FOX Sports MLB Analyst
After the mega-deals handed out to Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander, the last bona fide ace available on the free agent market is finally off the board, as lefty Carlos Rodón has agreed to a six-year, $162 million contract of dollars with the New York Yankees.
While Rodón lacks the hardware and long track record of excellence that deGrom and Verlander boast, he has a strong case for another title that should help explain why he was able to command such a contract Giant: He is the best starter in baseball. Put another way: If you had to win a game tomorrow, which lefty would you give the ball to?
Throughout the 2010s, that question wasn’t much of a debate: It was Clayton Kershaw, and then everyone else, even alongside the great careers of guys like David Price, Cole Hamels, and Chris Sale. Kershaw’s 59.3 fWAR from 2010-2019 he was the best not only among lefties but among all pitchers, and comfortably ahead of the next best lefty, Sale at 44.5.
To be fair, you could still make a case for Kershaw even as he enters his age-35 season. The stats may not be as eye-popping as they were during his prime, but many reasonable fans would still give the ball to the future Hall of Famer in this hypothetical must-win situation.
However, if we accept that Kershaw’s reign as the best lefty in the game is behind us, Rodón emerges as a terrifically compelling heir to the throne. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of other talented southpaws worthy of similar consideration; they just didn’t get to be free agents during the biggest winter spending spree in MLB history.
Atlanta’s Max Fried is a Cy Young runner-up in 2022. In terms of pure run prevention over the past few seasons, Julio Urias has few, if any, left-handed peers. If you catch them on the right day, guys like Robbie Ray, Blake Snell and Shane McClanahan are more than capable of looking like the best lefties in the game. Quality Start King Framber Valdez just showed the national audience how great he can be on the October stage. Nasty Nestor Cortes is one of two left-handed starters alongside Urias with a lower ERA than Rodón over the past two seasons. Others like Sale and Hyun-Jin Ryu have also looked elite in the recent past, but are coming back from major injuries and are difficult to evaluate moving forward.
The point is that there are some very good lefties, and if we did this exercise a year ago, Rodón would have a much more uncomfortable claim. But with another year of excellence under his belt, his case has been strengthened significantly. Thirty-nine left-handed pitchers have thrown at least 200 innings over the last two seasons. Here is where Rodón ranks among them:
- 10.5 bWAR (1st)
- 11.1 fWAR (1st)
- 2.67 ERA (3rd)
- 156 ERA+ (2nd)
- .998 WHIP (4th)
- 2.42 FIP (1st)
- 4.80 K/BB (2nd)
- 12.2 K/9 (1st)
- K rate of 33.9% (1st)
- .567 OPS Allowed (1st)
- .196 BAA (1st)
It’s starting to look a little more convincing now.
If there’s one knock on Rodón, it’s a questionable track record of durability. His pitch count tends to spike early in starts, and in turn, he hasn’t chewed up innings to the same degree as some of the other top aces in the game. While he’s coming off a season-high 31 starts and 175 innings pitched injury-free, that brings his innings total over the past two years to 310.2, which ranks 42nd among all starting pitchers and the 11th among leftists.
Of course, the league as a whole has moved away in recent years from expecting starting pitchers to go deep into games like they used to, so it can sometimes be difficult to determine if certain pitchers aren’t equipped to go deep in games. games or if their teams just won’t let them. Regardless of the reason in Rodón’s case, he’s averaged fewer than six innings per start over the last two seasons, which doesn’t play so well with the traditional understanding of a top-line starter.
Still, per inning over the last two seasons, it’s hard to argue against Rodón as the statistically dominant lefty in the game, which is why he’s celebrating his $162 million.
Almost exactly fourteen years ago, CC Sabathia—definitive holder of the Best Lefty crown before Kershaw’s ascension—signed a seven-year, $161 million deal with the Yankees, then the largest free agent contract ever given to a pitcher. Since then, seven free agent pitchers, including Rodón, have signed for more total dollars. Here’s where Rodon’s offer ranks among the largest starting pitcher free agent contracts since Sabathia and, in turn, in MLB history:
- Gerrit Cole enters age-29 season (2020): 9 years / $324 million ($36 million AAV) with the Yankees
- Stephen Strasburg enters 3-year season (2020): 7 years/$245 million ($35 million AAV) with Nationals
- David Price enters age-30 season (2016): 7 years/$217 million ($31 million AAV) with Red Sox
- Max Scherzer enters age-30 season (2015): 7 years/$210M ($30M AAV) with Nationals
- Carlos Rodón enters age-30 season (2023): 7 years/$200 million (AAV) with Yankees
- Zack Greinke Enters Age 32 (2016): 6 years / $206.5 million ($34.4 million AAV) with Diamondbacks
- Jacob deGrom enters age-35 season (2023): 5 years/$185 million ($37 million) with Rangers
- CC Sabathia enters age-28 season (2009): 2009 – 7 years/$161 million ($23 million AAV) with the New York Yankees
- Jon Lester enters age-30 season (2015): 2015 – 6 years/$155 million ($25.8 million AAV) with the Chicago Cubs
- Patrick Corbin enters age-29 season (2019): 2019 – 6 years/$140 million ($23.3 million AAV) with Washington Nationals
Besides the obvious parallels to Sabathia in terms of landing spot and contract size, Price’s deal from seven years ago also stands out as a strong comparison to Rodón’s new deal. While both eventually reached significant paydays at the start of their age-30 seasons, Price and Rodón took very different journeys to get there, even though they started in a similar place: dominating the college baseball In Price’s case, it was three years of excellence at Vanderbilt (3.22 ERA in 313 IP with 441 strikeouts) that led to him being selected No. 1 overall in the 2007 draft by Tampa Bay.
Seven years later, Rodón was selected third overall by the White Sox in the 2014 draft after three tremendous seasons at North Carolina State (2.24 ERA in 345.2 IP with 436 strikeouts). Both reached the majors the year after being drafted, but their paths quickly diverged from there. Price immediately established himself as one of the best lefties in the game and never had a trip to IL, winning the AL Cy Young Award in his fifth season and making five All-Star appearances before hitting free agency . Rodón, on the other hand, struggled to find consistency in his early seasons and then battled several injuries — his fifth season featured Tommy John surgery instead of any high-profile awards. It wasn’t until after returning from surgery that Rodón rediscovered his ace form from his college days.
Fortunately, with free agency, timing is everything, as Rodón bounced back and arrived at the perfect time to hit the open market. Now he begins the next chapter of his career as the Yankees’ latest standout addition in their determined pursuit of a 28th World Series championship. And as with Sabathia 14 years ago, the Yankees can feel much more confident in their commitment knowing they may just have the best lefty in the game.
More on MLB free agency:
FOX Sports Top Stories:
Read more from the World Cup:
Jordan Shusterman is half of it @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball throughout his adult life, mostly for MLB.com, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan who lives in the Eastern time zone, which means he loves a good 10pm first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.
Get more from Major League Baseball Follow your favorites for information on games, news and more