These last few days have been a whirlwind of activity with many of the top free agents flying off the shelves in advance of the expiration of the current CBA. It’s only December 1st, but already the majority of the tier-A starting pitchers have found new homes, with Max Scherzer signing with the Mets, Robbie Ray with the Mariners, and Kevin Gausman with the Blue Jays. That leaves a shrinking list of starters for a significant number of suitors to bid on, meaning the Yankees cannot sit on their hands forever if they intend to sign a pitcher who can make a meaningful impact.
The need is certainly there for the Bombers, as the team is currently poised to repeat their strategy from last year of entering the season with Gerrit Cole followed by Jordan Montgomery and a bunch of question marks. Clayton Kershaw and Marcus Stroman are unlikely targets at best, leading us to perhaps the most intriguing option on the market: Carlos Rodón.
2021 Statistics: 24 games, 132.2 IP, 2.37 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 3.17 xFIP, 12.6 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 4.9 fWAR
Previous Contract: Signed one-year, $3 million contract with White Sox.
2021 was a breakout campaign for Rodón, as he finally realized some of the sky-high potential that had been delayed by injury for so long. When he was on the field, Rodón was one of the best starters in MLB. Among pitchers with at least 130 innings pitched, Rodón paced the field in ERA while totaling the third-best K-BB% (27.9 percent), fourth-best FIP, sixth-best xFIP, and eighth-most fWAR. He threw a no-hitter against Cleveland on April 14th and tallied five double-digit strikeout games. He also demolished the Yankees in his lone start against them — six scoreless innings allowing two hits with a career-high 13 strikeouts on May 21st.
Rodón accomplished this with the help of arguably the single best pitch in all of baseball last season. His four-seamer was the most valuable pitch in MLB in 2021 according to Statcast’s Run Value metric, sitting at an astonishing -26 runs. It had the highest average velocity (95.4 mph) of any fastball thrown by a left-handed starting pitcher. He whiffed batters at a 29.7 percent clip with the four-seamer and struck them out 29.9 percent of the time.
The crazy part is, the fastball may not even have been his best pitch. Even though the four-seamer accrued a higher cumulative Run Value, the slider was more valuable on a per-pitch basis (-2.3 RV/100 vs. -2.0 RV/100 for the fastball). Overall, Statcast ranked Rodón’s slider as tied for the fourth-best at -14 runs and produced the seventh-highest whiff rate (40.6 percent) of any slider thrown by a lefty starter. The pitch had the 12th-most horizontal movement of any lefty slider, generated the 17th-highest strikeout rate (52 percent) of any slider in MLB, and limited batters to a .159 xwOBA — 20th-best out of all sliders in the game. In short, you’re looking at possibly the best one-two punch pitch arsenal of any starter in baseball.
So why aren’t the Yankees and other teams all over this guy? In a word, injuries. He missed most of 2017 and a solid chunk of 2018 with a major shoulder injury, and lost the majority of 2019 to Tommy John surgery. Although in 2021 he managed a 132.2 inning total that was triple his inning output in 2019 and 2020 combined, he landed on the IL on August 11th with shoulder fatigue in the previously-injured shoulder. It clearly affected his stamina at the end of the year, as he managed only nine second-half starts averaging just over four-and-a-half innings per game (though he still maintained his effectiveness pitching to a 2.51 ERA and 3.26 FIP across those outings).
I’d maintain that this is not the end of the world. However, the most damning evidence comes from the White Sox and their evaluation of their now-former employee. Chicago declined to extend a qualifying offer to Rodón, and are reportedly disinterested in bringing the southpaw back. That the team with his most up-to-date medicals is worried enough to look elsewhere speaks volumes.
Heading into the All-Star break, Rodón was right among the leaders in the AL Cy Young race. The time he missed in the home stretch of the regular season likely cost him the pitching crown as well as a shot at a mega-payday this winter. However, he proved he has top-of-the-line stuff when healthy, and that alone should intrigue the Yankees to check in at the very least.