Braves 2021 Player Review: Richard Rodriguez

If you only decided to watch the 2021 Atlanta Braves in the playoffs, you probably wouldn’t have realized Richard Rodriguez was on the team.

First of all, the righthanded reliever was left off the roster for every series, and even when other bullpen options needed to be replaced, it wasn’t Rodriguez that got the call. Beyond that, the broadcast teams rarely, if ever, mentioned that the 31-year-old was also part of the frenzied trade deadline period that saw Alex Anthopoulos remake the Braves roster.

He was, of course. Rodriguez was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Ricky DeVito and Bryse Wilson to shore up a Braves’ bullpen that had been short on right-handed options. While he had struggled some in the weeks leading up to the deadline, the Dominican righty still carried a 2.82 ERA and 0.835 WHIP in 38 1/3 innings for Pittsburgh. Also recording 14 saves, Rodriguez was expected to potentially supplant or at least supplement Will Smith as closer.

He did neither of those things.

While Rodriguez’s 3.12 ERA and 1.077 WHIP for the Braves doesn’t look terrible, his 6.17 FIP over 26 innings tells a different story. Further, it was his work during the stretch run that sunk his chances of being a difference-maker in the playoffs. Over 12 innings in September and October, Rodriguez carded a 5.25 ERA with a 1.333 WHIP and surrendered a staggering five home runs in that stretch.

But the problems didn’t really begin in September, or even when he got to Atlanta. Without presenting any hard accusations, his struggles really seemed to begin in mid-June, around the time MLB cracked down on foreign substances. That memo was sent out on June 15, with Rodriguez carrying a 1.78 ERA through 25 1/3 innings and allowing opposing hitters an OPS of just .409. From that point on, Rodriguez pitched 39 innings with a 3.69 ERA while allowing a .743 OPS.

If he ever had a chance to make the postseason roster for the Braves, that evaporated on Oct. 2. Rodriguez lasted 2/3 of an inning, coughing up two runs on three hits, and that was the end of his season.

Now the Braves have another decision to make. Despite his age, Rodriguez doesn’t hit free agency until 2024 and will still be eligible for arbitration this offseason. According to projections from MLB Trade Rumors, he will likely be due around $3.1 million should the Braves wish to bring him back.

That amount makes this choice interesting for Atlanta. It would not be a crushing blow to the budget, and he’s certainly shown flashes of talent in relief. That said, it might make even more sense to non-tender a guy who you chose not to even add to the roster for the playoffs, despite multiple chances to do so.

We’ll see what the Braves do, but it seems wisest to move on and allot that money elsewhere.

28 thoughts on “Braves 2021 Player Review: Richard Rodriguez”

  1. Thank you Jeremy.

    Isn’t there a deadline in Spring Training to release a player you just tendered an arbitration contract to and you only owe him half his salary or something? I know I’m getting the terms wrong, but there had been this talk with another fringey guy — Adam Duvall — a couple years ago. I think that’s maybe what they try to do with Rich Rod. It would be massively disappointing to have traded Bryse Wilson for a guy that has an uncertain but not certainly doomed outlook to save $3.1M. I’d at least want to bring him to Spring Training.

    At the end of the day, he’s still a guy with a 3.28 ERA in 228 big league appearances. As damning as being left off the postseason roster was, he’s still been a very good pitcher for his career. Maybe he can figure out how to get movement back in his pitches without pine tar or Aunt Jemima syrup (are we still allowed to say that?) and he’s a cheap, cheap reliever for $3.1M.

  2. I agree with @2. Would hate to let go of an investment after giving up Wilson for him.

    That said, I was impressed with the roster management throughout the playoffs. In past years, they would have said “well, we’re paying him, so I guess we have to play him.” Thank God we did not do that this go round.

  3. @ 2,

    I am pretty sure 1 / 6 of arb salary vests at tender, and then a total of 1 / 4 if released between start of spring training and about 2 days before end of spring training. If not cut by the latter date, then tendering team owes the whole salary (as agreed or determined by arbitrator).

    So, you tender and risk the $800,000 or so on him proving it in spring training. If he is horrid, you release. If he is mediocre to good (excellent is probably gone), you have him for 2.3 (the other money is like an option buyout in that such cost is already sunk) and have a shot at arb one more time (but he would have to prove “good” to justify it).

  4. It is interesting to me that Matzek seemed to have lost some spin rate and even Snitker’s confidence for a short time after the illegal substance ban but recovered in a huge way. It would seem like Rodriguez would eventually be able to recover. I guess we’ll have to trust Braves scouts on this. I have no idea how long the decline phase for a very talented 31 year old reliever with no apparent major arm issues will be and if it’s permanent.

  5. My guess is he gets non-tendered. The warning signs were there right at the end of his Pirates tenure and AA took the chance anyway. If MLB allows some sort of grip enhancement slip into the new agreement, maybe he stays. He was definitely a spider tack guy.

  6. Wilson’s a sink cost and Rodriguez was terrific for the first couple of weeks when it mattered most. At this point, que sera sera.

    JonathanF, I can understand why you left Rob Deer off the all-delicious team, but I’d still make a case for adding Mike Trout, Tim Salmon, Felix Pie (making allowances for Haitian orthography), Cookie Lavagetto, Turkey Stearnes, and Oil Can Boyd.

  7. Oil Can Boyd sounds like it is stretching things a bit, haven’t done a lot of cooking with Castrol but YMMV.

  8. “Oil can” is slang for cheap beer in Boston. He qualifies for the list, or at least quaffs for it.

  9. And what about long time Braves coach Bobby Wine or Brandy Davis?

    Oil Can Boyd
    Was very annoyed
    That his vast purchases of ale
    Did not provide economy of scale

  10. All good, AAR… Don’t forget Bobby Wine… (I was a little rushed on that post.)

    And I owe Snowshine a Coke. Or perhaps a Colavito.

  11. Non tender. I disliked the trade at the time because I have always been a Wilson fan and thought it was a big overpay. Also, the ban on sticky stuff made him worthless. One of AA’s few mistakes. Time to move on.

  12. What does liking Wilson have to do with tendering a contract to Richard Rodriguez for 2022? Is he being punished for being traded for the wrong guy?

    I’ve always liked Bryse but he was equally poopy pants for Pittsburgh. Same FIP as with Atlanta with even less strike outs. Pittsburgh isn’t going anywhere, so they may as well give him another shot next year, but the guy just doesn’t have an elite skillset.

  13. I like Bryse Wilson. But he was not going to succeed in a Braves uniform. Not enough leash on a contender.

    Also, as Young Copenhaver pointed out, he wasn’t any better in Pittsburgh than he was in Atlanta. And he got traded because he wasn’t any good in 2021 in Atlanta.

    Competition for the 4th and 5th spot is going to be stiff. Especially after AA signs another vet.

    I think the Braves win the trade longterm. Not because Wilson won’t ever succeed, but because I think he never would have succeeded without being traded first.

  14. I think a better question to ask is whether there is anyone better at that $3.1M cost (or has more potential). If so, get him and non-tender Rodriquez. If not then sign Rich Rod.

  15. @14 I am saying to non tender RR because he is a crappy pitcher and for no other reason. I think Bryse would have been a better reliever than him.

  16. Rich Rod was a solid relief pitcher between 2018 and the 1st half of 2021. I would even say he was borderline elite in 2018 and even in 2020 (13.1 ks per 9 innings). If he’s lost it and it looks like he’ll never get it back, let him walk, but I’m not ready to declare him a crappy pitcher yet. If the Braves make that determination, so be it.

  17. @8 Exactly. He was good when it mattered most. He glued the pen together until it got itself aligned. There’s no championship without him.

    Bryce is good. He needs to succeed elsewhere.

  18. Rich Rod is the nickname of the traitorous ex West Virginia Mountaineers head coach. No one else should get that awful moniker …..it brings up bad memories for me.

  19. Mets sign Starling Marte to a 4/78M deal. I had a pipe dream the Braves would sign him, but not at that price. They also signed Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar today. Their payroll is well over 200M and they still hope to sign Stroman.

    The next few days might be busy.

  20. @17

    Word.

    @21

    They will probably finish fourth again, but this is becoming one of the best teams they’ve had this decade.

  21. @21 – The Mets certainly don’t seem to have any concerns about signing 33 year olds to multi-year contracts, so now I’m starting to rethink this whole Freddie thing.

  22. On RR. I’d keep him. I understand the sticky stuff argument though. That said, we are talking about an awfully small sample size of ineffectiveness against a much larger body of work where he was highly effective. To the naked eye, it seemed he lost all confidence in his off speed stuff and was throwing nothing but fastballs. Hard to succeed like that. Luke briefly had the opposite problem in the nlcs (lost confidence in fastball). I’d bet with the off-season to figure it out, RR will be closer to what he was before.

  23. With the Mets signing Marte, I’m guessing they don’t plan to bring back Conforto. Might be good as a make-good signing if he falls that far. Not sure I’d give up a draft pick for him, though. Soler is projected at 3/36 and Rosario at 2/15. If guys like Conforto and Marte are getting close to $20M then Soler and Rosario sound like bargains (although I’d like Soler better at 2/24).

    Also, it looks like Danny Duffy is projected at 1/10. That sounds like a great price for some left-handed starting depth. Better than Smyly. Having heard the Rich Hill rumors, I’d prefer Duffy.

    P.S. Anyone taking bets on how long it takes Marte to get injured or turn into a pumpkin by playing for the Mets?

  24. If there’s one thing on which one may safely rely, it’s that subsequent expensive veterans who come to the Mets will outperform Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga, and Bobby Bonilla.

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