The word debacle has a long and complicated history. Originally from the Greek báktron (from which we also get the word bacteria), which means “stick,” it comes into Latin as baculum and refers to a walking staff or a cane. From there, we get the French débâcler, “to clear.” This comes into English as debacle, an ecological term describing the violent flood resulting from ice breaking up. Considering violent floods are generally a bad thing, this eventually became the modern definition, “a great disaster, a complete failure, or a fiasco.”
Unmitigated disaster has a similar background. Unmitigated comes directly from the Latin verb mitigare, which means “to make soft.” Disaster is a Latin compound of dis- (either “twice” or “split”) and astrum (star); together, this referred to bad fortune due to an unfavorable alignment of the stars. It would eventually come to English first by way of the Italian disastro and the Middle French desastre. Together, we get unmitigated disaster, “a complete an utter catastrophe.”
Needless to say, when the Classicist opens the report card for last year’s big free agent pitching acquisition with the etymologies of debacle and unmitigated disaster, that’s a sign that things didn’t go well.
2023 Statistics: 14 starts, 64.1 IP, 6.85 ERA (63 ERA+), 5.79 FIP, 5.30 xFIP, 22.4 percent K%, 9.8 BB%, -0.2 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: $27.83 million, signed through 2028
Heading into the season, expectations were high for Carlos Rodón. Signed in the offseason to a six-year deal, the left-hander was coming off a two-year stretch in which he ranked third in baseball with 11.1 fWAR, behind only Corbin Burnes and Zack Wheeler. The only starting pitcher in baseball with a better strikeout rate than Gerrit Cole, he looked to give the Yankees an elite pair of co-aces that, when combined with Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino, and Frankie Montas, would put the Bombers in the discussion for best pitching rotation in baseball.
Unless you’re playing MLB: The Show or Out of the Park Baseball, that reflects absolutely nothing that happened this season. Thanks to a strain in his forearm, Rodón started the season on the injured list, and a back injury that may be chronic going forward kept him out until July 7th. He would make six starts before hitting the injured list again, this time with a hamstring injury. He’d finish the season with another eight starts, bringing his season total up to 14.
Had Rodón pitched well in those 14 starts, his season would have been a terrible start to his six-year deal. The left-hander has battled injuries over the course of the career — his 2022 campaign was the first time in his career that he made more than 28 starts and represented a career-high in innings pitched. Between Tommy John surgery, arm fatigue, shoulder surgery, and other injuries, he threw just 42 innings between 2019 and 2020. Missing more than half the season, even at an elite level, would be a bad sign going forward.
But Rodón was not elite. He wasn’t even bad: he was atrocious. Only 12 starting pitchers who had thrown at least 60 innings last accrued less fWAR than him, and only five had a higher ERA. He failed to get through the fifth inning in six of his eight starts, and failed to make it through the fourth three times. To cap off his season, he failed to record a single out against an inept Kansas City lineup.
Had Rodón been bad and been gracious in his failings, his season would have been atrocious. But Rodón had an attitude, blowing a kiss to Yankee fans on the road and turning his back on Matt Blake as he melted down on the mound in his final start. Had he been pitching like the ace he was signed to be, this attitude may have made Rodón a bit of a fan favorite — after all, people seem to like the diva starting pitcher who mows down his opposition with snark and sass. But when you’re pitching as poorly as Rodón was, that simply makes you look like a donkey.
Call it whatever you want — a debacle, an unmitigated disaster, or something else entirely — Rodón’s first season in pinstripes was one to forget. While there is still hope he can turn it around, that doesn’t change what happened in 2023. As a teacher, there’s nothing I hate more than handing out failing grades, but unfortunately, it’s impossible to make a case to give him anything but.