This morning, it was reported by multiple sources that left-handed starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez and the Detroit Tigers agreed to a five-year contract worth $77 million, which includes an opt-out after the second season. Rodriguez, 28, pitched for the Red Sox for six seasons where he had a 4.16 ERA in 856.2 innings pitched. Despite some tough luck which resulted in a 4.74 ERA in 2021, Rodriguez’s peripherals were in line with some of the best pitchers in the American League.
Since his performance and talent clearly weren’t reflected by his ERA, the Red Sox offered Rodriguez the one-year $18.4 million qualifying offer, which he declined. Since Rodriguez declined the qualifying offer and left the Red Sox, they will receive a 2022 MLB Draft pick.
In 2021, Rodriguez pitched 157.2 innings to a 4.74 ERA, 3.55 xERA, 3.32 FIP, 3.43 xFIP, 3.64 SIERA, and 3.8 fWAR. This was on the heels of not pitching at all in 2020 due to being diagnosed with myocarditis, a heart condition that likely came as a result of his battle with COVID-19 earlier in the year. In his last full season prior to this year in 2019, Rodriguez pitched very well having a 3.81 ERA, 3.61 xERA, 3.86 FIP, 4.10 xFIP, 4.31 SIERA, and 3.8 fWAR in a workhorse role across 203.1 innings.
Rodriguez had very very similar swing and miss stuff and control in 2021 compared to 2019 (11.7 SwStr% in both seasons and a 28.1 CSW% in 2021 compared to a 27.9 CSW% in 2019), but he didn’t have much luck on balls in play this past year. Among pitchers with at least 130 innings pitched, Rodriguez had a league-leading .363 BABIP and two of the other pitchers in the top four were also Red Sox (Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Richards). For comparison, Rodriguez’s BABIP in 2019 was .317 and the league average BABIP in 2021 was .290.
Since he had a high BABIP, it would be safe to assume Rodriguez’s opponents were able to hit him hard. Wrong. Hitters had an average exit velocity of 86.5 mph (which put Rodriguez in the 90th percentile), made hard contact only 33.6% of the time (87th percentile), and barreled balls at a 6.8% percent clip (63rd percentile).
Additionally when Rodriguez was pitching, the Red Sox defense complied -5 OAA, which was nothing out of the ordinary for them. Although FanGraphs’ DRS and UZR metrics saw the Red Sox as an average defensive team, OAA saw the Red Sox as the worst defensive team in the league.
Although the Tigers didn’t fare much (if at all) better defensively themselves compared to the Red Sox, signing Rodriguez and trading for Tucker Barnhart last week signal that more reinforcements are headed to Detroit soon. The Tigers have been rumored to be in the running for numerous top tier free agents, including Carlos Correa, who just won the Platinum Glove in the American League. Rodriguez’s deal pays him $15.4 AAV, which now puts the Tigers’ payroll at an estimated $125 million per FanGraphs’ Roster Resource. If the Tigers are serious about pursuing more players in free agency, they certainly have enough financial flexibility to make several more impact moves.
Moving home parks from Fenway to Comerica Park could be beneficial to Rodriguez, too. Per Statcast, Fenway Park’s park factor from 2019-2021 was the second highest of all Major League Stadiums at 107 while Comerica Park’s was 20th at 97. Although he isn’t a fly ball pitcher per se, of the 20 home runs he gave up this season, four of them would’ve been held by Comerica Park had he been pitching there.
Rodriguez projects to join up and coming pitchers Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize, and Matt Manning in the Tigers’ rotation. The Tigers could definitely make another move in free agency to sure up their rotation, but if they don’t Tyler Alexander will likely be their fifth starter. No matter what (if any) other players the Tigers add to their pitching staff, they have to be feeling pretty solid about their rotation. If the young trio of Skubal, Mize, and Manning can all take a step forward in 2022 and Rodriguez can get results similar to his peripherals, this rotation certainly has the potential to be among the best in the majors next season.
One of the biggest aspects of Rodriguez’s contract is his ability to opt-out after the 2023 season. If Rodriguez pitches well enough to the point where he thinks he can either get more money from the Tigers or another team, both parties will be elated. Rodriguez will be entering his age 31 season in 2024, which sets him up nicely to receive an even bigger contract if his pitching warrants one. Although they would be at risk of losing him, paying Rodriguez to be a frontline starter for a little more than $30 million over two years is an extremely team friendly deal for the Tigers. If Rodriguez doesn’t end up panning out for the Tigers, his AAV won’t kill their payroll and there’s always the option of attaching a prospect in a trade to get rid of his contract if it is absolutely necessary.
Signing Rodriguez signals that the Tigers are gearing up to win soon. With more players potentially signing with Detroit in free agency and top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Green projected to join the big league squad in 2022, the present and future look bright in the Motor City.