If there’s any hope for 2019, it lies in Dereck Rodríguez. It also lies in the team not hitting like a bunch of dummies, but for the sake of this article, I’ll focus on Rodríguez. He’s been tremendously effective. Since his debut on May 29, Rodríguez’s 2.32 ERA as a starter is the eighth best in the majors. If it weren’t for his recent trip to the disabled list (and the existence of Juan Soto and Ronald Acuña), he’d be a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year.
I fear, however, that Rodríguez’s best year is being wasted. The results have been stellar, but the peripherals have hinted that he’s pitching a bit above his head. His 5.9 walk percentage is great, but his 20.3 strikeout percentage is lower than average. His .251 BABIP against and 0.45 home runs per nine innings both seem unsustainable. Rodríguez has had to pitch to contact to be successful, and he’s done that well so far. Opponents are hitting just .206 against him with a .300 xwOBA.
Who Rodríguez reminds me of is Kyle Hendricks. In 2016, Hendricks led the National League in ERA despite not putting up amazing strikeout numbers and having a low BABIP. Hendricks and Rodríguez both follow a pitch-to-contact approach. They’ve both benefitted having good defenses behind them, but also because Hendricks and Rodriguez have limited hard contact. Hendricks’s 2016 numbers are strikingly similar.
Dereck Rodríguez and Kyle Hendricks
|Dereck Rodriguez's 2018||7.31||2.14||0.45||0.251||0.3||2.25||3.09||4.49|
|Kyle Hendricks' 2016||8.05||2.08||0.71||0.25||0.262||2.13||3.2||2.87|
Hendricks has the edge in most categories. He had more strikeouts, fewer walk. The only categories Hendricks is much better in are xwOBA and DRA. The discrepancy in DRA is due to, uhh, well I’ll just share how DRA is calculated* and I’m sure you’ll figure it out on your own.
DRA.model.s <- earth (RE24.PA ~ value_pa + SRAA + TRAA + SPP + ERAA + log.bf, data=DRA.data.s, nk=50, weights=DRA.data.s$log.bf, degree=2, nfold=10, ncross=100, thresh=.01)
*This isn’t even all of it.
The similarities don’t end at numbers, they have similar repertoires as well.
It’s not a perfect comparison. Rodriguez has about three miles on Hendricks’s fastball, and Hendricks’s sinker is a bit sharper than Rodriguez. Hendricks has a couple inches more downward movement on his changeup, but Rodriguez also has a slider that he can mix in as well. But the pitches all move similarly enough that Rodriguez could borrow some strategies from Hendricks.
In 2016, Hendricks succeeded by commanding both sides of the plate, trusting both of his fastballs, and being less predictable with his pitch usage. Oh, and by having a really good changeup.
Rodriguez has the unpredictability down. Buster Posey likely deserves some credit with his pitch calling. Andrew Baggarly wrote this piece in the Athletic about how Posey has helped Rodriguez with his game calling and knowledge of tunneling. At any rate, Rodriguez will throw just about anything in any count except for changeups to righties and sliders to lefties. He doesn’t have a clear tendency aside from throwing his fourseamer with two strikes.
I wonder if using the changeup or the curve in two strike counts would improve the strikeout numbers. He doesn’t have a clear swing-and-miss pitch like Hendricks does with his changeup, but both his curve and changeups generate more whiffs than the fastball. It’s a good curveball after all.
Something that might help his fastball generate more swings and misses is throwing it to both sides of the plate. Currently, Rodríguez sticks to the outside with his fastball. This shows where Rodríguez has thrown his fourseamers and sinkers to lefties from the pitcher’s perspective.
Hendricks found success being able to get fastballs in on the hands. Rodriguez has the velocity advantage, so jamming hitters ought to be easier for him.
Lefties have hit inside fastballs hard against Rodriguez, but if he threw inside with more intentionality, it might work out better for him. It could be that the fastballs that have gone to the inside part of the plate are misses to location.
Pitching to contact is still a skill that’s difficult to repeat. It’s contingent on park effects, defense, and just where a batter hits the ball. It’s hard to say who can do it, and who is getting lucky. It should be noted that Hendricks hasn’t pitched as well has he did in 2016 since. He’s still been good, but he hasn’t been one of the best pitchers in the league. Rodríguez probably also isn’t one of the best pitchers in the majors, but Hendricks’s 2017 and 2018 would be rad for Rodríguez.