One of the most intriguing parts of baseball is when a team finds a bargain-bin gem that makes huge contributions to their team. A lot of teams have built contenders and World Series winners by finding hitters and pitchers than have been cast aside by other teams (just look at the Oakland A’s today). The Pittsburgh Pirates seem to have found such a bargain in reliever Richard Rodriguez.
Prior to the Pirates signing him, Rodriguez spent half of his career with the Houston Astros who signed him as a amateur free agent in 2010. He then spent the next half of his career with the Baltimore Orioles. Despite being 28 years old, he could be a vital part to the Pirates team in the future as he’s currently eligible for a pre-arbitration payout according to Baseball Reference. With a salary this season of just slightly over half of a million dollars, the Pirates couldn’t find a better price for a pitcher who ranks among some of the best relievers in the game in various key statistical categories.
Currently, he has looked most impressive, as his 10 game, 11 1/3 inning scoreless streak has been ongoing since August 16th. This hasn’t been an easy stretch for him at all, with a 1.45 average leverage index over the stretch including four of the ten games being either tied or seeing the Pirates up by two runs or less, it’s not as if these are throwaway, low-everage innings. It wasn’t against pushover teams either, twice he faced the Chicago Cubs, twice he faced the Milwaukee Brewers and once he faced the Atlanta Braves — teams that are likely to be playoff-bound. During that stretch he’s put up some incredible numbers including a 44.2 percent strikeout rate, a .176 wOBA and a 1.39 FIP.
Rodriguez’s Scoreless Streak
Perhaps the most surprising thing abou Rodriguez’ stream, is that he really only uses two pitches: a four-seam fastball and a curveball, that’s often read by pitch tracking systems as a slider (this curveball has primarily 12-6 movement (which is why we are calling it a curveball instead of a slider). However it’s categorized, he’s been incredible with the pitch.
Rodriguez has located the pitch completely out of the zone 54.2 percent of the time which has yielded a .132 wOBA and a 16.5 whiff rate. In the zone and along the edges hasn’t yielded positive results given the .494 wOBA, which explains his preference to keep the ball away from the plate.
There is one noticeable issue with the curveball, which might be the reason for the limited movement. It seems Rodriguez cannot get a consistent grip on the pitch which has caused an erratic pattern in spin angle. The -1.96 inches of vertical movement and 0.83 inches of horizontal movement is less than you’d expect on a breaking ball and a poor grip and resulting inconsistent spin angle would minimize the amount of movement able to be generated.
The four-seamer is the exact opposite in terms of results and movement. Rodriguez averages 8.65 inches of vertical movement and -7.81 inches of horizontal movement. The earlier chart shows he’s getting an consistent spin angle on the four-seamer. In terms of results, ironically his wOBA on four-seamers out of the zone is .314, while his wOBA on four-seamers in the zone and along the edges is .225. A 14.1 percent whiff rate and 19.7 called strike rate has helped him limit the baserunners off of the four-seamer.
These two pitches have served Rodriguez well, as he’s only given up 11 extra base hits out of a total 49, he has a 22.4 percent rate, having faced 246 total batters. If you combine his 14.7 percent average whiff rate on both of his pitches with his 17.6 percent called strike rate equates to almost one-third of all pitches thrown being non-contact strikes. Rodriguez ranks 25th among 151 qualified relievers in SIERA with 2.84 and he’s also in the top 25 in strikeout rate with a 30.9 percent strikeout rate
While the Pirates are not contenders to make the postseason this year, they have recently acquired Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays and stud reliever Keone Kela from the Texas Rangers. Additionally they have one of the best left-handed relievers in the game in Filipe Vazquez and two young relievers in Kyle Crick and Edgar Santana who are both having promising seasons. Add in Rodriguez and the Pirates have a sneaky-good bullpen which paired with their potent lineup, could become a force in the National League in the 2019 season.