Sunday, October 20, 2013

Underrated Players: The Paco Rodriguez Edition

When you look at the Dodgers, or any other high payroll team, you see flashy names. You see Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, and Andre Ethier. What isn't seen could be the role player who plays 7 different positions, or the lefty specialist. I am a firm believer in the fact that a team can have a good core of players, but the bullpen or bench can easily cost the team several wins or allow the team to win a few more, it can be the difference of a losing season or making the playoffs. Certain aspects of teams get passed over by the media for the bigger names who don't necessarily represent the most valuable commodities.

Paco Rodriguez
Even with all the attention the Dodgers have received, one player has been overlooked. In 2012, the Dodgers selected lefty reliever Paco Rodriguez in the 2nd round (82nd overall) of the draft. He flew through the minors, posting an ERA of under one through twenty one games in the Great Lakes (A) and Chattanooga (AA). That very year, he became the first of the 2012 draft class to make it to the major leagues, earning a September call-up in which he gave up a lone run in eleven games. 

The following season, Rodriguez made the team out of spring training, and soon became an integral piece of the Dodgers' bullpen. The 22-year old southpaw posted 1.5 wins above replacement and held left handed hitters to a .131 batting average. In September, things took a turn for the worse, as Rodriguez posted an ERA over 5.00 and gave up 3 home runs (more than the rest of his career combined). His woes continued into the NLCS, in which he gave up 2 runs in 2 games. Considering he is only a year removed from his college days (where there is a much-reduced workload), and this is his first full professional season, fatigue was the likely source of his struggles.

Billy Wagner
A very interesting comparison is Billy Wagner. Rodriguez and the future hall of famer Wagner were both high draft picks who reached the major leagues at young ages and immediately started to pitch well. Rodriguez throws 88-92, while Wagner hit the upper 90's in his career, but Rodriguez has more of a varied arsenal than Wagner had. Rodriguez is currently a lefty specialist in LA's bullpen, but it is entirely possible that he could move into the closer's role within the next couple of seasons. 

Interestingly enough, Rodriguez has received next to no media attention in Los Angeles, despite being in the middle of one of the biggest markets in all of baseball. Many relief pitchers are overlooked by fans, but fortunately for Rodriguez, teams seem to know the value of a good lefty specialist. Jeremy Affeldt of the Giants will have earned 42 million dollars and Sean Marshall of the Reds will have collected 32 million by the end of the 2015 season. Darren Oliver earned just under 50 million dollars in his career. If Paco Rodriguez keeps up what he has been doing, he could earn himself a nice chunk of change in his time in the major leagues.

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