After struggling in 2019, relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez is a bounce back candidate for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020
During the 2018 season, reliever Richard Rodriguez came out of nowhere to put together a breakout season for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2019, however, Rodriguez fell off a cliff and saw himself spend time at the Triple-A level.
Rodriguez posted a 2.47 ERA, 2.60 FIP, 6.8% walk rate, and a 31.5% strikeout rate in 69.1 innings of work in 2018. This led to Rodriguez earning a high leverage role in the Pirate bullpen, with high expectations being heaped on him for 2019.
Unfortunately, the wheels fell off for Rodriguez in 2019. In 65.1 innings of work he posted a 3.72 ERA and a 5.22 FIP. His walk rate spiked to 8.1%, and his strikeout rate plummeted to 22.1%. He allowed 14 home runs, after allowing just five in 2018.
It goes without saying that Rodriguez needs to keep the ball in the ballpark in 2020. While his strikeout and walk rates regressed in 2019, neither were poor. What killed Rodriguez was his 1.93 HR/9.
Rodriguez’s 2018 success was largely due to get opposing batters to chase his fastball high in the strike zone. In 2019, his fastball spin rate still ranked in the 94th percentile on baseball. If Rodriguez can get back to spotting this fastball with regularity, he should be able to bounce back in 2020.
So, what went wrong in 2019? Fastball location. Rodriguez failed to properly place his fastball for much of 2019, which led to the undoing of his season.
Rediscovering his old fastball location can help Rodriguez go back to keeping the ball in the ballpark. Which, again, is the key to Rodriguez bouncing back in 2020. This can also help Rodriguez get his hard contact rate and exit velocity back in track. In 2019 these numbers spiked to 39.2% and 89.8 MPH, both of which are above league average. Pitch location matters, folks.
If Rodriguez can bounce back in 2020, it will go a long toward helping the Pirate bullpen get back on track. By getting back on track Rodriguez can lock down a high leverage role in the Pirate bullpen and make Derek Shelton’s job of managing the bullpen a lot easier.