With the looming possibility of a lockout, a strong free-agent class is scrambling to finalize contracts before the expected December 2nd lockout. At that moment, transactions will halt until a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached. And with a bit of distance between the two negotiating parties, the lockout may not end for quite a while. On Tuesday, the Detroit Tigers and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez agreed to terms on a $77 million deal: marking the first major transaction of this hot stove season. The signing keeps Detroit tied to Rodriguez for five seasons, however, Rodriguez holds an opt-out clause after two years.
With a wealth of young pitching prospects poised to lead their organization within the next few years, the Tigers felt the need to find a veteran arm to anchor the rotation. This deal should not be viewed through the lens of finding an ace, but rather as an augmentation to a rotation led by Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning. In Rodriguez, the Tigers secured a seldom brilliant but typically stable and reliable southpaw.
Rodriguez, 28, has shown his ability to stay relatively healthy and can probably be relied upon to throw upwards of 160 innings per season. Rodriguez made 31 starts with Boston in 2021, pitching 157.2 innings after being forced to miss the COVID shortened 2020 campaign. His return to the hill in 2021 was far from a foregone conclusion after he experienced a severe bout with myocarditis after contracting COVID-19. Rodriguez was barred from simple things like walking his dog or playing video games for months following the infection, a factor that was expected to have a major impact on his season.
Statistically, Rodriguez’s 2021 season was rather pedestrian, pitching to a lackluster 4.74 ERA. Baseball Reference’s ERA+, which standardizes ballpark factors, assigns Rodriguez a score that aligns perfectly with the league average. But, he was effective in Fielding Independent Pitching, which removes the results of balls in play. In FIP, Rodriguez produced a 3.32. He allowed a .363 batting average on batted balls in play. It would not be unreasonable to assume at face value that Rodriguez was allowing a great deal of hard contact. However, Rodriguez ranked in the 90th percentile for pitchers in allowed exit velocity. Rodriguez only allowed hard contact on 33.6% of batted balls. Something else had to be the issue. These numbers indicate one of two reasons for Rodriguez’s inflated 2021 ERA. The first was that Rodriguez was the victim of a porous Red Sox defense that did far too little to save the lefty from baserunners. It is also possible that Rodriguez was simply unlucky, with the batted balls finding holes and dropping in front of outfielders.
Rodriguez struck out batters at a 27.4% clip in 2021, roughly five percentage points north of the league average for starters. His 11.7% swing strike rate is slightly higher than the league’s 10.9% average. In addition to his strong strikeout rates, he has exhibited slightly above-average command. In 2021, Rodriguez set a career-low in walk percentage, only giving out free passes at a 7% rate. Examining Ballpark Factors, Eduardo's new home at Comerica Park generates similar impacts on pitchers as Fenway Park. Comerica allows a 1.107 run factor while Fenway allows a 1.063 run factor. While Comerica is a slightly more difficult venture for the young starter, it is doubtful that this would be a major factor in his success or lack thereof in the Motor City.
For Rodriguez and his team at Mato Sports Management, the deal was everything they could have asked for and more. The transaction was more than $7 million greater than MLB Trade Rumors’ estimation. Furthermore, the LHP signs up to join a team that is potentially on the rise in the weaker American League Central. And with the contract’s inclusion of an opt-out clause, Rodriguez has the opportunity to seriously cash in if his production improves in Detroit. From Rodriguez’s perspective, this deal was an A+.
For the Tigers, this deal lacks a great deal of panache, but it fills one of their perceived needs. It seems unlikely that the Tigers have acquired a front-end starter, however, it appears certain that they have a stalwart in the back end of their rotation for years to come. With that being said, long-term investments are always a gamble, especially with pitchers. With the position experiencing injuries at a sky-high rate in Major League Baseball, this is a calculated risk. For the Tigers, I give this deal a solid B.