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White Sox: How the “Real” Carlos Rodon can Salvage Rotation of the Future

In a season where nothing has looked consistently good for any White Sox pitcher, Carlos Rodon is flipping the script.

UCarlos Rodon is in the midst of his best professional stretch as a starter, and that’s good news for a White Sox rotation that badly needs some this year and beyond.

If Chicago White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon had left Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Tigers after the seventh inning, he would already have qualified for his seventh straight quality start, during which time he has surpassed 7.0 innings five times.

But then, Rodon just figured it would be more fun to go eight innings two starts in a row. So he did, needing just 10 pitches to get through his final inning.

He even got to keep the quality start, keeping the Tigers off the scoreboard in every inning but the three-run third.

In a season where nothing has looked consistently good for any White Sox pitcher, Rodon is flipping the script. It hasn’t always been perfect; his command still shows a bit of rust, which isn’t surprising given that he started his season back on June 9. But you can’t deny the results he’s getting, and you can’t ignore how foolish hitters have been looking against him of late.

In short, he’s looking like the ace everyone hoped he’d be when the Sox drafted him third overall in 2014.

And thank goodness for that. Because the rest of this pitching experiment has, to put it tactfully, not gone as planned.

Of course, we knew to an extent that 2018 was going to be primarily about development for Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Carson Fulmer and the like as we also monitored the progress of rotation hopefuls like lightning bolt-throwing Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, and Alec Hansen.

What we probably weren’t hoping for was to have one of those first three starters (Fulmer) wash out to Triple-A Charlotte almost immediately and the other two (Giolito and Lopez) be arguably the worst two starters in baseball.

Don’t believe me? Go check and see who the two worst pitchers in baseball are according to expected fielder independent pitching — this basically tells you what your ERA would look like if you removed batter’s luck and fielder help (AKA Adam Engel saving your neck).

There, you will find Giolito with a 5.78 xFIP — he also owns a league-worst 6.15 ERA — and Lopez (5.65 xFIP). And for fun, the third-worst xFIP number in baseball? That belongs to fellow White Sox starter James Shields (5.02 xFIP). In fact, those three Sox starters are the only pitchers in the MLB with xFIP numbers over 5.0.

That’s…pretty bad.

Throw in the whole squad, and you have a 4.96 team ERA (third-worst in the league) and the MLB’s worst team xFIP (4.99).

Yikes.

(Disclaimer: Rodon’s xFIP isn’t terribly pretty at the moment either at 4.84. But those struggles can largely be attributed to a few starts where he struggled with walks and surrendered a few home runs. Plus, though he’s missing a lot of bats, his command has somewhat limited his strikeout totals. So, there are clearly still some rough edges to his performance, which makes the results all the more encouraging.)

Bottom line: as bad as you think the White Sox offense is – and it’s really not THAT bad – the pitching is worse. Far worse. And it “starts” with the rotation.

That’s why Rodon’s seeming redemption is so important right now.

Of course, health remains the limiting factor in Rodon’s success. He simply hasn’t been consistently available so far in his major league career, and it has affected his consistency on the mound. Truthfully, I don’t think anyone expected much from him in 2018 with him missing half the season while rehabbing his left shoulder.

But his run of seven quality starts in a row has blown that door wide open. And it’s not just the results themselves; it’s the way he’s achieved them.

His efficient mechanics are returning, with his arm slot posing horrific problems for hitters who can’t tell if a 94 mile-per-hour fastball is about to reduce their bats to splinters or a wipeout slider is going to have them corkscrewing in the batter’s box.

His slider is actually more unhittable than Chris Sale‘s right now.

Rodon even flipped a few changeups toward the plate yesterday, and the swings he got were laughable. If he develops that pitch as Sale has learned to, he has the potential to strikeout 200 people a year.

And the White Sox will be all too happy to have that kind of pitcher manning the top of their rotation for a number of reasons.

For one, what team doesn’t want that? Plus, that’s a star that the White Sox don’t have to give up anything to get and could likely contractually extend at a reasonable price, given the roller-coaster start to his career.

But perhaps more importantly, should he keep this momentum and stay healthy, you have a potentially killer one-two punch near the top of the future White Sox rotation with Kopech and Rodon. If they become what they’ve always been projected to be, perhaps no duo will be close to that devastating in two years’ time.

Furthermore, that would allow the team to take pressure off of Giolito and Lopez, who still have to find themselves, and have a choice to either trade for a starter when they’re ready to compete or just await the coming of someone like Hansen or Cease to round things out.

Yes, I’m aware that this assumes a lot (health, consistency, etc.), and the future is hardly assured. Then again, what’s the point of the White Sox’s approach if we can’t look ahead?

And in the absence of the likes of Eloy Jimenez and Kopech (for now) and Yoan Moncada struggling, Rodon is giving White Sox fans some more immediate gratification during a long season along with a glimpse of what could be if he keeps trending upward.

For now, let’s just see if he can keep this quality start streak up.

Follow Khari Thompson on Twitter—Feature Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune 

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