E-Rod Heads to D-Backs For Many C-Notes

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

In the midst of a Winter Meetings that was fairly quiet as far as free agent signings go, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Eduardo Rodriguez came to an agreement on a four-year contract worth a guaranteed $80 million. Bouncing back from a problem-filled 2022 Detroit debut, Rodriguez was one of the reasons the Tigers maintained a position at the very edge of relevance in 2023. Through the end of May, E-Rod was a top 10 starting pitcher in the American League, posting a 2.13 ERA and 3.14 FIP over 11 starts; his 1.8 WAR ranked eighth in WAR. But his chances of sneaking into the Cy Young conversation were derailed by a finger injury that cost him a month of the season. While he got back into the rotation fairly quickly, he wasn’t quite the same in the second half, issuing more free passes and seeing his strikeout rate drop by about 20%.

Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have some good young pitching talent coming through the pipeline, but there are few sure things, even if you’re as optimistic about Brandon Pfaadt as I am. The rotation depth was an issue in 2023, especially later in the season, and the Snakes struggled to find many good five-or-six inning stints outside of their best couple of pitchers. The D-backs had the fifth-worst team ERA in baseball after their three most-used pitchers, and ranked the worst of any playoff team:

Overall Performance After Three Most-Used Pitchers, 2023
Athletics 360.0 6.85 -0.1
Rockies 391.0 6.45 0.8
Reds 412.3 6.11 3.1
Cardinals 416.7 5.88 2.3
Diamondbacks 314.3 5.87 1.8
Pirates 312.7 5.67 0.7
Dodgers 428.3 5.44 2.8
Yankees 349.7 5.33 1.3
Braves 327.3 5.31 1.6
White Sox 405.0 5.29 3.6
Nationals 346.0 5.23 2.4
Angels 404.7 5.03 3.6
Tigers 436.7 4.84 5.4
Red Sox 403.7 4.82 4.1
Giants 266.7 4.76 1.4
Cubs 390.7 4.70 3.4
Mariners 323.0 4.65 3.4
Marlins 298.0 4.62 2.0
Guardians 462.0 4.60 3.7
Phillies 340.7 4.57 5.4
Mets 457.7 4.54 5.0
Blue Jays 320.0 4.53 2.6
Brewers 397.7 4.48 3.6
Orioles 345.0 4.46 2.8
Rays 371.0 4.44 5.7
Royals 317.3 4.31 3.9
Rangers 423.7 4.16 6.1
Twins 355.3 4.13 4.5
Padres 401.0 4.08 5.1
Astros 387.3 3.97 3.3

This probably even overstates the D-backs’ success a bit, as their third starter by the end of the season was Pfaadt, who was not their third most-used starting pitcher. That was Ryne Nelson, who was reduced to mop-up duty in the World Series. The playoffs highlighted this problem for the Snakes, especially once they faced a Rangers team that had the luxury of deciding whether or not to start Andrew Heaney, Dane Dunning, and Jon Gray, while the D-backs basically had to roll with Pfaadt, Zac Gallen, and Merrill Kelly almost no matter what.

I wouldn’t say this is entirely Arizona’s fault. While Madison Bumgarner’s projections weren’t exactly optimistic when he signed his deal with Arizona, there was cause to hope that he could at least be a good innings-eater; instead, he was released after four starts this year. Zach Davies at least managed to throw 134.1 innings in 2022, but his 2023 performance was pretty brutal, and he didn’t make it to the end of the year on the roster, either.

Will the D-backs see better results with Rodriguez than they had with Bumgarner? Let’s see what the ZiPS projections say about the whole thing:

ZiPS Projection – Eduardo Rodriguez
2024 11 8 3.65 25 25 138.0 135 56 16 43 135 115 2.5
2025 10 8 3.80 23 23 128.0 129 54 15 41 123 111 2.1
2026 9 7 3.99 21 21 119.7 124 53 15 40 112 105 1.8
2027 8 7 4.13 19 19 106.7 114 49 14 37 98 102 1.4

Now, ZiPS would have preferred a three-year contract at this AAV to a four-year pact, but there’s nothing wrong with the deal. In fact, ZiPS may be underrating Rodriguez’s innings pitched a bit, as his time away from the team in 2022 to deal with issues at home isn’t really the same as most player absences when it comes to predicting the future.

Bringing in Rodriguez bumps the D-backs rotation up to 14th in our depth charts. ZiPS would have them about 11th right now, with Rodriguez as their fourth starting pitcher projected for at least a 2-WAR season (ZiPS likes Pfaadt more than Steamer). Unless or until injuries strike, Arizona now has the luxury of only having to elevate one of Nelson, Slade Cecconi, or Tommy Henry to the rotation as the fifth starter. And while the value of this probably shouldn’t be overstated because there are still other options available in free agency, E-Rod would have been a handy pickup for many of the teams Arizona is likely to face in a showdown for Wild Card spot; the Reds, Padres, Giants, Brewers, and Cubs could have all made good use of his services, and it’s nice to take him out of the mix for any of those clubs.

Rodriguez’s contract also includes incentives that could enrich his deal even further, as well as a no-trade clause:

If I tell ZiPS that Rodriguez will in fact get 150 innings in each of years three and four of his contract, then the projection jumps to four years, $110 million, as ZiPS is more worried about his playing time than his actual performance.

Does this signing position the Diamondbacks to frighten the Dodgers in the NL West? Not really, but bringing in Rodriguez at least shows that the Snakes aren’t planning to rest on their laurels after missing a World Series championship by only a few wins.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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4 months ago

I think the Snakes needed to do something useful to keep their momentum going into 2024, at least in the fans’ eyes. E-Rod’s a nice bet to be a 2/3 level guy with possible spikes where’s dominant.