Because he began his tenure by sitting out over half the season with an injury, Carlos Rodón undoubtedly felt enormous pressure to get back on the field after signing a hefty contract in the offseason. Brian Cashman’s crown jewel of the winter, Rodón hasn’t hit the ground running over his first four starts in pinstripes.
Rodón has a 5.75 ERA in 20.1 innings through four starts. Not only that, but his 47% hard-hit rate is dreadful for a pitcher of his caliber. Most remarkably, on fastballs, his batting average against is .218 compared to an xBA of .313. He’s not fooling anyone with the heater, and his defense is helping him out to keep his numbers from looking worse. As a guy who throws about 60 percent fastballs and 30 pecent sliders, he needs both to be sharp.
Upon a closer look, the inflated ERA is the least of his problems. He’s only striking out 6.6 batters per nine innings, a far cry from his career mark of 9.9. He’s also shown a significant lack of command; his career mark of 3.43 walks per nine innings is up to 5.31 through his first 20.1 innings. His fastball velocity has been inconsistent until his most recent start. For a guy coming back from a long injury layoff, you may expect one of these things, but all three is cause for concern. Something is seriously wrong when a proven commodity frontline starter has all the harbingers of doom: walking more batters, striking out fewer batters, and giving up home runs at a rate almost double his career average.
One could chalk it up to rust, but after a long rehab process and several minor-league starts, that excuse feels tired. Rodón was worth 6.2 fWAR last year, 4.9 in 2021 — Yankees fans expect more.
Alright, we’ve established his struggles. With all that said, it’s not all bad. That 6-WAR version of Carlos Rodón is still in there unless it’s a Space Jam situation, and he flashed some good stuff in his most recent start, unlike the demolitions that were his second and third outings. 5.2 IP, four hits, one earned run, three walks, and four strikeouts is not a particularly dominant line, but better. Even then, he still allowed some hard contact, though. The Yankees will need him to provide much more length with the ‘pen beginning to show wear and tear down the stretch.
He’s made starts against the Cubs, Rockies, Angels, and Mets, none of whom have particularly strong offenses besides a top-heavy Angels lineup with Shohei Ohtani’s presence. Rodón approached the Mets slightly differently on Wednesday, starting with the usage of his weapons. He cut back on his slider usage significantly and pumped fastballs with more regularity to better results.
One thing hasn’t changed: Rodón’s ability to get lefties out. He executed well against the tough lefties in the Mets lineup, holding Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil hitless, and he’s surrendered just two hits to lefties combined in his first four starts.
I wanted to highlight this slider to strike out Ohtani in the Angels start, currently the hottest hitter on the planet and MLB’s home run leader. Rodón still has lefties figured out, and it’ll be something to build on even if the lineups he faces will only feature a few.
In his past two starts, he’s topped out at 98 mph, another sign he may be shaking off the last of the rust. His velocity has slowly come back to a more consistent place, and his fastball seemed to have the jump on it that we’re accustomed to seeing. He was in the 77th percentile last year for fastball spin; if he has the sizzle back, he’ll be able to turn the corner.
Time is growing short for the 2023 Yankees. A struggling Rodón makes it significantly more difficult to crack the postseason. Beyond that, if the Yankees somehow earn a playoff spot and make it past the Wild Card round, they need to figure out fast how they’d line up behind ace Gerrit Cole. But let’s not jump that far ahead. For Rodón and the Yankees, enough problems exist in the here and now, but Rodón’s shown flashes that he’s figuring them out.