Pittsburgh Pirates: Examining Richard Rodriguez’s Trade Value

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 23: Richard Rodriguez #48 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the ninth inning during the game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on September 23, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 23: Richard Rodriguez #48 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch in the ninth inning during the game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park on September 23, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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Relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez’s trade value is at it’s highest poin. So, what could the Pittsburgh Pirates net for the reliever on the trade market this off-season?

Reliever Richard Rodriguez had a strong 2018 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The late blooming relief pitcher threw 69.1 innings, posting an ERA of 2.47, FIP of 2.60 and a WHIP of just 1.07. Rodriguez put up strong peripherals including a 0.65 HR/9, 31.5% strikeout rate, and walk rate of just 6.8%.

Not only was he outstanding by his surface numbers, but ERA estimators loved him. Rich Rod had a 3.47 xFIP, 2.73 SIERA and 2.82 DRA. His .257 xwOBA was in the top 5% of the league, while his actual wOBA was .262 or in the top 10% of the league. His expected ERA or xERA was just 2.63. This was due to a solid hard hit rate of 33.5%.

Expectations were obviously high for Rodriguez going into 2019, but Rodriguez struggled big time for the Pittsburgh Pirates. On the surface, he had a manageable 3.72 ERA in 65.1 innings, but his FIP was 5.22, and WHIP was 1.35, very large jumps from 2018. Home runs became a massive issue. Rodriguez had a HR/9 of nearly triple of what it was in 2018 at 1.93. His walk rate had spiked to 8.1%, and his strikeout rate dropped all the way to 22.1%.

Rodriguez’s 2019 season ended with a 4.30 SIERA, 4.89 xFIP and 4.70 DRA. Very poor numbers compared to his 2018 campaign. Rodriguez saw his hard hit rate jump to 39.2%. His exit velocity also climbed from 88.3 MPH in 2018 to 89.8 MPH in 2019.

Then in 2020, Rodriguez put together a strong bounce back season. That season, however, was not without its flaws. The right hander pitched to the tune of a 2.70 ERA, 2.84 FIP and a WHIP of just 0.86. His WHIP is so low because of a huge drop in walks. His walk rate in 23.1 innings was just 5.4%. He also struck out batters at an outstanding 36.6% rate.

Home runs were not as big of an issue in 2020 as they were in 2019, but they were still noticeable with a 1.16 HR/9. He’s returned with even better ERA estimators with a 2.39 SIERA, 2.82 xFIP and 3.57 DRA.

But a bigger issue has plagued the right hander, more specifically his batted ball results. Opponents squared up Rodriguez for a 51.1% hard hit rate, and 91.8 MPH exit velocity. Those are in the bottom 1% and 2% of all MLB pitchers. Granted, they are making contact just 66.7% of the time, which is well better than the league average of 75%. In an odd way, it mirrors how Gregory Polanco’s season was. Though he is giving up hard contact, he’s giving up contact in general very rarely.

However, he’s was able to deceive batters with a 15.1% swinging strike rate. Though he doesn’t throw hard with his fastball averaging just 93 MPH, the pitch has 5.2 inches of horizontal movement. Rodriguez’s sinker has 15.2 inches of horizontal movement, and has deceived batters because of its spin rate of 2588 RPM, which sits in the top 95th percentile of baseball. Rodriguez’s slider has 46.6 inches of vertical drop, and has 2408 RPMs.

After 2020, Rodriguez has three extremely affordable years of control left through arbitration. It’s time for the Pittsburgh Pirates to sell high on Rodriguez, so what could they potentially get back for the right hander?

Well relief pitchers have brought back very good hauls in recent times. Just look at the 2016 trade deadline when the New York Yankees acquired Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman, who was a rental at that time. Sure, Chapman was an elite level left handed closer, but Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle brought back Jesus Luzardo, now one of the youngest, and most talented left handed pitchers in baseball.

Brad Hand, who was traded with three years of control left plus a fourth year option, was sent to the San Diego Padres to the Cleveland Indians for Francisco Mejia. Mejia at the time was a top 15 prospect in baseball. During a second straight injury riddled year in 2018 where he was struggling and in the final year of his contract, Zack Britton brought back a fair haul from the Yankees. Last year, Shane Green, who had a year and a half of control remaining and didn’t necessarily have a fantastic resume, got the Tigers Joey Wentz who was ranked as a top 50 prospect just a year prior. Other good but not great arms like Drew Pomeranz, Sam Dyson, Jeremy Jefferes, and many other similar arms have brought back fairly notable pieces.

The point is, a good relief pitcher is a commodity that is in high demand. It’s a relief pitching market. Teams want good bullpen arms, and Rodriguez can be a really good late-inning arm. There’s going to be a handful of teams that are going to be looking for late inning arms this off season like the San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, and potentially the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Angels.

Next. Breaking Down Geoff Hartlieb's 2020 Season. dark

Over this off-season, I could see Rodriguez bringing the Pittsburgh Pirates a solid top 10, or even better, organizational prospect from a good farm system. There is no rush in trading him, and I know Ben Cherington won’t just trade him to trade him. If he doesn’t get what he wants over this off season, he could hold onto him for the deadline, and we’ve seen teams pay decent prices for relief pitchers at the deadline. In that scenario, I could see a team getting trigger happy, and possibly even giving up a top 100 prospect. That’s if he performs like h has this year. However, I think now is the time to trade him, and sell high on Rodriguez.

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