Reliever Richard Rodriguez has burst onto the scene in a big way for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, but his biggest value has been somewhat hidden.
When the Pittsburgh Pirates signed right-handed relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez to a minor league contract in the offseason hardly anyone batted an eye. This was understandable as prior to this season Rodriguez owned just 5 2/3 Major League innings.
After spending eight years in the minor league systems of the Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles, Rodriguez made his MLB debut with the O’s last season. He struggled allowing nine runs on 12 hits, three walks, and four home runs in his limited time with Baltimore. This made the demand for Rodriguez this past offseason low.
This season, Rodriguez has looked like a completely different pitcher. He has emerged as one of Clint Hurdle‘s go to relievers out of the bullpen, and has helped the Pirates develop arguably the deepest and best bullpen in the National League.
In 45 2/3 innings pitched this season Rodriguez has allowed 41 hits, just four home runs, and he owns a healthy 10:53 walk-to-strikeout ratio. All of this has led to Rodriguez owning a 2.96 ERA and a 2.84 FIP this season.
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While Rodriguez’s gaudy strikeout numbers (28.8% strikeout rate) may be what pops most to fans, it is not what has been the most impressive part of Rodriguez’s season. What has been most impressive is his ability to strand inherited runners, which is one of the most difficult things for a reliever to do.
Entering play on Monday, Rodriguez had stranded the last 18 runners he inherited. This included cleaning up a bases loaded mess on Friday that helped preserve a one-run lead in a 7-6 Pirate victory over the Cardinals. Overall, Rodriguez has stranded 87% of inherited runners which is the best in the National League.
Rodriguez’s ability to rack up strikeouts is a big reason why he has been so successful at stranding inherited runners. A team can not score if they fail to put the ball in play, and Rodriguez has done an excellent job of preventing that this season. And when teams have put the ball in play off of Rodriguez it has not been quality contact as he is inducing soft or medium contact 65.2% of the time this season.
It is easy to see why Rodriguez is developing into such a weapon out of the Pirate bullpen. Not only does he possess the ability to get a strikeout when needed, but he has also mastered the art of stranding inherited runners which is the most difficult thing for a MLB reliever to do.