Closing the Closer: Hypocrisy and K-Rod

If the 2010 season in Major League Baseball is not the Year of the Pitcher, then it is certainly the year of the freak injuries.

  • San Diego Padres pitcher Mat Latos to the DL for sneezing (or, to be exact, trying NOT to sneeze).
  • LA Angels stud Kendry Morales lost for the season because he celebrated his walk-off homerun
  • Florida Marlins outfielder Chris Coglan injured while attempting to pie someone.
  • Designated hitter (and part-time first baseman) Russell Branyan stumbled over a coffee table while attempting to shut some blinds — injured!

Not just a cute animal; deer meat is dangerous! Just ask Clint Barmes.

But it is not as though bizarre baseball injuries have not occurred in the past.  Hell, Latos is not even the first person to be place on the DL for a sneeze-related incident (Slammin’ Sammy Sosa in 2004…”it’s so real!”).  Carlos Zambrano suffered an elbow injury due to excessive Internetting.  Joel Zumaya rocked out a bit too much with Guitar Hero and missed the 2006 ALCS.  Clint Barmes broke his friggin’ collarbone when he fell while carrying some tasty venison up a flight of stairs.

Vince Coleman’s run in with the tarp at Busch Stadium forced him to miss the World Series.  Marty Cordova fried himself in a tanning bed while genius John Smoltz injured himself while attempting to iron a shirt he “happened” to be wearing!  And knuckleballer Steve Sparks decided to show how strong he was by attempting to rip a phonebook in half.  The phonebook had other ideas and the incident caused Sparks to dislocate his shoulder.

Yes, baseball players are geniuses.  And I did not even mention Jeff Kent’s motorcycle injury — ERRR, I mean truck-washing injury.

But all of those injuries might be topped by the injury sustained by Francisco Rodriguez.  You see, last week the Mets closer decided to go all Eazy-E and throw a right cross to knock out his girlfriend’s old-ass father.  K-Rod was arrested and charged with assault.  Upon his return on 14 August, he was booed by the home crowd at Citi Field.  It was then discovered that Rodriguez tore a ligament in his thumb and will miss the rest of the season.

Injury while fighting with the in-laws.  Nice.  But that is not why K-Rod’s injury might top all the others.  What is amazing about Rodriguez’s situation is the reaction that it is receiving.  Not just from the idiot fans or the media but also (and perhaps primarily) from the Mets organization.

The Mets brass are trying to void K-Rod’s contract —  they have already moved him to the disqualified list, which moves his contract to non-guaranteed.  With the exception of the Kent truck-washing/motorcycle injury, none of these other teams attempted to recoup money from their injured Einsteins.  Yes, Rodriguez injured himself while allegedly committing a crime, but certainly there are loopholes that organizations could use to financially punish video gamers or players who do not know how to iron.

The Mets’ reaction seem to dismiss what K-Rod has done for the team — 60 saves in the past two seasons (well, just less than two).  Should he have more saves?  Perhaps.  But the Mets are a .500 team; ten games out of first just a year after going 70-92 (tied for fifth worst in the MLB) and finishing 23 games back!!!  That is not K-Rod’s fault.

And, I know manager Jerry Manuel has been one of the few to defend Rodriguez, but what is with the weird usage of his closer?  As the full-time closer with the Angels (we’ll say 2005 until 2008), Rodriguez recorded 194 saves in 275 games.  That means he garnered a save in 70 percent of the games.  Factor in blown saves and he was called upon to close out games in 79 percent of his appearances.  Even if you take away his record-setting season (62 saves in 76 games) he is still scoring a 66 percent save rate (and trusted with the ninth in 74 percent of his games).

LOOK OUT!!! Oh, he is just pitching.

With the Mets, the opportunities must be less.  His 60 saves have come in 123 games pitched (48.7%); factor in blown saves (12) and it is still a dismal 59 percent.  Part of this has to do with differences between the success of the two teams, as well as the respective bullpens.  But look around the league: Rafael Soriano of the Tampa Bay Rays leads the league (saves in 72.34 percent of his appearances).  Current saves leader Heath Bell of the Padres is racking up saves in 68.6 percent of his games.  Even Joakim Soria of the god-awful Kansas City Royals sees more saves in his games (67.35 percent) than Rodriguez.

In fact, of the top 20 closers (in terms of saves), Rodriguez is 19th with regards to saves per games pitched (Jose Valverde is 20th, scoring saves in only 46 percent of his games).

So if the Mets are attempting to use this injury and incident as a means to shed a closer that they might view as non-productive, then perhaps they should look at game strategy and other components of the team.  Otherwise, the move is ridiculous and hypocritical.

Worse still is the media, who continues to paint Rodriguez as crazy and evil.  I am not saying that K-Rod was right to assault a man, but the media carries on as if he is the only one with problems.  And, they do so as if Rodriguez was beating up a group of Jerry’s kids while anally raping a nun.  He hit a man — one that probably deserved it.  It is not like Rodriguez raped someone.  Y’know, like say…hmm, I don’t know.

Oh, like Johan Santana!

Yes, Johan Santana of the same New York Mets is accused of raping a woman in Florida and allegedly pregnating her.  It would seem to me that rape is more serious of a crime than going Manny Pacquiao on a guy.  Again, it is still an allegation against Santana, but that is still a serious charge.

Sure, the media has covered the rape allegation, but have done so quietly.  It appears as blips on news clips and an occasional article will appear — quietly.  Meanwhile, K-Rod’s incident continues to be talk radio fodder and top headline-worthy.  The disparity is evident in the articles as both ESPN.com and Yahoo! Sports used an AP report that seemed to praise Santana, while only briefly mentioning his legal issues.  The AP report actually spent more time discussing K-Rod’s issues than on Santana’s problems.

And the media portrayal of K-Rod as an evil-doer — more so than Santana — feeds fan reaction.  Again, when the media controls the information, they can make or break players.  In this case, Santana is spared for the time being while Rodriguez is thrown under the bus.

You bet your ass that I'm better than K-Rod!

Sure, maybe it is because Rodriguez injured himself that makes it worse.  I mean, Santana did not arrive at Spring Training with a strained back from his alleged incident.  But beyond that, what is the real difference?  Perhaps it is because of the roles each play.  Johan Santana is the staff ace (and one who is 39-22 [now 39-23 after tonight’s loss] in two-plus seasons in New York).  Francisco Rodriguez is a closer; a less glorious position but one of some significance.  Perhaps the thought is that an ace is harder to find than a closer, but the reactions are strikingly different.

And that is where the true hypocrisy lies.  Even before the injury to Rodriguez was discovered, the reaction from all angles was different.  Both are vital parts of the team.  Both are all-stars.  Neither have been overly spectacular since joining the Mets.  But Santana, who has a more serious charge filed against him, is praised and cheered while Rodriguez is booed.

Hypocrisy?  Absolutely.  But as always, if you have talent — in this case talent to be an elite starter — then off-the-field troubles can be overlooked.  Closers that hit 100 MPH?  Dime a dozen.  That trait is no longer a rare commodity.  It is no longer a “talent” worth saving and brushing aside off-the-field blemishes.

“Talent” trumps all.

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