Pittsburgh Pirates: Grading the Richard Rodríguez Trade

ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 20: Bryse Wilson #46 of the Atlanta Braves delivers a pitch in the first inning of game one of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals at Truist Park on June 20, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 20: Bryse Wilson #46 of the Atlanta Braves delivers a pitch in the first inning of game one of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals at Truist Park on June 20, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /
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The Pittsburgh Pirates have dealt Richard Rodríguez to the Atlanta Braves for a two player package. So how did the team end up doing in the return?

The Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t have quite as active of a final deadline day as many would have hoped. But they did get a buzzer-beater deal done, sending right-handed relief pitcher Richard Rodríguez to the Atlanta Braves for two young pitchers. The first being Bryse Wilson and the other being Ricky DeVito.

Overall, how did the Pittsburgh Pirates do in this trade?

Rodríguez has spent the entire season as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ closing pitcher. Through 38.1 innings, the right-hander has a 2.82 ERA, 2.58 FIP and 0.83 WHIP. Rodriguez walked less than 4% of all the batters he faced. His 3.4% walk rate was the 5th best among his positions. He has given up line drives at just a 13.2% rate, the 12th best-qualified mark among all relievers.

Home runs have been a non-issue, surrendering just 2 home runs  all season. Rodríguez also had a strong 2.86 xERA, and a solid 3.87 SIERA. Plus he was in the 80th+ percentile in xBA, xwOBA, xERA, and still in the top 62nd percentile of xSLG. Rodríguez comes with affordable control through 2023 as well.

Though there were a lot of drawbacks with Rodríguez. For one, he gives up a ton of hard-hit contact. He’s in the bottom 6th percentile of average exit velocity with a 91.5 MPH mark. His 45.3% hard-hit rate isn’t much better, coming in the bottom 12th percentile. Though he doesn’t give up many line drives, he gets a ton of fly balls. A decent amount has been infield flies, but the combination of fly balls and a ton of hard-hit baseballs are not a good combination.

Rodríguez has a 3.3% HR/FB%, which is a very sharp decline from 16.3% between 2019 and 2020. He’s also struck out just 22.8% of all batters faced. That’s a huge dip considering he struck out 30%+ of batters faced in 2 of his past 3 seasons. His whiff rate and chase rate also have taken a huge hit compared to the years past. He’s also been well below average in terms of xFIP (4.75) and DRA (5.12).

However, the biggest concern with Rodriguez has been his massive decrease in spin rate. Rodríguez isn’t a hard thrower. He never has been. So he’s mainly relied on his spin to get outs. His four-seam fastball peaked at 2680 RPM on June 16th. But by June 22nd, it was down to just 2339 RPM. He hasn’t even touched 2400 RPM since. Since that decrease, Rodríguez has a 4.85 ERA, 3.85 FIP, and 1.08 WHIP. Although his FIP and WHIP aren’t bad, none of his numbers since June 16th have been nearly as good as they were early in the season.

The name that may stick out the most in this deal is Bryse Wilson. Wilson was once one of Atlanta’s top-rated pitching prospects. At the end of 2019, he ranked as the 69th (nice) best prospect on FanGraphs. MLB Pipeline didn’t have him in their top 100 but ranked the right-hander as the Braves’ 6th best prospect behind some pretty notable names.

Wilson isn’t a big strikeout pitcher, mainly relying on his command to get outs. His fastball sits around 93-94 MPH. He also will throw a slider, curveball, sinker, and change-up. The 23-year-old has yet to find success in the major leagues. He has a 5.45 ERA, 5.48 FIP, and 1.695 WHIP in 74.1 innings of work since 2018.

However, Wilson has yet to get consistent playing time. He hasn’t even thrown 50 innings in one season. He has constantly bounced between the major league squad and Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate, where he has a solid 3.86 ERA, 3.66 FIP, 1.24 WHIP, 5.4% walk rate and a 4.18 K/BB ratio at. So maybe all Wilson needs is a chance to start regularly to find his groove. After all, he was a top-5 prospect in a once-loaded farm system.

Ricky DeVito gives the Pirates Atlanta’s 23rd best prospect on FanGraphs. DeVito is 22-years-old and has spent the entire season with the Braves’ High-A squad putting up some pretty decent numbers. He’s only pitched in 20.1 innings but has a strong 2.66 ERA, 3.51 FIP, and 1.279 WHIP. Plus he has a much better-looking 3.05 xFIP. DeVito has struck out 29.7% of all the batters he has faced but has also put up a solid 7.7% walk rate. His 0.89 HR/9 is a solid mark as well that could go down even further. He’s induced ground balls at an insane 66% rate. He’s pitched at least 10 innings at three different levels so far in his pro career, and his lowest ground ball rate at any of them is 59.5%. Plus he only has a 17% line drive and fly ball rate.

DeVito has a three-pitch mix. His fastball comes in around 92-95 MPH and tops out at 97. Overall, you’re looking at an offering that FanGraphs projects as average with a 50-grade. Then there’s his curveball. This is another offering that FanGraphs sees as an average pitch. Out of his three pitches, his splitter is seen as his best offering. FanGraphs sees it as a 55-grade offering now with the potential to be a 60-grade pitch.

DeVito stands at a tall 6-foot-3. He only comes in at 195 pounds, though given his age, he has plenty of room to grow. The Braves’ 8th round pick from 2019 seems to have a high ceiling. He may need to refine his control, but again, it’s not something he doesn’t have time to work on. He turns 23 on August 21st.

My Verdict

In my opinion, although Rodríguez is still a solid pitcher post-foreign substance crackdown, I don’t think he ever comes close to hitting the peak he had in 2020 through early-2021. I think it’s reasonable to expect a 3.50-4.00 ERA kind of pitcher out of Rodríguez.

The package the Pittsburgh Pirates got for Rodriguez reflects what his value is. A solid reliever who can give up 60+ innings a season, but not a highly dominant reliever. Overall, the two biggest things Rodríguez had going for him going into this deadline was his mostly proven ability to pitch in high leverage situations on the regular and his contract control left.

Wilson and DeVito are not bad pieces to receive for Rodríguez, but it’s a pretty good return. Wilson has yet to be given a shot in the Major Leagues and DeVito gives the Pittsburgh Pirates another pitcher who could help the team when their window starts to open in 2023, possibly even during the second half of 2022. DeVito could eventually develop into a 45-50 FV prospect given his age and the level he is currently at.

Next. Bucs Land Former First-Round Pick for Austin Davis. dark

Although we’ve seen closing pitchers get back more in returns, none have started to show as much decline mid-season than Rodríguez had, especially once a large crackdown on foreign substances started. The Pittsburgh Pirates may get a higher ranking prospect if they forgo Wilson in this deal. Afterall, 2 more affordable years of control, even for just a durable and solid, but not outstanding reliever, can still be worthwile. But the Pirates made out well in this trade.

Final Grade: A-

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