If you’ve been around the site in the past month or two, you probably know that I’ve been breaking down potential targets for the St. Louis Cardinals this season. There are targets I like (Yamamoto and Gray) and targets I don’t like (Snell and probably Imanaga) but most of my breakdowns come with some sort of caveat or qualifier. For instance, Imanaga is a really interesting target because of the quality of his stuff (at least, according to Eno Sarris’ stuff+ metric) but I have concerns about his home run rate.
I speculated why the home run rate might be so high but, due to lack of information, I don’t know for sure. That’s why I don’t like Imanaga as a target but I would be okay with him at a low enough price or if the Cardinals think they have a grasp on his home run issue.
I wanted to begin with that before I break down Eduardo Rodriguez because Rodriguez is actually a pitcher I want the Cardinals to stay away from. Plain and simple.
So that’s the punch line. You can save your time and stop reading here if you don’t care about my reasoning but I will spend the rest of this article breaking down Rodriguez, what he brings to the table, and why I think the Cardinals should stay away from him this offseason.
Let’s start with a look at Rodriguez’s Fangraphs page
That’s a pretty impressive career. I mean, Rodriguez has been effective since the day he set foot on an MLB mound and he’s been at least a 3 fWAR pitcher for 3 of the last 4 seasons. So, why don’t I like him as a target?
Well, there a few red flags in the profile here. And that’s before we even get into his arsenal.
I start by pointing out the diminished strike out rate. That’s obviously concerning and it’s not just a one-year blip. Rodriguez has simply missed fewer bats since leaving the Red Sox. He was better this year as his strikeout rate rebounded from a career low 18.4% to 23.0% but 23.0% is still far below Rodriguez’s Boston standards.
I’ll get more into this when we look at Rodriguez at an individual pitch level, but suffice it to say that he’s not a bat misser.
That’s not the only red flag, though. We can see that Rodriguez’s expected numbers were much worse than his actual numbers this year and that makes sense.
The gap between his FIP (3.66) and xFIP. (4.06) can be explained by home run luck that led to a career low home run rate and HR/FB%. That assuredly will not hold year over year. Throw in a few more home runs and Rodriguez’s numbers look worse.
And then there’s his career low .274 BABIP.
It’s pretty clear that while Rodriguez had a good season, he was perhaps a bit fortunate this year. I don’t want to be too dismissive, though. Even if we normalize Rodriguez’s BABIP and HR/FB%, he still would have had a solid season.
His expected numbers aren’t bad at all. In fact, a 4.04 ERA and 4.06 FIP would be a fine season for a pitcher. The problem is that we’re looking at a pitcher who will be 31-years old next season and almost certainly has regression ahead of him.
He’s not likely to repeat his success this year and that success led to “only” a 3 fWAR season. Throw in some regression and it’s easy to see him being a 2.5ish fWAR arm next year; or maybe even worse.
That’s only the first year of his contract, too, and pitchers on the wrong side of 30 tend to get worse, not better. That’s just not a contract that I would be interested in signing if I were the Cardinals.
Now, of course, this all depends on what the market value is for Rodriguez. Teams see this too and they’ll be wary of him for the same reasons which means that he’s not likely to get a huge contract.
With that said, players don’t opt-out of their contracts if they’re expecting a pay cut and Rodriguez just opted out of 3 years and $49 million. That’s an average annual value of over $16 million.
Even though that’s not that big of a contract, it’s still sizeable and I don’t know if I would even be willing to give him that much money. So giving him more money and/or more years gets a big no vote from me.
Based on Rodriguez’s Fangraphs profile, I can see a reason to have faith in him. After all, he’s been good for a while now. I’m skeptical of his ability to continue his success, at least at it’s current level, but that doesn’t mean that he’ll fall off a cliff. He could be a perfectly solid starter for another couple of years and all of my concerns could prove to be unfounded.
When I look at Rodriguez’s stuff, though, I have even less faith.
I’ll start with the fastball. The pitch doesn’t have great metrics but it wasn’t terrible last year. It allowed a .340 wOBA and .339 xwOBA and was even tied with his slider for his best pitch by run value (7).
Yet I just don’t think that moderate success with continue. One indicator is his velocity.
Eduardo Rodriguez’s Fastball Velocity by Year
I don’t like that decline and I don’t like that it started so early and has continued so consistently. The only exception is actually the 2023 season in which Rodriguez’s velocity ticked back up, though it was still below his 2021 velocity.
The problem with his 2023 velocity, though, is that he didn’t sustain it throughout the season.
In April, Rodriguez was averaging 92.2 mph on his four-seam fastball. That rose to a season high 93.2 mph average in June. But it didn’t stay there.
The next month, his velocity was down 92.6 mph. Then it was 92.3 mph in August before sitting 91.8 mph in September. That velocity decline in the second half of the season is concerning.
It gets worse, though. In the first 3 months of the season, when Rodriguez’s velocity was stronger, hitters slugged .324, .341, and .333, respectively. Once the lefty’s velocity started declining in July, those monthly slugging percentages rose to .458, .509, and .524, respectively, over the final 3 full months of the regular season.
That’s a big difference.
It shows up in Rodriguez’s overall numbers too. Prior to July, when the lefty’s velocity started declining, Rodriguez had a 2.13 ERA, 3.14 FIP, and 3.57 xFIP. From July though the end of the season, his ERA rose to 4.24, his FIP rose to 4.08, and his xFIP rose to 4.45.
If that’s the pitcher getting a multi-year contract worth more than $16 million per year, you can count me out.
There’s simply a ton of risk involved with signing a pitcher who saw his fastball velocity and effectiveness wane in the second half of the season. On top of that, the potential reward of signing Rodriguez simply isn’t enough to make it worth it. This isn’t a Tyler Glasnow situation where’s there’s serious risk associated with the arm but also immense upside.
I have concerns about Rodriguez being worth his contract in year one given his velocity decline and that says nothing about the future years in the deal.
His fastball also isn’t one that can stand to lose velocity as the shape on the pitch isn’t great.
I’ll move on from the fastball now because I do want to address the rest of Rodriguez’s arsenal, which does actually have some things to like.
His changeup, for starters, gets a lot of arm side run (16.2 inches), misses a lot of bats and was really effective in 2023, limiting opposing hitters to a .275 wOBA while his cutter also played pretty well (.321 wOBA).
The most impressive thing about those pitches isn’t their pure stuff, but rather Rodriguez’s command of them.
Take a look at where Rodriguez put his changeup this year:
That’s an effective location and the tight concentration in the low arm side corner shows that Rodriguez has a plan for the pitch and is able to execute it. What’s even more impressive to me, though, is how well Rodriguez commands his cutter.
This is awesome. I actually love this heat map. Rodriguez’s ability to command his cutter to both sides of the plate while keeping it out of the middle is truly incredible. Many times, pitchers focus on one specific location with a pitch or one specific side of the plate so it’s uncommon to see a pitcher command a secondary offering like this.
These are his two main seecondary weapons against righties and his ability to locate both of them is huge, especially considering the platoon disadvantage that he has when he throws them.
Against lefties, Rodriguez mixes in a different pitch - his slider - as his go to secondary and while the pitch has never had a ton of success (or usage), it was his most effective offering in 2023, holding hitters to a .122 wOBA while generating a 39.5% whiff rate.
The final pitch in the arsenal is a sinker that Rodriguez throws less than 10% of the time. So that’s the whole arsenal. If you look at stuff+ it’s not impressive at all, with Rodriguez’s slider being the only pitch that grades out above 100 (103) while the rest of the pitches fall between 73 (four-seam fastball) and 91 (changeup).
In fact, among Tigers pitchers to throw more than 20 innings, Rodriguez had the lowest overall stuff+ grade (83). Among Cardinals pitchers, that would rank above only 4 players - Andrew Suarez, Packy Naughton, Drew Rom, and Zack Thompson.
Stuff+ shouldn’t be used exclusively when evaluating pitchers but that’s simply not a promising profile. The lefty does command his pitches well but the fastball velocity is a concern and his stuff already doesn’t grade out well. If it declines any more, it’s easy to see Rodriguez’s numbers falling off a bit.
Combine with the fact that he’s due for regression in 2024 and Rodriguez feels like a pitcher that some team will overpay for. That team shouldn’t be the Cardinals. If the Cardinals want to find a mid-rotation starter, they can likely find a better one for cheaper.
Given all of my concerns, I’m actually surprised that Rodriguez opted out of his contract because it really feels like he won’t (or, at least, shouldn’t) get a better contract than the one he turned down. Maybe he’s looking for more years at a lower AAV to give him a higher total value, but that’s still not a deal I would be interested in from a Cardinals perspective.
The good news is that I doubt Rodriguez will be wearing a Cardinals uniform next year. Even though the pitcher opted out of his deal, he was reportedly in talks to restructure his contract up until the opt-out deadline.
I wouldn’t be shocked if the mutual interest between the two parties led to Rodriguez returning to Detroit in the offseason. After all, he did refuse to exercise his no-trade clause at the deadline because of how much he enjoyed playing in Detroit.
Beyond that, if Rodriguez does go somewhere else, it’s likely that he’ll focus on staying close to his family on the east coast. Those geographical limitations may not eliminate the Cardinals but there are plenty of places closer to the East coast than St. Louis.
So, I don’t expect Rodriguez to sign with the Cardinals nor do I want him to.
Thanks for reading, VEB. Have a great Sunday.