The MLB trade deadline is now upon us. The Pittsburgh Pirates have two relief pitchers who have gotten plenty of trade attention, Richard Rodríguez and Chris Stratton. But has Stratton now overtaken Rodríguez for the more valuable reliever?
Going into the season, Richard Rodríguez was likely seen as one of the more valuable relievers who would be available on the trade market. Now, we are at the trade deadline and there’s been plenty of rumors surrounding Rich Rod. However, one of the Pittsburgh Pirates other veteran relief pitchers Chris Stratton, has been a very good reliever all year. After over a half-season, could Chris Stratton be more valuable than Richard Rodriguez?
Let’s first look at Rodríguez. Through 38.1 innings, the right-hander has a 2.82 ERA, 2.58 FIP, and 0.84 WHIP. Rodriguez has always shown good control, but he’s been even better this year. He’s kept walks to just a 3.4% rate. Home runs had been an issue to him in the past. He had a 1.63 HR/9 between 2019 and 2020. Though this season he has given up just 2 home runs thus far for a 0.47 HR/9 rate.
Most of his success has been because of his lack of line drives given up, which opponents have just a 13.2% rate off of him. He’s also been good in the eyes of xERA (2.86) and SIERA (3.88). His expected stats are very good. Aside from his xSLG, which is still in the 61st percentile, Rodriguez is in the 80th+ percentile in xwOBA, xBA, and xERA. Rodriguez is also controlled through the 2023 season, giving whatever team that acquires him a reliever with affordable control remaining.
Though there are some downsides to Rodríguez. He’s struck out 22.8% of all batters he’s faced this year. He currently has a whiff rate of 23.1% (bottom 26th percentile) and a 25.9% chase rate (bottom 33rd percentile). This is a far cry from the 30%+ K-rate, whiff rate, and chase rate he had in 2 of his past 3 seasons. He’s also given up a ton of hard contact being in the bottom 5th percentile of exit velocity and bottom 12th percentile of hard-hit rate.
Though he doesn’t give up line drives, he also doesn’t get ground balls. His 29.2% ground ball rate is the 16th lowest qualified mark among all relievers. He also hasn’t been viewed as a good pitcher in the eyes of xFIP (4.75) or DRA (5.12/111 DRA-). Rodriguez isn’t a hard thrower, so he’s mainly relied on his fastball spin rate. Though since the rule was enforced back in mid-June, Rodríguez has seen a large dip in fastball RPM. He’s yet to even come near the RPM he had pre-June.
Chris Stratton has also put up decent numbers throughout 2021. He’s tossed 53.2 innings, posting a 3.19 ERA, 4.07 FIP, and 1.36 WHIP. The Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander has struck out batters more frequently than Rodriguez with a 22.7% strikeout rate. Though he’s given up more walks (10.5%) and home runs (1.01 HR/9) on average. Stratton is viewed as a solid pitcher in the eyes of xERA (3.79). Plus he’s been better when it comes to batted ball rates. Though he doesn’t have as good of a line drive rate (21.7%), he’s been a lot better at inducing ground balls with a 44.1%. He’s made up for his line drive rate with an above-average exit velocity of 88.6% (which is in the top 55th percentile) and hard-hit rate of 35.9% (which is in the top 69th percentile).
Stratton has also been above average in all of his expected stats. Though his xFIP is 4.25, which is right around average, 4.64 DRA is also around average, he’s been a good pitcher this year. More importantly, he hasn’t been affected by the sticky substance enforcement. None of his offerings have seen a massive dip in RPM. He also relies on his spin rate rather than velocity to get outs, so either he’s hiding it really well, or is using talent rather than a foreign substance. Stratton also has control through the 2023 season through arbitration, just like Rich-Rod.
The biggest concern with Rodriguez has been his dip in velocity. Both pitchers’ fastballs are slightly below average on velocity, so when you rely heavily on what you’re able to put on the pitch and that all of a sudden isn’t there, there’s reason for concern. Spin helps a fastball ride through the zone.
Though Rodriguez hasn’t been bad since the rule enforcement, he’s definitely been much more inconsistent on a game-to-game basis. Stratton meanwhile has been very solid throughout the season. Ironically, he’s been a better pitcher since the MLB started to crack down on foreign substances than before the crackdown.
Rodríguez does have the advantage of pitching in more high leverage situations. Teams will pay more for high leverage relievers than middle relievers. Stratton may be seeing more late-game opportunities this year than in years prior, Rodriguez definitely has Stratton beat in this category.
Numbers-wise, Rodríguez has the advantage. Stuff-wise, Stratton has the upper hand. In my opinion, Stratton may end up fetching a better return than Rodriguez. Rodriguez has been trending the wrong way ever since foreign substance rule enforcement while Stratton has been trending the opposite way. It’s also not like Stratton hasn’t been able to handle himself in high leverage situations either. So if a team wanted Stratton to fill in a more regular role in the 7th or 8th inning, he could probably do that with ease.