Wandy Rodriguez: Underrated Quality Pitcher

Last week, the Houston Astros put Wandy Rodriguez on waivers, giving teams until Tuesday afternoon to make a claim on him. At the time, Jon Heyman noted that only “some fool” would put in a claim, given the amount of money he’s still owed on his contract. This isn’t to pick on Heyman, since he’s hardly been the only writer talking about Rodriguez’s burdensome contract and how Houston should be happy to be rid of their obligation to him going forward.

Through it all, I’ve sat here and scratched my head trying to figure out if we’re all talking about the same Wandy Rodriguez here, because the one that I’m aware of is a pretty good pitcher.

Since the start of the 2008 season (giving us Wandy’s past three years, plus this one), his ERA- is 84, meaning he’s posted a mark 16 percent better than league average. The ranking puts him just ahead of Roy Oswalt, Shaun Marcum, Hiroki Kuroda, Ricky Romero, and Mark Buehrle in a nearly four year sample. Clearly, it can’t be the results that people have had a problem with.

So, let’s look at the peripherals, even though I doubt Heyman was thinking about Rodriguez’s FIP and xFIP when talking about how no one should want Rodriguez’s contract. Still, it’s useful to see if Rodriguez is a guy who has consistently beat his secondary numbers or not, as teams do value pitchers differently based on how they get outs.

By FIP-, Rodriguez rates at a 91, posting an FIP nine percent better than the league average over the last 3+ years. He does slightly better by xFIP-, where his 88 means that he’s been 12 percent better than the league average. Neither of these marks are quite as good as his ERA-, but they’re still good enough to put him in the top quartile of pitchers in Major League Baseball.

So, we have a guy with good peripherals who has posted an ERA even better than those numbers would suggest, and been consistently good over the last four years. Sure, his strikeout rate is down slightly this year, but his overall numbers are still well above average, and the falling strikeout rate hasn’t been reflected in giving up runs (his 3.31 ERA ranks 15th in the National League this year), which is usually the way that mainstream writers evaluate pitchers. So, we’re left with a pitcher who should be considered a quality performer no matter how you look at his results, and yet he’s being treated like he has Alfonso Soriano‘s contract hanging around his neck.

In reality, though, even the money he’s due beyond this year isn’t all that much. He’s due $10 million in salary next year, $13 million in salary the year after, and then there’s an option for $13 million in 2014 which comes with a $2.5 million buyout. If Wandy is traded, that club option becomes a player option, and the general assumption has been that he would exercise that and be under contract for the next three seasons.

If the option isn’t exercised, then Rodriguez is owed $25 million over the next two seasons. If it is, then he’s owed $36 million over the next three. It’s not pocket change, but when did that kind of contract become a millstone for a quality starting pitcher? Do we really think Rodriguez would get substantially less if he were a free agent this winter?

Looking back at previous offseasons, we can see that Rodriguez’s deal is right in line with what other mid-rotation starters have been getting. Ted Lilly, an inferior pitcher in just about every way, signed a three year, $33 million contract with the Dodgers last year. The year before, Randy Wolf (another soft-tossing lefty with a worse track record than Rodriguez) got $30 million over three years from the Brewers. Even a guy like Jorge de la Rosa, whose results have never really matched his stuff, got 3/30 last winter from the Rockies.

Rodriguez is better than all of these guys, and his remaining contract is right in line with what the market has been paying non-elite left-handed starting pitchers over the last few years. And yet, for whatever reason, 3/36 for Rodriguez is being treated like a plague. The Colorado Rockies were wise to not give in to the anti-Rodriguez hype machine, however, and showed that they understand that Rodriguez is likely worth his contract and then some by putting in a claim on him. Reports have made it sound unlikely that the Astros will just give him away, however, since they’re apparently asking for a significant return for Rodriguez.

So, at least two Major League teams value Rodriguez above and beyond what his contract pays him. His numbers support their case and show that he’s been one of the better pitchers in the National League for quite some time. In reality, there’s just no evidence to support the idea that Rodriguez’s contract is some huge burden that teams should be running from. The real story here is that a good pitcher with a fair contract got claimed on waivers. I guess that’s not quite as interesting though.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


47 Responses to “Wandy Rodriguez: Underrated Quality Pitcher”

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  1. Rob says:

    Compare the “millstone” of a contract Rodriquez has to the “great” deal the Angels got for Weaver and then look at their actual performance.

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    • balagast says:

      I don’t think the article it trying to say he’s a bargain, but that he’s not some albatross contract.

      If someone was willing to trade for vernon wells, I should hope teams would have interest in Wandy at least.

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      • hairball says:

        Going by FG war-to-$ value, and extrapolating from the perecentage of a season this year, Wandy is worth well over $13 mil/season over the last 5 seasons.

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      • Mike says:

        I definitely agree with Dave that it’s not an albatross contract and that Wandy is rather decent. BUT, just because 3/30 type deals have recently been give to worse pitchers and the fact that Wandy would get this same type deal on the open market doesn’t make it necessary a smart move. I think everyone would agree that the chances of a team getting surplus value on this contract are very low. I think almost any team would be better off using this money instead to lock up a good young player to a long term deal. Or, instead of hitching your wagon to Wandy for three years, I’d rather the freedom to sign pitchers to 1yr deals for comparable money over this time frame.

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      • Nathaniel Dawson says:

        Mike, good luck getting a good reliable starting pitcher to sign on a one-year deal. What you can get there are pitchers trying to come back from injury, former top prospects that never lived up to their hype and are looking for another chance, or older pitchers near the end of their career who are trying to recapture some of their past glory. Competent, healthy, proven, reliable pitchers get multi-year deals in free agency.

        You may be right that it’s not wise to commit that kind of money to free agent (or the equivalent) starting pitchers, but that’s how the market is set. If a team can’t find internal options that are satisfactory, and can’t swing a trade for a cost-controlled pitcher (which is going to cost you in talent rather than dollars), then they’re going to have to pay market rate to get a pitching upgrade. A team might get lucky once in a while by pulling in a guy on a one-year deal, but that’s a roll of the dice. The only pitchers available for a one-year deal have big question marks.

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  2. theonemephisto says:

    THANK YOU.

    My twitter and RSS has been full of pieces on how Wandy is not a good pitcher and would be given away at first chance. Maybe it’s just that people don’t appreciate good, solid players on non-contenders. I’ve always thought that’s exactly what Wandy is, a good, solid, #2-3 type on a contender.

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  3. Isn’t the option guaranteed in case of a trade?

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  4. Telo says:

    32 years old next year

    FBv – past 4 years
    88.9
    90.2
    89.6
    89.1

    SwStr – past 4 years
    8.9
    9.2
    8.8
    7.7

    K% – past 4 years
    22.3
    22.7
    21.7
    20.3

    I think the truth is somewhere between your generous representation and Heyman’s admittedly hyperbolic one. His FA value is probably 20-24/3.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      So, there’s been no appreciable change in velocity and his K% has been stable for three years with just a very small drop this year (coinciding with a drop in his walk rate from last year as well). Congratulations, you’ve shown that Wandy Rodriguez is pretty consistent.

      3/20 to 3/24 would require you to believe that the market would value Rodriguez less than Lilly, Wolf, or de la Rosa. Good luck showing how any of those three are superior to Rodriguez in any way.

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      • Richie says:

        You’re ignoring Telo’s opening line. Wandy’s already 32. As well as being just a bit obnoxious about it, for no reason I can see. You, not Wandy.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        Ted Lilly was 34 last winter when he got 3/33. Wolf was 33 when he got 3/30 the year before. Sorry, not buying age as a valid reason.

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      • Telo says:

        Hey, chillax. Telo is playing nice.

        Wandy is a one pitch guy as it is. If he is showing a decline in whiffs while still walking too many guys, that’s going to turn off potential buyers. People get bad contracts all the time after one or two great years, ala Wolf and Lilly. And as much as we would like it to be otherwise, market value is not driven solely by FIP and xFIP and rigorous statistical analysis.

        I would take Wandy in a hearbeat over Lilly and Wolf, but the market might say differently about an aging one pitch wonder, who is showing declines in the one thing he brings to the table, who plays on a shitty, tiny market team, with a doofus sounding name, who has a crappy W/L record.

        Everything is not about stats when it comes to “the market”.

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      • Telo says:

        And now that we’re on the subject, here’s constructive criticism for the next 100 “Here’s something I know that you don’t know” or “Player X is criminally underrated” or whatever iteration of your favorite theme of article.

        The first thing they teach you in speech and debate 101 is: The most effective way to make you case is to present the opposite view and dismantle it – or some variation of that. I think you missed this lesson, as it shows up throughout your work.

        It seems like whenever you present something like this, you point to every reason why you are right, why your thesis is correct, but you rarely present the other side of the argument. Why not discuss the valid reasons why Wandy ISN’T worth this contract on the open market, and refute the validity of each of those, then present your side of the argument – that’s called thorough analysis.

        What you might find, however, is that in this case those arguments against Wandy’s value DO have validity. While they may not be rooted in the statistical theory and research that we value – they nonethless have real world and market value. For the love of god, could you imagine being in an arbitration hearing, where people are citing RBIs and wins? That is the market, Dave.

        If you are talking about true talent, great. Let’s hash out true talent, because Wandy is a pretty interesting case. But that’s not what this article was about after the first paragraph. It was about a pitcher with a largish contract being put on waivers, and whether it would be crazy if a team picked him up. It’d be nice if you completed the article that you set out to write once in a while, instead of plugging your fingers in your ears, spouting off your narrow point of view.

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      • rickie weeks says:

        Telo,

        Dave mentioned (in the opening paragraph) the main point against claiming Wandy is his percieved “burdensome contract”, and then went on to explain why the contract isn’t burdensome. Isn’t that exactly what you are talking about?

        I have some constructive criticism for you: Go away.

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      • MC says:

        Not playing too nice anymore apparently. Whew, that was a pointless lecture.

        Dave’s point is this, compare Wandy to other lefties w 3/30s contracts and who would you rather take. All those pitchers have question marks, or they would’ve gotten Cliff Lee money.

        You fail to mention the BIGGEST difference in acquiring Wandy than the teams acquiring Lilly and Wolf, and that’s they’ll also be required to throw in prospects in addition to the cash..

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      • Telo says:

        Rickie, this clearly went over your head. The question is simply “is it crazy for a team pickup Wandy’s contract?” as Heyman claimed. The next logical question is “what is his market value – and is it comparable to his current contract?” His market value is determined by many factors – one of which is true talent as we saberists can best measure it (I somewhat disagreed with Dave’s representation – in my first post). His true talent, however, is not nearly the only factor in determining market value. This was my criticism of Dave (in my second post).

        I believe if you read everything more thoroughly instead of resulting to ad hoc insults, you may have understood this.

        Please try to read the actual content and engage your brain before you insult people.

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      • rickie weeks says:

        Telo,

        I suggest you follow your own advice, because clearly you didn’t read the part of Dave’s post where he evaluates Wandy’s market value by comparing him to other contracts signed recently by similar pitchers on the OPEN MARKET.

        Also, you are the only one throwing around insults here (5 by my count in the response to me). Saying “Go away” isn’t an insult, it’s a request. And consider it still on the table.

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      • Ousy says:

        Rickie Weeks and Troy Telowitzki – competitors on the field AND the web.

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      • Ted Lilly says:

        “People get bad contracts all the time after one or two great years, ala Wolf and Lilly. ”

        I had a “good” half-season stint with the Dodgers, and my peripherals that were congruent with my ERA (3.52). I had a K/9 of 9 and a BB/9 < 2, but my home run rate (HR/9 = 1.5) was worse than the league average. Nevertheless, anyone who casually watches my starts would notice that I have an above-average home-run rate in addition to low fastball velocity; it is not something that I can conceal from any front-office, so the Dodgers knew what they were not purchasing superlative pitching talent for three years. Perhaps I was outperforming my talent with my impressive K/BB ratio, but GMs should at least have a rudimentary grasp of the concept of "regression" and the pernicious impact of age on most pitchers.

        Although I most certainly yen for more velocity on my fastball so I don't have to trade a "high" strikeout rate for a high home-run rate**, I can at least give my team a decent chance to win by relying on my secondary pitches. Even though I pitch on a non-contending team, I still try to give the fans something magnificent (not merely a win), such as a complete-game shutout, such as the 11K 2BB 2H game against the Rockies on 8/19/11. I don't mind losing low-leverage games (from our team's perspective) if I pitched better than my opponent, like in my duel against Wolf; he got four double plays and a triple play, but gave 5 walks and got 5 strikeouts, but I got six strikeouts, two walks, and a home run.

        ** I wonder if, when fastball velocity is controlled, that there is a trade-off between home-run rate and strikeout rate. For instance,
        Paul Maholm, who like myself is a soft-tossing lefty, has an uninspired low strikeout rate (career K/9 = 5.5) but a respectable home run rate (career HR/9 = .8). Perhaps, I trade an increased K-rate for an increased home run rate.

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    • Luke says:

      Telo, you’re bonkers.

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  5. vivalajeter says:

    I agree completely. I always thought he was a pretty good pitcher, and when I read all of these articles about how nobody would claim him for fear of taking on his contract, I had to go to his player page to see if he was substantially worse than I thought, or to see if he fell off of a cliff this year. Sure enough, his numbers have been solid.

    I think he’s especially helpful for a fringe team that can’t attract free agents. A team like the royals, in a $hit division with a number of great prospects, can certainly use him. The only way a good free agent pitcher will sign with KC is if they vastly overpay – Rodriguez seems like a great choice for them, at a palatable rate.

    This all changes if Houston is asking for a substantial package in return for him, but if it’s just a matter of picking up his contract then a lot of teams should be willing.

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  6. OremLK says:

    Wandy Rodriguez pitches in the NL Central for a bad team. It’s just bias. Sportswriters have always looked more favorably on players who

    a) Are playing for a contender
    b) Are playing for teams in large markets, preferably on the east coast, and west if that’s not possible

    Add in the fact that he’s a smaller guy who doesn’t throw all that hard and was never hyped as a younger player, and you have a recipe for sports journalists to repeatedly make silly statements on Twitter.

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  7. Ousy says:

    There’s a trade-off between talent/production and off the field issues. If allegations surface regarding Wandy’s participation in underground illegal poker games (his cousin is meeting with MLB on Friday) then those teams that passed on the waiver claim will look a lot wiser.

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  8. mcbrown says:

    Damn you, Dave Cameron… now you’ve gotten me all excited that the Red Sox might be able to pick him up. Above average pitcher at 30% less than they’re paying Lackey and no prospects given in exchange? Yes please!

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  9. Josh says:

    I’m not sure why you wouldn’t pick on Heyman. The guy is good at getting scoops about trades and free agents, but he has no respect for saberists and treats advanced statistics like they’re the plague. He can be quite arrogant and condescending, yet implies the same of those who adhere to sabermetrics. The guy is a lousy sports journalist who deserves to be picked on.

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    • Sean O'Neill says:

      His issues with stats aside, what troubles me most with Heyman is the fact he’s got an ESPN-era Peter Gammons thing going on, with him trumpeting Boras clients the way Gammons used to trumpet “special” Sox prospects. After a while, it becomes pretty obvious where he gets a lot of his information from, and it hurts his credibility. I eagerly await his bizarre claims this offseason about how Magglio deserves a 2-3 year deal at 10+ million a pop.

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  10. James says:

    For what it’s worth, I have a hard time seeing him moving this month (unless Houston wants to save immediate cash). If I were the Rockies, I would be lowballing Houston to see if they will just dump him without a quality return. It seems to make more sense for Houston to wait and try to work a trade in the winter when there are more potential bidders to drive up the return.

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  11. If the Rockies are able to get Wandy in a waiver wire deal, I’ll have to back off O’Dowd a bit. And if they include Charlie Blackmon in the deal, Carson will have to be an Astros fan.

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  12. Mark says:

    Crap, there goes my question for the next Dave Cameron chat.

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  13. JP says:

    Hey its the next market inefficiency!
    Very good left handed starting pitchers who play for the Houston Astros!

    Answer me this: how many of Wandy Rodriguez’s starts in his career do you think guys like Jon Heyman have actually sat down and watched. Yeah, he’s 32. Considering his career trajectory/how he pitches, I have little reason to think that’s a red flag for the future.

    Anyone who doubts Rodriguez’s talent and his ability to pitch as a #2 has 1. never looked at his stats in depth. 2. has never watched him pitch. This isn’t even a saber/ non saber thing. It is an ignorant/informed thing.

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  14. james wilson says:

    Have we forgotten how Oswalt was doing in Houston before being shipped out?

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  15. Aaron W. says:

    So if the Rockies trade away Ubaldo and then claim Wandy, are they trying to contend and not contend at the same time? That’s a neat trick.

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    • Mike says:

      It would be a neat trick … take a slight down grade in Ubaldo to Wandy, but pick up several very good prospects in the process. Looks good for the Rockies as long as they don’t give up too much for Wandy.

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  16. Mike says:

    Maybe it’s time for JackZ to make another contract for contract kind of deal (Figgins for Wandy). I have a hard time believing this wouldn’t work out better for the M’s than the Bradley-Silva swap did. I also can’t imagine the Astros would go for this, but then again, they are being run by Ed Wade…

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    • JamesDaBear says:

      The Mariners would have to pick up all of Wandy’s salary and a chunk of Figgins. The Astros aren’t looking to trade Wandy because he doesn’t perform. They simply can’t afford him under their payroll constraints when they still have to pay Carlos Lee, Brett Myers and Brandon Lyon. They can divest themselves of Wandy’s money easiest. Taking any salary in return for Wandy doesn’t solve their problem. This is a situation where Wade really doesn’t make much impact, as long as he doesn’t give up too much money in the deal to cover parts of Wandy’s contract just to get marginal prospects in return.

      I applaud the Rockies for taking the initiative to attain his services. The Cubs were really the only passing team that could have taken on his contract, and that comes with it a lot of assumption. It would have been interesting to see which other teams would have done the same or would have bid had Rodriguez became an asset the Astros could shop around.

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