Eduardo Rodriguez Shows He’s Ready for the Majors

Eduardo Rodriguez’s big-league debut went about as well as anyone could have expected. The hard-throwing lefty struck out seven in 7.2 scoreless innings, and allowed a mere three hits. Boston’s original plan was for Rodriguez to make just one spot start before returning to the minor leagues. However, following Thursday’s outing, the Red Sox decided they’d go with a six-man rotation for the time being in order to give Rodriguez at least one more start. They apparently saw enough to keep him around.

The thing that stood out most about Rodriguez’s debut was his crazy-hard fastball. As Eno Sarris noted on Friday, Rodriguez threw his fastball harder than almost any active starting pitcher. In fact, his average fastball velocity from last Thursday night was the highest we’ve seen from a lefty starter this year.

Here’s Mitch Moreland’s failed attempt at catching up with said fastball.

Fastball

Rodriguez earned most of his prospect shine by throwing hard, but he’s far from a one-trick pony. He also wields a slider and a changeup that are both average pitches right now, according to Kiley McDaniel. In the offseason, Kiley gave these two offerings future grades of above-average (55) and plus (60), respectively.

Here’s that slider…

Slider

And, I hate to pick on Prince Fielder, but here comes the changeup. All he can do is make weak contact.

Change

Okay, so Rodriguez has some pretty filthy stuff. But we all know stuff alone doesn’t make for a good pitcher. Fortunately, Rodriguez has more going for him than three potentially above-average pitches. Unlike most 22-year-old fireballers, he has an idea of where his pitches are going.

Kiley gave Rodriguez’s command a 45 over the winter, which is a better grade than he gave to many other prospects. Furthermore, if Rodriguez’s walk rates are any indication, his command may have even improved a bit since then. After posting a 7% walk rate in Double-A last year, he sliced it to a mere 3% in his eight Triple-A starts this year.

In fact, Rodriguez’s minor-league performance has been on the upswing for a few months now. The improvements seem to have begun right around the time the Red Sox acquired him from the Orioles in exchange for Andrew Miller. Since then he’s posted a 2.14 ERA and 2.40 FIP.

It’s tough to say how much credit we should give the Red Sox for this development. As Kiley noted in his writeup of the Red Sox organization, Rodriguez’s stuff ticked up a few weeks before the trade. However, the folks over at Baseball America noted in the most recent edition of their Prospect Handbook that he also tweaked his strategy after the trade: he increased his changeup usage versus lefties and started doing a better job of attacking the inside part of the plate. The latter makes sense given research by Noah Woodward, who found that hard fastballs are the best fastballs when it comes to pitches on the inside part of the strike zone.

Rplot01

Regardless of how he got there, Rodriguez has clearly developed into quite the prospect. Kiley ranked him 23rd overall on his top-200 list heading into the year, and he’s only helped his prospect stock since then. At the time, Kiley noted that Rodriguez’s future depended on whether his new stuff was there to stay. After two months of games, Rodriguez’s stuff hasn’t gone anywhere, and it’s shown up in his performance. This year to date, he’s rattled off eight starts of 2.42 FIP ball in Triple-A and capped it off with one excellent start in the majors.

KATOH, too, is all aboard Eduardo Rodriguez train. My system pegged him for 4.3 WAR through age-28, which made him the 87th-ranked prospect in baseball. Keep in mind, however, that this projection almost certainly sells Rodriguez a bit short. It treats all of his 2014 stats equally, but as I showed earlier, he was a much better pitcher over the season’s final two months.

His Triple-A numbers from this year yield a much higher KATOH forecast: 10.3 WAR through age-28. It doesn’t get much better than that when it comes to pitchers. Following the 2014 season, Julio Urias and Noah Syndergaard were the only pitchers who edged out Rodriguez’s 10.3 WAR mark.

Now, let’s look at some comps for Rodriguez and his sparkling Triple-A numbers. Using league-adjusted, regressed stats, along with age, I calculated the Mahalanobis Distance between Rodriguez’s Triple-A performance and every Triple-A season since 1991 in which a pitcher faced at least 350 batters. Below, you’ll find a list of historical players whose performances were nearest and dearest to Rodriguez’s, ranked from most to least similar.

Name Innings thru 28 WAR thru 28
Joe Blanton 1,026 14.6
Bobby Jones 1,001 11.0
Kevin Slowey 532 7.1
Travis Blackley 34 0.0
Ben Hendrickson 58 0.4
Dan Meyer 113 0.0
Mike Magnante 179 1.6
Colby Lewis 217 0.0
John Halama 378 5.4
Mark Brownson 48 0.1
Rafael Montero* 54 0.3
Shane Reynolds 588 13.2
Brett Myers 1,183 13.3
Eric Jokisch* 14 0.0
Mike Bovee 3 0.0
John Stephens 65 0.4
Scott Ruffcorn 70 0.0
Edgar Gonzalez 325 0.2
Mitch Talbot 232 0.8
Aaron Laffey 487 2.1

*Pitchers who have yet to play their age-28 seasons.

There are some quality names on this list, including Joe Blanton and Bobby Jones, whose seasons were most similar to Rodriguez’s. Shane Reynolds, who was a much better pitcher than I realized, also shows up a few spots down. However, while there are a good number of successful pitchers here, there are others who never really made it in the majors. The presence of guys like Travis Blackley and Dan Meyer show that low-walk pitchers with good-but-not-great strikeout prospects sometimes struggle to adapt to the big leagues.

As of this writing, the Red Sox haven’t announced their plans for Rodriguez beyond his next start. The team already has five veteran starters in their rotation, with Justin Masterson on his way back from the disabled list. Keeping Rodriguez around would likely mean displacing one of Masterson or Joe Kelly, who are both wielding FIPs and SIERAs north of 4.00.

Rodriguez will take the mound for the Red Sox tomorrow, and if he pitches anything like he did in his first start, it will be hard for the Red Sox not to keep him around. Regardless of what they decide for the near-term, Rodriguez’s long-term outlook is pretty good. He has a rare combination of stuff and command, and has dominated all of his opposition in his last year or so of games. Assuming his arm continues to hold up following the uptick in velocity, there’s good reason to think he’ll also succeed in the majors. Rodriguez’s first big-league start may very well have been a bellwether of things to come.





Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

29 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Spa city
7 years ago

When can we expect an updated KATOH article?