On Monday night, Carlos Rodón pitched the White Sox to a win over the Yankees in New York. He pitched seven innings and gave up two runs, both of which came on a two-run homer from my son Gleyber. As with his season so far, the results belie the peripherals. Rodón walked four batters and struck out only two. Still, it was another great addition to what has been a great year for Rodón, at least when going purely by runs allowed.
I remember when I first heard of Carlos Rodón. ESPN’s Keith Law wrote up a scouting report on him in the summer of 2013. At the time, Rodón was the heavy favorite to be the first overall draft pick in the 2014 draft. The description of his slider is what got my attention. Law described it as “obscene” and “one of the best sliders I’ve ever seen from an amateur.” Five years later and I would not be surprised if Law said that was still true.
Rodón’s stock fell a bit before the draft. Brady Aiken, Aaron Nola, and Tyler Kolek were getting a lot of attention. Aiken was seen as possibly one of the best prep pitchers in recent memory. Nola was seen as having a low ceiling, but he was so advanced that some believed he could pitch in the majors right away. Kolek could throw 100 MPH, and that’s about it. He was unathletic, did not have any secondary pitches, and had no idea where his fastball was going. Believe it or not, he was a bust. So was Aiken, but that was far more surprising. As we all know, Nola has turned into one of the best pitchers in baseball, thanks to his success in developing a true out pitch with his curveball.
I thought for sure that Rodón would go to the Marlins because they might show favor to someone of Cuban heritage, but they decided to go with the super raw Kolek instead. The White Sox drafted Rodón with the third overall pick.
I was excited at the possibility that Rodón could have an 80-grade slider on the 20-80 scouting scale. Perhaps it is because I have never been as plugged in to the world of prospects as I would like to be, but I can’t really recall a prospect writer giving an 80 to a breaking ball. I’ve seen a fair amount of 70 grades on curveballs and sliders, but the only time I can remember a pitcher’s breaking ball receiving the elite 80 grade was with Randy Johnson’s slider.
Coincidentally, Law just released his ranking of the best pitches in baseball. Max Scherzer ranked with the best slider, so is that an 80-grade slider? The 20-80 scouting scale is supposed to work like a bell curve, so at the very least the five guys that Law has ranked should be regarded as having 80-grade sliders. I could be wrong, but I would not be surprised if a scout declined to hang an 80 on those sliders.
Bearing mind that pitches work off of each other, Rodón’s slider has been worth 32 runs in his career, and 8.8 runs this year despite the fact that he did not make his season debut until June due to injury. Being in the top twenty among starters is pretty good when considering the time he has missed. Since his major league debut in 2015, his slider ranks 16th among starters. That is pretty good, but probably not elite.
Rodón’s problem with his slider is lack of command and consistency. Command has always been a concern for Rodón due to his delivery, but he has struggled to consistently throw that same slider that scouts fell in love with when he was in college.
Despite the inconsistencies with his slider, Rodón has about a 19 percent career whiff rate on the pitch, per Brooks Baseball. Again, pretty good but not quite elite. To give that some context, Scherzer has a 27 percent whiff rate with his slider since 2015.
Coming into this season, Rodón had a career 4.34 RA9 and averaged just 1.5 WAR over three seasons. He had a mediocre strikeout rate and a walk rate that was worse than average. I was surprised that his walk rate was under 10 percent, honestly. The guy who was once projected to be an ace was barely even average.
This year, Rodón’s RA9 has dropped down to an excellent 2.99, and he has accumulated 3.3 WAR over just 14 starts. That being said, there are not any major changes with the velocity and movement of his pitches. The biggest change is that he is relying more on his fourseamer and less on his sinker, which is a good decision because his sinker was never very good. His line drive rate is way down now.
The problem is that Rodón’s peripherals are not lining up with his run average at all. His strikeout rate is down to almost 19 percent. He has a high strand rate. He has enjoyed some HR/FB luck. What has benefited him the most, however, is his ludicrously low .194 BABIP. It looks like Rodón has some hard regression to the mean coming. It is possible that he has not improved much over previous years.
I figured his DRA must be way higher than his RA9, but I was stunned to see just how high. He has a 5.69 DRA! That’s nearly double his RA9! I can’t imagine how much higher it would be if the White Sox didn’t have a poor defense. It should be noted that the standard deviation on his DRA is on the high side at 1.04. Honestly, given his poor strikeout rate and all the luck is enjoyed, it is not too much higher than I would have guessed. I was expecting a DRA in the high fours.
All signs are pointing to Rodón being the same pitcher he has always been. I hope I am wrong, because I have been rooting for him more than most prospects thanks to that slider. The White Sox have a bright future, but they are really going to need Rodón to be a significant contributor to it.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.