The Boston Red Sox gambled they were making a shrewd move when they traded star reliever Andrew Miller to the Baltimore Orioles in 2014 for prospect left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. Although he had flashes of promise over the ensuing three seasons, injuries and inconsistency made him into somewhat of an enigma. Now 25, the southpaw is in the midst of what may end up being his best professional season—and on a path to the stardom Boston envisioned when they first acquired him.
Being healthy so far this year is obviously a primary factor in Rodriguez ‘s success. Thus far he has made 12 starts and gone 7-1 with a 3.68 ERA. He has struck out 77 in 66 innings and is posting the highest strikeout rate (10.5/9) of his career while simultaneously having his lowest rate of hits allowed per nine innings (7.9). The 1.8 WAR he has produced in the early going matches the figure he posted in 25 (24 starts) 2017 games. These are all the signs you want to see from a young pitcher who has been expected to bloom.
Taking a look at his stuff at FanGraphs, the most obvious thing that jumps out is that Rodriguez has reduced using his fastball, which was previously thrown in about two-thirds of his pitches, to just over half of them this year. He has also cut back a bit on his slider, while throwing a cutter 18.5 percent of the time, which is more than three times more often in previous years.
His cutter has gone from being a negative value pitch for him last year to positive value this year. He has also seen a leap in the effectiveness of his fastball, which he is showing in the same average range (93 MPH) as he has in past years. This data suggests that while his stuff may have gotten better, he may have also incorporated what he has learned and simply put it into practice.
If the starting thing doesn’t work out for Rodriguez for some reason, his numbers against left-handed hitters this season suggest he would be quite the LOOGY. He has fanned 22 of the 47 lefty swingers he has faced this year while allowing a measly six hits. By comparison, lefties hit .284 off him last year. This massive jump in production is no doubt in large part because of his increased use of the cutter, which if deployed effectively by a pitcher can be a terror on batters with the same swing orientation as the hurler’s throwing hand.
The Red Sox are still treating Rodriguez cautiously. At 100.8 pitches per game, that’s down almost two pitches from last year’s average. It’s completely understandable that they want to keep him upright and off the disabled list, so that number may continue to climb as the seasons progresses and they get more comfortable with his health.
He is also averaging a career-high 18.3 pitches per inning and 4.34 per batter. His walk rate is a very respectable 2.9 and better than any season since his rookie campaign. 12 starts isn’t a huge number, but those numbers could suggest he may be nibbling a bit too much still while at the same time acknowledging that his increased strikeouts also can pile up pitches.
It’s clear that the Red Sox made a great move when they acquired Rodriguez, although Miller was a steep price to pay. Rodriguez has already shown he can be a productive pitcher when healthy, and is putting everyone on notice in 2018 that he may well be a star. Under team control through the 2021 season, he still has a lot to prove as fans continue to see exactly how far a leap he can make.
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