Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Eduardo Rodriguez.
This was another strange year for Eduardo Rodriguez, who is still only 24 but feels a lot older considering how young he was when he first came up to the majors. He hasn’t quite taken the leap to being a consistent playoff-caliber starter just yet, but he’s shown tons of flashes that he can be that guy. In 2017, the bookends of the year were phenomenal for the young lefty. Through the first two months of the year, he made ten appearances (nine starts) with 55 1⁄3 innings in which he pitched to a 2.77 ERA while allowing a .652 OPS and striking out over a batter per inning. It was a run that inspired me to declare that he was almost ready to make the leap. After this, he was derailed by injury for a while before finishing the year strong. He pitched to a 3.33 ERA over the final month of the year while allowing a .667 OPS and again striking out more than a batter per inning.
All things considered, those bookends were enough to make this an overall strong season for the lefty. His 4.19 ERA leaves something to be desired, but it’s still above-average in 2017’s run environment. His 3.95 FIP, again, isn’t great, but it was again above-average. Then, you have DRA, which loved him. Baseball Prospectus’ main pitching stat had him a whopping 23 percent better than the league-average pitcher in 2017, largely fueled by that run to start the year.
Looking at a bit more basic numbers, Rodriguez did a great job of missing bats last year. He’s always flashed impressive stuff, but he’s been a bit inconsistent over his career in terms of strikeouts. In 2017, he struck out 150 batters in 137 innings for almost ten per nine innings. He did a better job of mixing up his pitches this past year — something that has always been an issue for him — but it was his changeup in particular that was on another level. According to Brooks Baseball, the pitch induced whiffs over 22 percent of the time it was thrown and was his only pitch that induced grounders on over 40 percent of batted balls. It had a ground ball rate of 57 percent.
That changeup also allowed him to be incredibly effective against right-handed hitters, which is a huge deal for a team in the American League, which is seemingly loaded with right-handed talent these days. Righties hit .229/.300/.418 against Rodriguez this season, and while he still leaned on his fastball in these plate appearances it was the changeup that really allowed him to have success.
While Rodriguez showed a lot of flashes and has a lot off which to build, 2017 was certainly not all good for the lefty. For one thing, he struggled with control and command yet again. He has good enough stuff where he can survive with his level of control, but it is something that can prevent him from taking the next step. This was his second straight year of walking over three batters per nine innings. He also left a lot of hittable pitches in the zone, which was not a great thing in 2017. Rodriguez watched the ball fly over the fence 19 times this year for a rate of 1.2 dingers per nine innings. That’s not a horrible rate in 2017, but moving forward you’d like to see that number under one.
There’s also the matter of Rodriguez’ health, and specifically his knee. This has been an issue for the lefty throughout his young career, and this year it involved falling during his warmup in Baltimore’s bullpen. He’d end up staying in that game, but he was awful in that start and immediately placed on the disabled list. He’d come back in July, but was never really the same in the summer months. He’s undergone surgery this winter that could cause him to miss a bit of time in 2018, but the hope is that it will keep him healthier in the long-term, and hopefully more consistent as well. Really, a lot of the negatives can come back to the injury issues, which is not an excuse but rather simply the way it is.
The Big Question
No, no he can not. This has really been the story of Rodriguez’ young career, and it didn’t get any better in 2017. Again, this is mainly due to the health concerns, but at a certain point that stops being a freak thing. The southpaw was great to start the year and had a strong finish after his knee seemingly got more comfortable, but the injury derailed his summer months. We’re still looking for our first season of a strong Rodriguez for the entire six-month season.
Looking ahead to 2018
This is going to be a big season for the perception of Rodriguez. It’s true that he is still young and a bad year won’t be the end of his career or anything, but this will not be his age-25 season and his third full year in the majors. It’s time to see a little consistency and a way for him to stay healthy. If he can come close to extending his first two months over the course of a full season, the Red Sox have a legitimate arm to place behind their top three. Their lineup is the key for next year, but a healthy and effective Rodriguez would give them one of the best rotations in all of baseball.