In light of Carlos Rodon melting faces Wednesday night against the Royals and striking out nine batters in four shutout innings, the only responsible thing was to check on how all of us were doing emotionally.
James: Rodon! Rodon!
Carlos Rodon was cartoonishly overpowering. He was a real word manifestation of the type of overpowering performance I envision whenever people hyperbolically use terms like “unhittable slider” or “80 pitch.” He was so good and so dominant, it completely obscured things he did noticeably not well, such as throw a passable changeup consistently, or all the times he missed the glove with his fastball by a foot. His slider is untouchable. It’s got two-plane break and can be tweaked between 82-90 mph, with both a stutter action and a huge sweeper. It’s just this singularly overwhelming tool that drapes over his flaws like a luxurious, velvet blanket.
Nick: My cousin was at this game with his family and texted me something like, “RODON!”
I didn’t get to watch the game, but for all that he was missing with his fastball as you say, he didn’t walk anybody and only allowed 4 hits while striking out 9. Process is more important to me than results, especially at this stage, but I’m just going to go ahead and really enjoy this outing.
I think cognitively when we have a given and then some weaknesses, you spend so long focusing on the weaknesses / uncertainties you start to underrate the strengths. I frequently use the example of a 25-man roster fantasy baseball draft. Say you start by drafting Stanton and Cano - great! And then two hours later, it’s round 23 and your last couple of picks have been David Peralta and Devon Travis and you’re thinking, “Man, I only have terrible players on my team.”
Everybody has just been saying, “Yeah, Rodon’s slider is super amazing, but he needs to work on X and Y.” They’re absolutely right, but let’s not forget what an elite breaking pitch can do.
James: An elite breaking pitch with about three different forms, at least. I may have overstated the fastball issues, since everyone else the day after called it better than usual. As much as he had a half-dozen Daniel Webb-style misses, he spotted when he needed to, and kept hitters honest on his homewrecker slider.
While we’re at it. Is there a name for Rodon’s slider? I nominate “The Homewrecker” for the sweeper form.
Nick: It is cool that he can do so many different things with it. When R.A. Dickey was at his best he was able to have pitches do like 8 or 9 different things all out of the same arm slot / arm speed, which obviously yielded excellent results.
So after the 9K game, we have seen people start comparing him to Bryant and saying he absolutely has to be in the rotation to start the year. Rodon could probably survive at the majors, but I’m not really surprised that he dominated a Spring Training Royals lineup with his slider. I feel like he could do that 2 years ago. Bryant is a full year ahead of him in terms of pro ball experience, and it sounds like they won’t need a 5th starter until Sale gets back.
And, as much as I have fretted and wrung my hands about Danks and Noesi this offseason, I still think it’s worth seeing what they can do a little more before you pull the plug on them. People get hurt, they’re going to need Rodon eventually this year.
If Rodon forces his way into the rotation and Danks and Noesi are serviceable MLB pitchers, how do you solve the logjam? Do you try to use Noesi as a swing man and spot starter to manage the workload of Rodon (or maybe even give Sale a day off here or there)?
James: I think it's just as likely you give Rodon a break as they manage him cautiously. But a hole in the rotation and need for a sixth starter is so inevitable I don't know why we even bother stressing it.
Remember when we resigned ourselves to the fact last year that Andre Rienzo was just going to be a regular rotation member for the foreseeable future? That was like May.
Nick: I am still rooting for Rienzo, even though he is no longer with the team, but I just don’t see how he gets major league hitters out from the rotation. Certainly not lefties.
But you’re right, even the 2005 White Sox - who had one of the most durable 5-man rotations for that season, like, ever - still needed a number of starts from McCarthy as the 6th starter. Incredibly I think only six pitchers started games for them last year. At the other end of the spectrum, the 2014 Texas Rangers had 15 (!!) pitchers start games for them. I don’t like thinking about any of the Front Three missing any time, so hopefully he’d be covering for Danks or Noesi.
What sort of innings load would you give to Rodon this year? I think between college and the ~12 innings he threw in pro ball he was up around 130-140 in 2014. Although I think the Verducci Rule is non-scientific and largely functions on cherry picking scenarios that confirm it and disregarding scenarios that defy it, would you hold Rodon below 200?
James: Man, I don’t like preimposed innings limits issued at the start of the season! I feel like there are more mild solutions, like only having Rodon start once per week, or a long rest for the All-Star break, kind like what Morosi suggested without the crackpot scheme to game his service time. Just a general understanding to stay light on the gas with him.
Ethan: IP is a question certainly that will come up down the road, especially if this team is in contention and Rodon throws in the upper 100s between AAA and MLB. It’s certainly a “we’ll cross this bridge when we get there” kind of thing, but I think how they did not shut down Sale in 2012 demonstrates how they’ll handle Rodon in such a scenario.
As far as a Rodon call up is concerned, I have little doubt that current Rodon, without a developed changeup, is a significantly better pitcher than Danks or Noesi. I think it’s worth working on, but if mid-May comes around and the change isn’t there, but Danks is trash and Noesi is scuffling, I don’t see how you keep Rodon down.
I also question who they choose to ditch for Rodon. I think Noesi is a legitimately better starter than Danks, but I also think Noesi’s stuff could play up in the pen, whereas Danks will eat innings as a No. 5 but will have virtually no use in the pen. I also don’t know how you handle a $14 million swingman in Danks. God damn shoulders, man.