The Boston Red Sox starting rotation has had its share of hits and misses in 2015. Ian York explores the way Eduardo Rodriguez dominated in his first start after being called up last week.
Eduardo Rodriguez is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. He came to the big leagues on May 28th, with the intention of a single spot start. John Farrell, when asked what would happen if Rodriguez “pitched really, really well”, agreed that in that case they would have to “really, really reconsider”. Rodriguez did pitch really, really well, and the Red Sox did reconsider; he will have his second start on June 3.
In his first start, Rodriguez threw 7 2/3 shutout innings (three hits, two walks, seven strikeouts) against the Texas Rangers. As billed, he threw three pitches: Four-seam fastball (“FF”), slider (“SL”), and changeup (“CH”). Here is his pitch distribution throughout the game:
(“Out”, in these charts, means that the ball was hit and made an out; strikeouts are not shown.) For the first three innings, he focused on his fastball with an occasional slider. On the second time through the order, he began to mix in his changeup more often. Although his velocity did fade somewhat toward the end of the game, he was still able to throw over 95 mph in the 7th inning.
His fastball showed elite velocity; only four left-handed starters in baseball have had a faster average fastball this season:
Rodriguez, with an average velocity of 93.4 mph, is the solid red marker. The fastest average fastball velocity for a LHP starter this year is James Paxton at 93.95 mph, the red outline (and an understandable outlier in number of fastballs thrown as well as in velocity). The other left-handed starters who threw harder than Rodriguez, all averaging 93.7 mph, are Danny Duffy (green outline), Robbie Ray (blue outline), and David Price (purple outline). The gentleman with the average velocity of 83.4 mph for his fastball is, of course, Mark Buehrle. (Note that these velocities are all the start speed as listed by PITCHf/x. Brooks Baseball, which calculates the start speed at the point where a pitch leaves the pitcher’s hand, shows slightly faster speeds for all of these.)
Rodriguez’s slider and changeup are also faster than average, both at about 86 mph, and his change has an exceptional spin rate, suggesting that it should have extreme movement:
He threw all three of his pitches for strikes. He showed good command of his fastball, mostly avoiding the center of the plate. Within the zone, especially to RHB, his fastball was in the bottom half of the zone, but he showed batters the same pitch up and outside so that they couldn’t forget about the top of the zone:
His changeup also showed very good command and deception, drawing fouls and weak contact for outs:
Rodriguez used his changeup against both right- and left-handed batters, but threw it preferentially to RHB. He made up the difference to LHB with his slider, which was strictly used against left-handed batters this outing, and which like the changeup drew swinging strikes and fouls:
Let’s look in more detail at the fourth inning, when Rodriguez used all three of his pitches, facing three very dangerous batters (Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder, and Adrian Beltre) and shut them down with a fly out, a pop up, and a ground ball, respectively. Here is Fielder’s at-bat: Rodriguez placed a fastball, a slider, a change, and another fastball at and just below the bottom of the zone, and then drew a pop up with a 94 mph fastball on the inside edge (note the movement on the changeup):
Of course this is just one game, and the number of pitchers who succeed in the majors at the age of 22 can practically be counted on the fingers of one hand, so we should not expect Rodriguez to continue to dominate for the rest of this year. Still, the Red Sox season to date has had few bright spots – their fans should enjoy this one.