Hector Rondon: Flash in the Pan or Flash in the Pen?

Hector Rondon was taken (more like stolen) from the Cleveland Indians in the 2012 Rule 5 draft. At one time, Rondon was a highly-regarded pitching prospect for the Indians, but he had some arm issues and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 before fracturing his elbow in 2011.

Those issues gave the Indians enough of a reason to not protect Rondon during the Rule 5 draft. They also made the Cubs the big winner because, even though they may not have realized it then, they might have acquired their closer of the future on that glorious day in December of 2012.

At 6’3′ and 180 pounds the 26-year-old Venezuelan has a lean but sturdy frame. He features a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, a slider, and a rarely-used cutter. Both fastballs touch 95 consistently, with his slider and cutter both hovering around 90. Let’s have a look at the pitch values of his repertoire:

The two- and four-seamers were worth 8.3 runs above average, so the heater in general was a very solid pitch for Rondon this past season. His slider graded out at 4.2 runs above average, with the cutter at 0.5 runs below average. It is important to state that these numbers are pure hindsight and are in no way a prediction of the future performance of these pitches.

The numbers are merely used to provide the lens through which I will view Rondon’s 2014 season.  Based on the numbers, he had 3 above-average pitches going for him with another that was average or just a tick below. That is a tasty arsenal for a closer to have, especially one that is cost-controlled by the Cubs until 2019.

The other part of Rondon’s game that jumps out is the fact that he keeps the ball in the park.  This past season he gave up just 2 HRs, which breaks down to .28 per 9 innings. Rondon also set new career-best marks for K’s/9 (8.95) and BB/9 (2.13).  All season long, Rondon showed excellent control and a propensity to not beat himself by giving up the long ball.

Rondon did blow 4 saves, but those were usually the same thing time in and time out…a bloop single here or an error there; over a whole season things like that are going to happen. The most encouraging thing was that he didn’t walk too many batters or give up the big hits when it mattered.  His HR/FB (home run to fly ball percentage) of 4.1% of was terrific and he finished the season 29 out of 33 in the save department for an 88% save percentage.

This season was no fluke either, statistically speaking. Rondon’s FIP (which measures what his ERA should be independent of the fielders he had behind him) was 2.26, which is even better than his 2.42 actual ERA.  His ERA- (which is adjusted for ball park and average of other pitchers) is a robust 65. Average would be 100, so, statistically speaking, Rondon’s ERA was 35% better than a league-average ERA. That ranked better than Adam Wainwright, Cole Hamels, and even Jake Arrieta.

Rondon finished the season with 1.6 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a performance Fangraphs valuates at a salary of about $8.6 million on the free-agent market.  The Cubs, however, paid only $514,000 for it and, as I said above, Rondon is under team control until 2019. This past season was one of greatness for Rondon and I believe he should be considered the closer for 2015 and beyond.

Of course, I reserve the right to come back and say “oops, just kidding” if he struggles next season. But I don’t think he will. I think Rondon is a flash in the pen!

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