Phillies 2017 Season Preview: Relief Pitcher Joely Rodriguez

Mar 19, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Joely Rodriguez (64) throws a pitch during the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 19, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Joely Rodriguez (64) throws a pitch during the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /
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Phillies reliever Joely Rodriguez has the fast track to the bullpen this season thanks to his left-handedness, but that isn’t his only valuable trait.

The Phillies organization is notably lacking of left-handed pitchers. Just three are on the 40-man roster, and just two are among the team’s top 30 prospects. The expected starting rotation is comprised entirely of right-handed pitchers, as well as a majority of the bullpen.

Due to this lack of left-handed pitchers, reliever Joely Rodriguez is in the ideal position to be the primary lefty coming out of Philadelphia’s bullpen. He is one of five left-handed pitchers in camp with the team, but Rodriguez is the only one who is a full-time reliever, on the 40-man roster, and has major-league experience.

Rodriguez transitioned to the bullpen in 2016 after a rocky 2015 that saw him post a combined 6.12 ERA between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He struggled to start the year in Reading, earning a demotion to High-A Clearwater. From there, Rodriguez was electric, carrying a 2.16 ERA, 4.57 walk-to-strikeout ratio, and 1.08 WHIP after the demotion.

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With Philadelphia’s bullpen decimated by a long season and plagued by inconsistency, the team promoted Rodriguez to the major-leagues to see what he could do. Rodriguez finished his 12-game stint in the majors with a 2.79 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and .235 batting average against.

In 2016, Rodriguez’s fastball averaged 95.62 miles per hour and topped out at 98.46 according to Brooks Baseball.

The only other Phillies lefty to throw a pitch 98 mph since 2008 was Jake Diekman, who was traded to Texas along with Cole Hamels in 2015. Manager Pete Mackanin said Rodriguez’s stuff was “nasty” after a game against the White Sox last September.

Even though Rodriguez flashed potential, he wasn’t perfect in 2016. His expected fielding-independent pitching (xFIP), which evaluates how a pitcher should have performed based on the batted balls he gave up, was 4.80, which is terrible. He also walked four batters in just 9.2 innings, which is also quite bad.

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Despite his flaws, Rodriguez should make the team if for nothing else than the fact that the team doesn’t have much wiggle room with their 40-man roster. Considering the amount of prospects the team needs to protect, there really isn’t anyone to spare on the roster to add a non-roster invitee like Cesar Ramos or Sean Burnett.

Mackanin has said that he would like to have two lefties in the bullpen considering the team’s all-righty rotation. If I had to place bets, I would put money on Rodriguez and Adam Morgan being the team’s two lefties in the bullpen come Opening Day.

Both are on the 40-man roster, making it easier to put them on the team. Morgan would likely be the team’s long reliever should the starter exit the game early while Rodriguez would get more time in high-leverage situations later in the game.

Rodriguez actually performed better against righties than lefties in his major-league debut, so it will be interesting to see if that rings true or changes this season. If he struggles to get lefties out, that will hurt his ability to be a typical LOOGY (left-handed one-out guy). However, if he can find a way to, that will cement a role for Rodriguez in this bullpen for this season, if not longer.

Next: Phillies Split Split-Squad Spring Training Games

Rodriguez is still somewhat of an unknown commodity at the big-league level, but he is in prime position to show what he can do in 2017.