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Carlos Rodón is the South Side’s unlikely Ace

The White Sox lefty is off to one of the best starts in all of baseball

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago White Sox Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

For at least three years, the Chicago White Sox have been a team on the rise. We all got a taste of the excitement when they got off to a hot start in 2019 but ultimately finished the season with an underwhelming 72 wins. Things seemed to come together in 2020 when they finished with a 35-25 record en route to a 2nd place finish in the American League Central division and a long awaited playoff appearance.

Still, there were flaws, as the Sox did not play well down the stretch, losing the division lead they had for a good chunk of the season, and were ultimately bounced out of the postseason by the Oakland Athletics in the first round. In the offseason, they looked to address their flaws, adding free agents like Liam Hendriks to cement their bullpen as well as being the winners in the Lance Lynn sweepstakes to shore up the rotation.

While those additions the have made have paid off, it was the addition of Carlos Rodón that may have been the most valuable. It seems strange to call him an addition since the White Sox are the only team Rodón has ever known in his Major League career, but he was non-tendered following the 2020 season after not quite being able to get his feel back following his Tommy John surgery in 2019.

During that season, it appeared that Rodón was figuring things out. Even though his 5.19 ERA left a little to be desired, his 3.62 FIP and 29.1 percent strikeout rate were the best of his career to date, and a signal of a brighter future. Unfortunately, that is when injury struck. Fast forward to 2021, and Rodón, lost in the shuffle of Lynn, Dallas Keuchel, Dylan Cease and Lucas Goilito, had to compete for the rotation spot he was used to having in years past.

But Rodón has been not only the best pitcher on the team, he’s been one of the best pitchers in the entire American League, pitching to a 1.29 ERA/2.02 FIP/2.68 xFIP. His 2.0 fWAR trails only Gerrit Cole and his 38.5 percent strikeout rate is tops among qualified pitchers.

Rodón’s 2021 success can be attributed to a few things. First a dramatic increase in his four seam fastball velocity.

From last year to this year, Rodón’s fastball velocity has gained 2.5 mph, rising from 92.8 mph to 95.3 mph. The increased velocity has more than doubled his swing and miss rate on the pitch, going from a 14.3 percent whiff rate to a 32.2 percent whiff rate. In addition to the increased velocity, Rodón has also increased the movement on his fastball. According to Texas Leaguers, he is getting roughly a half inch more rise and an inch of arm side run.

Carlos Rodón four seam fastball

Year vFA H Mov V Mov Whiff% xBA
Year vFA H Mov V Mov Whiff% xBA
2020 92.5 4.25" 10.22" 14.3% .244
2021 95.3 5.21" 10.77" 32.2% .181

The slider and changeup have different shapes as well, with the slider falling closer to the rate of gravity (meaning more drop) and the changeup acquiring both more drop and more arm side run. With the added movement to all three of these pitches, Rodón has created better movement separation between them as well. For the slider in particular, the results have been dramatically better.

Carlos Rodón secondary pitches

Pitch (Year) Velo H Mov V Mov Whiff% xBA
Pitch (Year) Velo H Mov V Mov Whiff% xBA
SL (2020) 83.4 -4.08" 1.25" 26.3% .261
SL (2021) 85.6 -4.07" 0.22" 48.3% .052
CH (2020) 84.3 7.53" 7.94" 38.5% .465
CH (2021) 85.6 8.80" 7.27" 34.4% .337

If all of this was not enough to convince you that Rodón’s breakout this year had been one hundred percent legit, his ability to command and tunnel his pitches have also vastly improved.

It would be somewhat unfair compare Rodón’s 2021 heatmaps to 2021 since he was fresh off of his surgery and because it was only a 7.2 inning sample, so I have included 2019 as well.

2019

2020

2021

Here in 2021, Rodón has done well to command his fastball up in the zone, as well as position his slider in a way that tunnels off of it in order to generate more swings and misses.

On the rare instances when hitters make contact against Rodón (and his 93rd percentile whiff rate), hitters have simply been driving the ball into the ground. While it’s not the highest ground ball rate of his career, it is a big increase over his career low ground ball rate from a year ago, and combined with his career high swing and miss rate, we see why Rodón has blossomed into one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Carlos Rodón has been both a welcomed and pleasant surprise for the White Sox this year. After a bumpy 2020 where he was never quite able to regain his form after coming back from Tommy John surgery, he was non-tendered. Coming back on a modest $3 million deal, he had to compete for his spot in the rotation.

Now, two months into the season, he has thrown a no-hitter and he has been one of the most valuable pitchers in all of Major League Baseball.


Brian Menéndez is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score, as well as a senior writer for DRaysBay. Additionally, he has been featured in FiveThirtyEight and The Hardball Times. You can find Brian on Twitter at @briantalksbsb.