Hector Rondon and Jake Arrieta share some interesting similarities. Of course, it’s not the beard, or the splits or even the mustache pajamas [Brett: That we know of.]. Instead it’s their unusual career trajectory that has allowed them to peak with the Chicago Cubs.
Arrieta, of course, came to the Chicago Cubs in the summer of 2013 (at the age of 27) in a July trade with the Baltimore Orioles (you’ve heard this bedtime story before). After that, he had his first great season in 2014 (though largely unrecognized around baseball), and an NL Cy Young Award winning season in 2015 (1.77 ERA) that thrust him into the national spotlight, and has been off to another great start here in 2016 (1.13 ERA).
Hector Rondon, on the other hand, was selected by the Cubs in the 2012 Rule 5 Draft, and made the opening day roster in 2013. After that, he had his first great season in 2014 (though largely unrecognized around baseball), a really fantastic year in 2015 (1.67 ERA) that thrust him into the national spotlight, and has been off to another great start here in 2016 (0.69 ERA). But that’s where the similarities diverge a bit, and in surprising ways.
Although Arrieta has gotten off to a great start in 2016, it hasn’t been quite as good as Rondon’s.
In fact, Rondon has been so good that he’s broken the advanced pitching metric FIP and FanGraphs was all, “Well I guess we have to say something!”
First, a little background. A lot of people are familiar with the statistic FIP, but many aren’t. So, school’s in session for the next, say, 1-3 sentences. According to FanGraphs, FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) “measures what a player’s ERA would look like over a given period of time if the pitcher were to have experienced league average results on balls in play and league average timing.” In other words, it tries to recalibrate a pitcher’s ERA to assume everyone got the benefit of the exact same defense and good/bad luck on where a ball in the field of play happens to go. Pitchers can’t control those things, so FIP strips them away to try and give a better representation of the pitcher’s individual performance.
Okay, so Hector Rondon already has a 0.69 ERA in his short start to the 2016 season, which is obviously about as good as it gets. BUT, his FIP, so what his ERA would like if it were normalized along with every other pitcher, is … -0.14. You read that correctly. Hector Rondon has a negative FIP. When you step up the plate against Rondon, he’s been so good you actually have to give some runs to the Cubs.
Well, obviously that’s not true, which is why August Fagerstrom is writing that Hector Rondon Is Breaking FIP, and why you should read it.
Fagerstrom openly acknowledges that, yes, Rondon is breaking the run estimating statistic that is FIP (because of the adjustments to the stat to make it look like the ERA scale), but that there are some caveats, as there tends to be. For one, Rondon has thrown just 13 innings this year. And although that’s a fine amount for a reliever at this point of the season, with a larger sample, his statistics will more than likely normalize. Also, in Fagerstrom’s own words, “he’s not throwing any harder, he hasn’t added any new pitches, he hasn’t generated any soft contact, and his BABIP is .182.”
So, yeah, he’s probably getting a teeny, tiny bit lucky.
But with that said, Rondon has still been truly fantastic. In Fagerstrom’s estimation, Rondon has probably found a bit better command in the early going, allowing him to work more on the edges of the strike zone than around the middle. Or, perhaps, he’s discovered a way to better hide his pitches, because batters are swinging less than ever despite the fact that he’s throwing strikes more than ever (second-highest called strike rate in baseball). [Brett: Whoa.]
And like Jake Arrieta in 2016 (or 2015, for that matter), we know this isn’t coming *completely* out of no where.
As Fagerstrom relays, over the past calendar year, Hector Rondon has been one of the best relievers in all of baseball. He might not have the name recognition of a Craig Kimbrel, Wade Davis, or Kenley Jansen, but he sure has the statistics to back it up. Since May of 2015 (one calendar year), Rondon’s 1.17 ERA is the second best among relievers, as is his fWAR.
But let’s focus more on 2016.
So far, Rondon has thrown 13.0 innings, amassing a 0.69 ERA (-0.14 FIP). That, we know. But what you might not be aware of is that he’s striking out an ungodly 48.8% of batters faces and has yet to walk a single batter (0.00 BB%). And although you could argue he’s gotten lucky with his BABIP (.182), his strand rate (75.0%) is exactly in line with career numbers and he’s inducing a really healthy amount of ground balls (54.5%).
So far, Hector Rondon has been worth 0.7 fWAR in 2016. If he throws the number of innings in 2016 as he did last season (70) at this pace, he’ll finish with a laughably high 3.7 fWAR as a reliever. I’m here to tell you right now that that won’t happen, but that doesn’t mean he can’t continue to be extremely good.
Hector Rondon is the shut down closer Cubs fans have been looking for for years.