Arm Fatigue, Part Two: Trading Away Assets

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The infield gathers around young Red Sox starter, Eduardo Rodriguez.

Wednesday, Aug. 16

In 2010, the Baltimore Orioles signed a young, South American pitcher named Eduardo Jose Rodriguez.

On Tuesday night, he took the mound at Oriole Park – his fourth start in Camden since 2015. All four have come as a member of the Boston Red Sox, as the Orioles traded him to their division rivals in 2014. He made it to the majors one season later, at an age when most players are still toiling in Double A.

Starting for Baltimore was veteran righty Yovani Gallardo, who signed as a free agent this off-season. He certainly has the pedigree of a workhorse starter, once throwing four-straight 200+ strikeout seasons, for the Milwaukee Brewers.

By the numbers alone, the two pitchers seem to be a wash, as neither is enjoying a great season. Here are their respective 2016 stat lines;

Rodriguez
68.2 IP, 2-5, 5.11 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 7.86 K/9, 5 QS
Gallardo
83.1 IP, 4-4, 5.18 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 6.37 K/9, 4 QS

The numbers, taken in context, however, show two pitchers headed in opposite trajectories.

Rodriguez is only 23, an age when many, top prospects are still toiling in Double A. There are only seven pitchers, who are currently on active rosters, younger than the lefty-throwing Venezuelan. None of them are in their second season, as he is.

Gallardo is on the wrong side of thirty. The pre-noted seasons in Milwaukee have accumulated plenty of mileage on his arm (shoulder issues stemming from this usage resulted in a last-minute restructuring of his contract).

His fastball, which once hovered safely above 95, now struggles to breach the threshold of 90. His swinging strike rate (the percentage of swing and misses) is down to a paltry 6.5%. Clearly he’s not fooling anyone.

By contrast, batters are missing on nearly 10 percent of Rodriguez’s offerings. His numbers outside the zone are even more telling; hitters have chased after 32% of would-be balls.

He’s been particular-effective against the Orioles, striking out 36 batters in just 29.1 innings against the Birds. Tuesday night was no different.

His fastball held a steady 95, complimented by a nasty slider and an elastic change-up that had batters out in front of it by miles. This season, he has deployed a 90 MPH sinker (6.5% usage rate in 2016) with increased confidence.

For his services, Rodriguez’s 2016 salary is just $521,000 – a tick above the major league minimum ($507,500). By comparison (and to make you feel poor), fellow lefty-hurler Clayton Kershaw makes more than double that per start.

Baltimore’s Gallardo is paying Gallardo $9 million, this season. That figure bumps up to $11 million next season – a pittance, compared to Kershaw, but big dollars nonetheless.

Gallardo is not getting any younger, and has not shown the ability to adapt to pitching with diminished stuff. Even worse: by signing him, the Orioles gave up their 2016 first-round draft pick (14th overall), yielding a chance to select an impact player.

The Orioles’ return for Rodriguez, by the way, was 27.1 innings of relief work from rental pitcher, Andrew Miller. Miller held up his end of the bargain (1.35 ERA and .9 WAR down the stretch), but Rodriguez has already provided 2.7 WAR in limited action.

Flipping a relief pitcher for a solid, cost-controlled started is a clear win for Boston. If Rodriguez’s numbers begin to fall in line with his ace-level stuff then it’s a landslide.

Godspeed Eduardo, we barely knew you.

Other Notable Arms Who Got Away

Jake Arrieta (Traded to the Cubs in July 2013)

Mention the name Jake Arrieta around an Orioles fan, and you’re likely to get a muttered curse in response. A fifth-round pick in 2007, the Birds thought highly enough of Arrieta to throw him a $1.1 million signing bonus – unprecedented for that draft position.

He spent the next six years shuttling back and forth between Baltimore and AAA Norfolk. The results (20-25 record and a 5.46 ERA at the MLB level) were middling, but hitters at all levels reported Arrieta’s stuff being among the nastiest they’d seen.

When Theo Epstein and the Cubs came knocking, the Orioles made a trade to acquire Scott Feldman – a serviceable, but hittable (career 1.35 WHIP) starting pitcher and Baltimore-native, Steve Clevenger, a backup catcher.

You know the rest. Arrieta realized his potential and became a stud overnight. To this date, he has provided the Cubs with 18.2 WAR, compling 50 wins and over 600 strikeouts.

Feldman provided a half season of replacement-level pitching. Clevenger was, surprise, still a backup catcher. Oh, and the Orioles had to part with reliable set-up man Pedro Strop in the deal.

Zach Davies (Traded to the Brewers in July 2015)

A year after dealing Eduardo Rodriguez, Baltimore peeled another piece of fruit from its thin vine of pitching prospects.

Davies was an unheralded 26th round pick who ascended to prospect status behind the strength of his sinkerball. He represented the Orioles in the 2015 Futures Game.

Despite all this, the Orioles showed no hesitation flipping Davies to the Brewers for Outfielder Gerardo Parra. It was a puzzling move, as outfield was not a pressing need for the club.

The Brewers promoted Davies, and he’s been in the big leagues ever since. He hasn’t been lights out, but he has more than held his own, which is more than you can say for Parra. He gave the Orioles a pedestrian .625 OPS before leaving as a free agent.

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