Red Sox lefty Eduardo Rodriguez has been extremely unlucky in 2021
Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez has been extremely unlucky
The Boston Red Sox starting rotation has been a surprising strength of the team so far in 2021. With Chris Sale recovering from Tommy John, the team seemingly lacked a true ace to start the season, and pitchers like Garrett Richards, Martin Pérez, and Nick Pivetta had plenty of question marks and limited upside.
Eduardo Rodriguez had arguably the most question marks of all. When healthy, he had performed very well in his career, but was frequently injured and was returning from missing all of 2020 due to complications from COVID-19. No one was certain how the lefty would perform, and he has not gotten great results. Through 19 starts, Rodriguez is just 7-5 with a career-worst 5.23 ERA.
There are plenty of reasons, however, to believe that Rodriguez has actually been far better than these numbers indicate, which in turn provides hope that he will be a solid starter for the remainder of the season.
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For starters, Rodriguez is striking out 10.56 batters per 9 innings, a career-high. Additionally, he’s walking fewer batters than he ever has, only 2.24 per 9. He’s allowing 1.31 homers per 9, which isn’t great, but that number is far from worrisome.
His terrible ERA, therefore, is due mainly to bad luck rather than poor performance. FIP and xERA are two stats that aim to quantify how well a pitcher has truly performed by removing luck and poor defense from the equation, and both have been shown to have more predictive value than ERA. Rodriguez has posted a 3.51 FIP this season, to go along with a 3.65 xERA. Those are very solid figures, both illustrating that Rodriguez has not been nearly as bad as his ERA would make it seem.
Then what is causing his inflated ERA? It appears to be a combination of terrible luck on batted balls and unfortunately timely hitting by his opponents. Opposing hitters have a .355 BABIP against Rodriguez this season, despite the league average BABIP typically hovering around .300. Rodriguez can’t do much about weak contact falling in for hits, but this number should regress somewhat, leading to improved results.
Furthermore, Rodriguez is stranding only 65.8% of the batters he allows to reach base. For his career, he has stranded 74.1%. He is giving up a disproportionate amount of hits with runners on, and once this number regresses towards his career norm, he should begin giving up far fewer runs.
Rodriguez has been somewhat disappointing this season. However, as the numbers above indicate, he has actually pitched far better than his results would have one believe. Once his luck begins to normalize, his ERA should start to plummet, and he will be far more like the pitcher we saw in 2019 than the one we have seen so far in 2021.