Does Wandy Rodriguez make sense as the Houston Astros long reliever in 2016?
At the end of a baseball player’s career, it seems as though they find their way back to the team that gave them their start. This is the case for veteran left-handed pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, who signed a minor league free agent contact with the Houston Astros on January 26th. After spending his first eight seasons in the majors in an Astros uniform, Rodriguez is now trying to fight his way onto their active roster. Rodriguez does have a chance to make this team, but not in the way that is expected of him. With the starting rotation arguably locked up, Rodriguez has a chance to make the team as a long reliever and a second left-hander in the Astros bullpen.
In his first eight seasons as a big leaguer, Rodriguez proved to be a solid option in the starting rotation. In his career with the Astros, Rodriguez posted an 80-84 record with 4.04 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. Rodriguez was really never a strikeout pitcher, but averaged his highest strikeout total per nine innings in his career in Houston averaging 7.5.
After leaving Houston, Rodriguez hasn’t pitched above 100 innings in a season. In 2013, Rodriguez was shut down for the rest of the season after a left forearm injury in June. He made a comeback in 2015 with the Texas Rangers posting a 4.90 ERA with a 6-4 record in 17 games. However, the Rangers released him in early August. After a short stint with the Royals in the last two months of the season in which he had no major league playing time, Rodriguez became a free agent again after being released for a second time on November 20th.
In the early days of Spring Training, Rodriguez has been impressive with a 1.80 ERA and 0.60 WHIP in his five total innings pitched. What has been different for Rodriguez is his increased amount of strikeouts. So far, he is averaging 9 strikeouts per nine innings. With Rodriguez trying to win a job, those numbers show that he is making a case for himself.
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Rodriguez’s velocity and pitching repertoire better fit a long reliever role for this team. He relies mostly on his curveball with has lost velocity throughout his career and now averages at 74.5 MPH. Rodriguez’s three different fastballs won’t overpower anyone either, topping out in the eighties.
However, Rodriguez will fit well in mop up duty. His fly ball percentage is the lowest it’s been since 2012 and his fly ball to home run ratio was at 10.6% last season. This matches the average of how he did early in his career with the Astros.He also knows how to pitch in Minute Maid Park because of his eight seasons in Houston, three in Pittsburgh, and one in Texas.
The Astros do have many options to be the second left-hander in the bullpen in the form of Neal Cotts and Kevin Chapman, but at the end of his career, Rodriguez can have another solid season for the team that drafted him. If the Astros put him in the bullpen in the long reliever role, he will be used to the best of his ability.