Despite entering spring training as a non-roster invitee, 2018 proved to be a breakout season for reliever Richard Rodriguez
When spring training 2018 began for the Pittsburgh Pirates the bullpen had plenty of options. It appeared that Felipe Vazquez, George Kontos, Michael Feliz, Dovydas Neverauskas, and Edgar Santana would be the pitchers anchoring the ‘pen in 2018.
While some of this proved to be true, as fans see every year in baseball, there was also some serious turnover in the Pirate bullpen. By the end of the season the team had one of the best bullpens in the National League and a big reason for the bullpen’s success was the player who has been named Rum Bunter’s 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates’ Rookie of the Year – Richard Rodriguez.
Last offseason, the Pirates signed Rodriguez as a minor league free agent. This deal included an invited to spring training for Rodriguez. While Rodriguez did not make the team out of camp, he opened plenty of eyes and was in the Majors before the end of April.
By the end of the season, Rodriguez had become one of Clint Hurdle‘s most trusted relievers. With the team resting Keone Kela down the stretch, Rodriguez became the team’s primary 8th inning man the final few weeks of the season and for good reason.
In 69 1/3 innings pitched in 2018 Rodriguez owned a 2.47 ERA, 2.60 FIP, and he struck out a remarkable 31.5% of the batters he faced. His 31.5% strikeout rate set a new Pirate rookie record. Rodriguez also led the National League relievers in inherited runner strand rate.
While fellow relievers such as Santana and Kyle Crick could also make a strong case for being the team’s rookie of the year, Rodriguez gets the nod for a few reasons. First off, both Santana and Crick experienced some peaks and valleys in 2018 while Rodriguez was consistent throughout the second. Second, Rodriguez’s versatility (stranding runners, racking up strikeouts, the ability to pitch multiple innings, etc.) also gives him a slight advantage.
Moving forward, Rodriguez has solidified himself as a key member of the Pirate bullpen. Even with Santana slated to miss all of 2019 due to Tommy John Surgery, the Pirates should still have a strong bullpen and Rodriguez is a big reason why.