DETROIT — Every player handles transition differently and Francisco Rodriguez is in his own season of change after coming over from the National League. But even with his recent rocky outing, K-Rod's track record shows an ability to limit the damage, settle in, and rebound to regain his former dominance after adjusting to a new environment.
It’s not a lack of trust in his changeup that K-Rod’s usage of the pitch has changed. It’s the league, and he’s still adapting his approach to AL hitters, as opposed to how he set up opposing batters in the NL.
"It’s an advantage going in the National League, throwing changeups in a fastball count," Rodriguez said. "You can get away with it. But a fastball count in the American League, it’s not good. It messes you up. So, it’s about adjustments. You gotta make adjustments. You have to find a way to adapt to situations day in and day out."
This isn’t the first time that K-Rod has switched leagues — it’s his third, or fourth if you include the back-and-forth between the Orioles and Brewers in 2013 and ‘14. He’s now in his 15th season at the major league level, but not much has changed in how he adjusts. That includes the percentage of pitches he’s thrown from year to year, which varies by no more than 2 percent in a transition year, regardless of the workload.
In each of his past major switches between leagues — from the Angels in 2008 to the Mets in 2009, and now from Milwaukee to the Tigers — K-Rod’s ERA, FIP, BB/9, and SO/9 all took a hit, and the same could be said for the 2013 and ‘14 season. K-Rod then went back to dominating. Excepting 2013, when he was a mess in the second half, he went through occasional rough patches but nothing that caused his numbers to skyrocket inordinately.
K-Rod’s numbers during transition years:
|2013: 1st half||1.09||3.09||25||24.2||97||1.054||6.2||0.7||3.3||9.5|
|2013: 2nd half||4.50||4.28||23||22||96||1.364||10.2||2.0||2.0||11.5|
In 2016, he’s used more fastballs because of the way in which he’s setting hitters up in the AL, as opposed to the NL. But even when his pitches are exactly where he wants them — as was the case on Sept. 24 when he gave up five runs — the power he faces on a regular basis is different. So, after spending the last 7 1⁄2 years in the NL, he’s still getting used to putting away AL hitters ... again (he started his career with the Angels).
"It just depends, the hitter — if it’s a left-handed hitter, obviously I’m gonna use (the changeup) more," Rodriguez said. "Righty, not as much. But for my changeup to be more effective, I have to throw more fastballs. So, to keep them off (balance), I have to change it a little bit. What I’ve been doing is going in and out of the zone. Trying just to not make them be too comfortable in the batter’s box. Get them to chase."
The AL may be built for power, but that hasn’t prevented K-Rod from being dominant for much of the season. But the beginning of August wasn’t so pretty, and he admitted it was a struggle to get through the first five games of the month. He just felt out of wack, and his 9.00 ERA in those games was alarmingly high. Opposing batters were nailing him to the tune of a .444 average.
His changeup may be his signature pitch, but after that stretch, K-Rod had to alter how much he used it. The fastball came out more, and then he went on a stretch of 14 games and gave up one run. He had an eight-game scoreless stretch and a five-game streak.
Between that streak, there’s also a blown win on Sept. 2 when K-Rod inherited a two-on situation and allowed a two-run single in the eighth. He pitched a scoreless ninth and the Tigers went on to win that game. But Sept. 24 was the first time he’d truly fallen off the wagon in a month and a half.
"Every game situation’s different," he said. "You can go in the game in the ninth with the bases loaded and a one-run lead, or you can go in the ninth with a two-run lead or a four-run lead. So, you gotta go by, especially me, I go by the scoreboard. I pitch according to the game, and that’s how I go about my daily business."
If K-Rod’s track record holds true, he’ll have the AL figured out and settle back into dominant form for 2017 — and really, that's saying something because he hasn't been awful this year, either. Next year is a ways off yet, but K-Rod has found a way to remain relatively consistent even in years of transition.