Is Eduardo Rodriguez a Front End Starter?

Before every season when making predictions about the upcoming Red Sox campaign, I tell myself that this is the year Eduardo Rodriguez will live up to his potential and become the #2 starter the team desperately needs. And most every year around September, I look back and contemplate what went wrong with my prediction. To me, a #2 starter is a really strong pitcher who gives the team a chance to win every 5th day with only an occasional hiccup or rough patch. E-Rod has stretches of dominance that are bookended by duds and disappointing streaks.

After a rough year in 2020, where a complication from COVID forced E-Rod to sit out the year with a heart issue, myocarditis, he came into 2021 with a lot of promise and hope. In both 2018 and 2019, E-Rod had a solid ERA in the upper 3s (3.82 in 2018 and 3.81 in 2019) and finally broke the 200 inning mark in 2019 for the first time in his career. Prior to 2019, E-Rod had never started more than 24 games in a season due to injuries. In 2018 alone, he began the season on the DL after knee surgery, then a few months after being activated, landed back on the DL with an ankle sprain in July and didn’t return until September.

In between injuries, E-Rod has had masterful stretches of pitching. Between May 5th and June 17th 2018, E-Rod had 9 straight starts that lasted at least 5 innings and he went 8-1 with a 2.98 ERA and 61 Ks to just 13 BBs. His batting average against was a stingy .239 and he gave the team a chance to win in every single appearance. Just a few weeks later, the 3 starts prior to his 2nd DL stint of the year, he didn’t allow a run, going at least 5.1 innings in all three games. That is what you want out of a #2 starter.

This season has had stretches of strong pitching from E-Rod followed by unexplained struggles. After a 4-0 April with a 3.52 ERA and a .209 opponent batting average, he went 1-4 in May with a 7.28 ERA and a .360 opponent batting average. Then in June he went 1-0, but had a 6.23 ERA and didn’t even reach the 5th inning in 2 of his 5 starts. Not to belabor the point, but then in July, he had an improved ERA thanks to 2 shutout performances of 6 and 5.2 innings, followed by a 6-run 3.1 inning stinker against the Toronto Blue Jays to end the month. On any given day, you don’t know which E-Rod will show up.

It’s getting harder to see E-Rod as an option for the #2 spot in the rotation on a contending team going forward. He has the ability to perform at an incredibly high level, albeit not getting past the 6th inning in most cases. Since July 1, he has 5 appearances where he went at least 5 innings and allowed 0 runs, but has also had 6 outings in 2021 where he allowed 5+ runs. The inconsistency is the only constant with E-Rod and it’s frustrating to watch him continually not reach the level I feel he can reach.

E-Rod is still an asset to the Red Sox, especially if he can stay healthy and start 30+ times a year, but I can’t consider him a front-end starter anymore. He’s pitching more like a #4 or #5 starter on a contending team, with some great surprise performances followed by some less-than-stellar games. As of today, he has the highest ERA of any regular starter on the Red Sox, which is hard to swallow when you consider what the rotation looks like.

I suppose it’s finally time to temper my expectations and not expect E-Rod to be a front-line starter.

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