In each of the past four seasons, FanGraphs has rated the changeup as Francisco Rodriguez‘s most effective pitch. It has become more important every season, as he has adjusted his approach on the mound since his fastball velocity has steadily declined from 94.8 MPH in 2006 to just 90.5 MPH this season.
Through the first nine appearances of 2012, however, his changeup has been relatively non-existent. His effectiveness on the mound — 6.75 ERA after surrendering two runs on Sunday afternoon — reflects the struggles he has had commanding his go-to pitch. He has only generated a swinging strike on his changeup in three of his nine outings in 2012 and did not even record a strike with his changeup in four of his nine appearances. His changeup is only resulting in a strike 42.4% of the time.
No changeup means a heavier reliance on his fastball, which generally leads to trouble on the mound for Rodriguez. Not only is his fastball relatively straight and hittable, but the right-hander also does not command it very well. Michael Cuddyer showed on Sunday what he could do when knowing that a fastball was coming to start off his at-bat. Cuddyer laced a 90 MPH fastball into the left center gap to score two runs and put the Rockies ahead for good. Those two runs ultimately proved to be the difference in the series for the Brewers, as they lost dropped two games below .500 with only three games remaining on what appeared to be a relatively easy homestand.
All is not lost for Francisco Rodriguez, however. He has been known to go through these difficult stretches on the mound from time to time. In the month of June last year, for example, he posted a 7.71 ERA. The following month, he was traded to Milwaukee and was nothing but lights out for the remainder of the season, so there is obviously historical precedent for both the struggles and the rebound.
His stuff has not disappeared. He simply does not have command of his most important pitch, which has made him extremely hittable. Big league hitters do not miss fastballs when they know they are coming, and K-Rod no longer has that mid-to-high 90s fastball that could make up for a lack of offspeed stuff on occasion. Either he needs to rediscover his changeup, or if that pitch continues to give him fits, he must rely more on his curveball to keep hitters off balance and keep them off his fastball.