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Carlos Rodon’s Pitch Usage: Let It Slide?

Carlos Rodon finally taking a big jump, in whatever capacity, could be the type of thing that pushes the White Sox over the hated Twins and Indians.

The return of Carlos Rodon in 2020 may be one of the most unheralded stories of this strange upcoming season (if we, indeed, have it). Suffice it to say that Rodon hasn’t quite lived up to the promise that led to his being selected third overall in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. While he arrived in Chicago early in the 2015 season, the results of his tenure have been lacking the consistency and dominance that was expected of the southpaw hurler.

Rodon is now 14 months removed from Tommy John surgery that prematurely ended his 2019 season. Back and throwing on the mound with no restrictions, Rodon appears ready to help the Sox in any capacity. He recently told the Chicago Sun-Times:

‘‘This season is unique with a 60-game schedule. A lot of us will have to encompass different roles. Plus, we have a surplus of arms, and there are creative ways we can use them. All of us are probably willing to accept any role to help this team win.’’

This leaves open the potential for the White Sox to utilize Rodon as a traditional starter or as a multi-inning relief specialist. They could even deploy him as an “opener” depending on how Ricky Renteria wants to use the seven potential starting pitching options that he currently has at his disposal. Rodon has previously been reluctant to deviate from his role as a starting pitcher, but perhaps coming off of injury in a season that will result in a reduced workload, the southpaw sees this as the best avenue to success.

In whatever capacity Rodon is utilized in 2020, it will be interesting to see how his pitch usage compares to his previous seasons. There was a noticeable change in his pitch mix last season, as he followed an approach popularized by the likes of Rich Hill and Patrick Corbin. All three southpaws possess devastating breaking balls, and Rodon followed in the footsteps of Hill and Corbin by utilizing his best pitch more frequently in his injury-shortened 2019 season.

Through Rodon’s first four seasons in Chicago, he featured the following pitch mix with corresponding results:

Pitch TypeUsage RatexwOBAwOBA
Fastballs61.3%.368.376
Breaking Balls 27.2%.192.198
Off-Speed11.4%.335.365
*encompasses Statcast pitch group data provided by Baseball Savant*

As evidenced above, Rodon’s slider has been deadly ever since he arrived in the Major Leagues. Of all MLB pitchers that threw at least 2,250 breaking balls, Rodon ranks both fourth in terms of xwOBA and wOBA since the beginning of his White Sox tenure. Perhaps the Sox revamped baseball operations department realized this data (finally) and impressed upon Carlos the importance of utilizing what is by far his best pitch.

Before his elbow gave out last year, there was a considerable change in how he deployed his pitches:

Pitch TypeUsage RatexwOBAwOBA
Fastballs52.0%.439.463
Breaking Balls37.2%.166.165
Off-Speed10.8%.127.164

Rodon’s 2019 pitch data is very encouraging as he saw a 10% increase in his breaking ball usage. That increased usage yielded even better results than his career averages to that point, albeit in a much smaller sample size. However, his breaking ball again ranked as one of the best in the sport at inducing poor contact. For pitchers that threw at least 250 breaking balls in 2019, Rodon ranked ninth in xwOBA and 13th in terms of wOBA.

It’s also fascinating to see the improvement in his changeup during the 2019 season. This again could be due to nothing more than a small sample size, but perhaps the increased breaking ball usage, in turn, will make his changeup a more effective secondary offering. Either way, it is clear that Rodon’s best path going forward will be to “pitch backward” with less emphasis on fastball utilization.

In many ways, Carlos Rodon could be a huge wild card for the Sox in 2020. He has the potential to be deployed in a number of different ways, and I for one think that his new approach emphasizing his hard-biting slider will yield significant returns for the big southpaw. Again, that can manifest itself in a number of different ways. Could his career turn a corner the way Patrick Corbin’s did upon his decision to lean on his big curveball? Only time will tell, but it will be exciting to see what we get from Carlos Rodon in 2020.

Rodon tapping into the potential that led to him being the aforementioned third overall pick in the entire draft six years ago could be another example of a relatively unproven commodity tipping the scales in the White Sox favor. We all can agree that this team is significantly improved from where they were when the season ended last September, but Rodon finally taking a big jump, in whatever capacity, could be the type of thing that pushes the Sox over the hated Twins and Indians. And for Rodon, that couldn’t come at a better time as he is scheduled to hit free agency after the 2021 season.

We are, theoretically, getting close to baseball returning into our lives for the next 60-ish days. Carlos Rodon embarrassing hitters with that slider on a consistent basis is something I think we can all be excited for this year.


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Former scrub JUCO pitcher

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