The SSS Club - Henry "Lightning" Rodriguez

Henry Rodriguez will be a great asset to the club IF he can maintain his control.

Until Henry Rodriguez learns to throw strikes consistently, he will remain a low-leverage option.

Do either of those statements ring true to you?  Versions of them have been and will continue to be thrown around whenever Henry Rodriguez is mentioned.  Rodriguez throws extremely hard and has poor control.  He has a statistical history that shows that his recent problems finding the strike zone are not entirely new.  Admittedly, he is not usually quite as wild as he was on Saturday against the Marlins (3 BB, 2 WP), but historically he does walk at least one batter per two innings.  He also throws pitches batters have trouble hitting and strikes out more than a batter per inning.

Henry Rodriguez has electric stuff.  The question is whether the Nationals can trap that lightning in a bottle.

With the usual nod to the problems with small sample size, here is a look at what Henry Rodriguez has accomplished in 2011 and why he may well be on track to break out this year:

Flaming baseball

5 IP
1.80 ERA (4th on team out of 14)
3.74 FIP (9th)
4.42 xFIP (8th)
12.60 K/9 (1st)
10.80 BB/9 (14th)
.333 BABIP
88.9 LOB% (4th)
51 strikes, 49 balls (14th on ratio)
4.40 Total Batters Faced/IP (10th)
.188 AVG against (tied for 3rd)
.409 OBP against (12th)
.188 SLG against (1st)
.597 OPS against (4th)

Clearly, while Rodriguez sports a level of run prevention that is the envy of all but Storen and Clippard, he does this while allowing as many base runners as Lannan does, and it very much hurts how he is perceived.  He has allowed nine baserunners in five innings, walking six and allowing three singles.  The walks themselves are not really that dangerous, since he has demonstrated no tendency to walk runs in.

The free bases that have really hurt Rodriguez have been the 2 SB and 3 WP.  The one run he allowed scored when a runner made it from 2nd to home on two wild pitches.  If he can fix that aspect of his game while continuing to keep opponents to singles and walks there is no reason to believe he cannot be quite effective.  Any cut in his walk rate would just be gravy on top.

What indications are there that Henry Rodriguez is a different pitcher from last year?  One reason is his expanded pitch repertoire.  Rodriguez is known for his blazing fastball, but he does have a slider, which he threw 14.1% of the time last year while using the fastball 81.7% of the time.  This year, he has fully incorporated a changeup into his repertoire.  So far he's thrown his fastball just 70.4% of the time, the slider 18.3% of the time and the new changeup 11.3% of the time.  The fastball averages nearly 98 mph, the changeup touches 90 mph and the slider clocks in at a mere 84 mph.  All three pitches are rated as plus pitches.

There are multiple benefits to the new pitch selection.  It keeps batters guessing more, and when he has trouble locating that fastball, he has options to work the batters with.  Whether the changes date back to his time with the A's or are something the Nationals are having him work on, it's working for him.  He may have beat himself on Saturday, but no opponent has beat him yet.

Can he sustain this high level of production?  Who know, but the future awaits to let you know.  Is he ready to tackle high leverage situations?  If not for those wild pitches, a runner on 3rd would be safe in his hands, but for now expect Riggleman to shy away from bringing him in with runners on.

The only Nationals pitcher whose pitches are harder to make contact with is Tyler Clippard, and Clippard is 6th in the majors among qualified relievers in this regard.  A pitcher can survive walks if he can avoid solid contact and strike people out.

Unfortunately for Henry Rodriguez, what he brings to the club will never be properly appreciated until he stops allowing as many base runners as Todd Coffey does.  Luckily for him, though, he has the arm and the talent to get outs and avoid runs.  Even if his game ends up taking a setback in the coming weeks, his skill and the mental game may improve with age and experience.  At his worst, he can be fun to watch.  At his best, he may be amazing.

Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.
- Mark Twain

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