As July approaches, and with it trading season in Major League Baseball, it appears as though the Yankees will thoroughly explore all options available for acquiring a starting pitcher. Despite the strong seasons being offered up by CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Andy Pettitte and the brief flashes of brilliance we’ve seen from Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes, the Yankees could use some help at the back of the rotation. With a strong farm system and a competitive American League East a move could very well be made, with one name mentioned perhaps more frequently than others: Wandy Rodriguez.
On Wednesday, Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported that the Astros would listen to offers for their top starting pitcher, left hander Wandy Rodriguez. Rodriguez, 33, is in the middle of a three-year contract he signed before the 2011 season and has been relatively consistent since his breakout 2008 campaign. A late bloomer, Wandy didn’t reach the Major Leagues until the age of 26 and struggled mightily in his first three seasons with an ERA of 5.17 through the age of 28. Yet in 135 starts over the past four-plus seasons Rodriguez is 51-47 behind a string of abismal Houston teams posting a 3.38 ERA and 2.74 K/BB ratio. Rodriguez’s ERA has not surpassed 3.60 since 2007 and ranks among the best in baseball over that period, just three points higher than that of Justin Verlander (3.35) and four points higher than that of Zack Greinke (3.34).
A quick perusal of Wandy’s past record would make the lefty appear a solid candidate for pinstripes. Originally a flyball pitcher, Rodriguez has been able to increase his groundball rate in both 2010 and 2011. His groundball rate this season, nearly 49%, is a career high. His control is also a strong point and his strikeout rate has always been respectable. An undersized left-handed starting pitcher with a long track-record, a solid groundball rate, good control, and whose lost a bit of kick on his fastball worked out well for the Yankees last season in the form of Bartolo Colon and Wandy will likely come cheaper than other top tier options, among them Matt Garza.
Yet acquiring Rodriguez, even as a rental, comes with risks that are likely not acceptable given his price-tag from a monetary and talent standpoint. Rodriguez’s contract is not an albatross, but for a small pitcher entering his mid-30s, two years of guaranteed money and more than $11 million a year is inherent financial risk, risk a 2014 team option does little to mitigate. Given Wandy’s strong track-record and well above average ERA performance this season, the Astros will look for legitimate minor league talent in return. Yet despite that track-record road troubles persist and Rodriguez’s dip in strikeouts this season must scare even his biggest supporters.
Over the course of his career, Rodriguez has a 3.42 ERA in Houston and a 4.67 ERA on the road and his FIP is 40 points higher outside his home ballpark despite pitching in the NL Central. This is due in large part to more home runs allowed, more walks allowed, a lower strikeout rate, and a much higher batting average against. The large split in performance has been somewhat mitigated in recent years but remains, at last in his ERA. And then there’s the strikeout problem. In 15 starts, 96.2 innings, this season Rodriguez has just 61 strikeouts – a 5.74 rate per nine innings, his lowest since 2005.
Though age does not appear to have caught up with Rodriguez’s velocity – he’s throwing about 89 MPH on his fastball, fairly standard over the past few seasons – the lefty’s curveball, his best pitch, has been terrible this season, producing negative value. His changeup has done little to help him out either. A swinging strike rate near 9% was once standard for Wandy. After falling to about 8.5% the past two years, it is now just 7.4%, a career low. To those inclined to write off this lack of strikeouts as simply a misrepresentation over a short sample size, look at Wandy’s game log. Wandy has struck out more than five batters in a game – in the National League Central – just three times this season and none since May 13th. Over his past four games, Wandy has struck out 3, 2, 3, and 3 batters despite going more 5+ innings in each start.
Certainly Wandy Rodriguez has a long track-record as a solid, underrated starting pitcher in the solid, underrated National League Central division. Yet at 33, with nearly two years of guaranteed money left on the books and with a declining ability to get batters out and an inability to pitch outside of Houston, he simply isn’t a risk worth taking. Not for the Yankees and not for any similarly competitive team, especially in the American League.
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