Potential greatness: Will Tommy John surgery help change Rodón’s fortunes going forward? (@whitesox)
“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:
- Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
- Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
- Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
- Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
- Free agent options at that position
This article delves into the career of Carlos Rodón through 2018, his 2019 season with the White Sox, and what his future looks like in the White Sox organization.
How did he get here?
Carlos Rodón had an awesome three years for the North Carolina State Wolfpack, as his numbers attest:
2012: 9-0, 1.57 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 17 G, 16 GS 114 2/3 IP, 71 H, 41 BB, 135 K
2013: 10-3, 2.99 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 19 G, 19 GS, 132 IP, 94 H, 45 BB, 184 K
2014: 6-7, 2.01 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 14 G, 14 GS, 98 2/3 IP, 84 H, 31 BB, 117 K
Rodón was considered by many to be the best player available in the 2014 draft, but slipped to the third overall pick due to signability concerns. After brief stops in the AZL and Winston-Salem, he made three starts for the Charlotte Knights before by the end of that season.
After two starts in Charlotte to begin 2015, Rodón was promoted to the White Sox on April 20. In what has turned to be his only season with the White Sox with nary an IL stint, he did reasonably well despite some control issues, as he posted a 3.75 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 26 appearances (23 starts) totaling 139 1/3 innings. In those innings, he relinquished 130 hits (.251 OBA) and 71 walks (11.1%) while fanning 139 (22.9%).
The following year, in which he posted a career-high to date of 165 innings, Rodón compiled a 4.04 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 28 starts as he allowed 176 hits (.273 OBA) and 54 walks (7.6%) while striking out 168 (23.5%). The 2017 and 2018 seasons were both injury-shortened, and in a combined 190 innings for those two years, posted a 4.17 ERA and 1.30 WHIP by ceding 161 hits (.230 OBA) and 86 walks (10.6%) while fanning 166 (20.5%).
With the White Sox in 2019
Rodón’s first four starts this year for the White Sox were rather encouraging, as he had posted a 3-1 record over 22 2/3 innings by posting a respectable 2.78 ERA and 1.19 WHIP by allowing just 16 hits and 11 walks but striking out 29.
However, after two roughed-up starts against the Tigers and Orioles on April 26 and May 1 respectively, something clearly wasn’t right. He was placed afterward on the IL for left elbow inflammation, and ultimately underwent year-ending Tommy John surgery in mid-May.
Overall for his abbreviated season, Rodón finished with a 3-2 record in seven starts totaling 34 2/3 innings, with a 5.19 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. In those outings, he allowed 33 hits (.239 OBA) and 17 walks (10.8%) while striking out 46 (29.1%). What’s especially notable is that lefties hit a mere .077 against his offerings, which indicates how well his slider was working this year prior to his injury. Also notable is that while Rodón’s ERA was high, his FIP was actually a respectable 3.62.
As mentioned above, Rodón’s slider was quite effective this year in albeit limited appearances. With an average speed of 83.8 mph according to Baseball Savant, he threw it 37.2% of the time and with great results, as hitters slashed just .145/.165/.210 with a 42.0% whiff rate. The slider wasn’t Rodón’s only effective offering this year — another off-speed pitch, his changeup, was also quite effective. He used it 10.8% of the time (exclusively against lefties), and with an average velocity of 84.1 mph induced hitters to a paltry .188/.188/.188 slash line with a 48.5% whiff rate. The four-seam 91.4 mph fastball was Rodón’s pitch of choice, but it by far yielded the worst results. This year, hitters slashed .350/.463/.633 against it with a 13.0% whiff rate — Rodón used this pitch 51.6% of the time this year. Finally, Rodón’s highest-velocity pitch, his sinking fastball, was used sparsely (0.3% of the time) despite its average velocity of 95.3 mph; he unleashed it more than 12% of the time in 2018, so it’s unclear whether Rodón’s going to continue having it in his arsenal.
Due to his limited outings and his final two appearances, Rodón posted a bWAR of just 0.1. Considering each bWAR is worth approximately $7.7 million on the free-agent market per FanGraphs, along with his 2019 salary of $4.2 million, Rodón produced a net value of -$3.43 million. Rodón will be eligible for arbitration for each of the next two years.
What does his future have in store?
Turning 27 in December, Rodón should be entering the prime of his career. However, with injuries being an annual issue for him, he’s yet to reach his high potential. It’s hoped that Tommy John surgery can rectify his issues once and for all. He’s not expected to return until the 2020 All-Star break, and unless you count Ross Detwiler and Manny Bañuelos in the mix for next year’s rotation, Rodón will be the team’s only southpaw starter upon his return barring any free agent signings. ZIPS projects Rodón next year to post a 1.4 WAR with a 4.06 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, but those stats seem overly optimistic at this point.
What happens if, upon his return next year, all five pitchers in the rotation are healthy and excelling? The team could either work him into an extended six-man rotation, or better yet, keep him in long relief as he slowly builds his arm back to full strength. Of course, the above situation is an unlikely one, as White Sox fans are seemingly doomed to never witness any kind of perfect-case scenario.
Rodón will be eligible to become a free agent after the 2021 season. Partly due to his health and partly because he’s a Scott Boras client, a contract extension doesn’t seem to be in the cards. In the unlikely case of an over-manned rotation after the 2020 campaign, Rodón could be made available in a trade to fill a position of actual need. Of course, he could be traded at any time; it’s just that the White Sox wouldn’t likely get as much in return as they’d like. In the meantime, it would be great to see Rodón finally reach his potential at some point in a White Sox uniform.