The San Francisco Giants wasted no time in igniting their hot stove, signing Carlos Rodón to a two-year, $44 million contract. Rodón immediately vaults to staff co-ace, alongside Logan Webb. So who is Rodón, and why is he a good signing?
Rodón, originally from Miami, was drafted third overall by the Chicago White Sox in 2014. In college, he was a dominant force on the mound, breaking the NC State school record for strikeouts in his junior year—at times, he was considered the favorite to go #1 overall.
Once he entered professional baseball, he rose quickly through the ranks to reach the majors just one year later. In 2015, he started 23 games, going 9-6 with a 3.75 ERA and 9.0 K/9. It certainly seemed like the White Sox had found a rotation stalwart. He started 28 games in 2016, going 9-10 with a 4.04 ERA and 9.1 K/9: strong middle-of-the-rotation numbers, and just 23 years old.
Then, he got hit with the injury bug. Over the next four seasons (2017-2020), he would pitch more than a hundred innings just once, in 2018, in a season where his K/9 dipped to an alarming 6.7 (likely the result of some lingering injury). He pitched just 7.2 innings in the 2020 season. Given his ceiling and his incredible 2021 season, it is his injury history that allowed the Giants to sign him to a 2-year “prove it” type deal, akin to Kevin Gausman.
In 2021, Rodón went 13-5 with a 2.37 ERA (1st in baseball, min 130 IP), backed up by a strong 3.17 xFIP (6th in baseball, min 130 IP). His K/9 reached 12.6, a number that was second among starting pitchers with at least 130 innings pitched (only ahead of him was Corbin Burnes, the NL Cy Young). Despite starting just 24 games (when many of the players ahead of him started ~32), Rodón finished 8th by fWAR. He ended up placing 5th in the AL Cy Young voting.
If the numbers weren’t enough, Rodón turned in what might have been the single best pitching performance of 2021: he carried a perfect game into the ninth inning, losing it on a hit batsman with one out in the ninth, forcing him to settle for a no-hitter. The final line: 9.0 IP, 0H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7K, 1 HBP.
So where did Rodón’s extraordinary 2021 come from, where he was an ace by every sense of the word? First, let’s consider Rodón’s repertoire: it consists of four pitches.
- A four-seam fastball, averaging 95.4 mph, topping out at 100.5 mph (~59% usage)
- A slider, averaging 85.8 mph, topping out at 91.2 mph (~27% usage)
- A changeup, averaging 85.2 mph, topping out at 88.6 mph (~12% usage)
- A curveball, averaging 76.7 mph, topping out at 81.8 mph (~2% usage)
His killer fastball/slider combo is what truly set him apart this year: his fastball was worth +22.6 runs and his slider worth +13.0 runs. These are by far the best marks of his career. By comparison, Jacob deGrom’s history-making 2018 season where he put up 9.0 fWAR had a fastball worth +23.9 runs and a slider worth +15.9—better than Rodón, but not particularly that far off.
Rodón is a lefty, which makes him a valuable asset. He was better against lefties this year (2.82 xFIP), but his splits weren’t drastic; he was incredibly effective against righties as well (3.26 xFIP) [Fangraphs].
He also figured out his control this season. While his K/9 increased to 12.55, his BB/9 was a wonderful 2.44. He had a 33.2% swing-and-miss percentage (of the pitches batters swung at, how many they missed). Just look at his pitch overlay to understand why:
Carlos Rodón, 85mph Changeup (Swing/Miss) and 83mph Slider (sword K), Individual Pitches + Overlay pic.twitter.com/ANkKjaj3kO— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 29, 2021
Overall, the difference in 2021 (and what made Rodón so effective) was his impressive fastball/slider combo which he was able to locate against both righties and lefties, as well as his superior velocity on the fastball that he maintained deep into games. In short, he reached the full potential of his tools in a way that should have Giants fans excited for him to co-anchor the staff with Logan Webb.
That said, the major caveat with Rodón has always been his susceptibility to injury. In 2021, he dealt with soreness in his pitching arm; even given his success, he pitched just 132.2 innings. Still, the Giants have shown a willingness to take a risk on pitchers with injury histories, and so far it has appeared to work out for them, although the depth of the rotation will certainly be tested over the long season.
The Giants secure a pitcher with the talent and ability to lead any staff in baseball, and on a team-friendly deal. What’s not to love?