Grayson Rodriguez Primed For Strong 2024 Season After Revamping Arsenal


Image credit: Grayson Rodriguez (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

When it comes to coveted prospects, failing to exceed (or even meet) expectations right away can damage a player’s short-term reputation. Especially once the prospect world moves on to the next wave of rookies.

So imagine the disappointment baseball fans had for Grayson Rodriguez last July. Through his first 11 big league starts Baseball America’s former No. 1 pitching prospect had a 7.33 ERA. This came after a frustrating 2022 where a lat injury limited him to 75.2 innings.

Not only did Rodriguez fail to meet the initial expectations in the first half of the season, he actively hurt the Orioles.

The Struggles

Many assumed Rodriguez would make the Orioles big league roster out of spring training. The first wave of the club’s rebuild arrived in 2022. Rodriguez could help further propel them to contention. 

Baltimore had other plans. The Orioles optioned Rodriguez to Triple-A to start the season, but he was quickly recalled after an early-season injury to Kyle Bradish

Unfortunately, Rodriguez mostly stunk. He had the second-worst hard-hit rate among starting pitchers through May 26 and ranked bottom-five in barrel rate, batting average allowed, HR/9 and ERA.

The Orioles, riding a surprisingly strong start, ran out of patience. They optioned Rodriguez to Triple-A in hopes he could reset and potentially help them for a late-season playoff push. 

The plan worked.

The Adjustments

Rodriguez returned to the majors in mid July. His first start back didn’t go great, but it was clear there was a new plan—ditching his cutter.

The logic was simple. The pitch ranked bottom-10 among all cutters in slugging and wOBA allowed. Most of the other pitchers with a cutter performing that poorly didn’t throw many.  Rodriguez used his a lot in the first half.

So here’s what he did:

It’s always good to abandon ship on a pitch that isn’t performing, but what really helps is when that plan allows a pitcher to throw other pitches that perform incredibly well.

Using Eno Sarris’ model available on FanGraphs, Rodriguez’s Stuff+ improved from 105 in his first 11 starts to 126 afterward. The latter figure ranked fifth in all of baseball.

Changing your pitch mix can help improve your Stuff+. So can increasing your velocity. Here’s what happened to Rodriguez’s slider before and after his midseason demotion:

The same trend occurred with his four-seamer, curve, and changeup. Not only did he return with a better plan of attack, but his remaining arsenal simply became more dominant.

From July 22 through the end of the season, Rodriguez had the second-best curve by Stuff+, the second-best changeup, a top-10 fastball, and a top-10 slider. All four pitches had above-average Location+ numbers, meaning he had command of anything he threw. Rodriguez’s 112 Pitching+ during this time led all of MLB.

Finally, here’s a fun look at the skill changes before and after it all clicked:

The Future

On a season-long level, Rodriguez underperformed some of his advanced metrics (4.35 ERA vs 3.93 FIP vs 3.78 xFIP).

Some folks might nitpick his 2.26 ERA with a 3.71 xFIP over his strong second half. A 2.26 ERA is hard for anyone to maintain, but I believe Baltimore’s pitchers are uniquely positioned to overperform now that they have more spacious outfield dimensions.

After years of being one of the top home parks for offense, especially homers, Camden Yards has been below average the past two seasons. It had the sixth-lowest park factor overall in 2023, according to Baseball Savant.

Orioles pitchers have outperformed their xFIP each year since the left field wall was pushed back. These are small sample sizes, but when it comes to deciding which home parks you want your fantasy pitchers throwing in, or if we’re investing in baseball cards/making Cy Young predictions, I’d rather have Mount Walltimore on my side.

There’s also the Orioles’ ability to continue developing prospects and young players in the majors. Think of all their recent success stories. Bradish, Felix Bautista, Yennier Cano, and Tyler Wells stand out on the pitching side among others. 

There’s more help coming. The Orioles are the first organization in Baseball America history to produce the No. 1 prospect in baseball for three consecutive years.

Despite all their recent graduations, which include legit superstars like Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, they still have five names in this year’s Top 100 overall. They might even have next year’s No. 1 prospect (again) when it’s all said and done.

This is all to say that Grayson’s infrastructure and supporting cast are as solid as one could hope for. He announced his arrival in 2023, and there’s reason to think he could be even better this upcoming season.

I’ll leave you with this. Here are Rodriguez’s pitch usages and individual Stuff+ numbers over his final 12 starts:

During his red-hot stretch, he still primarily utilized a fastball-changeup combo. The slider and curve pitch shapes are so good, though, and we already went over how well he can command them.

He doesn’t need to throw the breaking balls more because his heater and changeup are bad, but it’s clear he hasn’t fully dipped into all his options. If there’s a day his changeup is off for some reason? No problem, lean on the breakers. If an opposing line is especially weak against curves? He can pull that lever, too. This is exactly what we want in a young starter.

Despite a rocky start to his big-league career, Grayson Rodriguez is still everything he was supposed to be. And he might keep getting even better.

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