Fantasy Baseball

Riding with Rodon

Sometimes the fantasy community gets so enamored with a player’s talent that they lose track of where a player actually is in his development cycle – see my forthcoming piece on Trea Turner.  Before the draft last year, I was steadfast that this was the case with Carlos Rodon.  I saw issues with his limited pitch mix – even with the fastball and slider grading out excellently, as well as both his control and command.

The White Sox, as they typically do, did not give Rodon much developmental time in the minors.  Rodon threw just 34.2 innings in the minors between 2014 and 2015 before joining the big league club’s rotation in 2015.  Rodon put together a nice, but inconsistent rookie season – displaying some intriguing skills (8.98 K/9, groundball profile, 10.1% SwStrike, plus velocity, and 0.71 HR/9) and some glaring weaknesses (4.59 BB/9, 41.5% Zone, 52.9% First Strike).  

Despite those flaws, Rodon was drafted as the 36th overall starting pitcher, leaving his owners with very little margin for error from a player, who had thrown only thrown 160 somewhat flawed, professional innings.  Rodon was a major disappointment to his owners, finishing the year as the 100th SP eligible player in Yahoo! fantasy baseball in another inconsistent campaign.  

In a recent expert mock draft, Rodon was the 53rd SP off the board.  Unlike last year, I love Rodon’s price and will be targeting him.  It is not simply that he is cheaper this year.  Despite poor results, Rodon showed signs of significant growth as a pitcher in the second half last year, which might result in reaching his potential or at minimum, turning a profit as the approximately the 55th starter off the board.  

Before we get to his growth, let’s address the season’s first few months.  His first half was extremely rough.  Rodon posted a 4.50 ERA because hitters were pounding him with a .291 BAA, which contributed to 1.53 WHIP, and .800+ OPS, partially the result of surrendering homers at a 1.47 HR/9 clip.  There were some underlying positive signs as Rodon did shrink his walk rate down to 3.13 BB/9 and the .349 BABIP indicated that luck had a significant role in his struggles.

Although it is fair to say that Rodon was unlucky in the first half, his second half improvements were not merely the turning of luck’s tide.  Rodon made a defined change – he started to use his change-up more. His increased reliance on the change-up, which has good shape, made everything else more effective.  He stopped being so fine with the pitch and utilized its natural break – I.E. Bartolo Colon’s fastball – by throwing it towards the center of the zone and allowing  the pitch’s movement take it out of the zone.  After the All-Star Break, Rodon posted a 3.45 ERA supported by a 9.49 K/9.  His control continued to improve with his walk rate shrinking to 2.71 per nine.  

While Rodon was the beneficiary of improved luck on balls in play, it only normalized (.303 BABIP).  The peripherals support his improved results (FIP – 3.49; xFIP – 3.66), which means he was not lucky in the second half, rather the results were indicative of his true talent level.  

Armed with another weapon and increased confidence in that weapon, I think this could be the year that many prognosticators and fantasy owners expected from Rodon last year.  If not, then it will at least be one with Rodon shows some growth and begins to realize some of his immense potential.  Rodon’s breakout is not only more feasible based on what we have seen from him, but selecting him looks like it will come at a significant discount to his price last year.  

My projection: 190 innings, 3.59 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.25 WHIP.

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