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Breaking down Eduardo Rodríguez’s starts against the Yankees in 2021

The Yankees have struggled to score against the Boston left-hander this season.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Tonight, the Yankees finish their season series with the Boston Red Sox, as Jordan Montgomery takes on Eduardo Rodríguez in a battle of the lefties at Fenway Park. On paper, this looks like a fantastic matchup for the Yankees. With an ERA of 3.55 and a FIP of 3.49, Montgomery has genuinely been one of the best No. 2 starters in baseball this year, ranking 20th in fWAR among starting pitchers who have thrown at least 140 innings with 3.5. Rodríguez, on the other hand, has struggled to keep runs off the board, posting a 4.97 ERA despite a 3.45 FIP, thanks in part to Boston’s terrible defense (their -6 OAA with him on the mound is tied for 272nd in baseball).

Of course, you’d be forgiven for not believing me, because in 18 innings across four starts, Rodríguez has absolutely stifled the Yankees offense to the tune of a 3.00 ERA, striking out 12 per nine and allowing just one baserunner per inning. Yankees hitters have posted a lowly .206/.250/.338 slash against him — only the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics have fared worse at the plate. Not surprisingly, the Red Sox won all four of these starts.

How did he keep New York’s offense at bay? Let’s dive into each start and see how he has attacked Yankees hitters.

June 5th, 2021

When he made his first start against the Yankees, Rodríguez was in the midst of his first major rough patch of the season, having given up four or more runs in four straight starts, and he had not made it out of the fifth in two of his previous three. And compared to his other starts against the Yankees, his first one wasn’t all that great — he surrendered three runs on five hits while striking out seven. The Yankees, however, were unable to string together hard-hit balls, let alone hits, as they managed only three batted balls that Statcast registered as hard-hit. Sure, one of those was a two-run home run by Gleyber Torres in the fourth, but all in all, an xBA of .187 is not exactly a recipe for offensive success.

Those seven strikeouts were a big reason for the team’s inability to string together baserunners, but arguably more important was the nature of the contact they made.

Out of the 14 balls that the Yankees put in play, eight of them came in at a launch angle under 10 degrees — in other words, more than half the time Yankees hitters hit the ball, they put it on the ground. That’s more than six percent higher than Rodríguez’s season average.

June 27th, 2021

Rodríguez’s second outing against the Yankees in 2021 is, in many ways, a better version of his first start, as this time around, he allowed just two runs on five hits while striking out eight in six innings — his lone mistake came off in the form of a two-run home run off the bat of Aaron Judge in the sixth. Although the Yankees made slightly better contact in this outing, generating five hard-hit balls and getting the ball in the air more often, Rodríguez countered by successfully attacking the shadow of the zone, taking advantage of a wide strike zone.

July 16th, 2021

In the first game after the All-Star Break, the Yankees offense came out looking once again like a dead fish against Rodríguez. Although they managed seven hard-hit balls off the Red Sox lefty, Rodríguez kept them off the board over 5.2 innings, allowing only four baserunners (two hits, two walks) while striking out eight. If there was any positive in this outing, it’s that the Yankees managed to get the ball in the air more (that double has a launch angle of 13 degrees, and is thus considered a line drive).

Unfortunately for the Yankees on this particular night, most of those balls found gloves.

Yep, that’s right, the seven hardest hit balls that the Yankees hit against Rodríguez recorded a total of six outs. To quote a previous Yankees manager, “That’s not what you want.”

July 23rd, 2021

Thanks to a stretch in which the Yankees and Red Sox played eight times in 11 days, Rodríguez’s next outing also came against the Yankees. Due to migraine issues, he was limited to only six batters, mowing down the Yankees in order in the first but allowing two hits and walking one batter in the second before leaving the game dazed and covered in sweat. Overall, Rodríguez struggled with his command, unable to find the strike zone with his fastball.

Unfortunately, the nature of this particular outing prevents us from drawing any concrete conclusions about this start.

At the end of the day, although the Yankees have struggled much against Rodríguez this season, in truth, he faced a very different Yankees lineup in those four starts. Clint Frazier, Greg Allen, Ryan LaMarre, and Trey Amburgey combined for 26 plate appearances as the corner outfielders. Chris Gittens had three starts at first base. Rougned Odor, who made his first start since September 8th yesterday, batted third twice. Since then, the Yankees added Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo, Gleyber Torres had a 10-game hitting streak snapped last night, and both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have been hot at the plate since mid-August. Because of this, the Yankees have the opportunity to flip the season narrative on their performance against Eduardo Rodríguez.