Throughout his four-year career, Carlos Rodon has fought two major battles. The first, injury, eluded him in his first two seasons, allowing him to get some experience in the majors. The second however, inconsistency, struck right off the bat, and the 26 year-old lefty has been battling it ever since.
Admittedly, all pitchers struggle with inconsistency. Every so often your stuff is just off, making it nearly impossible to retire opposing hitters. However, Rodon’s inconsistency has been more prevalent than most.
Throughout his entire career, the southpaw has pitched to a predictable tune: a series of great starts, followed by one or two awful ones. Recently though, fresh off two long injury delays, things seem to be different with Rodon.
Let’s flashback to Rodon’s first career start. On a crisp May 2015 night against the Cincinnati Reds, Rodon fired six innings of two-run ball, striking out eight. It was a promising beginning to his career as a starter. However, in his very next outing, he yielded five runs over just four innings of work. Consider these two games as a microcosm of the rest of his career.
Putting his first struggle in the rearview mirror, Rodon gave up just three runs in his next four starts to lower his ERA to 2.66. Know what’s coming next? A 3.2 IP, 7-run start. Unfortunately, or at least oddly, this pattern continued for Rodon throughout 2015, 2016, and some of 2017.
As I mentioned before, inconsistent starts run rampant throughout the MLB. For Rodon though, his version of inconsistency is the most extreme. In the vast majority of his outings, the lefty either dazzles or seriously disappoints. To put things in perspective, Rodon has allowed exactly three runs in just four of his 70 career starts. Four-run outings: just six times. If we consider three and four-run outings to be “average”, then Rodon has had an average outing in just 14.2% of his starts!
Analyzing Rodon in late 2017 and 2018, though, he seems to be bucking the trend. Following a subpar stretch in July of last season, the lefty has minimized damage in his worse outings. Consequently, he’s produced sparkling numbers since then, especially taking into account the bursitis and shoulder surgery he’s endured in the past two years. In fourteen starts beginning on July 30, 2017, Rodon boasts a 3.27 ERA with 80 strikeouts over 88 innings. Crucially, he has never given up more than five runs, and has pitched at least five innings in every game except one, with that exception merely being a 4 IP, 1-ER outing derailed by rain. Whereas previously Rodon produced starts with more earned runs than innings on a monthly basis, that’s no longer the case. His floor has shifted from worse to bad.
What can we attribute this shift to? There’s an outside chance it could be an anomaly, and we’re not far from more awful starts, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. A close look at his stats reveals that Rodon is pitching like a whole new animal.
Over the key 14-game stretch, Rodon has posted an 8.18 K/9 mark, well below his career 9.20 clip. At the same time, however, his WHIP has plummeted, resting at 1.17 over the stretch, also below his career mark of 1.38. Reminiscent of Chris Sale‘s last season with the White Sox, for Rodon the correlation may be less strikeouts, less baserunners.
Rodon also has adjusted his pitch percentages slightly. In 2018, the lefty is throwing his slider 23.9% of the time, well below his career 27.4% clip. Conversely, his changeup is popping up in 13.6% of pitches, significantly higher than any other season and his 10.7% career average.
Yes, I am wary of the advanced metrics. Fangraphs places Rodon’s FIP at an underwhelming 5.03 mark for the second half of the stretch—his seven 2018 contests. However, it’s just 3.96 for the first seven games of the stretch. Moreover, it hasn’t manifested itself in his ERA or even WHIP, leading me to believe that this time, FIP is not portraying Rodon’s output fairly.
Perhaps another factor in Rodon’s positive shift is his own awareness of the consistency problem. Via James Fegan of The Athletic, Rodon desires to be the reliable arm on the staff.
“The more I pitch, the more I gain consistency,” Rodon said. “You see guys get paid for that. That’s what teams want. I want to be that guy for our club. I want to be that guy who coasts every five days, quality starts every time I go out, or at least try to give our team a chance to win. That’s big. Durability is big in this game. A lot of guys who are durable are very good players.”
All in all, these changes have not only improved Rodon’s statistics, but perhaps have unlocked the door to consistency for the 26 year-old. Amazing Rodon still takes the mound often, but Abysmal Rodon is fading from existence. Obviously, don’t expect him to hurl average or better outings every time. There will still be disappointing starts. Just not as disappointing.
For Rodon, consistency, confidence, and improvement have gone hand in hand. While it’s not completely clear in which order this cycle runs, all that matters is Rodon keeps the cycle going. If he does—watch out.