Six pitchers in all of baseball had a higher wins above replacement (Baseball-Reference) than Eduardo Rodriguez last season. Among the pitchers on that list? Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole.
That, of course, is pretty good company regardless of what you want to say about the stat itself, and it’s proof that Rodriguez was among the best pitchers in baseball for the 2019 season.
With the 2020 campaign rapidly approaching, the Boston Red Sox left-hander should have his sights set on even bigger and better things as he looks to build on a career year. After injuries and inconsistencies dogged him through his first four seasons, Rodriguez went 19-6 with a 3.81 ERA in 2019, logging a career-high 203 1/3 innings, while striking out 9.4 batters per nine innings. He finished sixth in American League Cy Young Award voting.
So, it’s a little surprising to see MLB.com’s “draft” of Cy Young contenders for the 2020 season (including both leagues) and not find Rodriguez’s name anywhere on the list. MLB.com’s Mike Petriello and Will Leitch took turns selecting the pitchers in either league they thought would contend for the Cy Young, and Rodriguez was beat out by the likes of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Mike Soroka and German Marquez at the bottom of the list.
At the end of the day, this means very little. In fact, their list means nothing. It’s a thought exercise in March. But it is a little odd that Rodriguez’s renaissance hasn’t been reason for acclaim in the baseball community.
Admittedly, Rodriguez’s inconsistency at times throughout his career might give one pause when trying to decide whether he can replicate or even improve upon his 2019 season. The southpaw, however, has shown fairly clear improvement since 2017, and the workload question was one of the final questions for Rodriguez to answer. After not working more than 138 innings in a single season up until last year, Rodriguez’s 203 innings ranked just outside the top 10 in all of baseball.
The stuff is undeniable, too, and as Rodriguez gets older, smarter and accumulates more valuable experience as a big-league pitcher, he’s starting to look more and more comfortable. And this is hard to believe, but he turns 27 at the end of the month, so he should just be entering his prime now.
Boston certainly will need Rodriguez to at least be the same pitcher he was last season in 2020. Who knows what the Sox will get, if anything, from Chris Sale. David Price is now a Dodger. It’s possible this is Rodriguez’s staff now, at least for the foreseeable future.
Fangraphs’ various projections all paint a similar picture for Rodriguez, expecting him to win roughly 13 or 14 games with nine or 10 losses with an ERA anywhere from 3.80 to 4.20 or thereabouts. All but one of their five projection models has him logging at least 188 innings.
Even with the necessary “It’s only spring training” qualifier, Rodriguez has looked good so far, allowing just two earned runs on five hits in seven spring innings. He’s issued just one walk thus far, which would be an enormous improvement if he has figured a way to limit the free passes, too.
So while maybe it’s not “unfair” to not rank Rodriguez among the top 20 pitchers in baseball right now, but don’t be surprised if he’s (again) there when the 2020 season ends.