Pittsburgh Pirates: Examining What’s Driving Richard Rodriguez’s Success

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Richard Rodriguez #48 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts after defeating the San Diego Padres 8-4 at PNC Park on April 13, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Richard Rodriguez #48 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts after defeating the San Diego Padres 8-4 at PNC Park on April 13, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /
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Right-handed reliever Richard Rodriguez has been one of baseball’s best pitchers, but what has made him so effective for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

Pittsburgh Pirates closer Richard Rodriguez has simply been one of the best relievers since the tail-end of the 2020 season. He hasn’t surrendered a single run since August 30, 2020. So far this season he’s been flat-out dominant. But what in particular makes him so effective?

So far this season he’s shown much better control than in years past. Rodriguez has always been decent at keeping free passes down, but he’s only walked 2.6% of all the batters he has faced this year. Among all relievers this year with at least 10 innings pitched, he ranks 16th in walk rate.

He’s also inducing more weak contact. Currently, he’s sporting a 35.7% hard hit rate. That sits in the top 68th percentile of pitchers this season. Home runs have been an issue for Rich Rod in the past, but so far this season, he’s not allowed a single home run in 12.1 innings.

Oddly enough, despite his pure dominance, he isn’t getting swings and misses like usual. His 26.2% whiff rate is down nearly 10% from last season. His 17.9% chase rate is also way down from 2020 when he had a 32% rate. Overall, this has led to a still-solid 25.6% strikeout rate but pales in comparison to his 36.6% strikeout rate in 2020.

But his overall 10 K/BB ratio is the 14th best mark among relievers with 10 or more innings under their belt. Overall, he’s just 1 of 20 total pitchers with a K/BB ratio above 10. That’s higher than Aroldis Chapman, Max Scherzer, Trevor Bauer, Clayton Kershaw, and Lance Lynn.

Rodriguez is pretty much a one pitch pitcher. He’s used his four-seam fastball nearly 90% of the time, coming into Thursday with an 89.2% usage rate. Only Cincinnati Reds’ lefty Sean Doolittle uses any other pitch more often.

Rodriguez only throws 93.3 MPH on average with his fastball. He has -6 run value on the offering, making it overall more valuable than Jacob deGrom’s four-seamer. Arguably, he has the best four-seam fastball in all of baseball. His -4.8 RV/100 is the third-highest mark. However, he ranks first in opponent batting average, slugging percentage, and wOBA.

Rodriguez uses a lower-90s fastball and throws it nearly 90% of the time. Despite that, it’s been one of, if not the most valuable fastball in all of baseball. So what makes it so effective? Well for starters, he has a ton of horizontal movement on the pitch. With 14.1 inches of break, Rodriguez ranks 14th among all pitchers in fastball horizontal movement. In terms of percentage of break vs the average, he’s 97% better than the average.

However, much of it has to do with his spin rate. Rodriguez has always had a high spin rate on his fastball. This year, he’s averaging 2586 RPM making it the fastball with the 14th most spin in baseball. If you’ve ever heard of a rising fastball, this is what the spin helps create. Although a human can’t possibly throw a baseball fast enough or with enough spin to make it rise, but can throw it with enough spin to make it fall less.

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In conclusion, not only does Rodriguez’s fastball ride through the zone, but it also has good horizontal movement. This makes his fastball one of the best in all of baseball and has helped him become one of the sport’s most dominant relief pitchers to start 2021.

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