Two years after he was non-tendered by the White Sox, Carlos Rodon is in line for a huge payday, possibly from the Yankees.
The left-hander can thank his legs.
After an up-and-down first six seasons in the big leagues, in which he flashed first-round talent, but his consistency and availability were plagued by injuries, Rodon tweaked his mechanics to stay on his back leg longer in his delivery. That translated into making Rodon one of the best pitchers in the game. He posted a 2.67 ERA over the last two years with the White Sox and Giants, setting him up to cash in this offseason as one of the top pitchers on the free-agent market.
“He learned to pitch, we call it, from your armpits down,” said Jay Lehr, the lead pitching instructor at Pro X Athlete in Indianapolis, where Rodon has trained the last two offseasons.
Rodon, who turned 30 on Saturday, is now set to reap the rewards. Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander are off the market, so Rodon is the best pitcher remaining for teams seeking a top-of-the-rotation talent, with his list of possible suitors including the Yankees, Giants, Rangers and Dodgers. The 2014 third-overall pick is seeking at least a seven-year contract, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Thursday, although the Yankees would like to keep him to a four- or five-year deal at most, according to The Post’s Jon Heyman .
Either way, Rodon’s hard work will soon pay off.
After he broke into the big leagues in 2015, Rodon missed time with a sprained left wrist, left biceps bursitis, left shoulder inflammation (which required arthroscopic surgery in 2017), left elbow inflammation (which led to Tommy John surgery in 2019) and left shoulder soreness in 2020. Following the 2020 season, at which point Rodon owned a career 4.14 ERA, the White Sox non-tendered him instead of paying him a projected $4 million-plus in arbitration, although they later re-signed him for $3 million .
That offseason, Rodon went back to Pro X Athlete, where he had gone for his Tommy John rehab in 2019-20 with Dr. James Gordon. While he was rehabbing, he became interested in the work they were doing with pitchers, according to Lehr, so he returned after being non-tendered and had a simple request.
“We were just doing some work on the mound, not throwing long distances by any means with guys early on,” Lehr said. “He just walked up and said, ‘Fix me.’ Like, ‘I want to be fixed. What do I need to do?’ “
Lehr went through a video analysis with Rodon and saw that he was coming off his back leg early and rotating too soon in his delivery instead of staying through his heel.
“With all the drills that we did, he stayed in that back leg and tried to hold that energy as long as he could before he landed,” Lehr said. “It just kind of translated for him. He figured it out on his own. He worked his rear end off and had a good feel to his mechanics.”
The White Sox hired Ethan Katz as their pitching coach that offseason, and he also drilled with Rodon on the importance of using his legs more in his delivery. Katz also played a key role in Rodon improving at tunneling his pitches — having a fastball and slider, say, look the same on their way to the plate before moving in different directions.
The results were quick to follow. In Rodon’s second start of 2021, he threw a no-hitter against the Guardians. He went on to post a 2.37 ERA with 185 strikeouts in 132 ²/₃ innings, while his fastball averaged 95.4 mph after it had averaged 92.8 in 2020, 91.4 in 2019, 92.9 in 2018, 93.3 in 2017 and 94.2 in 2016, according to Baseball Savant.
The uptick in fastball velocity carried over into 2022, when he averaged 95.5 mph during a second straight All-Star season with the Giants — on a two-year, $44 million deal that he opted out of after one year to hit free agency again — while recording a 2.88 ERA and 237 strikeouts in 178 innings.
“I think it has to do with him actually being healthy, number one, for the first time in a while for a full season,” Lehr said of the increased velocity. “His strength training regiment with Dr. Gordon, the things he had him doing. And then also repeating his delivery. I think those three things had a lot to do with it.”
Most importantly, the revamped mechanics have helped Rodon stay mostly healthy over the last two years. He missed two weeks with shoulder fatigue in August 2021, but otherwise has largely put his injury issues behind him.
“Obviously every guy that’s at that level, their arm works,” Lehr said. “You don’t really need to fiddle with it or change it. Maybe there’s some timing things you use with the front side, the glove arm, but more than anything, if you can learn to throw basically from your armpits down and how the body moves, [that’s key].
“It’s just a matter of him getting excited about coming in and keep doing it. He really took off from there with it.”