#31 - FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ, P
He came out of nowhere, it seemed. Actually Bill Bavasi signed him as a free agent in Venezuela at age 16 in a bidding war with other clubs. The $900,000 signing bonus was totally uncharacteristic of the Angels (before and mostly since) and almost unheard of for a sixteen-year-old, but it was prescient.
Frankie, as he came to be called in the organization, was converted to a relief pitcher in 2000 as he basically lot interest in the game after pitching a few high-intensity innings as a starter. He was not on the 40-Man roster until late September, 2002 when he pitched five innings just days before the Angels clinched their Wild Card berth.
Going into the 2002 playoffs, the Angels took advantage of having put Steven Green on the disabled list earlier in the season; Green was a 40-Man roster bubble player in AAA. In doing so, Frankie was then eligible for the playoffs because he was on the roster and could take over for the injured Green even though Green had never thrown a pitch for the big league club. Frankie, with less than six innings pitched in the majors took over the role that the mediocre reliever Al Levine couldn't handle - bridging starters to Brendan Donnelly in the eighth inning.
The rest, as they say, is history... Frankie became the story of the postseason as he was virtually unscouted and big league pitchers could not lay off his wicked slider that started in like a meaty fastball and then dropped of the table like blob of Jello wiggling off the spoon. Like lightning in a bottle, the youngest player in baseball had two of the three Angel wins over the Yankees in the ALDS and two of the four victories over the Twins. While these W's are a condition of being in the right place at the right time for perhaps the most notorious comeback team in baseball history, the WHIPS of 0.7, 0.9 and 0.8 in his first three postseason series are a hard testament, especially coupled with the K-Rate of 12, 13 an 14 K per 9 in each of the ALDS, CDS and WS respectively.
Immediately dubbed the closer of the future there were only two things standing in his way. Beloved closer Troy Percival was under contract for two more seasons and his own brash arrogance was shocking even in a culture dominated by arrogant jar-headed meat sticks. The most polite quote to describe it was "Percy tried to take Frankie under his wing but Frankie's head was way too big to fit."
In 2003 and 2004 Rodriguez bade his time, setting up for Percival in a dominating fashion. He threw 170 innings in those two years, striking out 218 batters. The closer's spot became his in 2005 and he did not disappoint, turning in four seasons of fantastic numbers - His ERA low was 1.73 and the high was only 2.81 in that time. His lowest Saves total was 40 in 2007 and he set the major league single season record with 62 in 2008.
But postseason opponents scouted him far more effectively after 2002 and he had little of his rookie glory and was the goat more than a few times for the Angels in October. So after two seasons of WHIPS of 1.2, a slowly ascending Walk Rate, a slowly dissipating K rate and a flat out rejection of a contract extension personally delivered by Arte Moreno, the Angels parted ways at the Free Agency Pass with K-Rod (as the national media referred to him). The great recession was suddenly palpable though and a panicked Frankie took the first offer he got - and annual value of eleven million for three years - far less than Moreno had offered him a year and a half prior.
He never really recaptured that glory and of course the microcosm of New York made his hot temper appear to be boiling blood all of the time. His fading out statistically is best described by his WAR numbers - in six full seasons with the Angels his lowest WAR was 1.8 in 2003. In five full seasons since then, his 1.8 WAR in 2010 with the Mets has been his best season.
In Halo lore, he made his mark on the record books - Four of the top ten single season Saves marks are his and the 208 Saves he got as an Angel are the second most in club history. Working against him from being higher on this list is that he pitched only 451 Innings for the club, about 75% of Troy Percival's total. But still, for most of his career, the sure-thing excitement of Francisco Rodriguez on the mound through 2008 and the miracle of October, 2002 make him inarguably the second-greatest relief pitcher in Angels history.