2013 Dodgers in Review #43: RP Paco Rodriguez

December 31, 2013 at 9:36 am | Posted in 2013 in Review, Paco Rodriguez | Leave a comment

90topps_pacorodriguez

2.32 ERA / 3.08 FIP 54.1 IP 10.44 K/9 3.44 BB/9 (B-)

2013 in brief: Good for the first five months, shockingly bad for the last two.

2014 status: Still supposed to start the season in the pen, although the signing of Chris Perez now complicates things.

Previous: 2012

******

Everyone thank Punto4President for pitching in with a great job on reviewing Paco. Thanks!

Using ERA to judge pitchers is dumb. Using ERA to judge relief pitchers is dumber. Using ERA to judge left-handed specialist relief pitchers is literally the dumbest thing that exists in the entire history of the known universe, even more so than voluntarily choosing to pitch to Jason Heyward over Reed Johnson in a close-and-late situation (oh, don’t worry, we’ll get there). So, really, the fact alone that Paco had an unsightly ERA in September (not going to post it, even for comedic effect) doesn’t come close to illustrating how shaky he really was.

Here are some fun relevant numbers for you (obvious caveat of small [not large] sample size):

1.168 OPS against
-0.691 WPA
30% line drive rate
9 combined walks and HR allowed to 7 strikeouts

Happy Paco’s September, everybody! And you wonder why the Dodgers have signed forty relievers this offseason. Paco had submitted a surprisingly good performance in 2012 and mostly brilliant work for most of 2013, but make no mistake: he looked legitimately horrendous down the stretch, and justifiably was almost completely ignored by Don in the playoffs (yes, it’s coming).

It seems a little paranoid to immediately jump to the “OMG HE WAZ OVERWORKED!” conclusion, especially since Paco’s 54.1 innings in 2013 pale in comparison to his 81.2 innings between college and three pro levels in 2012, but it’s important to remember that usage rates have to be considered differently for relief pitchers, and especially relief specialists. Just going by innings pitched alone doesn’t account for all those extra pitches thrown during bullpen warm-ups, and also doesn’t take into consideration the additional stress put on pitches thrown while under duress.

It’s much more relevant, then, to use Paco’s 76 total appearances as an indicator of his usage (easily more than he’d had in any other season in his career), as well as the fact that almost all of his appearances came in high-leverage situations. So it’s not a stretch to suggest that Don might have actually counted on him a little too much, especially since the Dodgers had another perfectly fine lefty reliever in the pen (Howell) who got used, for instance, zero times from July 26 to July 31 and zero times again from August 25 to September 2.

It remains important to remember, though, that Paco was completely and totally lights out when he was effective during 2013, which was basically during that magical 42-8 stretch when everyone was playing out of their mind. Fun relevant numbers for you, redux (sample size is still the opposite of large):

.372 OPS against
2.15 WPA
18% line drive rate
8 combined walks and HR to 37 Ks

Happy Paco’s June July and August, everybody! That is so entirely a different pitcher from the September version that it’s like they’re playing different sports. Paco was utterly dominant, amazingly consistent, and a huge (and underrated) part of the team’s historically incredible run, and that definitely should not be forgotten (although his ERA during that stretch, which I’m again not even going to post, definitely should be).

However, it was always obvious that Paco had talent; otherwise, he wouldn’t have been so highly regarded out of Florida, and wouldn’t have risen so quickly through the minors to reach the big club in his first full professional season. The September numbers, while limited by their brevity, represent the first time in his career when he’s just seemed completely lost. The fact that they’re also the most recent sample we have of his performance are likewise meaningful (and troubling).

If you want to do that thing where you sum up Paco’s entire season in two video clips, then the following two would be the most relevant:

 

Dammit, remember that game? Of course you do. It was arguably the real turning point of the season (barely knew ya, 2013 Matt Kemp), it was the most satisfying W over the Giants of the season to that point (enjoyably, an even more satisfying one would soon follow), and it was honestly one of the craziest reactions to anything that I’ve ever seen. It should be in that standard collection of reaction gifs that all [completely normal] people have.

But on the other hand…yep, we’re finally here:

rodriguez_heyward_video-play

Sigh. I probably could have written this review without that, but I’m including it for two reasons: 1) To remind Don Mattingly’s die-hard supporters (including, well, Don Mattingly) that, hey, remember this? 2) It was Paco’s last relevant moment of the 2013 season. He pitched just once more in the NLDS (getting hammered in a brief stint during the Game 3 blowout win), and was left off the NLCS roster despite the Dodgers only taking one other lefty reliever. Combined with his September, it was a disappointing way to end what had once looked like a promising season.

So, while the Brian Wilson contract got all the positive attention and the Chris Perez contract got all the negative attention, arguably the most important Dodger reliever signing this offseason was Howell; you just don’t know if Paco can be counted on in 2014, and consequently you should be very happy about the fact that Howell is guaranteed to be on the team.

PUNTO 2016! *drops mic*

*****

Next! Jose Dominguez! We’re nearly done, I swear!

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