clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Location, location, location: Carlos Rodón’s fastball isn’t quite right

The high-priced lefty has seen his heater go from stunningly effective to a huge thorn in his side.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, Carlos Rodón authored the most recent chapter of his nightmare season. Overall, he’s at -0.4 fWAR in just 10 starts spanning 46.1 innings. Not much has gone as planned for Rodón in the first year of his six-year contract. He now carries an ugly 6.60 ERA. His FIP is right up there at 6.48, so no optimism to be gleaned from peripheral bad luck.

Rodón’s ground ball rate is way down to a career worst 27.2 percent. That won’t cut it anywhere, let alone in Yankee Stadium. He was completely ineffective against a Tigers lineup with very little punch. Rodón lasted just 3.2 innings, surrendering eight hits, three for extra bases, and seven runs. He walked none; it was just a straight-up shellacking by the Tigers.

Rodón at least filled up the strike zone, though, as the walks have been an issue — including Thursday, he’s issued 21 free passes in 46.1 innings. Similarly, 7.96 strikeouts per nine innings is a huge red flag. The accomplished lefty is missing bats at the lowest rate of his career. Why?

His underperformance has been perhaps the most disappointing in a year of total team disappointment. His brand new large contract feels more like a ball and chain while he looks far from the second ace Yankees fans expected. Thursday stung particularly badly — his efforts contributed to the end of a five-game winning streak and somewhat stymied the good vibes provided by the rookies. After producing five straight wins, Thursday’s start was a reminder that even though the team is getting younger, there are still veterans struggling on the wrong side of 30 with several years left on their contracts. Here, let’s review Thursday’s bumpy outing for the two-time All-Star, and specifically, the extra-base hits, all coming on fastballs.

Rodón found himself in trouble right out of the gate. The first of the three extra-base hits, a double by leadoff hitter Matt Vierling, was scorched at 105.8 mph.

It’s close to the outside corner, not necessarily a terrible pitch, but it’s not nearly as high as catcher Kyle Higashioka wants it. He sets up with a target at the top of the strike zone and Rodón can’t get it there. This is a concerning pattern that we’ve seen from Rodón all year long, and he made this same mistake on all three extra-base hits on Thursday.

Hitters have absolutely tattooed Rodón’s heater, slugging .547 against the pitch in 2023. What makes it all the more perplexing is that the velocity and spin rate are exactly in line with the figures in his excellent 2022 season. So why has the fastball effectiveness disappeared seemingly over the course of one offseason?

The second extra-base hit, a booming home run by Spencer Torkelson, tells a similar story. Higashioka wants it up high, and instead the pitch misses by the length of the strike zone, ending up where Torkelson can get his barrel to it. If this pitch is further up in the zone, it’s likely a pop-up.

The third and final extra-base hit was more of the same: Vierling tagged Rodón for another double. Higgy wanted the fastball up high and ... well, you get it.

So now that we’ve seen Thursday’s subpar fastballs, let’s take a look at an aggregate of his fastball location from this year compared to 2022. The concentration of fastballs in the middle of the zone is pronounced:

This year, his normally high riding fastball is simply getting too much of the plate. The vertical element is extremely important to Rodón’s game, and his excellent slider is dependent on the threat of a hard, high fastball. Last year’s heat map is impressively precise:

This is quite the difference: 2022’s version is pure artistry and 2023 is a huge departure from the lefty’s pinpoint fastball control.

Is it as simple as missing location? Probably not. Whether there’s a mechanical snafu is up to the coaching staff to get to the bottom of. A slightly optimistic aspect is that he’s not losing velocity or spin on his fastball, suggesting it’s more of a temporary location hiccup than the start of his decline. The fact is, though, that he’s under contract until his age-35 season, and 2023 hasn’t been an auspicious start to his tenure. The Yankees need to back up Cole, who’s currently doing his part, turning in a Cy Young-quality season. Rodón, however, continues to toil in the midst of his worst season since 2020.