clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Charting a route for a Carlos Rodón rebound

Better breaking ball usage is one place where the lefty has space to adjust and evolve.

New York Yankees v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

There’s a lot to be said about Carlos Rodón’s first season with the Yankees, and what we need to see from him in 2024 to avoid a full-fledged panic about the remaining four years on his contract. I think he’ll be fine, personally — after a prolonged free agency and early season injury, I don’t think he was ever quite right to begin with last year, and I’d bet on a normal offseason improving his prospects as a whole — but the anxiety is quite understandable. Just about everything about him got worse last year results-wise, even though the pitch metrics say his arsenal was more or less unchanged. You can zoom in and out endlessly and find issues to nitpick. It’s a lot to unpack, and he has a lot going on.

I’ll leave the more broad outlook on Rodón for the coming season to our player previews, but once the season gets going, there are small things to keep an eye on in the early going that might tell us if he’s really righted the ship after a disastrous debut year. One small stat that I’m paying attention to that was another career outlier for Rodón in 2023 is the rate at which hitters are swinging at fastballs in the strike zone. His once-dominant four-seamer got hammered last year, and I suspect that part of it was that hitters were simply more prepared to attack it in the zone than they were in prior years. The in-zone swing rate on the pitch hovered around 71 percent in 2021-22, but jumped to 81 percent in 2023. They swung more, but Rodón didn’t change his approach all that much, throwing it in the zone at an identical rate as he did in 2022.

If the pitch itself isn’t changing, we can look for clues relating to the mental side of the battle between pitcher and hitter. If Rodón is a different pitcher in 2024, I suspect we’ll see him adjust to what appears to be a new scouting report for hitters and throw the fastball in the zone a little bit less than he’s used to. Either that, or he’ll have to find a way turn those extra swings into whiffs, or at least grounders. But there’s also another answer, and another thing to watch for.

Arizona Diamondbacks v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

If, from the mental side, you’re looking to answer the question of how to deal with hitters who are ready for your fastball, the tautological answer is to throw the fastball more in counts when they’re less ready for it, and less in counts where they’re more ready for it. That sounds dumb, but consider that we know there’s a count in which hitters, with a few exceptions, generally swing less across the board. Here’s Rodón’s pitch usage in 0-0 counts, the first pitch of an at-bat, over the last three years.

Baseball Savant

The scale is a bit small there, but the takeaway is that he’s no longer throwing his changeup on 0-0, and has almost entirely replaced them with breaking balls, whose usage has gone up more than five percent in each of the last two years. His fastball usage is also consistent with 2021, though down from 2022. More importantly, though, here’s how often hitters are swinging at those fastballs on 0-0 counts:

Baseball Savant

That’s a jump of nearly 15 percent, and we have an answer as to where much of that 10 percent increase from earlier is coming from. In 2021, his fastball performed better on 0-0 than his breaking balls, but the inverse has been true in 2022 and 2023, with his slider and curveball actually performing remarkably well in the latter year, given how bad everything else was. He can adjust his approach to whatever he wants after the first pitch, but that fastball usage number is something that might need to be open to adjustment to facilitate a successful result. It might simply be time to lean into what’s been working.

When Rodón broke out in 2021, he mercilessly bullied hitters with fastballs in the zone, setting them up to get knocked out by his slider and the rest of his arsenal. They hadn’t seen that ability to pound the zone from him, they weren’t ready for it, and they couldn’t hit it. That started to change in 2022, and by 2023, they were ready for it. But that’s okay, because he is blessed with one of the nastiest sliders on the planet to supplement that fastball, not to mention a curveball and changeup that both flash something now and then. I suspect if we see a resurgent Rodón in 2024, it’ll be on the strength of leaning into those nasty breaking pitches earlier in the count, and finally dialing back the fastball usage a little bit as he enters his thirties. If he can locate those breaking balls consistently, it’ll only help his fastball’s effectiveness play up, even with slightly reduced usage.

That’s easier said than done, because commanding a slider is quite difficult, especially one as good as his. You’re going to throw more balls, and potentially put yourself in disadvantageous counts. The margin for error is low. Hopefully a clean bill of health and a normal offseason will get him back to the zone he was in prior to 2023, when he was pitching aggressively with confidence and leaning into what he’s good at. His ability to do that has seemingly been correlated with health in recent years. But Rodón is good at a lot of things, and he’s raised himself up before after getting kicked down by the game. It’ll be interesting to see which of those skills of his he’ll lean into as he tries to find his next evolution.