TDG’s Triple Play: Boston Red Sox!
The Triple Play is back for a third season! This regular feature is broken down by staff writers Bob Osgood and Paul Monte and a rotating panel of third writers. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Pitcher: Eduardo Rodriguez, Age: 27, Position: LHP
Analysis by: Joe Drake
Eduardo Rodriguez is to the Red Sox 2020 rotation (RIP Chris Sale’s left elbow) as Jack White is to the Raconteurs. Sure, it’s a merry band of talented professionals, but Rodriguez/White is the only one you really know. And for my man Eduardo, it’s been steady as he goes since 2017. Rodriguez has posted 3 straight years of a high 3s/low 4s ERA with a mid-20s strikeout rate and a walk percent in the 8s. You’ve come to know exactly what you’re going to get when he’s on the mound in Beantown. He’s not Everyday Eddie, because, you know, he needs a few days between starts (and we can’t take that away from Mr. Guardado), but he’s getting there.
While Rodriguez struggled to pile up innings to start his career (4 seasons of 137 IP or fewer), he broke out in a big way in 2019 by cracking the illustrious 200 inning barrier. On the surface, that doesn’t really sound that exciting, I know, but when you factor in that it came with a career-best 3.81 ERA and career average K% and BB%, that’s when we get Eddie Money. Rodriguez went from fantasy rotation fill-in to a bona fide #2 as his innings count soared. He racked up more strikeouts (only 23 pitchers eclipsed 200 Ks in 2019), but his sub-4 ERA held a lot more weight and it came in a year when ERAs ballooned due to the new ball. As the pitching world was falling apart at the seams in 2019, Steady Eddie stepped up and became Eddie Money. If Rodriguez was on your squad last year, your tune changed from Think I’m in Love to Take Me Home Tonight.
Vedder Days Ahead?
Okay, so we know he was good in the past, but what about going forward? Are we in for Long Nights as Rodriguez comes back to Earth? Or is this new Eduardo… Guaranteed? Just Breathe, we’ll get there.
If we dive into his Statcast page, there are a few things that stick out about Rodriguez right away. First of all, he’s not Randy Johnson. He’s not a flamethrowing lefty who’s going to zip the ball past everyone or destroy knee ligaments with a devastating breaker. Rodriguez sits a 93 (slightly above average from the left side) and features 4 pitches with regularity – none of which are a breaking ball. His calling card is a devastating Four Seam/Changeup combination and then he mixes in a sinker and cutter depending on the handedness of the hitter. Now, as we established before, Rodriguez doesn’t blow people away, but what he did exceptionally well in 2019 was limit hard contact. He was in the 94th percentile of exit velocity allowed and 96th percentile for hard-hit rate. Truly elite.
His big step forward appears to be largely fueled by improvement in both his four-seam and changeup. Per FanGraphs’ Pitch Values, Rodriguez’s fastballs improved from a “meh” 2.8 rating in 2018 to an outstanding 10.7 in 2019. That ranked 17th in all of baseball. Perhaps even more impressive was his changeup which jumped from 2.1 to 6.0. That doesn’t sound nearly as impactful, but don’t be fooled, it ranked as the 11th best Cambio in MLB.
You Really Got Me
To sum it all up, Eduardo Rodriguez is coming off a career year in which he posted 200+ innings and strikeouts with sub-4.00 ERA and it appears to be backed up by an ability to limit hard contact at an elite level. Underneath it all, the pitches he threw more than 60% of the time in 2019 both ranked in the top 20 in all of baseball. While the Red Sox may not be the pitching wins powerhouse they have been recently, I’m still ready to Jump all-in on Eduardo Rodriguez for 2020 as a solid #2 fantasy starter.
J.D Martinez, Age: 32, Position: OF
Analysis by: Paul Monte
J.D., as in Just Doubting
Let’s face it, these just don’t feel the same. Every passing week the 2020 season seems to be a long shot to happen and while redraft leagues are canceled and refunded; dynasty leagues carry on. I believe that this hurts all players, prospects are going to miss out on valuable reps, guys in their prime are missing what could be their most productive season, and older vets inch one year closer to retirement. One of the latter is Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez.
J.D., as in Julio Daniel
At 32-years-old Martinez is coming off a down year by his standards. Just two years removed from hitting an amazing 45 home runs in 119 games, he failed to hit 40 for the third consecutive season at a time when home runs were at their peak. This, of course, leads to a narrative that Martinez may be on the decline, and that could be true. The peak was so high that the decline would still leave you with a top 20 hitter, who at this point has outfield eligibility. That will not last forever, as defense is not his strength, but he should appear in enough games to remain eligible for several more seasons while soaking up DH at-bats. Even with the decline in Barrel % and Exit Velocity, he remains in the 89th percentile. The down season has not affected his ADP as he is still going in the top 25 picks of most formats. Where I have seen a slight drop is ADP in dynasty start-ups. It’s hard to tell if the drop is just related to his age, as every year some top veterans fall in start-ups as the new 20-year-old superstars begin to emerge. The price on the trade market has remained stable but the further along this season gets without a game being played, the cheaper his price may be. This is a time to be scouring rosters, looking for those who seem to be at the end of their winning window, trying to get a discount on an older player. I’m not looking to buy Nelson Cruz at this point, but there is a seven-year age gap there. If I have a team that can compete in 2020 if there is a season, or 2021 if we are all forced to wait that long, I have no problem acquiring a player that could be 33-years-old the next time a real at-bat takes place.
J.D., as in Jury Decision
Times have changed. Right now, we would be looking to pick up the guy who started the season on a tear, debating if we should drop that prospect that we thought was a good idea a month ago when we drafted. Instead, we need to focus on other things. I have no problem with those who have decided to check out on fantasy sports; it’s a scary time and some just can’t muster up the interest. Others are diving deep into their rosters, trying to find anything that can keep their mind away from thinking about what’s happening beyond the doors that they have been behind for two weeks now. I flip-flop daily, but the next time I get that itch to look at one of my teams, I’m going to see who owns J.D Martinez and see what the price may be.
Jay Groome, Age: 21, Position: P
Analysis by: Bob Osgood
Groomed as The Next Big Thing
Drafted in the summer of 2016 by the Boston Red Sox, the Jay Groome Experience as a professional pitcher has been a whole lot of talk and print, and not a whole lot of on-field action or results. A consideration by the Phillies as the #1 overall pick, Groome not only faced off the field family concerns but also demanded a significant signing bonus coming out of high school. While the Red Sox welcomed the 17-year-old Groome with the 12th pick and were willing to meet a number close to the $4 million request (settled on $3.65M), the hits kept on coming.
Save for three brief starts late in 2016, Groome ramped up for his first full season in 2017 but dealt with a lat strain in the first half of the season, and then a flexor strain in his forearm cut the second half short as well. The forearm injury reappeared in early 2018 and turned out to be a precursor to Tommy John surgery.
Getting Back Into the Groome
While on the mound, the success was limited for Groome. In that rocky 2017 season, he made 14 starts between two levels of single-A combining for a 3-9 record with a 5.69 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 72 strikeouts and 30 walks. Some of this output is skewed by a nine-earned run outing to open the season that led to a lengthy DL stint. The upside was present in several outings, four of which included at least five shutout innings with at least six strikeouts. However, all-in-all, it has the looks of an injured pitcher from the start, whose season ended with an arm injury. Unfortunately, the unsightly numbers of that one season are all that we’ve been able to look at on Groome’s player page since. He has fallen down prospect rankings, out of the top 200 on many occasions with his high risk being the obvious identifier.
Remember, Groome was 17 years old when he was drafted. He’s still only 21, and the Tommy John surgery that seems to hit all of the hard-throwing pitchers at some point is now behind him. There are many positive notes to look at, including…
Not only the pedigree of nearly being picked 1:1. He spent the offseason entering 2018 training with Chris Sale, and Sale spoke glowingly about Groome’s future. Via Mass Live, “He’s got everything — all the tools you could possibly ask for,” Sale said. “I mean, that guy’s an animal. So just trying to give him some ins-and-outs and trying to get him here sooner than later.”
Upon return in late 2019, Groome told Mass Live, “I’ve got a brand new arm, basically. So I know if I can maintain it and keep it healthy, the sky’s the limit.” Then, with Rob Bradford in a WEEI interview this March, “Last year I was just trying to get my feet back into it. This year it’s go-time. I just have got to perform. I’m full-go which I haven’t been for a while.”
Repertoire & Stuff
Per Fangraphs which, in fairness, marks Groome as high risk and their #15 Red Sox prospect:
And Prospects Live #5 Red Sox prospect:
“The three-pitch mix with a heavy reliance on the fastball and his downer curveball are still there but the post-surgery Groome has significantly improved feel for his changeup.”
Red Sox vice president of player development Ben Crockett said,
“I think you’re always going to be conservative from a total workload standpoint with a guy coming off injury. But I think in terms of the day-to-day and when he’s out on the mound, there’ll be no limitations. We expect him to be going at full game speed as he’s been this offseason with his bullpens.”
A Toast to the Groome
There is certainly plenty of risk in buying into Groome entering 2020. Injury history, bullpen risk due to limited innings over the past four years, and now another shortened season ahead. The cost could be low, however, in looking at the large variance in rankings throughout the fantasy landscape. While the Red Sox farm system is finally starting to improve after it was decimated by Dave Dombrowski trades, it is still middle of the pack and Groome is one of the few pitchers who is only a year or two away. They spent a first-round pick on him and have not drafted and developed a starter since the Lester and Buchholz days, so I believe they will give him every opportunity to succeed with his “brand new arm”. Groome surely falls into the high-risk/high-reward category, but if the price is low then those are the prospects that I like to invest in. Find the owner who has been waiting on Groome for a few years and buy low.
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