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Yankees 2021 Roster Report Cards: Joely Rodríguez

The Yankees’ pitching coaches unearthed another midseason bullpen gem in the lefty reliever.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

Our Report Card series rolls on, and on the docket for today is a reliever who joined the team just prior to the trade deadline. Joely Rodríguez was the other Ranger included in the Joey Gallo deal that saw Glenn Otto, Trevor Hauver, Josh Smith, and Ezequiel Duran head back to Arlington. He joined the likes of Wandy Peralta and Clay Holmes as relievers who turned their seasons around in the right direction after donning pinstripes.

Grade: B

2021 Statistics (Yankees): 21 games, 19 IP, 2.84 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 3.63 xFIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.4 fWAR

2021 Statistics (Overall): 52 games, 46.1 IP, 4.66 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 3.41 xFIP, 9.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 0.6 fWAR

2022 Contract Status: Signed for one-year, $2 million

When the Yankees traded for Joey Gallo at the deadline, it signaled an intention from ownership and the front office that they had not given up on the season. Little did they know that the other player included in the deal, Rodríguez, would wind up contributing more value to the team that the headlining lefty slugger. But that’s exactly what happened, with Rodríguez putting up 0.4 fWAR to Gallo’s 0.3 in pinstripes.

Rodríguez was having a middling campaign when he was picked up by the Yankees, but turned his fortunes around after making the switch. This is largely due to a reduction in walks (1.8 point drop in walk rate) while cutting his home run rate in half. He allowed more than one earned run only once across his 21 appearances with the Bombers and served mostly as a lefty specialist or as a bridge to the higher leverage relievers.

There’s a lot to like about Rodríguez’s pitching profile, as he sits at or near the top quartile in MLB in exit velocity, hard hit rate, barrel rate, whiff rate, chase rate, expected wOBA, expected ERA, and expected slugging. To me, the two most impressive are the 89th percentile barrel rate and 97th percentile chase rate, as well as holding the 14th-best groundball rate of all relievers with at least 40 innings pitched. In other words, he limits dangerous contact by inducing opposing batters to swing at bad pitches to hit.

The part the intrigues me the most about Rodríguez is the movement profile of his pitches. He sits in the top-25 or better in changeup and sinker vertical movement and sinker and four-seamer horizontal movement. Of particular interest is that changeup. Matt Blake and the rest of the pitching department seemed to prioritize incorporating and perfecting the changeup across the staff, and guys like Gerrit Cole and Corey Kluber saw the usage and effectiveness of the offspeed tick up throughout the season. I’m excited to see what another year of collaboration between Rodríguez and Blake can do for his already-stellar pitch.

Given all these positives, it was a bit surprising to see the Yankees decline their 2022 club option on Rodríguez — worth $3 million — opting instead to pay him a $500,000 buyout. However, shortly after they re-signed him to a one-year, $2 million deal, saving themselves $1 million toward the 2022 CBT payroll (should the current system carry over into the next CBA) and $500,000 in actual money.

The Yankees’ relief corps was the revelation of the 2021 season, with guys like Rodríguez, Holmes, Peralta, and Jonathan Loáisiga emerging as high-leverage options. The bullpen looks to be in good shape heading into next season thanks in part to Rodríguez sticking around for at least another year.