Chicago Cubs: Hector Rondon made great strides this year
Despite his late-season struggles against the Cardinals, Chicago Cubs closer Hector Rondon took another step forward this year, solidifying the bullpen.
It’s been some time since the Cubs had a bona-fide ninth-inning man who didn’t inspire gut-wrenching pain and content nervousness. The memories of Carlos Marmol and the rides we all unwillingly went on with the erratic right-hander are still fresh in the minds of Cubs’ fans everywhere.
But, for the most part, Hector Rondon has made the ninth inning a lot easier to stomach.
In 2015, the hard-throwing right-hander set a new career-high with 30 saves, finishing 47 contests for the third-place, 97-win Chicago Cubs. He dropped his earned run average from 2.42 to 1.67 from ’14 to this season, while posting a 1.000 WHIP – also a career-best.
After just two seasons as the Chicago closer, Rondon ranks eighth on the franchise’s all-time list in saves (59) – and by the end of the 2016 campaign, he should take the fifth-place spot from fan-favorite Ryan Dempster (87).
Rondon was particularly sharp at home, evidenced by his 1.19 ERA at Wrigley Field in 37 2/3 innings of work. Of course, the highlight of his season has to be considered his masterful tightrope walk out of a bases-loaded, no-out situation at home against the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants – which seemed to signal a turning point for Chicago.
In the second-half, the 27-year-old turned it up a notch as the Chicago Cubs tried to run down the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. Despite that attempt ultimately being unsuccessful, it was through no fault of Hector Rondon.
His earned run average through the bulk of the summer was outstanding – coming in at 0.00, 0.63 and 0.82 in June, July and August, respectively, after being reinstated as the team’s closer after losing the job earlier in the season.
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The only thing keeping Rondon from earning an ‘A’ in his end-of-year grade out is his struggle with putting away the final out of an inning. With two away and the Cubs’ closer on the mound, opposing batters posted a .278/.314/.454 slash-line, which is good for a .767 OPS.
By contrast, with one away, opponents’ OPS was.384 and with nobody out, .508. For Rondon to take that final step from a ‘good’ closer to the elite level of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller or Mark Melancon, he’ll need to show the ability to polish off opponents in a 1-2-3 fashion, something he struggled to do at times this year.
If he can take that final step in 2016, he’ll do a lot of the Chicago Cubs’ work for them ahead of the trade deadline next July, eliminating a need to deal for a solid closer. Hector Rondon has all the makings of a top-five closer in the league – and this season is evidence of that.