Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Facts To Remember Before Throwing A Load Of Money At K-Rod

Never mind all the instances of relievers signing huge contracts and either getting hurt or
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being ineffective; never mind the year-to-year status of the performance of almost every single late-inning relief pitcher not named Mariano Rivera; keep in mind the simple facts about the pitcher whose record Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez just broke, Bobby Thigpen.
In 1990, Thigpen saved 57 games pitching for the White Sox and here are the numbers and facts regarding the eerie similarities between the two pitchers:
  • Thigpen turned 27 in July of 1990; K-Rod will be 27 in January.
  • Thigpen had spent four years prior to the 1990 season in the big leagues; two he spent as part of a true closer-by-committee; in 1988 and 1989, he saved a total of 68 games. K-Rod was in the big leagues at age 20 as a September call-up and was a major part of the Angels 2002 World Series
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    team; he set-up and occasionally closed in 2003 and 2004 and took over as the full time closer in 2005 and saved over 40 games in the three years prior to this one.
  • Thigpen saved those 57 games in 1990 with a workload almost identical to that of K-Rod. He was in 77 games and pitched 88 innings; K-Rod, up to now, has pitched in 71 games and pitched 64 innings. K-Rod's WHIP (Walks + Hits per innings pitched) is 1.321; Thigpen's was 1.038.
  • Thigpen pitched in 51, 68 and 61 games in the three seasons before his record-setting year; K-Rod has pitched in 59, 69, 66, 69, 64 before this season.
  • Thigpen had a set-up man having his career year in 1990 in Barry Jones; K-Rod has been
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    functioning with one of the deepest and best-organized bullpens in baseball since his career began and his huge number of saves have been accrued after set-up man Scot Shields did much of the heavy lifting.
  • Thigpen's numbers collapsed after that 1990 season and for years, I thought it was due to the overuse that came with saving those 57 games and the computer-style managing of then White Sox manager Jeff Torborg; but in reality, his workload was quite reasonable. In 1991, Thigpen saved 30 games and his ERA jumped from 1.83 to 3.49 and his WHIP from that 1.038 to 1.450. His numbers got even worse in 1992 as he shared his closing job with Scott Radinsky and Roberto Hernandez. In 1993, he got off to a rotten start and was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies where he was worse. He signed as a free agent with the Seattle Mariners after the 1993 season, got off to a terrible start and was released in late April after appearing in seven games. His big league career was over.
These similarities are striking; their workloads and performance during their record-setting years are eerily similar and what happened to Thigpen cannot be discounted given K-Rod's
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overall numbers and heavy workload he's been subjected to since he was 21-years-old. Add in that K-Rod has lost some velocity on his fastball since his arrival in 2002; that he's got a stressful, over-the-top motion that is a prime target for a shoulder injury and a sharp breaking curve that is a prime target for an elbow injury and any team that is going to throw $15 million annually at Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez had better think about it long and hard and examine the similarities between he and Thigpen, because they're too striking and K-Rod's far too expensive to ignore.

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