3 reasons why Rodriguez makes sense for D-backs

December 11th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Steve Gilbert’s D-backs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

While the Dodgers won the headlines this weekend with their staggering Shohei Ohtani deal, the D-backs are not messing around this winter, either. Not halfway through the offseason, they’ve already secured two of their biggest needs.

A proven right-handed hitter? Check (Eugenio Suárez, acquired via trade). A third playoff-caliber arm to add to their already-impressive rotation? Also check, via their four-year, $80 million contract with left-hander that became official on Friday.

Rodriguez’s deal with Arizona is the third largest for a pitcher in franchise history and includes an option that could push the total value of the contract to $99 million. The D-backs' projected 2024 Opening Day payroll is now $111.5 million, per Cot's Contracts.

Coming off their surprise World Series appearance, the D-backs clearly feel they are ready to strike. Rodriguez is a big part of that. Here are a few more reasons to be excited about the pickup:

1. Arizona is getting the best version of Rodriguez
The 30-year-old enjoyed a career year with Detroit in 2023, pitching to a career-best 3.30 ERA and 3.66 FIP across 152 2/3 innings over 26 starts. It was an excellent rebound year after an injury-plagued ‘22, when Rodriguez posted a career-low strikeout percentage (18.4) and watched his walk rate soar to 8.7 percent, tying his career high. In ‘23, he reversed those trends. Rodriguez’s strikeout rate (23 percent) returned to his career norm, and he pitched to the third-best walk rate (7.7 percent) of his career. 

Digging a little deeper, 2023 was Rodriguez’s most valuable season by Statcast’s Pitching Run Value metric (18 runs prevented), representing an enormous turnaround from his previous two seasons (minus-22 combined). It was also a marked increase from Rodriguez’s previous career high of 11 runs prevented from 2018.

2. The stuff is improved
It wasn't just Rodriguez's results that got better in 2023. A closer look reveals his stuff did, too. His fastball, sinker and slider all ticked up velocity-wise, per Statcast:

Four-seamer: +0.5 mph (91.7 mph to 92.2 mph)
Sinker: +0.7 mph (91.7 mph to 92.4 mph)
Slider: +1.7 mph (82.8 mph to 84.5 mph)

The slider data is especially notable. Rodriguez’s slider usage went way up against left-handed hitters last year after he all but abandoned the pitch in 2022, yielding disastrous results against same-side hitters. The metrics indicate he decided to start throwing a hard slider last season for that purpose, and the difference was plain to see.

Left-handed hitters' slash lines vs. Rodriguez
2022: .299/.400/.508
2023: .183/.254/.294

In terms of movement, the most marked improvement Rodriguez showed last year came from his cutter, which added +1.3 inches of drop (from +1.5 inches above average to +2.8 inches above average), per Statcast.

3. It’s a good fit
Not only does Rodriguez give Arizona an established lefty behind right-handers Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, but he also brings an element to the rotation that had previously been lacking. He’s a ground-ball pitcher joining what was, last year, a very fly-ball-heavy staff. 

Rodriguez’s 42.5 percent ground-ball rate from 2021-23 ranked 11th among American League pitchers who threw at least 400 innings in that span. D-backs starters finished 12th out of 15 National League rotations and in the bottom third in MLB in ground-ball rate last season (40 percent). 

MLB.com analyst David Adler contributed to this report.