Cubs reliever Manny Rodriguez is a flamethrower, which is ironic because he’s built like a fire hydrant. Listed at 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds, the stout righty has been putting in work this offseason to ensure he improves upon a debut campaign that saw him go 3-3 with a 6.11 ERA over 20 MLB appearances. That means deadlifting more than twice his bodyweight — 435 pounds in this case — to build the base that fuels those triple-digit heaters.
Don Zimmer probably would have cut a pitcher for even thinking about doing anything near this strenuous in the weight room.
The real key now will be how Rodriguez is able to work on his fastball and sinker location to keep from piping them into hitters’ sweet spots. His slider was very effective and his 25% hard contact allowed was actually better than the averages for all relievers (31.7%) and pitchers as a whole (32.1%), but batters don’t necessarily need to barrel the ball when it’s traveling over 97 mph.
What’s really interesting about Rodriguez, and this spells good things if he can just make those adjustments, is that he generates grounders at a very high rate. At nearly 54% with the Cubs in 2021 — more than seven points below what he’d gotten at Double-A (61.5%) and Triple-A (61.1%) — he was around 11 points better than his MLB peers.
The big issue is that his 9.9% swinging-strike rate fell well below the overall average (11.3%), meaning he simply wasn’t beating hitters frequently enough. In addition to walking 12 batters in 17.2 innings, three of the 18 hits he allowed left the yard. When you can’t get enough whiffs, those mistakes come back to bite you in a big way.
The good news is that Rodriguez already has a very strong base, literally, and has much more room for error with that elite velo. If he’s able to make even a minor change to the four-seam and/or sinker to generate just a tiny bit more movement, we should see those numbers improve dramatically.