rodriguez Be Key To Middle Innings?


The Oakland Athletics have a great closer, but will middle reliever Fernando Rodriguez be the key to reaching the ninth inning with a lead?

Oakland Athletics pitcher Fernando Rodriguez had a fairly solid spring, all things considered. His 4.09 ERA over 11 innings and nine appearances was nothing to write home about, but he did rack up 14 strikeouts without walking a single batter.

Over the winter, the A’s added several former closers to solidify their late-inning options behind current closer Sean Doolittle. They recognized that even with Doolittle healthy, there’s no use in having an outstanding closer if the bullpen is going to blow the lead in the sixth or seventh inning. In the process, they got rid of nearly the entire 2015 relief staff – but elected to keep Rodriguez. Will the A’s regret that decision, or can he help them win?

At 31 years old, Rodriguez is a veteran major leaguer.

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He was drafted by the Angels in 2003 – a 18th-round pick out of El Paso Community College – and spent several years in the minors before making his debut in 2009. In the 2012 off-season, Rodriguez and Jed Lowrie were traded from the Houston Astros to the A’s, in exchange for Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi. Before the 2013 campaign began, Rodriguez underwent Tommy John surgery. He spent most of 2014 in the minors, after being designated for assignment, and he only pitched seven games for the Athletics that year.

But in 2015, he returned to the big leagues in early May and never looked back. Rodriguez became one of the only reliable options that Bob Melvin could turn to with a lead.

The A’s right-hander is expected to be a key part of the Oakland bullpen this season. Last year, he owned a 3.84 ERA in 56 appearances, pitching 58.2 innings. He also struck out 65 batters while walking just 24, with four home runs allowed.

He may have been one of the best relievers in a bad bullpen, but how does Rodriguez stack up against the rest of the league?

In his career, Rodriguez has posted a 25 percent strikeout rate. Last year, he struck out more than a quarter of the batters that he faced, owning a 26.9 percent rate. The league average is 19.3 percent, so it’s obvious that this is an area where he excels.

On the flip side, Rodriguez’s career walk rate is 11.2 percent. This is inflated by some rough early seasons – it declined to 6.1 percent in 2014 and 9.9 percent in 2015 – but it’s certainly a weakness. Pitching over 11 innings without allowing a walk in Spring Training is definitely a good sign, since it seems that this is an area where he’s shown pretty consistent improvement.

Overall, Rodriguez is an above-average relief pitcher. Batters hit just .200 against him last season, with a weak .589 OPS. That means he wasn’t allowing runners to reach base, and he wasn’t allowing them to take extra bases when they did.

Rodriguez was also excellent at stopping a rough inning.

Last year, he inherited 30 runners when he appeared in the middle of an inning. Only four of them scored – a rate of just 13 percent. While this was by far the best mark of his career, historically, he’s allowed less than 20 percent of all inherited runners to score. That’s a pretty decent mark, considering that this isn’t exactly a small sample size – in five seasons, he’s allowed 22 of 111 inherited runners to reach home plate.

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The bullpen is always very hard to predict for an upcoming season, because relievers are the least stable of any group. Their results tend to vary from season to season, whereas starters and position players don’t have quite as many highs and lows. But if 2015 is any indication, Rodriguez is a pitcher who can be counted on to perform well this upcoming season.

Bold Prediction: Rodriguez will decrease his walk rate to under the league average, post a sub-3.50 ERA, and allow five or fewer inherited runners to score all season.

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Do you think Fernando Rodriguez will be successful in 2016, or was it a mistake to keep anyone from last year’s bullpen? Leave your comments below!