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Francisco Rodriguez was one of the best relievers ever. Does K-Rod belong?

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All-time saves leader Mariano Rivera is a Hall of Famer, preceded by Trevor Hoffman, the man he supplanted at the top. Billy Wagner is making significant inroads in his eighth appearance on the ballot. Cooperstown, it seems, is opening the door wider for relief pitchers to stroll in.

So where does Francisco Rodriguez fit?

A World Series-winning phenom for the Anaheim Angels at age 20, whose wipeout slider quickly earned him the nickname K-Rod, Rodriguez’s five postseason victories shortly after his 2002 debut have been equaled only by Randy Johnson and Stephen Strasburg. His 62 saves in 2008 remain a single-season record, and his 437 career saves rank fourth all-time, with veterans’ committee Hall of Famer Lee Smith separating him from Rivera and Hoffman.

Yet Rodriguez, now 41, faces a possible one-and-done ballot fate. USA TODAY Sports examines his Hall of Fame case:

Why Rodriguez belongs in the Hall

Few relievers were more dominant than Rodriguez at his best. He debuted as a 20-year-old in 2002 and, just weeks later, was added to the Angels’ playoff roster, where he become a budding legend. Rodriguez struck out 28 batters in 18 ⅔ innings as the Angels startled the Yankees and Twins before outlasting the Giants in a seven-game World Series.

By 2004, he was an All-Star, producing 3.3 Wins Above Replacement and striking out 123 batters in 84 innings and in 2005, took over the closer role from Troy Percival. He’d save 45 games, starting a run in which he led the American League in saves three out of four seasons.

The best of those years was 2006, when he led the majors with 47 saves and produced career bests in adjusted ERA (263) and WAR (3.7). The most prolific of those years was 2008, when he set the single-season saves record with 62 games in 69 chances, finished third in Cy Young voting and parlayed that into a three-year, $37 million contract with the New York Mets. He’d save 35 games in 2009 for the Mets, though his ERA ballooned to 3.71, kicking off a so-so stint in New York.

Rodriguez would go on to 44- and 38-save seasons in Milwaukee and save another 44 games with Detroit in 2015 before a final season with the Tigers. His six seasons of at least 40 saves ranks, once again, behind only Rivera and Hoffman, who each had nine.

Why he doesn’t stack up

How many and which relievers belong in Cooperstown remains an open question. Rivera and Hoffman redefined longevity and greatness, each converting 89% of their save chances in their…

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