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Giants Review: Rookie Dereck Rodriguez is biggest bright spot of down year

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Giants Review: Rookie Dereck Rodriguez is biggest bright spot of down year

SAN FRANCISCO — There are a lot of mysteries in player evaluation, but in 2018, perhaps there was none greater than this: How did the Minnesota Twins, an organization forever in need of more talent, let Dereck Rodriguez get away?

Rodriguez was 25 at the time, with a Hall-of-Fame pedigree, a developing repertoire and solid minor league results. Even Giants people seemed surprised that Rodriguez was available, but they had done their homework and were prepared to chase him the minute he became a free agent. The end result was the best development of the 2018 season

Rodriguez spent much of his first season in the big leagues as a Rookie of the Year candidate and leader of the rotation. His future looks bright, but before we get there, let’s look back on his first season with the Giants … 

What Went Right

Rodriguez was an afterthought for much of the spring, but he was sharp in a late-March appearance against the Arizona Diamondbacks, opening eyes on the coaching staff. He then went to Triple-A Sacramento and continued to pitch well, and on May 28, not long before he could opt out, he had his contract purchased. It looked like Rodriguez might serve as temporary depth for the bullpen, and his first appearance was rushed when Jeff Samardzija walked off a mound at Coors Field. Rodriguez threw 3 1/3 intriguing innings out of the bullpen in his debut and never looked back. 

In 21 appearances — 19 of them starts — Rodriguez posted a 2.81 ERA, the lowest by a Giants rookie since Hoyt Wilhelm in 1952. He had the seventh-lowest ERA among NL pitchers who threw 100 innings, and until a rough finish in September, he spent much of his season ranking right there with Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola, who will finish second and third for the Cy Young Award. 

What stood out most about Rodriguez was his consistency. He became the first Giant to throw at least six innings and allow two runs or fewer in 13 of his first 16 starts, and with a stretch of nine straight such starts, he became just the third rookie in the last 60 years to pull off the feat. Rodriguez didn’t have an ERA above 3.95 in any month, and his road ERA (3.05) wasn’t far from his home ERA (2.68), which is rare on this staff. Lefties hit him a little better (.706 OPS) than righties (.632) but he doesn’t have wild platoon splits. 

What Went Wrong

Pitching deep into September for the first time in his career, Rodriguez gave up nine earned over nine innings in his final two starts, which might cost him some down-ballot Rookie of the Year votes. The Giants had him lined up to try and damage the Dodgers’ playoff hopes in his final start, but he lasted just three innings in a loss. 

There’s not much in his splits that’s even remotely concerning, but Rodriguez did lose velocity as the season went on. Per Brooks Baseball, his average fastball went down every month, from 94.3 to 93.0 to 92.7 to 91.6 to 91.2. His max fastball dropped about two MPH over the course of the season. This isn’t a surprise; it was the longest year of his career, but Rodriguez certainly needs to make sure he’s ready for his stuff to hold up for 200 innings next season. 

At the plate, Rodriguez was just 3-for-32 with 16 strikeouts. He’s a converted outfielder, so the Giants would like to see a bit more in the help-yourself department next season.

Contract Status

Rodriguez signed as a minor league free agent, so he’s still years from arbitration and free agency. The Giants will likely give him a small raise next season, but he won't make much more than the MLB minimum. 

The Future

For nearly his entire rookie season, Rodriguez pitched like an ace. Some of the metrics — a low strikeout rate, 3.74 FIP and 4.56 xFIP — show him as more of a mid-rotation starter.

You could make the argument either way. On one hand, Rodriguez is not overpowering and he benefited from some batted ball luck, so he’s probably due for a step back. On the other hand, he’s still new to pitching, already has shown a phenomenal feel for his four-pitch mix and all quadrants of the strike zone, and he’s got the competitive fire you want to see in a young starter.

There’s reason to think he can still develop. Either way, Rodriguez is the best find from Giants scouts and numbers-crunchers in a long time, and he’ll line up next season as a strong No. 2 behind Madison Bumgarner. Not much went right for the Giants in 2018, but they found Dereck Rodriguez, and he’ll be a big part of the future. 

How Padres firing Andy Green could impact Bruce Bochy, Giants future

How Padres firing Andy Green could impact Bruce Bochy, Giants future

ATLANTA -- Bruce Bochy hasn't even had a chance to open most of the alcohol he was given on his season-long farewell tour, and he already might find himself in the rumor mill regarding another job. 

The San Diego Padres fired manager Andy Green on Friday, and you can bet Bochy's name will come up in some regard, even though he's eight games from retirement. Bochy has said all season that he is happy with his decision, but he also has at times left the door open to managing again down the line. At the very least, Bochy knows he'll be involved in baseball in some capacity next season, and the Giants have had discussions about what kind of title to give him.

Bochy won 951 games in 12 seasons in San Diego and still lives in Poway, a small city not far from Petco Park. Regardless of whether there's interest on either side, Saturday's decision will have some impact on the Giants. 

The Padres trail the Giants in the standings, but have a much better farm system, more young talent at the big league level, and a couple of entrenched superstars in Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. Their opening looks more appealing at the moment than the one that Farhan Zaidi will present to candidates in the coming weeks, and the two modern front offices could be vying for the same candidates. 

[RELATED: Giants' Tyler Beede showing signs of hope despite continued struggles]

The hire will have another type of impact on the Giants' future. The Padres have long been considered a sleeping giant by many in the industry, and with the right manager they could present another significant NL West hurdle for the Giants over the next couple of years. 

Soon, we'll find out which man the Padres consider to be that right fit. And we may find out just how committed Bochy is to drinking that wine and taking all those free fishing trips he has accumulated. 

Giants' Tyler Beede showing signs of hope despite continued struggles

Giants' Tyler Beede showing signs of hope despite continued struggles

ATLANTA -- There were some close calls in the second half, some postgame media sessions where manager Bruce Bochy indicated that Tyler Beede's rotation spot was in jeopardy. 

But the Giants stuck with their young right-hander, who now is poised to finish the season in the rotation. Two parts of Friday's 6-0 loss to the Braves, who clinched the NL East title, showed why it's so important that they continue to be patient. 

Beede ended the second inning by freezing his college teammate, Dansby Swanson, with a 98 mph fastball. It was the fastest pitch of Beede's season and comes at the end of a long and often trying year -- and it's the kind of pitch that only a select group of right-handed starters have in their arsenal. 

Mike Foltynewicz is one of them, and he's an example of what the Giants hope Beede can become. Foltynewicz has similar stuff and a similar background as a high-end prospect, and he had a very strong 2018 season. 

But Foltynewicz has also struggled with inconsistency, so much so that the Braves optioned him back to Triple-A for six weeks this summer. Since returning, he has a 6-0 record and a sparkling 2.35 ERA. On Friday, he threw eight shutout innings. 

Beede is 26. Foltynewicz turns 28 in a month. There are still plenty of reasons for hope as the Giants move forward. 

This night was a representation of much of Beede's season. His fastball averaged 95.4 mph, his slider hit 88 mph, his changeup darted at times, and he had so much movement on his curveball that at one point Josh Donaldson swung at an 0-2 bender and ended up whipping his bat towards first base. 

But Beede also allowed seven hits, two of which cleared the fence. Ronald Acuña Jr. got a hanging curveball in the fifth and hit a no-doubter to right-center. An inning later, Brian McCann hit a two-run shot on a fastball that was low but center-cut. 

"It's one of those games where you wonder how he gave up six, but (there were) a couple of long balls," Bochy said. "Really good at times, but he just didn't get away with any mistakes."

[RELATED: Mark Melancon excited to face Giants for first time since Braves trade]

The highlight of the night was that tantalizing pitch to Swanson, a friend of Beede's since their Vanderbilt days. 

"I feel great. I'll just continue to learn, learn a lot," Beede said. "I'll go out there and try to compete, fill the zone and go after guys. I hate losing, man. I'm not going to be happy about a start like this, but at the same time I thought it might be better than the results showed."