Opinion: A Nationals Scapegoat- Henry Rodriguez


Washington D.C. is a city where things need to get done, and when they don’t get done, someone needs to be blamed.  From the President of the United States and Congress blaming each other for who’s fault it is the United States of America has no budget, down to whether Mike Shannahan or RGIII should have pulled the Washington Quarterback out of a game last year-everything that his blameworthy needs a scapegoat.

On the field of play, the Washington Nationals have a few favorite whipping boys-last night it was Henry Rodriguez.  Indeed, when ever he comes to mound, this 5th bullpen guy is blamed for everything wrong with the team.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m not exactly buying it.

Now don’t get me wrong:  These guys have both played poorly this year, and both were guys that Nationals were counting on to play better.  I’m seriously disappointed in how both of these guys have played, as are many.  That said-I think their impact on the team’s woes is much less than it is made out to be.

Let’s start with Saturday night’s front and center blame man: H-Rod (aka SMH-Rod, aka “he sucks” “why is he on the team”).  The book on him is that he’s a headcase who can’t handle high pressure situations.  He needs to pitch with a big lead to do well.  A lot of this goes back to his 2012 campaign where, when he was thrust into a closers role, he blew a few big games early in the year.

It certainly looked like he buckled under pressure, but you have to remember he was pitching with an undisclosed injury.  That’s not an excuse for poor performance (he just shouldn’t have been pitching) but I think it’s hard to put his 2012 woes onto his 2013 performances-especially with regards to mental state.

I don’t think anyone can ever read the mind of another player, and I think saying he needs a lead or is a head case is complete conjecture based on circumstantial evidence. It’s the usual dangerous narrative formed of correlation being causation that permeates all sports talk (and other subjects) discussions.

But let’s look at the game log anyway:


(click for larger)

H-Rod is not perfect. He walks way too many people and doesn’t strike out nearly enough.  He’s given up 8 Runs in 18 innings which is a lot-but most of those runs have come in games where the outcome was already determined. So two runs in the 15-0 loss to Cincy, who cares?

He’s also pitched 8 scoreless frames in losing efforts for the Nationals.  In fact, he’s only appeared in one winning effort all year (game 1-he gave up no runs)- one of two hold opportunities of the year.  

So to draw any conclusion as to whether he is a pitcher who can’t pitch in close games -well there is no evidence to support that because he hasn’t hardly pitched in close games this year (again, I’m discounting 2012 when he was injured). In 17 games he’s appeared in exactly once with the scored tied- Last night. He’s been on mop up duty all year-so sorry but I think it’s foolhardy to draw conclusions about his mental state based on the situations he’s been in this year.

I get stuck in the middle here-trying to argue that he’s not as bad as everyone makes out (or at least, doesn’t actually cost the team wins the way everyone thinks he does).  Last night, the first walk was bad. The second walk didn’t matter (in fact it set up an inning ending double play). BJ Upton hasn’t hit a fastball in the 90s for about 100,000 years. The fact that he caught up to 102 FB, and managed to hit it towards Roger “I always run the wrong way first” Bernadina was a bit of luck and circumstance. Jayson Werth might field that ball better, and 85 times out of 100 BJ Upton can’t hit that baseball.  Last night the Braves made a play after Henry Rodriguez made a mistake.  Tip your cap.

(This by the way is to say nothing of the fact that the team was at 2nd and 3rd with no outs in the ninth last night and didn’t score.  Henry Rodriguez shouldn’t have ever had to pitch).

What’s he doing on the team? He’s the 5th bullpen guy. Compare him to any team’s 5th bullpen guy. He’s probably middle of the pack. He’s not cost this team games (other than, arguably last night). Why was he in the game? Ask Ryan Mattheus who thought it was a good idea to punch a locker and break his hand.  Sure, putting Soriano in once things got hairy might have been a good idea, but then you don’t have a closer for the 11th (assuming you get out of the jam).

You could upgrade him, sure.  They probably will, and should, do that.  A healthy Christian Garcia is more useful, and Erik Davis is another guy who probably helps the team more than H-Rod.  But let’s not pretend that the mop up guy thrown into the fire last night is why the Nationals are only a .500 club right now.

The same could be said for the under-performing Danny Espinosa or the early struggles of Dan Haren.  Those guys have had much large negative impact on the team than H-Rod, but even they aren’t the whole sum (or even a very large part) of the problem.  Take all three of them together, and their sum negative impact on the team is probably less than any one of Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos or Ross Detwiler being injured and missing time.

With the injuries this team has had this year, blaming some of the poorest players left playing on the team is scapegoating, not really looking at the problem.  Every team, even the might Braves of Atlanta, have players that drive them nuts and don’t perform (see folk hero BJ Upton). A healthy Nationals team is likely four games better right now even with H-Rod and Danny playing as poorly as they are.  You can’t blame the kid with his finger in the hole when the whole dam has split in half.  Well, you can but you won’t know why you drowned.

This entry was posted in 2013 Regular Season, Opinion, The Panic Button by nationals101. Bookmark the permalink.

About nationals101

Frank and Susan bring you an introductory level podcast to baseball and the Washington Nationals. DC is new to baseball, and baseball is new to DC. Whether you're a life long resident who just never got into it, or a transplant that came from a football and hockey town, we want to answer the questions baseball novices were a little too afraid to ask, and help everyone appreciate the National Passtime just a little bit more.

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