Pittsburgh Pirates: Richard Rodríguez’s Impact on the Trade Market

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 01: Richard Rodriguez #48 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches the 9th inning for a save against the Chicago Cubs during the Opening Day home game at Wrigley Field on April 01, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The Pirates defeated the Cubs 5-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - APRIL 01: Richard Rodriguez #48 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches the 9th inning for a save against the Chicago Cubs during the Opening Day home game at Wrigley Field on April 01, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The Pirates defeated the Cubs 5-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Richard Rodriguez could be a player on the move this upcoming trade deadline. What could be his impact on the relief pitching market?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have what could be one of the most sought-after relievers this upcoming trade deadline in righty Richard Rodríguez. This season Rodríguez has been flat-out dominant. In fact, this date back to the tail end of 2020.

Since August 30, 2020, Rodríguez has allowed just a single run. At one point, he didn’t allow a run from August 30 through May 9, 2021. Combine this stretch with a stellar 2018 and a strong finish to 2019, and Rodríguez should have plenty of trade value this summer.

Through 14 innings pitched this season, Rodriguez has an outstanding 0.64 ERA. 1.60 FIP and 0.36 WHIP. He’s issued just a single walk, leading to an outstanding 2.1% walk rate. He’s also struck out over a quarter of the batters he has faced with a 25.5% strikeout rate. Home runs have been an issue for the right-hander in years past, but not this year, as he has yet to allow a home run.

Rodríguez’s ERA estimators are a bit all over the place. He does have an xERA of 1.02 and SIERA of 3.54. However, he has a 4.47 xFIP and 5.31 DRA. This is mainly because he has struggled to get swings and misses. His whiff rate is down to just 23.4%, despite sitting at 36% the year prior. He’s also getting fewer batters to swing and miss with an 18.2% chase rate. Compared to last season his strikeout rate is down 11%. It also doesn’t help that he isn’t the best at getting weak contact. Opponents have a 91.8 MPH exit velocity (bottom 30th percentile) and a 38.7% hard-hit rate (50th percentile). That doesn’t mix well with his ground ball rate of just 29%.

Regardless of that Rodríguez still is among the best in xBA (.120, top 99th percentile), xSLG (.224, top 97th percentile), and xwOBA (.158, top 100th percentile). He also has one of the best fastballs in all of baseball. With -5 RV on his four-seamer, Rich Rod has the 22nd most valuable fastball in baseball. However, in terms of RV/100, he sits at -3.1, making it the 17th most valuable fastball. His fastball also sits among the best in terms of spin rate. Among pitchers who have thrown a four-seam fastball at least 100 times this season, he ranks 21st among 401 pitchers with 2592 RPM.

Rodríguez has plenty of control remaining. He’s owed just $1.7 million this year in total but will be controllable through arbitration for 2022 and 2023. He is a bit on the older side though. By the time he reaches free agency, he’ll be 34 years old.

Now the relief pitching trade market isn’t something that is fully developed until close to the deadline. Rich Rod shutting down batters and holding 1-2 run leads is a lot more valuable to a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers than it is to the Pittsburgh Pirates. By July, teams generally know whether or not they have a chance for a playoff push. However, despite it still being early on in the season, we can get a brief snapshot of what the relief pitching market could look like.

Any rental reliever not on a team that’s in the hunt for a postseason spot will almost certainly be traded. Relievers Mychal Givens and Ian Kennedy will be shopped very heavily by the Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers. Then there are some fringe teams with relievers that could potentially be on the market. This is the case for Washington Nationals’ lefty closer Brad Hand and right-hander Daniel Hudson, former Pittsburgh Pirates reliever, and current Angel southpaw, Tony Watson, and Cub closer Craig Kimbrel.

There are going to be relievers with control remaining besides Rodríguez as well. The Arizona Diamondbacks may look to move lefty swingman/long reliever Caleb Smith since he’s been solid for them this year. If the Minnesota Twins find themselves way out of the division by the time July rolls around, they may be open to moving southpaw Taylor Rogers. The Nationals could also move guys like Kyle Finnegan or Austin Voth to help replenish a very depleted farm system.

Then you also have to consider teams that will be in the market for relief pitchers. The Dodgers will definitely be looking to boost their relief corps to help support their fantastic rotation. The Houston Astros may also look to give guys like Ryan Pressley, Ryne Stanek and Kent Emmanuel some more reinforcements. The Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, and New York Mets and Yankees may also be on the lookout for bullpen help.

There are also a handful of fringe teams that may decide to buy instead of sell at the deadline. This essentially goes for the entire NL East as the Nationals are in last place, but still only 3.5 games out of first. The American League West is another very close division with the Angles in last place, but still only 4 games out.

So what exactly is Rodríguez’s impact on the potential reliever trade market? I think he has the opportunity to be one of, if not the most valuable right-handed reliever available once you factor in his contract. By July, he’ll have two and a half years of control left and all through arbitration. He’s been effective almost every year he’s been in the majors and his 2019 season is looking more like a fluke, especially after Oscar Marin came in as the new pitching coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates and had him drop his sinker. He’s also proven he can handle high-leverage situations. Opponents have just a single hit off of him in these kinds of situations, and just 2 hits when he has men on base.

The Pittsburgh Pirates may end up being one of the very few hard-sellers this summer. They’ll definitely be looking to take advantage of a market that has seen guys such as Shane Greene, Drew Pomeranz, and Sam Dyson fetch some pretty notable prospect(s) despite not being the most dominant relievers.

The Pittsburgh Pirates can attest to this as well as they got back Oneil Cruz for a struggling rental Tony Watson in 2017, and Cody Ponce for Jordan Lyles who had an ERA above 5.00 and FIP nearly 5.00 in 2019. In the end, it’ll likely be a team looking to win going out and spending notable prospects than a fringe team making a final push to add to their roster from external sources.

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All told, Rodríguez could be a very worthwhile reliever this upcoming deadline. He’s effective and controllable for a few more seasons. He may end up bring back a 45+ grade prospect, or even higher as some teams may get desperate to strengthen their pen. It’s happened before and it will certainly happen again. Hopefully, when it does happen again, it will work in the Pirates’ favor.