The White Sox front office expected the team to compete in 2016, as did many fans. However, in order to compete the White Sox needed quite a few unlikely things to happen. One of those things was having Carlos Rodon grow into a top of the rotation starter.
Rodon had a very encouraging finish to the 2015 season, lowering his walk rate by 4.2 percentage points from the first half of the season to the second. His effectiveness in his rookie campaign, especially in the second half, was reason enough for White Sox fans and writers alike to jump aboard the Rodon hype train. By simply putting his mid-90s fastball and powerful slider in the zone, he built huge expectations for the 2016 season.
What some fans failed to consider, however, was how much Tyler Flowers played a part in Rodon’s improvements during the 2015 season. One of the best framers in the league helped Rodon get more strikes called and utilize his pitches better. With Dioner Navarro catching Rodon for the majority of the first half of 2016, he failed brutally. He couldn’t find the strike zone, he was getting hit hard, and his seldom-used changeup completely disappeared from his repertoire.
For the second-straight season, Rodon greatly improved in the second half. In 2015, it was his slight adjustment of where he set up on the mound and ability to find the strike zone. In 2016 he, with the help of new battery partner Omar Narvaez, discovered the power of his changeup and utilized the backdoor slider. Those two pitches alone helped him lower his opposing batting line against right handed hitting in the first half from .309/.376/.502 to .238/.307/.389. Although he was already a strikeout fiend, he managed to raise his strikeout rate against right-handed hitting 3.5 percentage points from the first half of the season to the second.
His newfound ability to get right handed batters out greatly improved his ability to last longer in games and ultimately be more effective, and he looked like a more dominant and complete pitcher than he ever had before. He began to limit his pitch counts, throw more fastballs in the mid-to-upper 90s, and his highly touted slider became a true weapon. As the White Sox headed further down the stretch with no hope of the postseason, Robin Ventura allowed Rodon to go deeper into games and face higher-leverage situations to test him. The young southpaw responded well to those situations, giving even more reason to believe that Rodon was growing into a top of the rotation role.
The rising expectations for Rodon led to disappointment in the early parts of 2016, but he was able to bounce back incredibly well during the latter parts of the season. In his final start of the season, he set an American League record by striking out the first seven batters of the game. He ultimately gave up two earned runs in the start and only lasted six innings, but his dominance in the early part of the game was a preview of Rodon’s future: slicing and dicing his way through the lineup, using all three of his pitches strategically. His 2016 season was full of struggles, but as a whole Rodon made great strides. His continuing growth is incredibly encouraging for the future of the White Sox and their rotation.
Lead Image Credit: Ken Blaze // USA Today Sports Images