According to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, Hector Rondon will not be receiving a contract offer from the Cubs for 2018. A Rule 5 pick from the Indians in 2012, Rondon initially provided the Cubs with a tremendous amount of value. But after earning $5.8 million last season, and with a projected $6.2 million (remember, arb raises are often based more on seniority as performance) salary for 2018, this move doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
The focal point of a FanGraphs article titled “Hector Rondon Is Breaking FIP,” times have changed for the once-dominant Cubs reliever. After aggregating most of the Cubs 9th innings as the unequivocal closer prior to Aroldis Chapman’s acquisition, Rondon has been a shell of his former self over much of the time since.
Late in 2016, the high-leverage reliever was placed on the disabled list with triceps soreness, an injury that would essentially sideline him for the rest of the season. Though he did return for the playoff’s, Rondon’s arm troubles lingered and forced Joe Maddon to refrain from using him during the World Series run.
The injuries particularly neutralized his devastating slider. Once he returned from injury in 2016, the same pitch that cemented his role as a top-tier reliever was suddenly mashed by opponents. In April and May of 2016, not one batter had an extra-base hit off Rondon’s slider, but the majority of hits after injury went for extra bases. You can see the difference illustrated by the month-to-month ISO graph below.
Rondon’s high slider ISO trend continued into the early parts of the 2017 season, leading many to question whether the Cubs should even continue to employ such a volatile pitcher. But in the middle of the season, he began to show flashes of the same nasty stuff upon which Maddon had previously relied heavily. For example, starting in July of last year, opponents were no longer able to hit his slider with any authority. That is, until another elbow injury in September halted his encouraging progress.
Rondon’s arm problems might’ve affected his ability to pitch comfortably. Or maybe they just caused the righty to alter his mechanics. For instance, during his dominant stretch between 2015 and ’16, the horizontal release point of Rondon’s slider was relatively stable, rarely deviating from month to month and hovering around -2 feet. In 2017, however, that release point eventually inched closer to his body, which is shown by the higher dots on the graph below.
These things happen. All of a sudden, a dominant reliever can suddenly lose feel for his pitches. We’ve seen it with Justin Wilson. The memory of Carlos Marmol still gives Cubs fans nightmares, too. As for Rondon, it might have been the triceps and elbow injuries that made him lose feel of his slider. Maybe it’s just a fluke.
Regardless of what caused the drop-off in performance, the Cubs felt that the money could be better spent on another reliever. And with options like Brandon Morrow, Jake McGee, and Bryan Shaw on the market for what is expected to be only a little more than what Rondon was projected to earn, you can see why they’d feel that way.