Rest of Season Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Rodon-culous
Mick Ciallela was FantasyPros’ No. 1 ranker for the 2020 MLB season. Share in his success with a look into his 2021 Rest of Season Rankings!
Before 2021, Carlos Rodon had been an afterthought in the fantasy community for several years. Injuries were the primary cause of Rodon’s downfall from what seemed to be a very bright future. A former number-three overall draft pick and 2014’s top college pitcher while at North Carolina State, Rodon acquitted himself well over 51 starts between 2015 and 2016. He had an ERA just under 4.00, which was right in line with his FIP and xFIP. He struck out a batter per inning and allowed just under one home run per nine innings. Just 23 years old at the time, the future looked bright for Rodon. Then the litany of injuries began.
First, it was a sprained wrist in 2016. Then he suffered a bicep injury that cost him the first half of the 2017 season. Rodon was more or less the same pitcher that year (his overall numbers were inflated by a Coors Field start) but was shut down after just 12 starts due to shoulder inflammation. The injury would eventually require surgery, which would put Rodon out of action for six to eight months. Rodon returned in June of 2018 and had an incredible run during July and August. In a nine-start span, he went 5-0 with a 1.84 ERA. However, Rodon faded badly down the stretch. Over his final six starts of 2018, Rodon went 0-5 while allowing 28 earned runs in just 27.1 innings. Rodon’s health and performance were major question marks heading into 2019. Unfortunately, neither would hold up very long that season.
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Rodon made just seven starts in 2019. His velocity was noticeably down and he was placed on the injury list in early May with elbow inflammation. Shortly thereafter, the White Sox announced that Rodon would undergo Tommy John surgery. Rodon would miss not only the rest of the 2019 season but most of the 2020 season as well. Suddenly his future on the South Side of Chicago was in serious doubt. Rodon returned in time to begin the truncated season but made it through just two starts. Chicago once again placed him on the IL, this time with shoulder soreness. He returned to make two relief appearances at the end of the season, but there were once again major question marks heading into 2021.
Rodon beat out Reynaldo Lopez for the final spot in the White Sox rotation. He began the year by shutting the Seattle Mariners out for five innings in his first start. Rodon then made national headlines by tossing a no-hitter against Cleveland. Though clubs are seemingly handing out no-nos like the proverbial Oprah Winfrey giveaway this year, the feat was impressive nonetheless. Even more so considering Rodon had not gone more than six innings in a game since 2018. Rodon has rolled along ever since. He has won all five of his starts and has an 0.58 ERA. He has also struck out 44 batters in just 31 innings. More importantly, his fastball velocity was not only above his 2019-2020 levels, but it was also much faster than it has ever been:
The added velocity has been a major weapon for Rodon. His four-seamer is currently the most valuable pitch in the Major Leagues per Statcast’s run value metric. Fantasy managers could not ask for much more, especially given that Rodon was a waiver-wire add in most leagues and formats. So, here comes the part where I rank him super high in my rest of season rankings and tell you to hold tight going forward, right? Well, not exactly…
Can Carlos Keep It Up?
So far this season, Rodon has faced Seattle, Cleveland (twice), Detroit, and Kansas City. That is an incredibly easy schedule out of the gate for a starting pitcher. Those four teams were among the five lowest-scoring American League clubs last year, and only the Royals are averaging more than four runs per game so far in 2021. Rodon will have to face the Minnesota Twins sooner rather than later (like twice in the next 10 days, if the current schedule holds) as well as some of the other potent lineups throughout the league.
I also have some concerns regarding Rodon’s rest of season outlook from a durability standpoint. Rodon has thrown a total of 41.2 Major League innings over two years before this season. I cannot imagine a scenario in which Rodon finishes the regular season with more than 160-180 innings pitched, particularly for a team with playoff aspirations. Then again, Tony LaRussa and his, um, old-school approach to managing may afford Rodon a little more leeway, provided his arm doesn’t fall off in the process. Ultimately, Rodon is a sell-high for me. I truly hope I am wrong about that. Rodon has shown tremendous perseverance over the past few seasons. And I am rooting for him to dominate for another 150-plus innings this season. I just think there is too much risk involved, and his value is basically at an all-time high right now.
Casa de Walsh
I remember doing some research before the 2020 fantasy baseball season and noting that Jared Walsh hit .325 with 36 home runs in AAA in 2019. I more or less dismissed it as Walsh benefiting from the friendly confines of the Pacific Coast League. Walsh made the 2020 Opening Day roster for the Los Angeles Angels but made little impact over the first half. However, the Angels gave Walsh full-time at-bats in September and he immediately paid dividends. Walsh hit .337 for the month, highlighted by a 14-game hitting streak. Included in that streak was a stretch where Walsh homered in six of seven games. It was arguably the most immediate impact a Walsh has made on the greater Los Angeles area since Brandon and Brenda burst onto the Beverly Hills scene some three decades earlier. Still, questions remained – could Walsh keep it going for a full season?
The answer so far seems to be an emphatic, “Yes!”. Walsh is hitting over .300 with 25 RBI in 28 games thus far in 2021. In a lineup where all eyes and attention are usually fixated on Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, Walsh has been a steady source of production. Any potential concerns about playing time are completely out the window now that the Angels have optioned future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. I have continued to inch Walsh up my rest of season rankings for several weeks, and the time may be fast approaching to stick him inside my top 100 players. I am a tad hesitant because his Statcast metrics do not necessarily jump off the page. But it hard to argue with the body of work that Walsh has put together for the better part of four seasons now, dating back to the Minor Leagues.
Too Lowe on Nate?
Whereas I at least considered Jared Walsh fantasy-relevant a couple of months ago, I cannot say the same for Nate Lowe. I simply did not see a clear path for a full-time role in Texas, and Lowe had some major holes in his swing that needed fixing. Lowe had struck out in nearly a third of his career plate appearances in two seasons as a Tampa Bay Ray. But Lowe seems to be rejuvenated in Texas. Lowe has seven home runs and 25 RBI with a very respectable .273 batting average. He is just one home run and one RBI shy of leading all first basemen in both categories. Lowe has also chipped in four stolen bases, which leads the position. Lowe trails only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in fantasy value for first basemen so far this year.
While I do not expect him to finish the year as the second-best first baseman in fantasy, there is a lot to like about what Lowe has done so far this season. He has cut his strikeout rate by nearly 10 percent. If he can continue to keep his strikeout rate below 30 percent, that would mitigate a lot of the concerns regarding his batting average. That is not the only adjustment Lowe seems to have made. Lowe has used the whole field to his advantage so far in 2021. He has pulled the ball just 25 percent of the time while hitting the ball to the left side 38.6 percent of the time. This improved approach keeps defenses honest and prevents Lowe from facing a ton of shifts. His wOBA (weighted on-base average) is a robust .404 when facing shifts this season.
I admit I was late on Nate this season. And truth be told, I might still be a bit lower than I should be on the Rangers’ first baseman. I currently have him just outside the top 100 hitters in my rest of season rankings. But I am coming around. I do think the steals are a bit fluky, and I would not expect him to steal more than a handful of bases the rest of the way. But I think a .250 batting average with 20 homers is a realistic expectation going forward. That will certainly make Lowe a solid start at either first base or the corner infield spot in fantasy leagues.
Rest of Season Fantasy Baseball Rankings
For more help, check out Eric Cross’s latest Fantasy Baseball Waiver Wire column.
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