This will be the third and final installment of the Doppelganger Series from me heading into the 2016 season. Already featured were Corey Seager and Byron Buxton. For this installment we are heading to the bump to try and peg who the soon to be 23 year old Carlos Rodon could be doppelgänger to.
Finding a left-handed starting pitcher comparison for Rodon has proven to be a difficult task for me. So much of Rodon’s success will be tied to the development of his change-up along with the ability to locate his two-seam fastball better than he did in his 2015 rookie season. If he is able to stay the course and continue his development, some interesting names come into play for what his career could look like.
Rodon finds himself in a nice lefty group of pitchers who either just arrived on the big league scene or should be coming up shortly. Among those who have already arrived are Andrew Heaney, Steven Matz, Daniel Norris, and Henry Owens. A little down the road we will see the top lefty pitching prospect, Julio Urias and the recently traded Sean Newcomb. Urias may have the highest ceiling of this batch of lefty hurlers, but Rodon is probably a close second and is maybe more easy to project at this point seeing as how we just got a 139.1 IP preview at the major league level.
Because of Rodon’s quick ascent to the big league roster, he drew comparisons to David Price. Aside from their common southpaw status, the ascent to the big league roster is where the Price comparison ends for me. They simply have different pitch repertoires with Price being more of a fastball/change-up guy to Rodon’s preferred fastball/slider mix. The other thing to consider is that Price is far leaner with at least a three-inch height advantage over Rodon.
A real compliment to Carlos Rodon is in the comparisons of his slider to the one CC Sabathia featured through his dominant years. Again, I have to squash this comparison as well. For starters, Sabathia stands at least five inches taller than Rodon. Their sliders are also quite a bit different in velocity with Rodon’s checking in at an average velocity of 87.2 MPH, while Sabathia’s has hovered in the 81 MPH range throughout his career.
Next up is the comparisons to teammate Chris Sale. The body types do not match up at all. I liken their body type differences to what you might get in the NBA comparing Hakeem Olajuwan to Shaq back in the 90’s. What Rodon and Sale do have in common are their pitch repertoires. Both feature a two-seam and four-seam fastball to go with their slider and change-up offerings. Sale is light years ahead of Rodon in regard to the development of his full repertoire though. In fact, Sale’s change-up is now featured more frequently than his wipe out slider. The slider for Sale also checks in at just 78.9 MPH on average, acting as more of a change of speed to his 94.5 MPH two-seam fastball than does his 85.5 MPH changeup. Clearly I still don’t believe we have our doppelgänger match up in Rodon’s teammate, Chris Sale. It really didn’t require much more than the eyeball test to come to that conclusion, and the underlying statistical data would seem to support that opinion as well. Moving on.
This may not seem as exciting as the names listed above, but perhaps the closest comparison for Rodon’s pitch weapons is what Francisco Liriano features in Pittsburgh. Liriano attacked hitters with a slider that checked in at 85 MPH on average in 2015. Earlier in Liriano’s career the slider averaged as much as 86.8 MPH. Something Liriano does well is control his favorite pitch, the two-seam fastball. As mentioned earlier in this write-up, this is an area of Rodon’s game that I see him needing to make major strides in if he is to approach his ace-like potential. Like Liriano, Rodon also entered the league with a wave of hype. It’s been a while, but you may recall that Liriano had a rocky, up and down start to his big league career. Hopefully Rodon can avoid the early career Tommy John surgery that slowed Liriano’s development. If Rodon can avoid injury and get his rookie year K/BB rate of 1.96 closer to Liriano’s 2.93 mark in the category, his career will take off nicely. Body type is one area where we could potentially close the gap on who Rodon will be doppelgänger to as he develops. Liriano took the hill at 6’2, 215 pounds, while Rodon pitched at a stockier 6’3, 235 pounds. Close, but we can do better than that.
When it comes to body type, the current left-handed pitcher who comes to mind for me when I think of Rodon is Jon Lester. The pitch offerings from Lester are a bit different, but the body type is about as close as I can find in the game. Lester stands on the bump at 6’4, 240 pounds. While Rodon is not likely to stretch his spine another inch to match Lester, he could easily fill out another five pounds to match the Cubbie’s ace at 240 pounds.
In conclusion, I expect Carlos Rodon to be a hybrid doppelgänger to Francisco Liriano’s repertoire with Jon Lester’s body type. In his best years it would be reasonable to expect Rodon to flirt with a 3.20 ERA, a WHIP in the neighborhood of 1.18, and a chance at just over 200 K’s. The third round of 12-team standard league drafts should be Rodon’s peak draft position in his prime years with the fourth round being his more likely destination. When it is all said and done, I could see Rodon’s career falling somewhere in between what we have seen from Lester and Liriano. In the short-term there is plenty to like. Rodon polished off his rookie season by rattling off eight straight quality starts. In five of those final eight starts, Rodon posted less walks plus hits than innings pitched. In all, Rodon threw 149.1 innings in 2015.
My early projection for Carlos Rodon in 2016 looks like this:
3.85 ERA, 1.35 Whip, 165 K’s, 175 IP — Average ADP Estimate: 225
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