Two American League Arms on the Rise

Hey AL-only players, you didn’t think Santa Paul forgot about you, did you? I offered two NL arms on the rise on Tuesday, one for all-formats and another geared toward to deeper leagues (at least until he proves himself some more), and I’ve got the same for the American League today.

Carlos Rodon, CWS – pick 238 in early November, pick 158 in a draft last week

I think you can ignore that early November price because you won’t get him that late in other drafts. He jumped 80 picks in less than a month based on nothing and then I did a 12-teamer just this week (the roster setup is different than these other two drafts so I didn’t include the ADPs on purpose) and he was up at pick 140. He’s likely to live in the 130-175 range.

Rodon had an up-and-down season ERA-wise. Through five starts he had a 4.96 ERA, but four starts later he was down to 2.66 only to jump back up to an even 5.00 through 18 starts. He finished with a 3.75 ERA in 26 starts thanks to a fantastic finish: 1.81 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 8.1 K/9 (22% K%), and a 2.3 K:BB ratio – which was a sharp improvement on his 1.8 through 18 starts – in 54.7 IP (8 starts).

As is often the case for rookies finding their way, his troubles were isolated to a handful of disastrous starts. He has three starts of 7+ ER and didn’t throw more than 4 IP in any of them. He had another 4 IP/5 ER start in there, too. The 27 ER in those four starts accounted for 47% of his earned runs all year. He had a 2.24 ERA in his other 22 starts (124.7 IP).

Walks were an issue all year: 11% even in those 22 starts and 16% in the four super-duds. But so were the strikeouts as he notched 139 in 139.3 total innings. The key to surviving those walks is that he’s often really difficult to hit. He allowed 29 hits in those 14.7 IP during the four duds for an impossible 17.8 H/9, but the 7.2 H/9 mark during those other 22 starts is in line with what Sonny Gray and Dallas Keuchel allowed for the whole season.

The plus-plus slider saves him even when the fastball (which has plus velocity, but righties hit it) isn’t clicking. Lefties didn’t stand a chance against it (.389 OPS, 48% K%) and righties weren’t that much better (.533 OPS, 43% K%). The changeup wasn’t great overall (.910 OPS) in a tiny 31 PA sample, but did look better toward the end of the season (.425 OPS in 10 PA). Parsing an already-small sample is dangerous. The change is definitely a work in progress, but I think it’s going to come together and give him a reliable third pitch.

Young arms with control issues are nothing new. Hell, Jake Arrieta had a 4.0 BB/9 through his first 409.7 IP as a major leaguer. Dallas Keuchel’s debut saw him walk 4.1 batters per nine in 85.3 IP at age-24. They both just won Cy Young Awards with a 2.0 or better BB/9. Even that Clayton Kershaw dude had walk issues before figuring it out: 4.2 BB/9 through 483 IP, 1.9 in 1128 since. Obviously those are premium outliers, but Rodon is a premium arm.

A little lower on the spectrum, think about someone like Gio Gonzalez. He walked 4.4 per nine for 535.3 IP to start his career. He hasn’t exactly become a control artist, but his 3.4 BB/9 in 729.3 IP since has helped him to develop into a high-quality pitcher (115 ERA+ during that time). Rodon might not completely eradicate his walk issues like Arrieta, Keuchel, and Kershaw but even cutting down to something in the mid-3.0s like Gonzalez and Yu Darvish eventually did would be a big step forward.

Pros:

  • Two plus pitches (a plus-plus slider and mid-90s fastball)
  • The strikeouts (23% K% courtesy of said slider with the potential for more)
  • A workable third pitch (it still needs work, but he’s committed to it)
  • Workload (threw 149.3 IP in ’15 so he shouldn’t have any major inning restrictions for ‘16)

Cons:

  • The walks (12% BB% won’t work; could take time, but anything sub-10% would play in ’16)
  • The change (yes, it’s a pro and a con: pro because he was using at an 11% clip from June on, but a con because it was knocked around)

Outlook:

  • Make no mistake, this is a high-risk investment, but one very much worth making because the potential payoff is so substantial. In the short-term we could see a focus on throwing strikes to cut those walks at the expense of some punchouts. The stuff is there, it’s now about mastering the finer points of pitching.

Kevin Gausman, BAL – pick 282 in November, pick 263 last week (same team with Rodon)

He’s only 25, but he’s already a long-time favorite of mine as I remain bullish on him despite the relatively slow burn. Part of it has been his team. The Orioles have been protective of Gausman’s innings over the years by running him between relief and starting, adding extra days off here and there throughout the season, and even sending him down in July to give him an extended breather. Some might say it’s been over-protective.

An injury slowed him down in 2015, costing him almost all of May and June. All eight of his appearances before the injury were out of the bullpen and then he joined the rotation for 17 starts after returning. He wasn’t great with a 4.22 ERA in 100.3 IP, but the skills were there. I can’t do a leaderboard that starts on June 20th when he joined the rotation, but looking at the second half (which chops off his first three starts (1 good, 1 solid, 1 awful) shows him 28th in K-BB% at 17% and his 3.62 SIERA was 32nd.

Homers got him in trouble, an issue we’ve seen from him in the past. He allowed 1.5 HR/9 in 2013 (47.7 IP). It looked like he fixed the issue in 2014 with just 0.6 HR/9, but looking further suggests he was at the mercy of his HR/FB rate which was 19% in ’13 and 6% in ’14. He allowed 1.4 HR/9 last year with 13% HR/FB. That’s only a couple ticks above the 11% league average so I’m less-inclined to give him a pass on the homers for 2015.

Like Rodon, his stuff is there. He doesn’t have an 80-grade pitch like Rodon’s slider, but he averages 95-96 MPH with the fastball then drops down 10 MPH with an excellent splitter and supplements those with a slider and change. He had trouble with righties for the first time in his career as they utterly demolished the splitter when they weren’t striking out against it. It still had a 46% K rate, but also an obscene 1.371 OPS in 24 PA. Righties were the big reason behind his home run issue as he allowed 12 to them in 224 PA, double what he allowed in 2013-14 combined over 288 PA. Lefties only have 14 in 635 career PA.

The Orioles need to just put Gausman in the rotation and leave him alone. He has the chops to be a mid-rotation start with frontline upside. It is also worth noting that he had LASIK surgery this offseason, boosting his vision to 20-15. I thought the googles were pretty chill, but as a blind person myself, I think it’s worth the tradeoff of actually being able to see.

Pros:

  • The velocity (it’s elite)
  • The splitter (he makes some mistakes with it to RHB, but they still fan 56% of the time)
  • He handles lefties (.696 career OPS; has dropped each year, too)
  • More GB than FB (career 1.2 GB/FB ratio and his stuff hints at being a power-groundball [50+%] arsenal

Cons:

  • Home runs, particularly to righties (for those curious, it’s not a Camden Yards thing: 0.99 HR/9 at home and 1.1 on the road)
  • Workload (he only threw 134.7 IP in ’15 so he might capped around 180, espec. as cautiously as BAL has handled him)

Outlook:

  • His ERA might not show it, but he is progressing and I’m sticking with him. The cost is low as many have moved on, but there’s still a ton of upside here as a later round pick. I’d be OK taking him as high as the early-200s (mid-teens round in a 12-teamer). Guys like Jimmy Nelson, Drew Smyly, Joe Ross, Jaime Garcia, Michael Pineda, James Shields and Collin McHugh all went in the early-200s and Gausman has a case to populate that group.

 

Merry Christmas!





Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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Seth
6 years ago

Rodon’s splits between when Soto caught him and when Flowers caught him are pretty stark. He had something like a 7+ ERA with Soto and under 3 with Flowers. Neither are on the team anymore though, so I have no idea what to make of it going forward.

Mark
6 years ago
Reply to  Seth

Maybe the Navarro Magic™ that Estrada picked up will rub off on Rodon.