Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Richard Rodriguez is suddenly effective again. What changed?
It got to a point where the Pittsburgh Pirates could not rely on Richard Rodriguez any longer.
Yet as the calendar page flipped into June, Rodriguez began to find his footing. He has yet to allow an earned run for the month to date — though he has been scored upon, the runs were not charged to him — and has limited walks. How’s he doing it?
Leaning into the fastball
Rodriguez has always been a two-pitch reliever — four-seam and slider — but he has leaned in to his heat in June to the tune of a 91.7 percent fastball usage rate.
And, more importantly, the pitch has been a good one. I’m talking a 60.9 percent ground ball rate, a 17.8 percent fly ball mark and a 20.3 percent whiff per swing. Are all of those sustainable? Probably not, but Rodriguez is riding the wave while he can and using up every last bit of production from the pitch while it’s hot for him.
Staying out of the bad situations
Prior to June, Rodriguez threw pitches while behind in the count 32.5 percent of the time. In June, that figure has dropped to 23.3 percent.
It seems like a small enough change, but it’s an important one for Rodriguez. His season-long wOBA while ahead or even is .280, while the same metric jumps to .490 when he is behind in the count. Clearly, getting to a better situation agrees with him.
Keep it in the yard
Of course, the biggest issue that dogged Rodriguez’s early season performance was the long ball. This, too, has not been an issue for him in June. For now.
Prior to June, hitters enjoyed a .988 xSLG (expected slugging) percentage off of him on fly balls. That number has dropped to .680 this month. While that’s still a crooked number, it certainly does not spell certain doom as it did before. With decreased fly ball rates to begin with, Rodriguez has been able to limit the exposure that is seen on his flies.
It has only been eight innings, but if Rodriguez’s June is any indication that he may be able to at least mimic his success last season to some degree, the Pirates’ bullpen would greatly benefit.