The Red Sox boat-raced through the 2018 regular season. An overall well balanced team, they showed off a deep lineup with two of the best hitters in the game, an above-average rotation led by the fear-striking Chris Sale, and a relatively deep bullpen, led by the usual suspect Craig Kimbrel, along with a few breakouts sprinkled in, such as Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier.
With bullpens in October mattering more than ever, having depth can be critical to a team’s fate. The Red Sox seemed to be well-versed in that area, with the aforementioned Kimbrel, Barnes, and Brasier leading the way, adding in help from positive contributors in Joe Kelly, Steven Wright, Brandon Workman, and Heath Hembree. But perhaps one of the more intriguing pieces of this bullpen is one of its newest members.
Recent starter turned reliever for reasons relating to the postseason, Eduardo Rodriguez looked about as good as you can look in your first four relief appearances of the season (all accumulated in September). With the Red Sox setting Rodriguez up for a postseason bullpen role, they let him get some last-minute relief work in to end the season, as he pitched 6 1⁄3 innings across four appearances, allowing three earned runs while striking out nine and walking two. Nothing in that pitching line is too exciting, but the thought process here is more about what impact he could provide in the postseason. He flashed glimpses of this in those four appearances.
Pitching out of the rotation for essentially the whole season, Rodriguez turned in one of the more under-the-radar seasons among starting pitchers this year. Among starters with at least 100 innings this season, he ranked in the top third in FIP and the top sixth in strikeout-rate. So his move to the bullpen was clearly not performance related, rather just a result of roster management.
While his stint as a reliever has been short, we can still build up an idea of how good he could be in his new role with some underlying numbers comparisons.
Eduardo Rodriguez SP vs RP
It was noticeably harder to make contact against Rodriguez coming out of the bullpen. The swinging strike-rate is the number that stands out here. It stood at 17.4 percent in his four relief appearances, a huge jump from his 10.8 percent mark as a starter.
Being an above-average starter, it comes to no surprise that Rodriguez’s repertoire would be even better suited for the bullpen. Working three different fastballs (four-seamer, cutter, sinker) into the mix, substituting the four-seamer for more sinker usage in September.
It’s no hard to see why he’s using that pitch more too. He’s been able to get a 44 percent strikeout-rate on the offering for the month of September. It’s a two-seam power sinker with plus-movement. This 95 mph one below to strikeout Aledmys Diaz is just unfair.
The cutter has been a big reason for his success in 2018. A change of speed from his power sinker, but it still sits around 90 mph. Right here he just buckles Mitch Haniger.
The four-seamer also generates plus-movement, sitting around 94 mph. Unlike the sinker and cutter, he can be a bit more creative with this offering, challenging hitters with heat up in the zone, while working both edges off the plate on a consistent basis. Here’s one blown right by Randal Grichuk.
If Rodriguez stays in the bullpen throughout the playoffs, there’s a variety of different situations he could be used in. Say a starter exits early and you need someone to cover a handful of innings early in the game. The ideal arm in the Red Sox bullpen for that would be Rodriguez. At the same time, he should be able to work high-leverage middle relief innings and certain situational instances. Think back to how the Astros got dynamic with their pitching staff last October, using Lance McCullers, Brad Peacock, Justin Verlander, and Charlie Morton all out of the bullpen. For the most part, that line of strategy worked out well for them and it played a big role in their run to a World Series championship. Eduardo Rodriguez could help provide that sort of flexibility for the Red Sox.
Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.