The bitter taste of Thursday night’s blown win against the Red Sox still fresh in our mouths, we return to our trade target series with updated priorities. After sitting among the leaders of MLB relief corps in a number of categories to start the season — fourth in ERA (3.22) and second in fWAR (9.3) through the first two months — regression has come crashing down upon the New York bullpen.
The Yankees have 4 losses this season when leading by multiple runs in the 9th inning— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) July 23, 2021
That's tied with 1979 for their most such losses in a single season since at least 1974
Aroldis Chapman has blown three saves, given up five home runs, and pitched to a 12.66 ERA since June 10th after going 23 appearances of 0.39 ERA relief in which he surrendered only one long ball. Zack Britton has been injured for most of the season and ineffective when healthy. Justin Wilson, Wandy Peralta, Nick Nelson, and Brooks Kriske ... well we don’t need to talk about them.
The Yankees could clearly use another dependable reliever to push the lesser relievers down a rung into lower pressure roles. Unfortunately, relievers are always at a premium at the deadline, there are not many rumored to be on the market, and we won’t know who is selling until we reach the doorstep of July 30th. The Pirates are one of the few teams known to be selling, so I profiled the players most likely to be shopped. If I had to predict one player to get dealt, I reckon it would be closer Richard Rodríguez.
Rodríguez is eleventh in MLB among qualified relievers with 1.2 fWAR. He owns a 2.65 ERA, 2.60 FIP, and 31 strikeouts in 37.1 innings. He’s achieved this success despite being essentially a one-pitch pitcher. He throws his four-seamer about 87 percent of the time, at just around league average velocity of 93 mph. So how in the world does he get guys out with a single seemingly meh pitch?
For starters, his 2.9 percent walk rate places him in the 100th percentile in baseball. The real secret sauce is in the dynamics of his fastball. Along with its 95th percentile spin rate, Rodríguez is able to manipulate the movement of his four-seamer so that it fades sometimes and cuts others, which is a helluva thing to face as a batter considering it achieves the fifth-most horizontal movement as a function of velocity of any fastball in MLB. Mike Petriello of MLB.com did a thorough analysis of the pitch in May that is absolutely worth the read.
Should the Yankees be interested, they will certainly have competition for his services. There is a dearth of impact relievers projected to be available at the deadline. The Pirates will be motivated to sell and cash in while his value is at its highest. Despite being under team control for two more years after this season, Rodríguez is 31 and teams in a rebuild generally do not construct their core around a reliever.
In fact, the confluence of his effectiveness, years of team control, affordable salary for this season ($1.7 million per Cots), and the market shortage of relievers means the Pirates could receive quite a haul in return. He would fit within the Yankees’ budgetary constraints, but it is doubtful Brian Cashman would be able or willing to assemble a competitive offer, as other interested teams — like Toronto — have far deeper farm systems upon which to draw.
If the Yankees’ most recent bullpen meltdown on Thursday taught us anything, it’s that the reliever depth is increasingly tenuous behind a thinning group of trusted arms. They have handed too many high-leverage situations to back end relievers and have paid the price. Richard Rodríguez is one of the few reliable arms likely to be dealt. If the Yankees decide to upgrade the bullpen, he’s probably their best bet.