I wasn’t actually planning to do this today. Heck, I wasn’t sure I was going to hit on Rodriguez at all. It feels like that ground was covered enough as the season came to a close and everyone was trying to hash out the playoff rotation for a Game 4 that never happened. But something came up last night:
Eduardo Rodriguez has a 4.25 ERA in 41 starts. Trading Andrew Miller (and, worse, failing to sign him as a free agent) looks worse every day— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) October 19, 2016
Suddenly, it felt very necessary indeed to rehash the Rodriguez story once more.
Now, let’s ignore the fact that Andrew Miller was a free agent after 2014. Let’s ignore that the Sox had a chance to offer him the same money New York did and, if Miller was actually predisposed to stay in Boston, that should have been enough to land him regardless of where he was to end the season. Let’s go ahead and talk only Eduardo Rodriguez.
First off: 4.25 ERA in 41 starts is being used as an attack on Rodriguez. That’s weird! That 4.25 ERA is good for a 104 ERA+ which, by definition, is above average. That’s an above average ERA in the first 41 starts in the career of a guy who will turn 24 on a day that might well feature his first start of the 2017 season. Yes please.
Here’s a couple recent Red Sox lefties of note before their age 24 season, just for fun...
Jon Lester: 26 starts, 4.68 ERA, 102 ERA+
David Price: 24 starts, 4.17 ERA, 104 ERA+
And here’s the crazy thing: that 4.25 ERA? That 104 ERA+? That’s so far from being fair to Rodriguez it’s not even funny.
If you’ve heard this all before, feel free to jump off the train right now and head to the comments or the outdoors or wherever you’d like to spend your next few minutes. You know my opinion on Rodriguez’ season already. But for posterity:
On May 30th, the Red Sox activated Eduardo Rodriguez from the disabled list. Here’s where we were less than two weeks before that. A setback which was going to keep him out of game action without even a timetable set for his return.
It was one of those real gut-punch pieces of news. Not really because of how ominously vague it all was, but because of just how much the Red Sox needed Rodriguez back. And that context is extremely important when it comes to evaluating Rodriguez’ callup two weeks later without the full information that Rodriguez and the Red Sox had. At the time, the Red Sox rotation was Steven Wright, Rick Porcello, David Price in full-on disaster mode, and Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly (and Sean O’Sullivan while Kelly was out) making disaster mode look like Cy Young material. It was Spahn and Sain and Pray For Rain, only for the Red Sox, the rain was more likely to come in the form of 12-run offensive attacks than actual precipitation.
Yes, the rotation was a damn catastrophe at the time. A few days after Rodriguez’ setback, Buchholz and Kelly had a pair of decent outings—12.2 innings with three earned runs between them, though Kelly was the only one with any positives to speak of in terms of peripherals. Then the next turn through the rotation came, Buchholz surrendered six runs in five, and Kelly five runs in four (point two).
Suddenly Buchholz was in the bullpen—Kelly would make his last start (perhaps of his career) a few days later—and Eduardo Rodriguez was back in Boston, supposedly ready to go. Two weeks after his setback. Yes, he’d had a very positive outing against Lehigh Valley in-between. But Lehigh Valley is a team that finished the season with a .713 OPS against Triple-A pitchers. It seems safe to say that the Red Sox were more hoping Rodriguez was good-to-go than confident in it. But it’s not like they had much to lose. Rodriguez making rehab starts in the majors might be a disaster, but so were there other options.
Well, a disaster it was. Rodriguez pitched to an 8.59 ERA in six starts with a 21:12 K:BB in 29 innings of work before being sent down again. That’s 28 earned runs heaped onto the relatively small sample that is his career due to an early call into action precipitated by the rotation being a total disaster early in the year. And somehow he still comes away above league average!
How does he do that? By being really damn good otherwise. In his second call-up, Rodriguez pitched to a 3.24 ERA in 14 starts with a .613 OPS against and 79 strikeouts in 78 innings, even headlining a record-breaking strikeout effort against the Rays. Rodriguez in that second half looks very much like the Rodriguez of 2015 after taking a nice big step forward.
You can be concerned about the fact that Rodriguez already has dealt with a major injury this early in his career, though that and one late-season blip isn’t enough to make him “injury prone” by any means. You can also be concerned with the recurring pitch-tipping thing, though I think some are way too quick to insinuate that’s the problem whenever he has a bad day. It would be nice to see him improve his control some, and a lefty with quite so many fly balls is a little scary, no doubt.
But man, if you’re actually disappointed with Eduardo Rodriguez thus far, I just don’t get it. On a team with a ton of really exciting young position players, Rodriguez is the rotation equivalent. He’s 23, under control for five more years, and already more than holding his own in the majors, particularly when actually put in a position to succeed. Even if he were only the league average pitcher that a blind look at the numbers show, he’d already be quite valuable. But given what he showed us in that second half, and giving consideration to both his 2015 performance and early injury, it seems pretty reasonable to be looking forward to a whole bunch more.