If you’re a pitcher wearing a Red Sox uniform, I think it’s fair to say there are few greater signs that things are going poorly for you than comparisons to Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka. I’ll bite my tongue and spare you the 1000-word rant I have brewing regarding the under-appreciation Red Sox fans have of Buchholz and just say that, fair or not, comparisons to those two by modern Red Sox fans means you are frustrating the hell out of everyone. On Thursday afternoon as Boston was losing it’s sixth game of the year, those were the names that were being brought up amid another disastrous outing for Eduardo Rodriguez. Patience is starting to be lost with the soon-to-be-26-year-old, and while most everyone looks bad to start this 2019 season for the Red Sox it is the southpaw who is garnering the most outspoken frustration from just about everyone.
As is always the case in situations like this, there are certainly some people who are taking the frustration a bit too far, but for the most part the feeling around Rodriguez is fair. It’s hard to blame anyone for throwing up their hands at this point. Hell, even the coaching staff is publicly losing their patience. I’ve always been among the highest on the lefty’s potential and have been close to the front of the bandwagon in declaring this will be the year he puts it together. I’ve probably said it for three straight years at this point, which is certainly more of a me problem than anything else.
Even with this rough start to the year, in which the issues are stemming from the same old issues as they always have, I still can’t totally get off the bandwagon. The stuff is still there! I just can’t ignore it which, again, is seeming more and more like a me problem. At a certain point, as hard as it can be to admit, a pitcher is who he is. There always have been and always will be talented pitchers who have the stuff but don’t know how to properly harness it for the best possible results. Two starts into the 2019 season, I’m not ready to declare that so for Rodriguez, but fresh off another wildly frustrating outing I’m closer than ever.
To be fair to the Red Sox lefty, Thursday’s outing wasn’t quite as bad as the line may make it out to be. At the very least, he should have made it through four full innings and should have only allowed four runs in that time. Obviously that’s still pretty rough, but it’s a hell of a lot better than six runs over 3 2⁄3 innings. The reason the latter was the finishing line was, of course, the play in center field that saw Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts watch the ball fall between them for a ground rule double. This is where I’d normally link to a video, but MLB has made that next to impossible. Anyway, that ball 100 percent should have been caught and Rodriguez got hosed. Granted, he was the one who put himself in that situation and he did give up hard contact on the play to allow a ball to get to the warning track in the first place, so he’s not completely blameless. Still, he didn’t deserve that.
It’s not really even the results that are frustrating us, though. It’s the way he gets there. If Rodriguez was making his pitches and getting hit, that would be one thing. Instead, it’s the same issues again and again. For one thing, he is still not mixing up his repertoire enough. He is, by definition, a three-pitch pitcher with a fastball, a changeup, and a slider/cutter. The issue is that too often he limits himself to two of those pitches. On Thursday, it was the fastball and changeup, which made up 83 percent of his offerings.
In his first start of the year in Seattle, to be fair, he did mix those three offerings fairly evenly, but it was the other frustrating part of his approach that came through in the most frustrating way possible. If you watch Rodriguez on a regular basis you already know what I’m talking about: His two-strike approach. At least for me, there is little more frustrating as a fan than watching a pitcher get ahead 0-2 or 1-2 only to totally waste two or three pitches to load the count. More often than not, these situations seem to lead to a base runner. This has been a major issue for Rodriguez for a long time now. In fact, since the start of the 2017 season 281 major-league pitchers have gotten to at least 100 0-2 counts. Of those 281 pitchers, only five have issued walks in a higher rate of those situations than Rodriguez. For someone with his stuff, that is unacceptable.
The issue is fairly simple, and it’s something we’ve talked about many times before. In fact, it was the overarching story we picked for him heading into the 2019 season. He doesn’t trust his stuff and stops attacking the zone when he gets ahead in the count. There’s something to be said for missing the zone in an 0-2 count in an attempt to get a bad swing, but you have to at least be close to the zone and you also have to show that, sometimes, you’ll come to the hitter. Rodriguez fails to do both of those things far too often. In his first start in Seattle the southpaw got to six 0-2 counts in his short outing. Thanks to a new tool by the incomparable Baseball Savant, we now have access to video for all six of those pitches. Here they are:
Most generously, half of these pitches (1, 5 and 6) were the type of non-competitive, auto-balls that we are so frustrated with. I think you could very easily make an argument that pitch 2 fits that category as well. For a guy who has been dealing with this same issue for his entire career and has been called out by his manager as well as his pitching coach for this very phenomenon, this simply can’t keep happening.
We are two starts and eight innings into Rodriguez’s 2019 season. It’s too early to make any declarative statements, at least if you’re using these two starts as any sort of significant data point. That being said, it’s pretty much impossible not to be incredible frustrated at this point. It’s the same old issue for the lefty as it has been for years. The potential is still there, just as it’s always been. The expression goes “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Where does the shame lie when the fool count is getting damn near 50?