Richard Rodriguez Has Found His 2018 Form Since Returning From AAA


After a dreadful start to the season and a demotion to Triple-A, one of the Pittsburgh Pirates key bullpen arms appears to have found their 2018 form once again

For much of the first two months of the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen struggled. Injuries to Keone Kela and Nick Burdi were both factors in the struggling bullpen. Arguably the biggest factor of all, however, was the struggles of Richard Rodriguez.

In 2018, Rodriguez was one of the biggest surprises in the National League. After signing with the Pirates as a minor league free agent he went on to log 69 1/3 innings for the Bucs. He posted a 2.47 ERA, 2.60 FIP, and a 31.5% strikeout rate. He allowed just five home runs and owned a strong walk rate of 6.8%. However, to start the 2019 season the wheels came off for Rodriguez.

After a dreadful start to the season the Pirate optioned Rodriguez to Triple-A Indianapolis on May 16th. Prior to being optioned Rodriguez had pitched 19 2/3 innings and was trusted by Clint Hurdle in high leverage situations for too long. As it appeared the Rodriguez’s 2018 season was proving to be a complete fluke, Hurdle continued to trot him out there in high leverage situations and cost the Pirates games.

When Rodriguez was optioned to Triple-A he owned a 5.49 ERA and a 8.36 FIP. His strikeout rate had dropped to 17.6%, his walk rate had risen to 9.9%, and he had allowed eight home runs. This was three more home runs than he allowed in all of 2018.

After being optioned to Triple-A, Rodriguez would not spend much time with Indianapolis. On May 27th, the Pirates played a doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds. Rodriguez was recalled as the team’s 26th player for the doubleheader and he has remained with the MLB club since the recall.

After pitching a scoreless 6th inning in Saturday’s victory over the Padres, Rodriguez has now pitched in 11 2/3 innings since his recall. He has allowed 10 hits, walked six, and struck out 10 in these 11 2/3 innings. Most importantly, the home run ball is no longer plaguing Rodriguez.

Since his recall, Rodriguez has allowed just one home run. This home run was allowed in his lone poor outing since his return. On May 30th against the Brewers, Rodriguez allowed four runs on a home run and two walks in an inning of work. This is the lone outing he has been scored upon since his return from the minors.

A big reason for Rodriguez’s success has been his ability to generate more soft contact. Prior to being optioned to Triple-A, Rodriguez was inducing soft contact just 9.9% of the time. This number has jumped to 21.2% since his return to the Majors. His fly ball rate has also dropped 5% (44.6% to 39.4%) which is has also helped in limiting the home run ball.

Rodriguez has also benefited from an increase in swings and misses. His swinging strike rate was 8.2% before his demotion, and 12.7% since returning from Triple-A. Batters are also swinging at 35.6% of his pitches outside of the zone, compared to just 30.3% before his trip to the minors. So he’s not just generating more swings and misses, he’s also generating more chases from opposing batters.

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Getting Rodriguez back on track would be a huge step forward for a Pirate bullpen that has struggled most of the season. It is not a coincidence that the recent strong run by the bullpen coincides with Rodriguez pitching well. If Rodriguez can continue to pitch well, the Pirate bullpen will be much more stable than it was for much of the first two months of the season.