Pittsburgh Pirates: Debating a Richard Rodríguez Reunion

Sep 23, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez (48) pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 23, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Richard Rodriguez (48) pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Former Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Ricard Rodríguez was recently non-tendered by the Atlanta Braves, so should the Bucs look into the right-hander?

The Atlanta Braves non-tendered Richard Rodríguez during Tuesday’s non-tender deadline. It was only a couple of months ago that Rodríguez was considered one of the more premium relief pitchers on the trade market. The Pittsburgh Pirates had dealt him to the Braves at the trade deadline in exchange for two young right-handers, former top 100 prospect Bryse Wilson and Ricky DeVito.

Now that Rodríguez is a free agent, the Pittsburgh Pirates have shown some interest in bringing back the right-handed reliever. Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sent out the following Tweet on Wednesday afternoon:

When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Rodríguez back in July he was coming off 38.1 innings with a 2.82 ERA, 2.62 FIP, and 0.83 WHIP. At the time of the trade, Rodriguez’s 3.4% walk rate was tied with Yusmeiro Petit for the 4th lowest qualified mark. Home runs, which had been a struggle for Rodriguez going into 2021, were a strength. He surrendered just 2 for a 0.47 HR/9.

After the trade, Rodríguez struggled horribly with the Braves. He did have a 3.12 ERA and 4.7% walk rate, but his strikeout rate, which was sitting in the low-20’s with the Pirates, nose-dived to 8.5%. His home run rate took a similar dramatic turn as he surrendered 6 home runs in just 26 innings. Rodriguez managed a low ERA because of an insanely low .200 batting average on balls in play.

There was already concern with Rodríguez when the Pirates traded him. He had a 3.90 SIERA, which isn’t awful, but a 4.73 xFIP. He saw his groundball rate dip below 30% and his flyball rate reach nearly 60%. Sure, there are good fly ball pitchers, but Rodríguez finished 2021 in the bottom third percentile of exit velocity (91.5 MPH) and the bottom 11th percentile in hard-hit rate (44.4%). The home runs were bound to catch back up to Rodríguez as his batted ball rates remained relatively close to what they were with the Pirates post-trade.

The biggest concern is that he lost a ton of spin on his offerings. Rodríguez’s four-seamer topped out at 2680 RPM on June 16th, right before MLB started to check for foreign substances on the mound. From June 22nd onward, his fastball topped out at 2395 RPM. Rodriguez only throws around 92-93 MPH and his fastball is pretty much all he has. He used the pitch 86.1% of the time last year.

Rodriguez’s fate with the Braves was pretty much sealed when the team opted not to include the right-hander to any of their postseason rosters. Even after giving up 5 earned runs on 7 hits with 2 walked batters (one intentional) in the NLCS, the Braves kept Luke Jackson, another right-handed reliever, on the World Series roster over Rodríguez.

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So to answer the question, should the Pittsburgh Pirates re-sign Rodríguez? Rodríguez is trending in the wrong direction. Next year is his age-32 season, and he very clearly isn’t effective without the sticky substances on the mound. He’s a flyball pitcher who gives up hard contact regularly. The Pirates were lucky to get what they got for him in the trade. Outside of a minor league, non-guaranteed deal, the Pirates should pass on Rodríguez. The Pirates are better off rolling the dice on one of their relief prospects like Blake Cederlind, Yerry De Los Santos, or Nick Mears.

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