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2018 in Review: Eduardo Rodriguez

The important number? He’s still 25.

MLB: World Series-Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers
This was before the glove-throw.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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 we come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players we’re using can be seen here, and if we are missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will wrap up their season in a sentence, look at the positives of their 2018, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason (when applicable!) and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2019. Today, we discuss Eduardo Rodriguez.

The Year in a Sentence

E-Rod continued his two steps forward, one step back approach, fighting through injuries to put together another strong year overall -- and he’s still younger than you think.

The Positives

When Rodriguez was at his best, he was damn near unhittable. And he’s never looked better than he did in May 10, when he pitched five dominant, shutout innings against the Yankees in New York. To that point in the year, E-Rod had been nibbling around the strike zone and paying for it; his ERA after the game was 4.58 ERA. He would have pitched more except for the persistent mist in the stadium, which eventually turned to rain and forced him out, but my judgment at the time, with which I’m sticking, was that he didn’t like being out in the rain so he just threw his best stuff, and he was awesome. It was an immediate reminder that for as frustrating as E-Rod could be, he was still a little raw, and still only 25. We expect our players to have sustained, visible breakouts, but some stars get there by taking small steps over and over until they’re unstoppable. J.D. Martinez is like this. David Price is not. Rodriguez might be getting there.

There wasn’t a ton in his splits that was terrible interesting, but as Paul Sporer wrote on Rotographs, “the skills are still there when he is healthy and upright.” His FIP was a career-low 3.65, having fallen for the second straight year. The big change on the mound was E-Rod’s addition of a cutter, which he threw almost 20 percent of the time, 4 times as often has he ever had previously. The cutters came at the expense of his fastball, which he switched from throwing two-thirds of the time to just about half. Whatever he’s doing, it seems to be working. But then again...

The Negatives

... injuries have dogged E-Rod forever. Usually it’s the knee. This year it was an ankle bug that got him in mid-July, after he collided with Lourdes Gurriel at first base. He suffered “serious” ligament damage and didn’t return until September, and he wasn’t great after he returned, including in the playoffs, though this glove-throw is the stuff of legend:

If you’re gonna get lit up, might as well be iconic about it. That said, as long as he’s healthy, he will probably to continue to improve, albeit slowly, because that’s what he’s always done.

The Big Question

Will his knee allow Eduardo Rodriguez to finally break out?

Given the ankle injury, I suppose we’ll never know, but it was clear early on that E-Rod was testing out the knee. The nibbling was likely a part of this, and the Yankees game seemed to be a breakthrough… but then June was another so-so month, and then the Gurriel collision happened and that was that. At this point Rodriguez has had so many leg and feet injuries that it’s hard to stay confident in his ability to stay healthy, but he has still improved through it all, so a further step forward is right there for the taking once more in 2019.

The Year Ahead

The E-Rod storylines have a distinct “run it back” feel to them, as he’ll return from another injury-battered year to try to take another small step forward. He could do this either by improving his pitching or simply by being out there more, and either one would represent progress. If he can manage both at once, we’d get the visible breakout for which we’ve longed. If not, we’ll just have to settle for steady improvement from a player who, just for frame of reference, is younger than Blake Swihart. Maybe 2019 is the year we stop looking forward to what Rodriguez might be, and finally get to enjoy what he is. If not, there’s always 2020.