Carlos Rodon is about to make his first start of the season. For me, it might be the best moment of the year, topping Christmas, my birthday, and whatever other holiday or important date you could name. It’s exciting. The one pitcher in the starting rotation that seems destined to be a White Sox player for a long time is about to make his first start of the season. It might be the most anticipated event of this White Sox season, but we should slow down and temper our expectations.
Yes, Rodon is the pitcher who has the potential to very much become a top of the rotation starter. He has a fastball with excellent velocity, one of the best sliders around, and a changeup that has continued to get better with the progression of time. Those things are all great. But he’s still lacking in so many other areas as he is about to begin his third season in the big leagues. Foremost among his weaknesses are control and command, which I discussed extensively earlier this season.
His 11.7% walk rate in 2015 was a huge problem, but he lowered that to 7.6% in 2016. The result, however, was that he left more fastballs in the zone that were hit hard. His ERA rose to 4.04 that season. His 4.28 DRA indicated that there was practically no bad luck involved. He simply wasn’t good–not bad, but not good either. But there was potential. There was plenty of reason to believe that Rodon was going to be highly successful in 2017. Then he got injured.
There’s naturally some reason to believe that Rodon will still breakout like was anticipated before the season began. In fact, there’s a good chance he shows flashes of that player throughout the rest of the season. It is not likely, however, that his brilliance will be on full display in his first start of the season.
PECOTA projects that Rodon will post a 3.84 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and 60 strikeouts in 57 innings pitched. That would be extremely reasonable. It would also make him the second best White Sox starter in terms of earned run average. For a team that’s rebuilding, that’s about as much as one could ask for. The team really needs just two things out of Rodon: go deep into his starts and continue to grow as a pitcher. That might mean leaving his pitches over the plate a little too often, resulting in hits going the other way. It might mean that he eats seven innings despite giving up five or six or more runs. Those things shouldn’t affect how we view Rodon in the longterm, though. What is important is that he continues to get whiffs, gain command of his pitches, and improve the changeup. The rest will come, and it will come when it’s far more important than it is now.
By all means White Sox fans should be excited that Rodon is making his first start of the season on Wednesday. He is the oldest of the many “pitchers of the future” in the organization. His progress is vitally important to the success of the rebuild. But that success doesn’t have to come today or in a month or even in a year. And hey, who knows, he might go out there and have himself a nice game littered with strikeouts. Even if he doesn’t, though, everything is going to be all right.
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