Red Sox: What’s wrong with Eduardo Rodriguez?

Sep 28, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez (52) delivers a pitch during the second inning of the game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez (52) delivers a pitch during the second inning of the game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

A number of factors have contributed to Boston Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez looking nothing like the promising rookie we saw a year ago.

As many low points as the 2015 season had for the Boston Red Sox, one of the highlights was watching a young pitcher show flashes of brilliance in his first taste of the big leagues.

Eduardo Rodriguez had a very promising rookie season last year, finishing with a 10-6 record and a respectable 3.85 ERA. He finished the year strong, going 4-1 with a 2.07 ERA over his final 7 starts, leading us to believe that he was primed to make a leap in his sophomore season.

What ever happened to that guy? So far in 2016 we have seen a man that bears a striking resemblance to Rodriguez and even wears his jersey. Yet when he steps on the mound, he appears to be nothing like the young pitcher bursting with potential that we saw blossoming last year.

So what has changed since then? Well, a few things.

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First of all, Rodriguez missed essentially the first two months of the season while recovering from a knee injury that he sustained early in spring training. That altered his preparation for the season, so a shaky start isn’t entirely unexpected.

Rodriguez is healthy now, but if he looks like a different pitcher on the mound these days it’s because he has been pitching differently. He developed a new delivery in order to compensate for the knee injury and the altered mechanics have proven to be unsuccessful.

The most noticeable change in his delivery is that his drop step has been taking him toward third base instead of shortstop, depriving him of some of the power and extension he had last year. That may partially explain why his velocity is down a tick, from a fastball that averaged 93.9 last year to 92.6 this season.

The good news is that after discussing his slow start with Red Sox manager John Farrell and pitching coach Carl Willis, Rodriguez has decided to scrap his new delivery and revert back to the form he has found success with in the past.

"“I feel like all my life I’ve been pitching like I pitched last year, and this year I changed a little bit, because I was scared with the knee,” Rodriguez said this week, per WEEI’s Rob Bradford. “But now it’s normal, so now I go back to my normal mechanics.”"

Getting back to what has worked in the past is a step in the right direction, but there are more issues that he’ll still need to work out.

After Rodriguez was knocked around for 5 runs in 4 1/3 innings on Thursday, the Red Sox coaching staff pointed out that he may have been tipping his pitches. This was a significant issue at times during his rookie season, as he was lit up on more than one occasion by teams that were seemingly telegraphing every pitch he threw. The way he positioned his glove was tipping off hitters as to whether they were about to see a fastball or an off-speed pitch. It’s a habit he was able to shake late last season, but the alterations he made to his mechanics this year may have invited those bad habits back again. Perhaps returning to his old delivery will help get him back on track again, the same way he was able to adjust to the problem last year.

"“Every pitchers has personal habits in their delivery, and with Eddie, there’s been different things that have maybe been detected, whether by the opposition, by us,” explained Farrell, per ESPN’s Scott Lauber. “It’s been a little bit of a moving target, but there are some things that are clear that are there that we’re continuing to work on.”"

Even if Rodriguez isn’t tipping his pitches, his selection has been rather predictable anyway. He’s throwing his fastball 70.8 percent of the time so far this season, per FanGraphs. While he has been slightly more reliant on his changeup this year, the use of his slider has decreased to the point where we have barely seen it at all in some of his starts. Opposing hitters have been able to sit on his fastball knowing that they aren’t likely to see much else from him.

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Building confidence in his other pitches is one of the keys to turning his season around. There are very few starters that get away with throwing their fastball as often as Rodriguez has been and a starter needs more than two pitches in order to survive multiple trips through an opposing lineup.

In order to find confidence in his other pitches he’ll need to control them, which has been an issue through his first four starts. Rodriguez is walking 3.9 batters per nine innings, which would put him in the bottom five in the league if he had enough innings to qualify. His strikeout rate has also dropped significantly to 5.2 K/9, leaving him with a horrific 1.33 K/BB ratio that would rank as the third worst in the majors among qualified starters.

Changing his delivery back to what he has used in the past should make a world of difference. It should help boost his velocity back up to where it was a year ago, making his fastball that much more effective. The familiarity of his old mechanics may also make him more comfortable going back to his slider, which would keep hitters more off balance.

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The version of Rodriguez we have seen through four starts is not the one we expected, but there is a reasonable amount of hope that going back to his old delivery will lead to him looking like his old self again soon.