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Perception or reality: Wandy Rodriguez … underrated?

Aug 23, 2011, 4:17 PM EDT

Wandy Rodriguez Getty Images

News that the Rockies claimed Wandy Rodriguez off waivers and will have until Thursday afternoon to potentially work out a trade with the Astros for him has me wondering if the 32-year-old left-hander is underrated.

For the past week or so various prominent media members have been acting as if Rodriguez’s contract is a Vernon Wells-like albatross that no team in its right mind would possibly touch, but is it really that bad?

He’s owed $10 million in 2012 and $13 million in 2013, with a $13 million team option or $2.5 million buyout for 2014 that becomes a player option if he’s traded. So if the Astros simply decide to let the Rockies claim him for nothing it’s essentially a two-year, $25.5 million contract and if instead the two sides work out a trade that gets him to Colorado it’s a three-year, $37 million deal.

That’s certainly no bargain, but this offseason Jorge De La Rosa signed a two-year, $21.5 million deal while Carl Pavano and Jake Westbrook each got $16 million for two years. Rodriguez is slightly more expensive than those three veteran starters, but he’s also a better pitcher. In fact, among the 83 different MLB pitchers with at least 400 innings since 2009 he ranks 18th in ERA and 20th in xFIP. In other words, he’s been a low-end No. 1 starter or a top-notch No. 2 starter, posting ERAs of 3.02, 3.60, and 3.31 during that time.

Rodriguez has never had elite raw stuff and there’s clearly a widely held perception that he’s nowhere near as good as his numbers, yet his performance has consistently placed him among the top 20 or 25 starters in baseball and even a three-year, $37 million commitment doesn’t seem all that crazy in that context. Whether or not Rodriguez is capable of thriving while calling Coors Field home is another issue altogether, but in terms of his track record and contract it sure seems like perception has trumped performance in Rodriguez’s case.

  1. FC - Aug 23, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    I would like to point out that Field Independent Pitching is anything but Fielding Independent. But yeah large sample sizes and yadda, yadda it’s not a bad approximation. Too bad it can’t tell if the pitcher will trend better or worse his next 10 starts.

    • Kevin S. - Aug 23, 2011 at 4:48 PM

      Care to explain any of that?

      • FC - Aug 23, 2011 at 4:52 PM

        Because the formula uses Innings Pitched. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s a bad stat, it’s just that calling it Fielding Independent is a misnomer if I ever saw one.

      • bigleagues - Aug 23, 2011 at 6:52 PM

        HUH?

        FIP isn’t fielding independent because it uses IP?

        I mean, huh?

      • FC - Aug 23, 2011 at 7:59 PM

        Of course. IP = outs. And how are outs most commonly made? By Fielders! Unless you strike them out of course. Crude example (let’s keep it simple and forget HBP and the ERA adjuster):

        #1 Ground Ball Hit, Fly Ball Hit, Groundball Hit, K, BB, HR, K, K = 1 IP

        #2 Ground Ball Out, Fly Ball Out, Groundball Out, K, BB, HR, K, K = 2 IP

        FIP #1 = 10

        FIP #2 = 5

        As you can see, same #HR, #BB, #K, but because the fielder converted three balls into outs the FIP is halve in #2 than in #1.

      • Kevin S. - Aug 23, 2011 at 11:25 PM

        Right. Now, let’s use a relevant example instead of a caricature. Justin Verlander this year has 212 K, 48 UBB+HBP, and 17 HR in 803 TBF. Thanks to randomness (and in spite of the Tigers’ decidedly below-average defense), he has a .232 BABIP, meaning he’s gotten outs on 404 of the 526 balls in play he’s allowed (he’s also gotten 13 outs that weren’t on strikeouts or BIP – we’ll add those back in at the end). Let’s say he had a league-average BABIP which this year would be .290. 29% of 526 BIP is 153 H, leaving 373 outs. Verlander now has (212 + 373 + 13)/3 = 199.1 IP. By comparing Verlander’s component FIP to his posted FIP, I get the FIP constant to be 3.00 this year. His adjusted FIP is now ((13*17)+(48*3)-(212*2)/199.1) + 3.00 = 2.70, two hundredths of a point off his actual 2.72 FIP. Much of that insignificant difference can be attributed to randomness, not fielding. I find your claim that Fielding Independent Pitching is not independent of fielding to be pedantic.

      • Kevin S. - Aug 23, 2011 at 11:58 PM

        Bah, I apologize for that last bit. I presupposed the lack of good faith in your pointing out that IP account for outcomes of BIP. TBF is more technically sound (and it made me very happy when FG added K% and BB%), but in practical application there is very little gained from using (1-lgBABIP)*(TBF-K-UBB-HBP-HR)/3 as the denominator instead of IP.

  2. paperlions - Aug 23, 2011 at 4:29 PM

    Yes, he is under-rated…especially by the “national media”, who seem to know very little about things across the entire nation.

    • djpostl - Aug 23, 2011 at 4:49 PM

      He is pathetic and better stay in the NL, he’ll get eaten alive if he ever has to run the gauntlet in the AL East.

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Aug 23, 2011 at 4:53 PM

        I agree with both of you. Commence your brain implosion…

      • paperlions - Aug 23, 2011 at 5:00 PM

        Uh huh, like Beckett from the weak NL east, or CC from the horribly weak AL central, or Freddie Garcia or Colon both from a dusty shelf….yep, that AL East just tears guys up

  3. kopy - Aug 23, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    I just think the general audience fused the two ideas of “expensive” and “overpaid”. I was guilty of this as well until I really focused on it last night. Since he’s making a lot of money, Houston is trying to get rid of him in the name of rebuilding. Because Houston can’t (doesn’t want to) afford that salary, the perception is he’s unwanted because he’s overpaid. He’s making some good money, but he would be reasonably worth it in an open market.

    • paperlions - Aug 23, 2011 at 4:47 PM

      Right. He isn’t over-paid at all….it is just a bad investment for the Astros to keep and pay a 32 yr old pitcher who won’t be around when they are ready to compete again (if ever). They have a very long way to go, and that money would be better spent on scouting and prospects.

  4. SmackSaw - Aug 23, 2011 at 4:57 PM

    Nice curveball. He’d fit right in to the breaking ball dominate A.L. The Yankees could use him.

  5. Paul Bourdett - Aug 23, 2011 at 5:07 PM

    Not sure I agree with your statement that Wandy is a better pitcher than Jorge De La Rosa, at least not the DLR that signed his current 2-year deal (pre-Tommy John). Not only was DLR almost 3.5 years younger than Wandy when he inked his contract, but his 3.69 xFIP since ’09 isn’t all that different from Wandy’s 3.58 xFIP over the same span (not to mention DLR was making half his starts at Coors).

    Pavano and Westbrook clearly aren’t the caliber pitcher Wandy is, but they have both posted sub-4.00 xFIPs since ’09 (Pavano in the AL) and Wandy’s contract is a bit more than “slightly more expensive” than their 2/$16m deals.

    I’ll agree that the current Wandy might be worth 2/$25.5 on the open market, but do you really want to pay a 34-year-old Wandy who’s already shown declines in velocity, K/9, and swinging strike rates the past few years $13 mil in 2013? You certainly don’t want to pay him another $13 mil in 2014 when he’s 35.

  6. SOBEIT - Aug 23, 2011 at 5:11 PM

    If you look at how he pitched against the Giants recently, he is a Cy Young candidate…but this years Giants have a way of doing that with most pitchers, sadly.

    But he is probably above average, but not in the really good or great category. Who knows, with a new pitching coach or pitching at Coors Field, he may be really good.

    By comparison to Ubaldo right now, he looks much better than Ubaldo. So the Rockies knew something was up with Ubaldo to trade him. The NLWest is a strong pitchers division and giving up on Ubaldo says a lot by the Rockies.

  7. bigleagues - Aug 23, 2011 at 6:50 PM

    Reality is that perception is 100% subjective.

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