Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez displaying pinpoint control

NORTH PORT, FL - MARCH 6: Eduardo Rodriguez #57 of the Boston Red Sox looks on before a Grapefruit League game against the Atlanta Braves on March 6, 2020 at CoolToday Park in North Port, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
NORTH PORT, FL - MARCH 6: Eduardo Rodriguez #57 of the Boston Red Sox looks on before a Grapefruit League game against the Atlanta Braves on March 6, 2020 at CoolToday Park in North Port, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Red Sox ace Eduardo Rodriguez hits his spots with improved command

The transformation of Eduardo Rodriguez has taken another leap as the lefty is well on his way to a career year while leading an improved Boston Red Sox rotation.

Rodriguez reached the majors in 2015 as a young prospect full of potential. Scouts raved about his stuff on the mound but he couldn’t consistently harness it. The lefty had a tendency to nibble on the corners, resulting in his pitch counts racking up quickly which prevented him from going deep into games.

The timid approach to the strike zone also led to an abundance of walks. From 2016-2019, Rodriguez owned a 3.28 BB/9 that ranked in the bottom-20 among qualified American League starting pitchers.

Rodriguez utilizes a five-pitch arsenal highlighted by a mid-90s four-seam fastball that he leaned on heavily early in his career. His heater averaged between a tick over 93 mph and nearly 95 mph through his first three major league seasons and he threw the fastball more than half the time, per Baseball Savant.

While he showed flashes of upside in those early years, his inefficiency held him back from reaching his potential. He took a significant step forward in 2019 when he won 19 games while reaching 34 starts and 200+ innings for the first time in his career but we were still waiting for Rodriguez to ascend to that elite level.

Rodriguez sat out the shortened 2020 season while recovering from myocarditis but he’s come back stronger than ever this year. He’s won all four of his starts while producing a 3.52 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 10.2 K/9.

This version of Rodriguez we are seeing is different from the pitcher we’ve seen in the past. The velocity on his four-seam fastball is down to a career-low 91.9 mph and he isn’t relying on it nearly as often as he did early in his career. He’s actually thrown his excellent changeup more frequently this season (31.2%) and he’s finding better balance between the four-seam fastball (26.8%), his cutter (20.4%) and sinker (12.5%).

He’s not as overpowering as he once was, perhaps as a result of missing last season or the dead arm he experienced during spring training, but Rodriguez is thriving by hitting his spots with pinpoint control.

Rodriguez has struck out 26 batters while walking only two through 23 innings this season. His 0.78 BB/9 is the best in the majors and his 13.0 K/BB trails only Gerrit Cole (16.67).

Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez has noticed E-Rod’s evolution on the mound and credits the lefty with learning how to pitch with command rather than throw hard without efficiency, according to MassLive’s Christopher Smith.

"“He’s a pitcher, he’s not a thrower now,” Vázquez said. “Before he was throwing hard and it was learning and getting experience. But now he knows what we’re doing out there, what pitch we need to throw. I know he’s not throwing 96, 97 like before when he came to the big leagues. But now … he dots everything: high fastballs, cutters backdoor, front-door sinkers, all the pitches. So I think that’s what pitchers do. Good pitchers, they dot all the fastballs and all the pitches.”"

Rodriguez has been more aggressive in attacking the zone. A career-high 46.6% of his pitches have been thrown in the strike zone and he’s setting career-high rates with a 12.5 swinging-strike percentage and 17.2 called strike percentage, per FanGraphs.

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It would be wise of Rodriguez to continue attacking the strike zone considering his proficiency in inducing weak contact. Rodriguez rated in the top five percent of the league with an 86.4 average exit velocity in 2019 and he has thus far improved upon that this year with an 85.9 rate. He was in the top eight percent of the league in 2019 with a 29.9 Hard Hit percentage and owns a strong 30.5% rate for his career.

Rodriguez has emerged as the ace of the Red Sox staff by doing what a front line starter should do. He’s logging a heavy workload and putting his team in position to win every fifth day. Boston has won 18 of his last 21 starts and they are 49-12 with Rodriguez on the mound since the beginning of 2018.

The improved command will lead to more efficiency, allowing Rodriguez to last deeper into games to ensure he gets credit for those victories. With a league-leading four wins already in the bank, Rodriguez could be heading for a 20-win season, which automatically puts him in the Cy Young conversation. Pitcher wins is one of the most overrated statistics but 20 wins still means something in a sport obsessed with milestones.

Rodriguez is still capable of unleashing a blazing fastball and his velocity should rise as he continues to build up arm strength following a lost season. He’s proving that he doesn’t need overwhelming velocity to succeed though. Where you spot the ball is more important than how hard you throw it. Scaling back on the fastball velocity and finding a better balance with his other pitches is producing results and he’s still capable of reaching back for that extra zip on the four-seamer when he needs it.

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Rodriguez is starting to put it all together and if he manages to stay on this track then we’ll finally see the best version of the lefty as he unlocks his extraordinary potential.