I’m sure I’ve mentioned this on these webpages before, but I’ll say it again just in case. Eduardo Rodriguez is probably my favorite player to write about on the Red Sox, which I know is the answer to a question you’ve been dying to ask. Honestly, it can be kind of a crutch for me to just got back to ol’ Ed when I am struggling for topics, so here we are! He’s a really interesting player to me and someone on whom I’ve flipped my opinion back and forth so many times I’ve lost count.
The thing about Rodriguez is that most would agree that he has the talent to be a true midrotation arm in a playoff rotation, but he has yet to put everything together on a consistent basis. He is still only 25 years old so obviously there is still time for him to figure some things out, but his age doesn’t really make things any less frustrating when he’s on the mound. Of course, I’m not breaking any news with any of that.
When we talk about Rodriguez and his inconsistency, the thing I always end up coming back to is his repertoire. We’ve talked about this ad nauseam over the last few years, but he’s still yet to really get comfortable with all of his pitches on a consistent basis for a full season. The lefty always leans heavily on his fastball, and on too many nights he’s fallen in love with just one of his secondaries. He is not a true two-pitch pitcher, but too often on any given night Rodriguez turns into one. With that in mind, as he tries to turn a corner in 2018 let’s take a look at how he’s doing in this respect so far this year.
Before we get into that, though, let’s take a quick detour to look at how he’s done on a more macro level through his first three starts. We can’t take a ton away from 15 2⁄3 innings, obviously, but it’s all we’ve got! Rodriguez has a fine 3.45 ERA and his stuff has been plenty impressive as he’s striking out 30 percent of his opponents, though his control is a bit off with a walk rate just below 11 percent. He’s also been inducing more grounders than usual per Fangraphs’ batted ball metrics, though it hasn’t helped much with the home run rate. So, all things told, as is the case with his career as a whole the numbers are good but there is room to get better.
Now, the repertoire! As I mentioned before, Rodriguez has a tendency to lean far too heavily on his fastball. It’s a good pitch, of course, but unless you’re Noah Syndergaard you’ve got to mix it up a bit. Last year, according to Brooks Baseball, Rodriguez threw his four-seamer at least 60 percent of the time in 15 of his 24 starts. Through his first three starts in 2018 he has yet to hit that mark. Instead, he is using his secondaries, and not just one at a time, either.
The biggest difference that stands out here so far this season is that he’s getting back to throwing his cutter. It’s something that he largely abandoned last year due to his knee injury, but it’s back in the mix now. For someone who often doesn’t have feel for all of his pitches on the same night, adding another option is obviously huge. He didn’t throw it at all in his first start (again, per Brooks Baseball), but the usage for that pitch has been above ten percent in his last two outings. He’s also leaned heavily on his changeup in two of his three starts with a similar, though less extreme, trend with his slider.
Oddly enough, the only start in which he did not throw the changeup at least 25 percent of the time was his second start, which also happened to be the southpaw’s best outing of the young season. Though he had success without the pitch, it is this writer’s opinion that it is Rodriguez’ best offering, at least among the secondaries. The early numbers support that as well, as the pitch is inducing a whiff 30 percent of the time he throws it, more than double the rate of any of his other pitches. Even better is that his command of the pitch has been *kisses fingers like a chef* so far this year. Below you can see where he has thrown all of his changeups against right-handed hitters so far this year.
That is sexy. He is pounding the ball low and away from righties, with only one changeup actually hitting the strike zone and every other one either being below the zone or off the outside corner. Perhaps even more impressive is the apparent deception with the pitch, because opponents are not laying off these balls.
That, friendos, is what I’d call a recipe for success against opposite-handed hitters.
I think we all agree that we can’t make any sweeping generalizations from any three-game stretch from any pitcher. That is doubly true for someone who has been as inconsistent as Rodriguez. That being said, this is certainly a good trend. He’s hinted in the past that knee health has led to the pitch mix issues, so the fact that he’s using all of his pitches (including the cutter) now should be a good sign. The success of the changeup is also a huge sign, as he needs that pitch to keep right-handed hitters at bay. Even after all of this I won’t sit here and tell you that Rodriguez has figured it all out and that he’s in for a definitive breakout season. I’ve been fooled by the lefty too many times. I will say, though, that things are looking good early even if the results haven’t been, and if he can trust this process (I truly despise this saying and deeply loathe myself for using it) then the step forward we’ve been waiting for should be within reach.