After struggling in 2019, the 2020 season has been a bounce back campaign for Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Richard Rodriguez
During the 2018 MLB season, there were few players who came out of nowhere to burst onto the scene more than Richard Rodriguez did. In 63 games pitched, Rodriguez posted a 2.47 ERA and a 2.60 FIP in 69.1 innings pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Rodriguez allowed just five home runs, 6.8% walk rate and a 31.5% strikeout rate.
With this effort, Rodriguez appeared to be emerging as a long term option for the Pittsburgh Pirates out of the bullpen. Unfortunately, Rodriguez followed up his breakout 2018 campaign with a poor 2019 season.
Last season, Rodriguez posted a 3.72 ERA, but this did not properly represent the season he had. In 65.1 innings pitched, Rodriguez allowed a whopping 14 home runs while his walk rate rose to 8.1% and his strikeout rate dropped to 22.1%. This led to him being optioned to the minor leagues at one point, and posting a 5.22 FIP at the MLB level.
Entering the 2020 season Rodriguez’s future seemed murky. Well, after putting together an excellent bounce back campaign he is now wrapping up his first season as the closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. So, lets’s dive into what has driven his bounce back.
Entering play on Friday, Rodriguez owns a 2.70 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 5.4% walk rate, 36.6% strikeout rate, and he has allowed three home runs. This has come in 23.1 innings of work out of the bullpen for Rodriguez.
A big change in 2020 for Rodriguez is an increase in swing-and-misses. In 2019, his fastball had a 21.6% whiff rate and his slider whiff rate was 40.0%. During the 2020 season, these numbers have jumped to 29.0% and 63.6%, respectively.
Rodriguez’s overall whiff rate this season puts him in the 93rd percentile in baseball, while his 36.6% strikeout rate is in the 96th percentile. Also in the 96th percentile is the spin rate on his fastball. This has undoubtedly played a role in the amount of swings-and-misses his fastball has generated.
Opposing batters are also chasing Rodriguez’s pitches that are out of the strike zone at a 32.0% rate. This is a near 4% increase over last season. As for pitches in the zone, contact is being made on them 73.3% of the time. This is a 10% decrease over his 2019 rate of 83.7%.
Rodriguez could be a hot name on the reliever trade market this off-season. If he is, he could net the Pittsburgh Pirates a strong return in any potential trade. If not, he will almost assuredly enter the 2021 season as the team’s closer.