Carlos Rodon returned to action Sunday after missing most of July with falling-up-the-stairs-related injury, and turned in something that fits in very comfortably with his disappointing but not disastrous season: 6.1 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 7 K and two home runs that were bazooka’d to Mars, inflating his season ERA to 4.67. He threw a dazzling slider, he made some efforts to weave in his developing changeup, and put his fastball in some truly unforgivable locations. Someone who could be very good was clearly visible, but The Athletic’s Mauricio Rubio saw him as pitching tentatively and still not repeating his delivery.
That summary is probably selling the changeup work short. Brooks Baseball had Rodon throwing his changeup 19 times, painted the armside corner a few times and even got three whiffs on it. If that usage total holds up, it would be a season-high, and an about face from the disappearing act his third pitch was making–he threw less than 19 times in his last four starts combined–as Rodon scuffled through the end of the first half.
Between nearly a month off to evaluate and focus on adjustments for the second half, and working with recent callup Omar Narvaez for the first time Sunday, change (heh) seemed afoot, which only put into further relief how stagnant Rodon had been prior. He had been getting tuned up by right-handers to the tune of a .309/.376/.502 coming in, where his profile of ‘huge slider, everything else in development’ is naturally built to struggle.
While missing a call or two, or even an out seems like something someone who can touch mid-90s from the left side with an elite breaking ball should pitch over, Rodon’s matchup issues actually make him the most vulnerable to the way the White Sox have bled value out of his work. After experiencing his late-season turnaround in 2015 under the stewardship of Tyler Flowers, he’s floundered in his work with Dioner Navarro (6.96 ERA in seven starts and eight home runs in 32.1 innings), who has ranked near the bottom of the league in framing. To avoid the BP stereotype of thinking that framing is swaying the results of every game, the rest of Rodon’s defense isn’t treating him any better.
The average defense gets outs on 73% of ground balls hit against a P
White Sox d has gotten outs on only 59% of grounders vs Carlos Rodon
— Mark Simon (@msimonespn) July 11, 2016
In each case, Rodon creates his own problems. The exit velocity on his groundballs is at the top of the league, suggesting he’s getting scorched by land and air, and framing for a guy who misses his spots, depends on chasing and is generally too wild to earn the benefit of the doubt is certainly no treat.
In Rodon, the Sox have an odd case for themselves, nor someone who fits alongside smoothly Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. It’s hard to say that someone who is only 23-years-old with nearly 240 major league innings is a slow study, but he’s lacked the rapid upward progress of the typical fast-tracked Sox pitching prospect, and even more rarely, seems like his performance and value is actively suffering with his current setup with the Sox, rather than profiting.
Rodon is one of the few places to look for where the 2016 Sox failed get production from their core to drag up the weaker portions of their roster, and is among the most important players on the team as far raising the ceiling for the 2017 club. The White Sox seem both doomed for this season and straddling the fence as far as their future, but Rodon’s final two months, and getting him squared away with a catcher, changeup and mechanics he can thrive with, can do a lot to determine how the Sox should evaluate their chances going forward.
Lead Image Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn // USA Today Sports Images