OK, Nats town. Drew Storen is hurt. Brad Lidge is hurt. You need a relief pitcher for the 9th inning.
Imagine, then, that you had a pitcher in your bullpen who has a higher strikeout rate (10.19 K/9) than Gio Gonzalez (8.75 K/9). When batters do put the ball in play against him, he they bat .293 [BABIP], at about he same rate as against Jordan Zimmermann. He gives up about as many ground balls (42.5%) as Brad Lidge (42.9%) and fewer (36.1%) fly balls than Drew Storen (37.5%). And, unlike Storen (8.3% HR/FB), his fly balls very seldom (4.7%) go for home runs. Indeed, the remarkable thing about this pitcher is that he hardly gives up any home runs at all–he has the second-lowest HR/9 rate on the staff at 0.18 HR/9.
So, given that sort of track record, it might not be wholly unreasonable to assume that such a pitcher, entering any given 9th inning with the bases empty, should be a viable option. High strikeout numbers, decent ground ball percentage, and fly-ball numbers that indicate weak contact should add up to three outs, game over.
That pitcher, Nats town, is Henry Rodriguez since 2008.
Yes, his BB/9 rate (5.73) and wild pitch rates are very high–he leads the staff, and last year led the league in wild pitches. But, again, remember: he’s entering with the bases empty. On average, then, he should be able to strike batters out, or cause them to pop up.
Most of Nats town wants Henry’s head on a pike. He’s had a very bad week, giving up soul-crushing walk-offs in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Those sucked. But it cannot be stressed enough that, given Henry’s profile as a strikeout pitcher that does not give up too many home runs, those were the least probable outcomes.
Personally, I was shocked by the walk-offs not because the Nats lost–this is a ballclub that lives by the walk-off, after all, and it stands to reason that over time the club would die by the walk-off. I was shocked because Hot Rod gave up home runs, which he almost never does.
Should Henry be a closer? Probably not. Since ’08, his Shutdown/Meltdown ratio is 1.222 (22 shutdowns/ 18 meltdowns). In a high-leverage situation, you want to go with a reliever that has, generally, been more effective in putting his ballclub in a position to win than not. That’s why you want someone like Drew Storen (59 SD, 22 MD, 2.68 SD/MD) or Brad Lidge (96 SD, 30 MD, 3.2 SD/MD).
Except neither Storen nor Lidge are available. Henry Rodriguez is far from a perfect solution at closer for the Nats, but until Storen or Lidge gets back, Henry’s past form as a high-strikeout/low-home-run pitcher put him in the picture for at least some save situations.
Postscript: Psychology/Mentality. I try not to get into players’ mentality or psychology in this blog. I’ve known some of my friends and family for years, and at very close quarters, and I’ve found it pretty hard to get inside their heads sometimes to figure out what they’re thinking or feeling at any given moment. It would stand to reason that it is idiotic for me to think that I could form a decent opinion of a ballplayer’s mentality. I don’t talk to Henry. I only see him from the upper deck of the ballpark, or on TV, or as described by Charlie Slowes & Dave Jaegler on the radio, or as reported to me by the press corps following the Nats.
What I see, given the aggregated data, is a pitcher who’s had a very bad week. Nothing more.