The ascent towards the top of the Red Sox rotation has required some tinkering for Eduardo Rodriguez.
The 24-year-old southpaw drew rave reviews shortly after the Red Sox acquired him in the Andrew Miller trade. His poise along with a fastball, change-up, and slider repertoire reminded many prognosticators of former Cy Young winner, Johan Santana.
Rodriguez’ performance as a rookie did nothing to dissipate the lofty expectations placed on the left-hander. He finished his rookie season with a solid 10-6 record and a 3.85 ERA while striking out 18.8% of the batters he faced.
E-Rod, as he would later be coined, threw his fastball on 69% of his pitches while mixing in his devastating changeup 17.9% of the time. The changeup was so effective that it resulted in a .186 batting average against, a paltry .289 slugging percentage and 62 whiffs in 97 at-bats.
However, Rodriguez slider was far less successful in 2015 than his fastball-changeup offerings. Opposing hitters shellacked the slide piece to the tune of a .338/.585 batting average/slugging percentage slash line.
Despite these iffy numbers, the young lefty decided to up the usage of his slider from 11.6 % of his pitches as a rookie to 16.1% of his pitch mix in his sophomore campaign. Once again, hitters had their way with this pitch. They put up a slash line of .333/.590 in year two while notching 16 total bases in just 39 at-bats.
The increase in slider usage had a negative effect on Rodriguez’ overall performance. The lefty saw his ERA rise from 3.85 to an ugly 4.71 while his BB/9 and HR/9 numbers also headed in the wrong direction.
There could be myriad reasons why Rodriguez made these changes. For starters, Rodriguez suffered a dislocated right kneecap during camp. Pitchers typically shorten their stride to take velocity off their offspeed pitches and so they can stay on top of the ball. A dislocation to the landing leg would certainly make throwing a changeup uncomfortable.
The southpaw also developed a bad habit of tipping his pitches. The issue popped up during his rookie campaign and continued to plague him through 2016. So much so that Rodriguez was demoted to Pawtucket at the end of June. so he could rid himself of the tell-tale chin dipping during his pre-pitch setup.
Rodriguez bounced back upon returning to the Show but it wasn’t until September that he adjusted his slider/changeup usage. The uptick in his changeup usage led to a 3.27 ERA over his last 3 starts. He also registered his highest strikeout rate of the season by posting a 10.6 K/9.
Rodriguez took the momentum from the end of 2016 into the 2017 season. His pitch mix is now tweaked to maximize his best pitches instead of featuring his worst. He’s throwing his changeup on a career-high 20% of his pitches while recording a swinging strike on 17.8 % of those pitches. The MLB average swing and miss rate on the changeup is 14.6 %.
His changeup is now working in tandem with the fastball and the results have been fantastic while the slider continues to be his worst pitch by far. Here are his 2017 numbers against each pitch.
Sticking with this pragmatic approach has allowed Rodriguez to dominate right-handed hitters this season. Righties are slashing just .190/.271/.354 versus the E-Rod which makes it tough on opposing managers to use any platoon advantages.
Not only is the changeup getting high swing and miss numbers but it’s also being used to induce soft contact to the middle of the field. E-Rod’s forcing hitters to put 41% of their balls in play into the middle of the diamond. This strategy works wonders on a team with Jackie Bradley Jr. roaming the outfield.
The changes Eduardo Rodriguez has made to his pitch sequencing has led to more efficiency, more swinging strikes and better overall results. With David Price working his way back into the rotation, Rick Porcello regressing and Drew Pomeranz‘ iffy elbow, E-Rod’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time.