Boston appears to have a young upstart in their rotation in Eduardo Rodriguez, who appears able to not only sustain his recent successes, but to also take yet another step forward in 2019.
Heading into his fifth season of big league action, there is a lot to like about the talent of the almost 26-year-old pitcher, espcially if he can stay off the disabled list. Rodriguez has landed on the injured list four times since 2016, luckily though, not for arm problems.
While showing promise during his short career, he took a step forward in 2018 on his way to winning 13 games in 23 starts for the World Series champs. Rodriguez posted career bests in both ERA (3.82) and WHIP (1.26). The question on the minds of Red Sox fans, though—is Rodriguez for real?
Rodriguez has seen a steady improvement year-to-year in xFIP, which helps legitimize his stellar 2018. After posting a 4.72 xFIP in 2016 and an improved 4.26 in 2017, his xFIP dropped even further—down to 3.90—in 2018. Some may chalk that up to luck, thinking maybe batters were unlucky against Rodriguez in 2018. However, looking at the BABIP of opposing hitters—it actually increased, and at .301 was the highest in his career (nine points higher than his .292 career mark). According to these numbers, if anything, batters were potentially having better luck against Rodriguez last year.
Even if the slight gains made in both strikeout and walk rates regress a bit for Rodriguez, other key ratios have remained steady enough that he should avoid any disastrous dips in production this year. His xBA, for example, has remained steady at .226, .229 and .228 from 2016-2018. In addition, while more of a fly ball pitcher, he has seen a decrease in launch angle, from 18.5 in 2016, to 16.4 in 2017, down to 13.5 last year.
Most impressive, though, is that Rodriguez is getting better at missing bats, evidenced by a career high strikeout rate. Without any noticeable velocity changes to his pitches, Statcast shows that Rodriguez posted a career-best 57.3 percent chase contact rate—without any increase in the number of pitches chased by batters.
A large part of making batters whiff more often was probably due to a pitch mix that looked quite a bit different than we’d seen from Rodriguez in the past. Greg Maddux once said, “The reason I think I’m a good pitcher is I locate my fastball and I change speeds.” Rodriguez seemed to take last part to heart in 2018, mixing it up more often and giving batters more to think about than catching up to the heater.
With improvements in key areas and what appears to be a new approach on the mound, it seems Rodriguez is ready to put it all together in 2019. The only thing holding him back could be his durability. Having never topped 137 ⅓ innings pitched, the Red Sox will want to see more innings this year as they assess whether or not Rodriguez is a viable replacement for pitchers like David Price and Chris Sale down the road.
If he can make 30 starts and toss 180 frames, all signs point to an All-Star type of season for Rodriguez, as he cements himself among Boston’s other under-30 stars—Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, et al.—as the Sox look past 2019 and into the future.
Bob Ellis is a lifelong Royals fan. He has written in the past for Kings of Kauffman and Statliners. Follow him on Twitter @BobEllisKC