Eduardo Rodriguez versus Justin Verlander: Money Well Spent?

Detroit Tigers pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez throws the first pitch of the season against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park in Detroit on Friday, April 8, 2022.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez throws the first pitch of the season against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park in Detroit on Friday, April 8, 2022. /

Eduardo Rodriguez is on the 15-day injury list and Justin Verlander is chugging toward another Cy Young season. Should the Detroit Tigers have spent extra to bring Verlander home?

Let’s admit it. We’ve all thought about what it would be like if Justin Verlander were rocking the Old English D again, instead of Eduardo Rodriguez being a piece added to the pitching puzzle in Detroit.

Walk with me friend. Let’s take a brief trip back in time to a place where the aura of being a Detroit Tigers fan wasn’t synonymous with crippling depression.

It’s November 3rd, day one of the Major League Baseball offseason and the Tigers have just acquired Tucker Barnhart in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds. The ‘it’s time to compete again’ vibes have been sparked, and speculation about an offseason spending spree are running rampant.

Thoughts about Detroit bringing home its prodigal son on the mound–Justin Verlander–had a large portion of Tigers fans foaming at the mouth, hoping to see 35 donning the Old English D again at around this time.

As we all know at this point though, the Tigers would go on to sign Eduardo Rodriguez to a 5-yr/$77 million contract just under two weeks later, and Verlander would agree to a 1-yr/$25 million deal with a player option to return the following season with the Houston Astros just before the C.B.A. expired on December 1st.

Fast forward to today. Rodriguez is on a rehab assignment, nursing a left ribcage sprain according to Jason Beck of, while Verlander is fresh off of six shutout innings against the Texas Rangers last Monday.

Rodriquez currently owns a modest 4.38 Earned Run Average on the year, while sporting a record of 1-3 and striking out 34 batters compared to surrendering 17 walks.

Alternatively, Verlander leads MLB in E.R.A. at 1.22 and is tied with Walker Buehler for the major league lead in wins (6).

On the surface, the Tigers are getting exactly what they paid for in Rodriguez, as his season ERA is a tick above his career ERA (4.17) and about a third of a run lower than last season with the Red Sox (4.74). Rodriguez is also giving up fewer hits per 9 innings, coming in at 8.1 compared to a career average of 8.7.

But looking at more advanced stats, an argument can be made Rodriguez is underperforming. Through 8 starts, Rodriguez is sporting a career low 2-to-1 K/BB ratio while also having the lowest ERA+ (85) and WAR (-0.5) of his career so far.

Those stats–paired with the Tigers anemic start at the plate this season–leave a sour taste, and the taste only becomes stronger when thinking of what could have been, considering what Verlander has accomplished so far in Houston. If he goes on to make 30 starts in 2022, Verlander is on pace for 22 wins while shattering his personal ERA record of 2.40 set back during his 2011 MVP season.

Apparently that is the difference between spending $25 million on a starting pitcher, or only spending $15 million.

Cheaping out on premium pitching is nothing new for the Tigers though. Tigers fans will also remember another pitcher who signed a 5-year deal and was heralded as a smart buy, advanced stats guy.

Jordan Zimmermann.

Zimmermann joined the Tigers after the 2015 season after an incredibly effective five-year stretch in the nation’s capital.

From 2011-2015, Zimmermann notched a 66-43 record on the mound with a 3.14 ERA across 155 games started, including two top-10 finishes in National League Cy Young voting in 2013 and 2014.

Advanced stats also pointed toward how effective Zimmermann could be. His calling card was his ability to pound the strike zone with a three-pitch repertoire that consisted of a fastball, slider, and a curveball, leading to a 4.3-to-1 K/BB ratio, while he also posted an E.R.A.+ of 123 and racked up 18.9 W.A.R.

All the stats in the world couldn’t have predicted how Zimmermann’s tenure with the Tigers ended up though, as he lost control and velocity on his pitches — leading to his K/BB ratio slipping to a more pedestrian 3-to-1 — and his ERA ballooning to 5.61 over four full seasons in Detroit.

One could argue the Tigers would have been better served opening up the checkbook and paying for the premium pitcher of that offseason — Zack Greinke — who ended up going to the Arizona Diamondbacks on a 6-yr/$206.5 million deal, or pursuing a pitcher of similar talent, like Jeff Samardzija, for example.

Greinke and Samardzija would both go on to have better 4-year stretches than Zimmermann did as a full time member of Detroit’s rotation. From 2016-2019, Greinke posted a 63-30 record with an ERA of 3.37, while Samardzija posted a less impressive 33-43 record with a 4.10 ERA, but that’s still leagues better than Zimmermann’s 25-41 record with an aforementioned ERA of 5.61 over the same time span.

All isn’t doom and gloom though when it comes to Eduardo Rodriguez. At the time of this post, Rodriguez is still only a little more than a-month-and-a-half removed from his 29th birthday, and his ERA today is still better than anything Zimmermann posted in a Tigers uniform (4.52 in 2018).

The only question really is, would the extra $10 million for Justin Verlander have meant enough to jumpstart the Tigers early on this year? Or would bringing Verlander in only for him to waste his elite pitching on an anemic offense be even more disappointing than what Eduardo Rodriguez and crew haven been able to do so far?

Next. Joel Zumaya destroys Al Avila and the Detroit Tigers. dark