Last year as a Rule 5 pick, the Chicago Cubs did their best to hide Hector Rondon in the bullpen. The club didn’t have much as far as expectations as a team, so Rondon was used in situations that would give him the opportunity to succeed. He finished the 2013 season with a 2-1 record, and posted a 4.77 ERA. Entering this season, the right-hander was seen as a late-inning guy, possibly a set-up role along with Pedro Strop. That’s the beauty of baseball. It lends itself well to stories like Rondon’s.
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In the offseason, the Cubs signed veteran Jose Veras to be their closer. I think, by this point, we are well aware of how that went. So just a short time into the season, the Cubs needed to find a replacement, even if just on a short-term basis. There were a few options. The most logical at the time seemed to be Strop. I mean, the Cubs considered Strop for the role at the end of the 2013 season, which led to Kevin Gregg‘s blow out with the front office, and then his eventual departure from Chicago.
But the Cubs instead decided to go with Rondon. He had started to show promise toward the end of the season in 2013, and he really didn’t have a defined role within the bullpen. And so began the ‘Rondon as closer’ experiment.
From April 11 ( His first save) to Aug. 10, Rondon had his ups-and-downs as a closer. He posted a 3-4 record, with a 3.76 ERA in that span. His ERA was a bit inflated due to two bad outings; one a non-save situation against the Reds on June 23 in which he gave up five runs. But as the Cubs started playing better baseball, much of it was attributed to the ‘spark’ the rookies coming up were providing. While that may true, Rondon’s contribution at the end of games can’t be overlooked.
From August 12, when Rondon began his consecutive save streak, to now, he has been near lights out. He’s 1-0 with a 0.50 ERA in that stretch. He’s converted 12-for-12 in save opportunities, and been very efficient in doing so. He’s faced only 52 batters in 15 innings, seven over the minimum. He’s walked only two while striking out 12. So he’s not making them interesting, a la Mitch Williams back in the day. He’s simply getting the job done.
As teams begin to find themselves a contender, or in the discussion, many times they’re in search of a bona fide closer. And in the free agent market, it’s very easy to overpay for a pitcher like that, and not get good returns. Great closers tend to not leave their teams. Their value can’t be overstated.
The Cubs may have gotten ahead of the game with Rondon. He’s got a great fastball, 97 and up, with a tight slider. But he also has shown great control in limiting the number of walks, which was the Achilles heel of Cubs’ closers over the last few seasons.