Tuesday night’s game between the Orioles and Red Sox was broadcast to a national audience on the MLB Network, and to those viewers who aren’t fans or close followers of the Red Sox, that broadcast may have given them the wrong idea about Eduardo Rodriguez. Partway through Rodriguez’ (strong) outing against the Orioles, Matt Vasgersian started talking about how the Red Sox’ frustration with their inability to fully utilize the young lefties talent this season.
Hold on a second. Yes, Eduardo Rodriguez has an ugly ERA of 4.84. Yes, he was crushed by the Yankees last week. No, this is not the season the Red Sox were hoping for from Rodriguez, and no, it doesn’t look all that good if you’re just opening up his Baseball Reference page.
Those who’ve actually followed Rodriguez’ season, though, will know this isn’t the most fair telling of the story. Narrative is often used to massage numbers that deserve no massaging, but in the case of Rodriguez, it’s really the only way to give him his due. We all know that the young lefty went down with a dislocated knee cap in spring. We all know that his rehab was an arduous process, with the Sox shutting him down at one point in mid-May and fitting him with a knee brace as he dealt with continuing pain in that knee.
And we all know that within two weeks, on the back of all of one good minor league start, Eduardo Rodriguez was back in the majors. Maybe the Sox really thought he was ready so soon after his setback. More likely, though, they figured having Rodriguez make his rehab starts in the majors couldn’t really be any worse than throwing Sean O’Sullivan out there. Well, that didn’t go well at all. Rodriguez gave up 28 runs in 29 innings, and was back to the minors to try to get right under less meaningful circumstances.
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That’s the first half of Eduardo Rodriguez’ season. An 8.59 ERA, .993 OPS against, and 6.92 FIP in what amounts to major league rehab starts.
The second half, after another few weeks of rehab in the minors? A 3.21 ERA, .628 OPS against, and 3.82 FIP. His velocity is back up, the changeup is doing work again, and has been the American League’s single best pitcher at preventing hard contact by Fangraphs’ measurements. Other than an even better ERA, and a ground ball rate that still hasn’t really normalized, that’s about what we saw from him in 2015, and about what we might have expected from him in 2016.
Eduardo Rodriguez season is concerning. But it’s because of the games he hasn’t played, not the ones he has. It’s way too early in his career to say Rodriguez has injury issues. But he did basically miss half a season with that knee injury. And the August scare that cost him another start also produced his second worst outing of the second half.
So long as Rodriguez can stay healthy, though, there’s every reason to look at this season as the confirmation of his rookie success rather than any sort of sophomore slump. The Sox came into the year hoping that Rodriguez could be a solid number three, and if he wasn’t able to be that for them in the first half, he’s been all that and more in the second half—and should likely be given the chance to be that in October as well.