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Jorge Rondon's Fastball & How Things Have Changed

Jorge Rondon was added to the Cards' 40-man roster. He apparently throws hard, but so does everyone else in the farm system these days.

Derek Lilliquist sees velocity in his future. Also, maybe hamburgers.
Derek Lilliquist sees velocity in his future. Also, maybe hamburgers.
Dilip Vishwanat

The Cardinals added Jorge Rondon to their 40-man roster. This is old news, but I thought it warranted a post since the Cardinals valued Rondon enough to spend a roster spot on him. Not much has been written about Rondon, but he has a pretty typical arsenal for a right-handed relief pitcher.

Baseball America's Matt Eddy reported that Rondon "tops out near 97 mph and backs it up with a nice mid-80s slider," while Derrick Goold described him to have harder stuff: "Rondon touched 100 mph with his fastball and averaged more than 95 mph regularly."

Jorge Rondon's Minor League Career*
2006 VSL SLN 15.1 - - - - 6.46 -
2007 VSL SLN 62.2 - - 48% - 4.74 4.47
2008 JC 22.1 20.6% 7.8% 56% .386 4.03 3.24
2008 QC 8.1 14.3% 8.6% 67% .423 3.24 3.44
2009 PMB 16.1 13.4% 12.2% 33% .383 7.71 4.49
2009 QC 52.2 16.2% 5.7% 46% .308 4.27 4.38
2010 QC 108.2 15.0% 12.8% 58% .331 5.30 4.67
2011 PMB 26.2 22.9% 11.0% 43.6% .364 4.05 3.13
2011 SPR 37.1 16.0% 17.6% 49.2% .336 9.16 6.04
2012 SPR 34.0 21.1% 10.6% 49.5% .290 3.44 3.41
2012 MEM 15 31.3% 12.5% 50.0% .314 3.60 3.00

*Numbers obtained from FanGraphs, Minor League Central, & First Inning.

Rondon has been in the Cardinals' system ever since he pitched in the Venezuelan league in 2006 and 2007 when he split time between starting and relieving. In those two seasons combined, Rondon struck out 39 batters in 68 innings, but he was only 17 and 18 years old. He was promoted to Quad Cities in 2009 and 2010, started 29 of 39 games, but then became a full time reliever in 2011. In high-A, he benefitted from this move as he struck out more batters than innings pitched for the first time (9.11 K/9) but then encountered trouble in double-A Springfield where he showed a diminished strikeout rate, skyrocketing walk rate, and an unsustainably horrific strand rate (47.8%).

The Cardinals challenged Rondon in 2012 by leaving him at the same level of competition, and he rose to the occasion by improving his strikeout rate and regaining some control. Rondon also enjoyed a normalized strand rate (74%) and 46 point swing in BABIP (.336 to .290). After 34 innings, he was promoted to triple-A Memphis and looked even better there. Although he still struggled with control, he compensated by flashing a career best strikeout rate (31.3%) that ranked second on the team to Trevor Rosenthal (only counting those with 10+ innings).

While it's nice to celebrate Rondon's semi-breakout season, it's also important to remind ourselves that the drastic improvements were only sustained over 15 innings. My guess is that we would find similar stretches of performance if we combed through the rest of his minor league career, but that's a pretty tedious task with minor leaguers since there isn't a quick and easy website tool that spits out such inquiries.

The good news is that his transition to triple-A was much smoother than his debut at double-A. It's also reassuring to note that he just turned 24 in September, and that's a reasonable age for triple-A. The other good news is that Rondon will have plenty of time at Memphis to convince us that he's for real. For the past week or so, I've been thinking about his standing in the organization and how there are just so many pitching prospects ahead of him.

The following tweet from Keith Law sums up my sentiment pretty well:

I'm glad the Cardinals liked Rondon enough to protect him from this season's rule 5 draft, but maybe we'd be more excited about his supposedly impressive velocity if the Cardinals' system wasn't already loaded with a gazillion prospects already sitting between 95-100 mph. Here's a list from the top of my head: Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Carlos Martinez, Eduardo Sanchez, and Maikel Cleto. Shelby Miller can reach back for that kind of velocity, and Michael Wacha did the same in his 2012 relief stint. And this Derrick Goold piece from July suggests that even more could be on the way as the system has prioritized maximizing prospects' velocity potential.

I remember a time when I looked upon the Tigers' tandem of Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya with envy as they were averaging 93.9 mph and 98.6 mph on their respective fastballs in 2006. Jorge Sosa owned the hardest fastball in the Cardinals' bullpen that season. It was a whopping 92.7 mph, or good enough to rank 10th in this year's bullpen. Faster probably isn't necessarily better, but it is more exciting and I, for one, welcome the influx of young flame throwers.