Rutledge to the Bullpen? Closer??????

A few years ago one of the talking heads predicted that Jackson Rutledge’s future was likely as a closer and not a starter. So let’s look into the data for his 2024 season in Rochester to see if it supports such a supposition. The above chart is the data for his 2024 season – the splits by inning. It excludes his one 8th inning relief appearance for the Nats. All the games are his starts in Rochester.

His game logs show that he had 16 starts. So we can assume that he completed the second inning for all 16 games. We can’t make the same assumption regarding the 3rd inning. He might have only completed it ten times, but gotten one out in three other games. So he clearly is not pitching deep into games. That screams reliever; not starter.

Next lets look at some performance numbers by inning. The three metrics (ERA, WHIP, GO/AO) can be put roughly on the same scale and so they are plotted together. Note the right hand axis which provides the values for WHIP and GO/AO (the ratio of groundball out to flyball outs). These are plotted vs. the inning number. The value in parents in the number of complete+partial innings.

Of note is how the numbers rise and fall in unison. The first inning is good, but performance degrades in the later innings. And don’t be fooled by the better numbers in later innings. That is simply a figment of the very few games where he was pitching well and going deeper into the game.

Next let’s look at the number of HRs, Ks and Walks in each inning – normalized to a per 9 innings value. What jumps out in this graph is that he has a good K-rate going deep into the game. Walks and HRs are another story. He has the reputation that he has a lack of control. This graph shows that may very well be an artifact of losing it after the first inning.

And again, the apparent improvement in these numbers in the later innings is simply an artifact that he goes that deep in the very few games his pitching is good.

He seems to have good control in the first inning; a good K-rate and a reasonable Walk-rate.

Sounds like a closer to me. And it seems like a closer who is 6’8″ tall and 240 pounds could have a pretty intimidating mound presence.

Bottom line: move him to a relief role – the sooner the better.

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