Eduardo Rodríguez had anything but a pretty month of May for the Boston Red Sox. Over the month, he was a complete dud, with six starts resulted in a 7.28 ERA in 29 2/3 innings. Those numbers are enough to say that it was the worst month of his career. It’s a stark contrast from his month of April, in which he went 4-0 with a 3.52 ERA. Many had thought he had regained his 2019 form in which he won 19 games. He will look to bounce back after weeks of struggling.
Eduardo Rodríguez’s Success in 2019
First off, revisiting Rodríguez’s 2019 season is important to see what worked so well for him. One of his keys to success that year was his ability to limit hard contact, for starters. Rodríguez’s 29.9% Hard-Hit rate was good for the top 8th percentile of the league. Contrast that with this year, where his hard hit % is up to 35.9% through June 3. Those are pitches in his arsenal are being walloped.
Hard Hit % By pitch type
For instance, his slider and cutter are being hit pretty hard. Except for his 4-seam fastball, every pitch he throws over 10% of the time has an increased hard-hit % with 2019. His cutter is inducing much more hard contact than it did in 2019. When commenting on the cutter, manager Alex Cora explained that the location or lack thereof might be the culprit in the spike of hard hits. “I think the cutter actually is bigger than usual. We’ll try to find out why. It’s actually playing like a hanging slider instead of him being sharp and dotting that pitch whenever he wants to.”
When you look at the heatmap, Cora’s comment rings true. A majority of Rodríguez’s cutters are hanging over the plate in the upper half. Rodríguez likes to use the cutter as a backdoor pitch to righties and have it run away from lefties. So ideally, they would like to see a majority of the pitches on the corners.
Eduardo Rodríguez Should Throw His Best Pitch and A Lot
Coming up with a solution is much easier said than done but for Rodríguez. That is to say, the answer may be to increase the volume of his most reliable pitch. From 2015-19 the four-seam fastball was used on average 61.6% of the time. This year that usage is at a career-low 46%. Over the years, Rodríguez has added more pitches, and it seems that this year there’s a concerted effort to mix up pitches to keep hitters off-balance. In the same vein, it appears that throwing his fastball less has lessened the effectiveness of his other pitches.
It is said that throwing so many different pitches can make your selection evident based on release point. His cutter is released at a higher-end than his cutter, which is other than his changeup. Relying on pitches with a similar release point like the changeup could do more to fool hitters.
A good indicator of the ineffectiveness of his off-speed and breaking pitches is his low whiff%. So far in 2021, he is in the bottom 18th percentile in whiff% when he was in the top half (64th percentile) in 2019. Also, in terms of individual pitches, except the four-seamer, all of his other pitches have a lower whiff% than they did in 2019. Above all, increasing the usage of his four-seamer will keep hitters more focused on seeing it, and when he drops an off-speed pitch, it will keep the hitters off balance.
Whiff % by Pitch 2019 vs. 2021
2019 2021 Difference
Rodríguez is struggling. However, there is a bit of bad luck mixed into his performance. When you look at his expected numbers, they fall more in line with his usual season averages. For example, his xERA is over two points lower than his actual ERA (3.55 and 5.64, respectively). That could be encouraging as the Red Sox needs Rodríguez to help stabilize a rotation that has been overall very good. Also, Rodríguez is no stranger to getting out of rough patches. In his oft-referenced 2019 season, he finished April with 5.47 ERA and a .333 BABIP. That’s proof that Rodriguez and the coaching staff can make the proper adjustments to right the ship.
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