Should the Chicago Cubs be worried about Hector Rondon’s struggles in the WBC?
Hector Rondon had a solid season for the Chicago Cubs in 2016, but tailed off in the second-half. The right-hander appeared in 54 games during the regular season, and logged 51 total innings pitched. On the mound, Rondon struck out 58 batters and issued just eight walks on his way to recording a 3.53 ERA and 0.98 WHIP.
While he enjoyed success in much of 2016, Rondon suffered a triceps injury in August that landed him on the 15-day disabled list. At the time of the injury, Rondon was sporting an earned run average south of 3.00 and had recorded 18 saves.
After injury, wheels seemed to fall off
Rondon returned to action on September 6 against the Milwaukee Brewers and gave up one earned run and two hits in one inning of work. While he did back up that effort with four scoreless appearances, Rondon ended the month of September with an 8.53 ERA for that month, driving his overall ERA from 1.70 at the beginning of August to 3.24 on September 28.
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The hard-throwing right-hander also struggled in his only regular season appearance in October. He gave up three hits and two earned runs in a 27 pitch inning against the Cincinnati Reds on October 1.
As the regular season ended and the postseason began, Rondon and the Cubs set their sights on a World Series title. Rondon himself was not very instrumental in helping the Cubs obtain their goal of winning the Championship as he pitched just six total innings in the postseason.
In those six innings of work, Rondon scattered three runs and eight hits while he struck out five batters and walked one.
Even though Rondon rebounded some in postseason play, his numbers still dropped off after his injury in August.
After a short offseason of enjoying a World Series title and basking in the glory of ending a 108-year championship drought, Cubs fans may have forgotten about Rondon’s struggles. Those struggles would have continued to be forgotten about if not for Rondon’s struggles in the World Baseball Classic.
Joining Team Venezuela, things don’t go as planned
Rondon decided to pitch for team Venezuela in this year’s WBC, but things did not pan out for the 29-year-old Rondon. On March 15, against the United States, Team Venezuela and manager Omar Vizquel called upon Rondon in the eighth inning.
The former Cubs closer proceeded to give up five hits and three runs while also issuing two home runs. That effort by Rondon gave the United States a 4-2 advantage. Team USA would eventually win by that same score.
Three days later against Puerto Rico, Rondon came into the game in the ninth with his team getting blown out 11-2. Rondon gave up two more runs on two hits over an inning of work. He also walked a batter and issued a home run.
Rondon was quoted on twitter after his shaky WBC performance against Puerto Rico.
What to expect in the upcoming season
Every Cubs fan is wondering how well Rondon will bounce back from a rough end to 2016 and a horrendous World Baseball Classic showing. Of course, that can not be determined until the Cubs actually kick off the season on April 3 against the St. Louis Cardinals. What can be determined is that Rondon will likely have a new role in the bullpen.
The Cubs have new additions to their bullpen that include: Wade Davis, Brian Duensing, and Koji Uehara. Davis and Uehara are the most intriguing additions to the bullpen this offseason. Davis was acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Royals and figures to be the Cubs primary closer in 2017.
Uehara has experience in the closer’s role, but will see some action in the setup role. That does not mean that Koji will not close from time to time, but Davis will get most of the save opportunities if he remains healthy.
With these new additions, Rondon will be relegated to sixth and seventh-inning duty. That means Rondon will have to compete with a slew of other Cubs relievers for appearances in 2017.
Expect to see a decrease in appearances for Rondon in 2017. He appeared in 64 and 72 games, respectively, in 2014 and 2015. In both of those seasons, Rondon recorded at least 29 saves and struck out over 60 batters. Of course, Rondon’s saves total will drop in 2017 but so will his innings. Hector’s best season came in 2015 when he threw 70 innings and recorded 30 saves. In those 70 innings, Rondon struck out 69 batters compared to just 19 walks and had a 1.67 ERA.
Rondon will receive around 45-50 appearances in 2017. That is subject to change considering the injury history of Wade Davis.
In an article by Patrick Mooney for CSNChicago, Joe Maddon was quoted saying this about the Rondon situation:
"“He said he feels great, and that’s all I want to hear. “We’ll fine-tune the location of his pitches, because the other day he said he had great stuff. It was just in a bad spot, (and) he knows that, so he’s very accountable about the other night. He feels like he knows what he needs to do to fix it. I love that. I like the upbeat nature.”"
The fact that Rondon is in a good place about his performance in the WBC is a good sign. It means that he knows there is work to be done in order to be ready for Opening Day.
The 2017 season approaches
As players from all around the league finish preparing for the regular season, Rondon will continue to work on his craft. In the same article by Patrick Mooney, Rondon said this:
"“Everything is working good, my arm, my velocity. I just missed a couple pitches, and that’s it.”"
It sounds like Rondon is healthy and good to go, he just needs to work on his control during the remainder of spring.
Even with the new faces in the bullpen, Rondon will still carry an important role in 2017. That means he will need to shake off the rust and get back to his 2015 self.