Pittsburgh Pirates: Former Reliever Could Become a Free Agent

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 22: Richard Rodriguez #48 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox during interleague play at PNC Park on June 22, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 22: Richard Rodriguez #48 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox during interleague play at PNC Park on June 22, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /
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Former Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Richard Rodríguez could find himself on the free agent market after a poor run with the Atlanta Braves.

During the trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates made a handful of trades. One of the most notable was sending right-handed reliever Richard Rodríguez to the Atlanta Braves for young right-handers Bryse Wilson and Ricky DeVito. Fast forward to early November, and Rodríguez could be on the open market.

When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Rodríguez, he was doing pretty good for himself. In 38.1 innings, Rodríguez had a 2.82 ERA, 2.60 FIP, and .83 WHIP. He had allowed just 2 home runs while having a phenomenal 3.4% walk rate. At the time, Rodriguez had the fifth-lowest walk rate among qualified relief pitchers. Though his strikeout rate was just 22.8%, a large departure from the 30%+ marks he had in 2018 and 2020. That wasn’t the only red flag. Rodriguez had a 3.90 SIERA and 4.72 xFIP. He was giving up a bunch of hard-hit balls with a ground ball rate of just 29.2%.

The most worrying aspect was his loss in spin. Rodríguez averaged around 2600 RPM, topping out at 2680 RPM with his four-seam fastball on June 16th. But after MLB started to crack down on sticky substances, Rodríguez’s fastball spin rate never even hit 2400 after June 24th.

In spite of his poor underlying numbers, he was still a solid reliever with two years of arbitration control left. While he may not have continued to be a fantastic, sub-3.00 ERA reliever, there wasn’t too much suggesting that he couldn’t be a solid 3.50-3.80 ERA RP. The Braves, looking for some reinforcements for the pitching staff, decided to take the chance on Rodriguez.

But Rodríguez would struggle heavily down the line with the Braves. While he only gave up 9 earned runs in 26 innings, leading to a 3.12 ERA, he barely struck anyone out and gave up a ton of home runs. He continued to have a strong 4.7% walk rate, but his strikeout rate wasn’t even double that, coming in with an 8.5% mark. After giving up just 2 home runs in nearly 40 innings with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Rodríguez would give up 6 more in less than 30 innings.

The Braves were so unconfident about Rodríguez, they left him off of each of their postseason rosters. Even after Luke Jackson gave up 5 earned runs on 7 hits and 2 walks between 15 total batters faced during the NLCS and Charlie Morton breaking his fibula in Game 1 of the World Series, the Braves did not let Richard Rodriguez pitch to a single batter in the postseason.

Rodríguez is projected to make about $3 million in arbitration this upcoming winter. While I’m not saying that $3 million for the World Series winning Braves is going to leave a dent in their wallet, $3 million for a guy who has been extremely inconsistent since the MLB started to crack down on the use of foreign substances on the mound isn’t the best use of that money. Given how they treated him during their World Series run, the Braves probably don’t see Rodríguez as anything more than a low-leverage reliever, something that would probably cost the Braves half the money on the free-agent market. That $3 million could be used toward resigning postseason heroes Jorge Soler and/or Eddie Rosario, or even to another reliever with more upside than Rodríguez.

That means that Rodríguez may reach free agency as there is a fair chance the Braves non-tender the right-hander. They will have to make the decision to offer him arbitration or let him go with a non-tender on December 2nd.

Next. Five Underrated Pirate Prospects. dark

I’m also not suggesting that the Pittsburgh Pirates pursue Rodríguez. They were able to make out with two right-handed pitchers with solid potential for a reliever who has struggled since the crackdown. However, he was a very notable name moved at the deadline, and arguably a top 3 reliever on the trade market at one point. There were a handful of teams, including the Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies, and Oakland Athletics, surveying the market for Rodriguez’s services. The point is, his value has fallen pretty far since then.

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