Chicago Cubs: What’s wrong with Hector Rondon?

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 05: Hector Rondon
CHICAGO, IL - MAY 05: Hector Rondon /

The Chicago Cubs’ former Rule 5 Draft pick looked poised to have a very successful career. Then, the team made a trade for a top-tier closer that changed everything.

Very seldom do Rule 5 draft picks actually work out. Hector Rondon is the except though. The 29 year old right hander was a 2012 Rule 5 Draft pick by the Chicago Cubs and has been in the league since 2013.

Having been decently successful in 2013 (2-1, 4.47 ERA) in 45 appearances, the Chicago Cubs moved him into the closer’s role in 2014.

Rondon excelled in the closer’s role saving 59 out of 67 games in 2014 and 2015.  2015 was by far his best year, when he went 6-4 with a 1.67 ERA in 72 games. The Cubs had their closer of the future and likewise he went into 2016 as the stopper.

Once again, Rondon excelled. In 37 appearances, Rondon had a 1.95 ERA and 18 saves to go along with 48 strikeouts and just five walks. He was everything that you wanted as a closer. High strikeout, low walks guy who can overpower you with his upper 90s fastball. But then a trade in the end of July changed everything.

Rondon’s Struggles

While his numbers were pretty impressive from 2014-2016, he did have his share of struggles. He actually did lose the closer’s job a few times during that stretch but ultimately won it back. He was their best option to close during those years for the Cubs, until July 25, 2016 rolled around.

The Cubs went out and acquired one of the best closers in the game in Aroldis Chapman. Chapman’s fastball consistenly sits over 100 mph and is one of the most unhittable relievers in the game. With the Cubs bullpen always being a question mark, the front office wanted some security for the playoff run.

While that helped the Cubs win the World Series (and they likely don’t win the World Series without Chapman), it did not help Hector Rondon.

Rondon Injury

Rondon was removed from the closer’s role through no fault of his own. It was probably hard for him to accept a set-up role, especially since he was successful as the closer.  But he’s a team player and took it well.

In August 2016, Rondon suffered a triceps injury in his right arm. Missing nearly a month, Rondon came back and was never the same. He finished the 2016 year with a 7.71 ERA in 14 innings pitched, striking out just 10 and opponents batting .339 of him.

He was rarely used during the playoffs and clearly Maddon didn’t have much faith in him.

Coming into the 2017, it’s been much the same for Rondon. Rondon is 4-1 with a 5.03 ERA in 51 appearances. While he does have 57 strikeouts, he has walked 20, the highest of his career so far.

Rondon has had flashes of brilliance this year. After a rough spring, he had an 0.96 ERA in April and the Cubs hoped he was back. But then the wheels came off. In an early May game against the Yankees, Rondon served up a go-ahead three run homer to Brett Gardner with two outs and two strikes in the ninth. Ever since then, he hasn’t been the same.

What Went Wrong

Rondon has had a few more nice stretches at times but he has been far from consistent this year. It’s hard to say what went wrong for Rondon. Did he lose confidence after being demoted from the closer’s role? Did the triceps injury hurt his arm more than the Cubs thought it did? It’s really hard to say. His velocity continues to remain in the upper 90s at times, but Rondon has struggled with consistency.

One of Rondon’s biggest problems this year is walks. His 3.7 walks per nine innings is the highest of his career by a wide margin. He’s also allowed 10 home runs, the most of his career as well. His 4.76 FIP and 1.36 WHIP are also the highest of his career. So clearly, the numbers aren’t there for Rondon this year. They haven’t been since the Chapman trade (a 5.47 ERA in 64 innings since then).

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The Cubs now have to decide if this is the new norm for Rondon or if he can get back to his old self. To me, it’s not a coincidence that he hasn’t been the same since the Chapman trade. The triceps injury probably had an effect on him too. But if he can’t get it together, the Cubs might be best to move on. We can’t afford to have him serve up three solo shots in one inning or game winning blasts with two outs in the ninth.