Thanks to an offseason acquisition, the Astros have been able to navigate the rough waters of closer upheaval.
On December 15th, 2017, the Astros signed former Cubs closer Hector Rondon to a two-year contract worth $8.5 million to provide depth in the bullpen. Fast forward to August 7th, 2018, and Rondon looks like a steal for Houston…as the club’s closer. Life comes at you fast, am I right?
At this point, we’re all familiar with the circumstances surrounding the previous closer, Ken Giles, and his departure from the Astros. The same goes with the controversial acquisition of Roberto Osuna, who may take over the closer role sooner or later. Through it all though, Rondon has been the steady hand that the Astros have needed in 2018.
Since his first save on June 6th, Rondon has posted a 2.70 ERA and 2.15 FIP over 20 innings. If you’d eliminate his four-run outing against the Rangers on July 28th, he would have a 0.95 ERA over 19 innings since June 6th. For the season, Rondon has thrown 40 2/3 innings with a 2.21 ERA and 2.10 FIP. If you’d convert his WAR to an actual dollar figure, Rondon provided $9.9 million in value based on the going rate of a win in the open market. By the way, the Astros are only paying him $4 million in 2018 followed by $4.5 million next season.
In terms of his actual pitches, Rondon’s arsenal of a four-seam fastball, sinker, slider, and changeup has remained more-or-less the same. It is worth pointing out that the changeup has been used more frequently in 2018 (4.4%) compared to the past two seasons (1.9% in 2016; 2.6% in 2017). The velocity across the board has seen slight upticks in speed this season, which is encouraging. Rondon has also tweaked the horizontal and vertical movement of his pitches, more notably his changeup and slider. While I am not sure if these are changes that the Astros or Rondon implemented, I’d like to think it was a combination of the two parties. Overall, you cannot argue with the 2018 results from Rondon, especially in light of his 4.24 ERA and 4.12 FIP showing in 2017.
Like I mentioned earlier, Rondon has been the steady hand that the Astros needed. When he signed with Houston last December, Rondon was viewed as a veteran who could fulfill multiple roles in the bullpen. The strikeout rate in his last two seasons for Chicago (29.0% in 2016; 29.1% in 2017) were intriguing, and he has backed that confidence up with a 31.1% strikeout rate this season. Rondon has simply excelled in his role, especially in light of the tumultuous summer surrounding Giles and later Osuna.
The key question going forward for Rondon will be his role with Osuna, the former Blue Jays closer, now in the mix. Incidentally, Rondon went through a similar situation back in 2016 when the Cubs acquired the controversial Aroldis Chapman, who, like Osuna, recently served a suspension under the league’s domestic violence policy. At this time though, I would be surprised if the Astros completely remove Rondon from ninth-inning situations. How he and Osuna are used in the coming weeks may be based more on matchup and the particular leverage at hand.
Regardless of his role, Rondon has been a key reason for the Astros success in 2018. Between the results and his veteran presence, he has definitely justified the front office’s faith in him. At this point, you have to roll with him until proven otherwise.