One2Watch4: Astros P Wandy Rodriguez

According to baseballreference.com, there were 8 pitchers in baseball last season to throw over 200 innings, have a WHIP of 1.30, throw at least 1 shutout, and have an ERA+ of at least 130. Seven of them have been selected to All-Star games in their careers: Roy Halladay, Zack Greinke, Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander. The eighth player in this elite group? Wandy Rodriguez of the Houston Astros.

Rodriguez put together his best season as a professional in 2009, setting career-best marks in starts (33), wins (14), ERA (3.02), innings (205.2), WHIP, (1.240), ERA+ (139), and K/BB ratio (3.06). In a year where the Astros’ starting rotation ranked in the bottom-4 in the National League in ERA, innings pitched and opponent OPS, Wandy gave Houston a slice of stability, and their beleaguered bullpen a slight reprieve.

Wandy’s ERA has gone down in each of the last 4 seasons: 5.64 in 2006, 4.58 in ’07, 3.54 in ’08, and a shade over 3.00 a season ago. Among pitchers to make at least 20 starts per season since 2006, Wandy is one of just three pitchers to do that: Felix Hernandez and Jason Marquis are the others.

One thing that has plagued Wandy in his young career is the disparity between his performance at home and on the road. While he’s enjoyed a 3.61 career ERA at Minute Maid Park in his 5 big league seasons, his career ERA is over 5.00 on the road. In 2007, his road ERA was a whopping 3.43 runs HIGHER than his home ERA. That number has settled some in the last 2 seasons, but the difference is still much higher than the Astros’ staff as a whole.

For reference, the difference between home and road ERA last season for the entire National League was 0.43. It’s quite amazing that a pitcher who finished in the top 10 in the league in overall ERA had a road ERA over a-run-and-a-half higher than the league’s mark.

Wandy’s trademark is the 12-to-6 curve that he uses to keep batters off-balance. What’s amazing about this is how often he throws the pitch. Rodriguez threw 1,185 curveballs in 2009 – the most in all of baseball – and it’s not even close. Rodriguez threw 327 more curveballs than the next-most-prolific tosser of the Uncle Charlie, Josh Beckett of the Red Sox.

On the strength of that one pitch, Wandy Rodriguez could be one of the best-kept secrets in the league and definitely One2Watch4 for 2010.