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Milwaukee Brewers trade target: Richard Rodríguez

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Rodríguez, under high demand, offers high leverage arm to round out bullpen before trade deadline

MLB: Game One-Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Mets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Since the trade tides that brought in Willy Adames and since-dealt Trevor Richards also carried away J.P Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen, the Brewers’ faithful have been talking about the need to add on to the bullpen.

Recency bias could also tell you that the Brewers have a bullpen deficiency. They’ve fallen behind in relief innings during their last two games, both losses against the Kansas City Royals.

Meanwhile, however, the Crew has promoted and brought in (or up) a full cast of capable relievers on their way to the 6.5 game lead they hold at the top of the NL Central. Newcomers Hunter Strickland, Miguel Sánchez, and Jake Cousins have held down the bullpen particularly well.

These stellar performances don’t negate the need for more bullpen pieces, though. Devin Williams’ sudden presence on the IL (elbow discomfort) is, according to Craig Counsell, a cautious move, but it also brings into focus the tenuous situation the Brewers would find themselves in the absence of any of their high-leverage relief pieces.

All season long, the Brewers have made efforts to preserve their rotation and high leverage bullpen arms, and Counsell typically shifts to heavier bullpen use later in a season. They’ll need at least one, and maybe two, relief arms to employ this strategy and bring them through into the postseason.

This brings us to Richard Rodríguez, whose high-leverage relief potential has been squandered with the Pittsburgh Pirates, currently 19.5 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central.

Rodríguez works with a fastball-slider combination. His fastball sits at 93 mph but nearly doubles the break of a league-average four-seamer. Virtually unchanged by this season’s crackdown on the sticky stuff, Rodríguez’ fastball is spinning at a 95th percentile rate of 2543 RPM.

Rodríguez has dominated with this pitch in 2021, inducing a good amount of poor-quality contact and infield pop-ops. The pitch has been so effective that he rarely had to go to his breaking pitch early in the season. The erstwhile shelved pitch was a slider that led the way to a 36.6 K% in 2020. He’s recently balanced the mix a bit, and according to Statcast, he’s now throwing the 4-seamer 72.2% of the time, while the slider sees the remainder of the action. His strikeout rate has dropped in 2021, but his walk rate has taken a nosedive, ranking him with the top 1% of pitchers in the league. This is good to place him in the 91st percentile in terms of xERA (2.83).

If you think Rodríguez is only shining in an extreme pitcher’s park, think again. His road/home splits favor the road. The success of his 2.65 ERA is concentrated on the road (0.60) as opposed to home (4.03). The same is true for WHIP (1.12 at home, 0.33 away).

It’s easy to see why despite having little opportunity to enter the limelight in Pittsburgh, Rodríguez is one of the more coveted trade targets this year. He has other selling points in addition to his actual skills, including two years of club control remaining after 2021. A high-leverage reliever on a team with a -127 run differential, he has few saves relative to other relievers of his caliber, which unfortunately for Rodríguez, limits near-future pay bumps.

The Crew would have to offer a lot in return to bring him to Milwaukee in an intra-division deal in a competitive market. There are certainly teams who can fairly anticipate a more fierce top-of-the-division race than the Crew, and there are still-competitive teams with more depleted bullpens who could benefit from Rodríguez’ presence. Given the competitive market surrounding him, the Crew would have to give up more than one top prospect to deal.

In return, Rodríguez offers the high-leverage in late innings the Brewers need to sure up and deepen the bullpen for the dog days of summer and the postseason. Wherever Rodríguez ends up, it’s unlikely talents will languish under the deeply subterranean run differentials he’s experienced in Pittsburgh.

Statistics courtesy of Statcast