Let’s be honest here, you are worried about Hector Rondon.
Almost every recent televised appearance in Spring Training or the World Baseball Classic has shown the former Cubs closer getting shelled. Type “fix” and “Hector Rondon” into a Google search and you’ll be inundated by several articles and comments regarding the Venezuelan reliever’s struggles this spring.
But those games didn’t matter, right?
In this post, we’re going to compare the PitcHFX data from Rondon’s 2016 Spring Training performance to this recently concluded preseason. We’ll particularly look at release point variance, velocity, and pitch movement. Although there are similarities between the two sets, there are stark differences, too.
Release Point Variance
I just bought MLB The Show 17 and immediately pitched with Jon Lester. While I normally would slaughter all you readers who play the game, my rust wouldn’t permit me to pitch accurately. I even threw at Kolten Wong’s head by accident. “Accident,” I tell myself, though I think I could see Mike Matheny smiling in the dugout. Baseball video games are incredibly lifelike these days.
After a long period of dormancy, it’s necessary to re-tune the neural circuits involved in any motor action, particularly those that are more fine in nature. In other words, pitchers’ mechanics aren’t purely physical. They need to be mentally recalibrated as well.
This is especially true for Rondon, whose data from both the 2016 and 2017 exhibition seasons suggest he goes through a reboot phase. We see that illustrated by the two release point graphs below.
The bars that go through each dot represent the degree of variance in monthly release point. Take notice of the much wider bars in 3/16 (last March) as compared to those representing his regular season data. As the season rolls along, the high-leverage reliever becomes more consistent.
Also pay attention to the bar-width similarities between 3/16 and 3/17. One notable difference between the two sets of data, however, is the increase in vertical release point variance on the slider. Rondon has seemingly had trouble finding his sweet spot when throwing sliders. Despite that difference, the takeaway here is that Rondon was rusty in 2016 as well.
There’s no difference between Rondon’s year-over-year velocity, which indicates that there’s nothing amiss with his health. We can take solace in this fact.
This is the part of the post where the data jumps off the screen and slaps you in the face.
Below, we can see the horizontal movement of Rondon’s fourseam and slider. Last spring, both exhibited sharp movement reminiscent of regular season outings. Yet, in this recent Spring Training, Rondon’s slider appears to be three inches flatter and his fourseam fastball has three more inches of tailing movement.
At the same time, Rondon’s vertical movement looks about the same. There’s practically no difference in the dropping action of his fastball and slider.
Hector Rondon was rusty in Spring Training last year as well. The reliever’s vertical and horizontal release points have been much more inconsistent when compared to the regular season. Rondon’s velocity has remained pretty much the same. His slider and fourseam movement is noticeably different, though, with the former three inches flatter.
Should we be concerned?
I don’t know. Projecting a full season with only 69 spring pitches isn’t a very nice thing to do. I’m not overly worried about his release point or velocity, but the pitch movement numbers do cause me to raise an eyebrow just slightly.