Few stories have been better throughout Major League Baseball in 2021 than Carlos Rodón’s. In three starts so far on the season, the 28-year-old left-handed pitcher has stunned baseball fans with what appears to be a complete revitalization of his career.
With a 3-0 record, microscopic 0.47 ERA, 0.684 WHIP, 11.4 K/9 rate, and oh yes, a NO-HITTER, Rodón is pitching like a man with something to prove.
The thing is, Rodón is a man with something to prove. His tumultuous seven-year career has been a rollercoaster of both performances and emotions. From elite prospect, to up-and-coming rookie, to injury-riddled pro, and back to the top, Rodón’s trajectory to this point has been fascinating.
I wanted to go back through his history and all the highs and the lows. More importantly, I wanted to dig deeper into his success in 2021. So without further adieu, here we go.
The College Phenom
Drafted by the White Sox third overall in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft, Carlos Rodón was easily the best college arm in his draft class.
In three years at North Carolina State, Rodón was 25-10 with a 2.24 ERA and an 11.4 K/9 rate. He earned ACC Pitcher of the Year and National Freshman of the Year honors in 2012.
He garnered further attention during his sophomore season after being named USA Baseball’s Player of the Year. That year he also led the Wolfpack to their first College World Series appearance in over 40 years.
Rodón seemed on track to be a number one overall pick. However, questions arose around his reduced junior year workload after pitching just 98.2 innings.
Most scouts still saw him as a top-three pick and someone on the fast track to becoming a staff ace in the show. This scouting report even compared him to David Price, who at that point was a three-time All-Star and less than two years removed from a Cy Young award.
To say Rodón had promise coming out of college would be an understatement. The White Sox certainly agreed.
The Call Up
As projected, Carlos Rodón’s time in the minor leagues was short-lived. He made just 11 appearances in the White Sox farm system with brief stops in Rookie ball and high-A before being sent directly to triple-A Charlotte.
At each level, Rodón mowed batters down with wipeout stuff. His total K/9 rate throughout the minors was over 13.
On April 20th, 2015, Carlos Rodón was officially called up to the big leagues. He made his MLB debut out of the bullpen, an approach the team took with Chris Sale. It was a debut to forget, as Rodón threw 60 pitches in 2.1 innings, walked three batters, and gave up two runs. However, the White Sox were already down two runs when Rodón entered.
He made two more relief appearances over the next couple of weeks. On May 9th, he showed manager Robin Ventura why he was a starter. In his first Major League start, Rodón went six innings while allowing four hits and two runs in a White Sox winner. He was credited with his first win and never looked back.
Rodón proceeded to start a total of 23 games for the White Sox in his rookie campaign. He pitched 139.1 innings with a 3.75 ERA and struck out batters at a 22.9% clip. While it was clear there was work to do (11.7 BB%), it was a great start.
2016 was Carlos Rodón’s first full season as a Major League starter. It remains to this day his highest-workload season as he would start 28 games and pitch 165 innings. While his ERA took a slight step up (4.04), he showed major improvement in his control. His walk rate dropped to 7.6% that season. He walked 17 fewer batters than he did the previous year in 25.2 more innings.
After the White Sox traded Chris Sale to Boston in the winter of 2016, many fans were looking to Carlos Rodón to become the team’s bonafide ace.
Unfortunately, Rodón experienced his first run-in with injuries that offseason. The 24-year-old missed nearly three months to start the season after being diagnosed with Bursitis of the elbow in the offseason.
He made his return on July 28th, 2017, and made 12 starts before being sidelined again in early September. This time he suffered from shoulder soreness, again diagnosed as Bursitis. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder later that month.
In 2018, Carlos Rodón began his second consecutive season late, still recovering from shoulder surgery. He made his first appearance of the season on July 9th.
Rodón totaled 20 starts in 2018, going 6-8. He pitched 120.2 innings on the season. For the third year in a row, he saw his ERA tick up (4.18), and his strikeout rate dropped dramatically. Regardless, Rodón pitched six or more innings in 15 of his 20 starts. It seemed, for the time being at least, that he was healthy.
Six months later, the White Sox named Rodón as their 2019 Opening Day starter.
However, just one month into the season, Rodón and White Sox fans alike were dealt a blow. On May 13th, 2019, the White Sox announced that Carlos Rodón would need to undergo Tommy John surgery.
After recovering throughout the remainder of the 2019 season, Rodón returned to action in the shortened 2020 season. He made two starts in late July-early August before being sidelined yet again with shoulder soreness.
As with any fanbase, there are a handful of moments White Sox fans will never forget. Fans on the South Side of Chicago have World Series titles, division championships, perfect games, and no-hitters vividly etched into their memories.
Thursday, September 24th, 2020, however, is a date White Sox fans would prefer to forget.
It was on that day that Rodón would take the mound for the first time in 51 days against division rival Cleveland. This marked his first appearance after sitting out with shoulder soreness.
However, he would not take the ball as a starter, but in relief of Jimmy Cordero in the bottom of the seventh inning with a 4-1 lead, two outs, and the bases loaded.
The decision to insert Rodon into this situation became one of the most questioned White Sox managerial decisions in recent memory, and for good reason. The simple fact is, Rodón was not ready for this moment.
He gave up a line drive to center field on a 3-2 pitch to Cesar Hernandez that scored two runs. Next, Jose Ramirez took a 1-0 pitch to deep left-field, knocking in another two runs.
All in all, Carlos Rodón allowed five hits and four runs in just 1/3 of an inning. The White Sox proceeded to lose the game 5-4 and Rodón was credited for the blown lead and loss.
The situation would’ve been bad enough mid-season, but the circumstances surrounding this particular game made it that much worse.
The White Sox looked poised to win the AL Central in mid-September, climbing as high as three games ahead of the Minnesota Twins just five days before Rodón’s return to action. Instead, they went on an epic skid, losing six of eight leading up to September 24th and falling to 0.5 games back.
This was the White Sox’ chance to regain a share of the division lead and the momentum they so desperately needed to close out the shortened season. It wasn’t meant to be as the White Sox ultimately fell to two games back of Minnesota to close the season. They entered the playoffs as a Wild Card seed and lost to the Athletics in the first round.
Whether you place the blame on Rodón himself or manager Ricky Renteria for putting him in that position is moot. The look of despair on Rodón’s face as he returned to the dugout was heartbreaking. He pitched one more outing in 2020 (a 1.2 inning no-decision), but for many fans and possibly Rodón himself, that day felt like rock bottom for the once-promising left-hander.
The White Sox eventually non-tendered Carlos Rodón less than three months later.
Rise From the Ashes
After making it through waivers, the White Sox re-signed Carlos Rodón to a one-year, $3 million deal prior to the 2021 season.
White Sox fans truly didn’t know what to expect from their once-prized left-hander. However, the inexpensive one-year deal was widely considered a fine move. It was Rodón’s final chance to prove he deserved a spot on the South Side.
Boy, has he delivered.
So how has he done it? What changes has Rodón made to go from the version of himself we saw in 2020, to the man that threw the 20th no-hitter in White Sox history?
I took to one of my favorite resources, Baseball Savant, in an attempt to figure it out.
Rodón is leaning on his fastball more than he ever has (54.5%), and for good reason. He’s found a level of velocity and control he’s never attained before. Rodón has added just shy of 2 MPH to his fastball compared to his career average. More importantly, he’s locating it consistently.
Just look at his 2021 fastball heat map compared to the previous three seasons:
Rodón has consistently pitched hitters up in the zone with his fastball in 2021, and his flyball rate is the highest it’s ever been (31.6%) as a result.
What’s more impressive is that his fastball whiff rate of 34% is more than twice as high as his career average (15.3%). He’s simply not missing over the plate, and it shows. So far in 2021, Rodón has improved his sweet spot contact by over 14%.
This fastball success has certainly rolled downhill. Rodón has always possessed an elite slider. But his ability to utilize the fastball more effectively makes it even that much more devastating. Batters are whiffing on Rodón’s slider at an astonishing 51.4% clip. That jumps to 67% in 0-2 counts.
Speaking of counts, Rodón is not getting behind, and because of that he can take more liberties and make hitters chase.
He is throwing almost 7% more pitches outside of the zone but has increased the number of swing-and-misses on those balls by almost 8%. There are times he makes batters just look silly.
It’s not just the fastball setup making Rodón’s slider more effective either. Horizontal movement on the pitch is 7% higher than his career average, which equates to about one inch.
On a minor note, Rodón appears to be adding a curveball to his repertoire. He’s thrown just nine so far, but the early Whiff% is 100%. This will be something to keep an eye on.
All together, Carlos Rodón is in the 85th percentile or better in all of Major League Baseball in xBA, xSLG, and K%. He ranks in the 93rd percentile in Whiff%. Simply put, he’s dominating.
So how has he done it, and can he keep it up? Well those are the burning questions, and it’s mostly speculation.
It could have something to do with new pitching coach Ethan Katz. It could be the result of a pitcher who for the first time in a long time is actually healthy.
Or, it could be the result of a man who knows this could be his last chance. A man who hit rock bottom and knew there was nowhere to go but up. Rodón is pitching with a level of confidence we’ve never seen on the South Side and I like to think he found it within himself.
Now, keep in mind that all of the 2021 statistics and figures are based on three starts. It’s a minuscule sample size, and it’s safe to assume that Rodón will regress a little closer to the mean as this season progresses. Only time will tell.
For now though, let’s just take the opportunity to appreciate what Carlos Rodón is doing on the South Side of Chicago in his early 2021 campaign. Let’s also appreciate everything he’s been through leading up to it.
And in the case of White Sox fans, let’s hope this resurrection is here to stay.