Pittsburgh reliever Richard Rodríguez was really good in 2020, and I’m not sure he got the recognition that he deserved. Then again, he was pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates, so that likely explains that. Across 23.1 innings of work, he posted a 2.70 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and an excellent 6.80 K/BB ratio. He went 4-for-5 in save opportunities last year and enters the 2021 season as the likely closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. When Rodriguez wasn’t missing bats, he was hit hard, but fortunately for the 31-year-old, he missed bats more than ever before. He’s likely to begin the year as the team’s closer, but fantasy managers need to be wary of relying on him for saves, primarily for two reasons.

  1. Barring some unforeseen success or out of this world performances from multiple players, the Pittsburgh Pirates figure to be in the basement in all of baseball. Translated version: The Pittsburgh Pirates won’t be good, so save opportunities may be sparse.
  2. As we’ve seen in recent years with the Pirates, if any player generates any sort of value, they will be traded at the deadline. Pittsburgh is committed to trading for prospects and prolonging an already never-ending rebuild.

Anyways, enough with the disgruntled Pittsburgh fandom. Back to Rodriguez’s career year in 2020.

In the 2020 season, Rodriguez posted a career best 36.6 percent strikeout rate, highlighted by a career best 15.1 percent swinging strike rate. Additionally, his zone contact rate dropped 14 percentage points from the year before and was nine points below his career mark. His 66.7 percent contact rate was also a career best. You’ll see from the graph below that Rodriguez thoroughly enjoyed more whiffs in the strike zone than ever before.

Rodriguez was also able to harness his command and post a career best 5.4 percent walk rate. Interestingly enough, he actually threw less pitches in the zone than ever before. Good thing for an increased whiff rate!

Rodriguez boasts a lethal slider that can make anyone look silly. In fact, it was one of the game’s most deadly. Only Tanner Rainey (75.5%) had a higher whiff rate than Rodriguez’s slider (63.6%) last year. Furthermore, only Rainey (69.6%), Felix Peña (69%) and Corbin Burnes (61.3%) had a higher strikeout rate with the slider than Rodriguez (59.1%). This is a lethal weapon in his arsenal to say the least.

Fortunately, it didn’t hurt him too much, but his exit velocity and hard-hit rate ranked in the third and first percentile respectively. Yikes. When he was hit, he was hit hard, specifically his fastball. The average exit velocity against his fastball was 93 miles per hour, which was nearly three miles per hour harder than 2019. On the other hand, his lethal slider resulted in an exit velocity of 83.2 miles per hour, which was nearly three miles per hour lower than 2019! Let that slider work! Don’t be surprised if the trend continues where the gap in usage between his fastball and slider decreases.

While Rodriguez likely opens the year as the team’s closer, David Bednar is waiting in the wings. Bednar boasts some heat and has looked dominant this spring. After being hit pretty hard last year in a handful of appearances for San Diego, Bednar has a 11:1 K/BB ratio through his first six spring innings with the Pirates. Should Rodriguez slip up at all, Pittsburgh could make the switch to the 26-year-old. Or, if Rodriguez pitches very well, he could be traded, in which Bednar would likely serve as the team’s closer.

The Pittsburgh Pirates won’t win many games in 2021, and any player that generates any sort of trade value will likely get shipped by the trade deadline. Rodriguez should be targeted more in leagues that value SOLDS (saves and holds) as a mid-season trade could be on the horizon.

His current average draft position, courtesy of NFBC data, is at pick 217. So long as he continues to strike batters out and keep the walks low, he has plenty of value. Just understand that he’s a lower level closer, considering Bednar is waiting in the wings and the Pirates will be lucky to win 13 games this season. Furthermore, he could get traded, and then he’s just a ratio-boosting reliever. Now, you could treat him like the Pirates likely will, and if he gets off to a hot start, get a couple saves for him, and then trade him for a better asset, before his value depreciates when he moves away from Pittsburgh.


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