Carlos Rodón’s major-league career has been filled with highs and lows. The top-three draft pick was put in a position to anchor the White Sox’s rotation for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, fate didn’t give him a good hand and he’s been stuck on the lower end of the hype that the team has received, with fighting for a rotation spot seeming like more and more of a possibility. That was, until, his 2019 season.
Rodón wasn’t a great pitcher by any means in 2019, however, his improvement was quite superlative. His barrel% did fall 2.3, crossing the league average threshold, and his BB% maintained at a mediocre 10.8. However, his K% saw a ridiculous 11.5 increase. Because of this, his pCRA- went from 113 to 92 with 100 being the league average. Of course, a K% increase of that caliber doesn’t happen on its own, so there’s definitely a large benefactor in play.
To get a bit in-depth about his K% increase, it wasn’t crazy given the improvement of some of his other strikeout-related stats. His whiff% went from 21.3 to 28.5, his PAR from 16.6 to 20.8, and his SwStr% from 9.0% to 12.1% in years where the league average remained relatively the same. All three of his 2019 numbers in these stats crossed the league average threshold from below to above.
To break it down further, it’s important to see which of his pitches helped get him here. Doing a quick breakdown on his Baseball Savant page will accrue this answer swiftly: his changeup. His K%, whiff%, and PAR increased by a tremendously large 29.9, 25.7, and 30.9. Below is a chart of his K% on his changeup by season to visually see that outstanding difference.
Not only were his 2019 changeup numbers great for him, but they were also great compared to the league. When ranking his K%, whiff%, and PAR to the league average on offspeed pitches, they’re 8.7, 17.3, and 16.4 above. If anything has been clear up to this point, it’s that his changeup was one nasty pitch last season. So, in The Big Short fashion, here’s Rodón to show you the nasty pitch.
It was a great downward change to make a former great swing-and-miss above the pitch, like a typical pitch like that would act. However, that pitch to Miguel Cabrera was far from typical. It wasn’t because of the spin, in fact, the spin on this pitch was approximately 58 revolutions-per-minute below the league average for offspeed pitches. What makes it so impressive is its movement.
Movement is a very integral part of pitching. After all, Clayton Kershaw’s curveball wouldn’t have gotten the title of “public enemy number one” from Vin Scully if not for its crazy drop. To illustrate movement in Rodón’s case, I’ll be using the difference in feet above the ground from his release point to when the pitch crosses the plate. On that changeup to Cabrera, the pitch left his hand at a release point almost seven feet off the ground, crossing the plate 5.53 feet below that.
This wasn’t an infrequent occurrence either, as Rodón consistently saw a great vertical drop on his changeup. His average was 5.32 feet, ranking 2nd out of every pitcher with a minimum of 50 offspeed pitches behind Yonny Chirinos. This also ranked 1.25 feet above the league average. For a visual reference, here’s that same changeup to Miguel Cabrera that had a release point that matches his 6.71-foot average.
Now, this shouldn’t come without some love for his horizontal drop as well. To measure this, the same variables are used, but it’ll be exclusively for left-handed pitchers. This is because horizontal movement, in this case, is measured using negative and positive integers for handedness, so bunching in RHP would make the results very flawed.
When ranking the drop of his changeup horizontally with other LHP, the same conditions as before will be used. Doing this puts Rodón 29th out of 107 pitchers at 2.19 feet. In comparison to the league average for lefties on offspeed pitches, his feet of drop is 0.48 feet higher. So, overall, he does have a marvelous overall movement on the pitch.
Now, the overall movement being a plus is definitely good for Rodón, but it’s important to tell just how good. To do this, I’ll find the league average K%, whiff%, and PAR for offspeed pitches that fall between 0.5-foot intervals of Rodón’s changeup. To illustrate this the most effectively, I’ll be charting the results separately for vertical and horizontal drop (I’ll only be using lefties for the latter). The mutually exclusive results are charted below.
Outside of a mystifyingly low K% on horizontal movement, it seems pretty clear why Rodón had the nasty changeup that he did. So, now that I’ve established the pitch on its own, it’s important to now explore just how much the pitch helped his K%. Now, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much his K% would’ve dropped without the pitch, but it’s possible to make some educated guesses about it and the effect overall.
To start, he struck out 10.9% of his hitters struck out last year on the pitch. Now, while five of 46 strikeouts may not seem like that large of an impact, taking them out decreases his K% to 25.9 and K/9 to 10.64. These are still noticeably good numbers, but they’re also an 11.0 and 10.9% decrease to their respective stats last season.
Rodón’s usage of the pitch as a put-away pitch increased from last year, for obviously good reason. In 2019, he used the pitch in two-strike counts 6.3% of the time which, while low, isn’t that bad considering he used the pitch overall 10.8% of the time. Concerning the pitch itself, he threw 18.7% of his changeups in two-strike counts, greatly up from the prior season’s 7.4% and above the 13.4% league average. This certainly helps explain why his K% increased from last season, especially when coupled with the changeup’s improvement.
With a pitcher whose career hadn’t performed up to his draft status like Rodón, it’s invigorating to see the effect of his changeup’s improvement to make him quite a suitable starter in 2019. It may not last, most breakouts usually bring some reason for skepticism especially in smaller samples, but it does make for an intriguing case study into an impressive and underrated season.