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This week in White Sox lefties: Carlos Rodon improves by catcher, John Danks by month

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The rookie is building himself a better future, while the veteran refuses to be written off

Jon Durr/Getty Images

Since we last checked in on Carlos Rodon and discovered the enormous disparity in results by catcher, he's thrown one start apiece to Geovany Soto and Tyler Flowers.

With Soto catching on Aug. 5: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HR, 1 HBP

With Flowers catching on Tuesday: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 K

So the splits stayed stupid after updating them:

Catcher G IP ERA PA R H 2B 3B HR BB K BA OBP SLG HBP GDP
Flowers 12 66.0 2.86 280 23 60
10
2 3 34 72
.249 .336 .344 2 10
Soto 7 25.2 9.12 134 25 36
8
2 4
20
29
.330 .444 .550 3
1

Hey, Rodon racked up his first double play with Soto catching, so there's that. Beyond the last column, let's take the chief characteristics of the Flowers-Soto splits so far and see if they held up:

  • Rodon induced more grounders with Flowers catching.

HAPPENED. In fact, eight of his 14 batted balls stayed on the ground on Tuesday, which is a departure from his other second-half results. He had carried a ground-ball rate at or above 50 percent for much of the season, but it dipped below 40 percent over the two consecutive starts Soto caught.

Prior to these last two starts, though, there was a big difference in ground-ball rates despite the catchers calling for a similar amount of sinkers. It's not so similar now, because Flowers called for 30 sinkers on Tuesday. The start before, Soto only called for three.

  • Rodon threw twice as many changeups with Flowers catching.

HAPPENED. Rodon threw five changeups over 81 pitches in Soto's last start (6 percent). He threw 13 changeups over 107 pitches to Flowers on Tuesday (12 percent). It continues to neither help nor harm -- only four of them were strikes, and all of them came on swings. Still, he had more whiffs (two) than hits allowed (one) on it when they offered.

  • Rodon started off many batters with sliders

DIDN'T HAPPEN. Of the 26 batters he faced, he threw only three first-pitch sliders. He actually went to the changeup more often to try to steal a strike (five), which means the other 18 were on fastballs or sinkers. It didn't lead to getting ahead of batters (only 11 first-pitch strikes). But even when he was behind 1-0 and 2-0, he still leaned heavily on the fastball.

It turned out that he could pitch quite effectively forwards, because he had pretty good command -- and great for him -- of his primary and secondary offerings, which Baseball Savant helps illustrate. He got those grounders because he did a better job of keeping fastballs down and away:

And he recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts because he had both sliders working for him against lefties (down-and-in and backdoor):

Carlos Rodon sliders both

Here's the video evidence, because that's fun:

Mix that location with velocity, and you can see why he impressed Albert Pujols.

"Not too many guys from the left side have a 92-mph slider," Pujols said. "He struck me out twice on that pitch."

(If it's any consolation to Pujols, Rodon ended his night by striking out Chris Iannetta with a slider that registered at 93 mph. On his 107th pitch.)

As a result, he didn't need much framing help from Flowers according to the Brooks map, so this seems to be a greater victory for discovering and repeating the optimal release point. Flowers doesn't have direct control over when the ball leaves Rodon's fingers, but he does have different habits and sets lower targets, which could have a real effect on what and where Rodon is throwing. The White Sox may as well keep pairing them until Rodon's control is so rough that even Flowers can't corral him.

John Danks

I'm looking up Danks' charts when William Shatner's "Has Been" comes on, and I think somebody's trying to say something.

I've heard of you...
The Ready-Made connecting with the Ever-Ready...
Never Was talking about Still Trying...
Forever Bitter gossiping about Never Say Die...

Now, I don't think it's fair to lump me in with Never Done Jack, Two Thumbs Don or Don't Say Dick, because I've been firmly entrenched in the "he's serving a purpose" camp. While Danks didn't have to work all that hard to outpitch Andre Rienzo in 2014, he still threw 193 innings that Triple-A or AAAA starters like our old Brazilian friend didn't have to try to throw. (If I had one shot to explain the concept of replacement level in a rotation, the comparison between Danks and Rienzo or Hector Noesi would be it.)

This year, Erik Johnson raised the bar on him down in Charlotte by lowering his ERA to the 2.50 neighborhood with peripherals to match, while Danks' ERA in Chicago doubled that through June. But the increasing probability of a Jeff Samardzija trade in July bought Danks a little more time (he'd have to start in a Smarchless rotation anyway), and Danks took advantage of the reprieve by rattling off a strong string of six starts to open the second half, including four starts of one or zero runs. Samardzija's still here, but so is Danks -- and Danks has the lower ERA all of a sudden.

This development is surprising when phrased that way. It's not so shocking when considering that it only boosted Danks back to his new normal:

  • 2013: 4.75 ERA; 89 ERA+
  • 2014: 4.74 ERA; 79 ERA+
  • 2015: 4.58 ERA; 82 ERA+

In this sense, Danks is the same sandbag levee of a pitcher he was last year -- inelegant, undesirable, but better than nothing as long as you're working to find higher ground.

However, if you want to believe that this Danks is different, call me Eagle Man, because I've got something for you.

Danks brooks chart

That there is his velocity chart dating back to 2011, his last year with his full pre-surgery stuff. Check out the ramp he's building this month -- he's not all the way back, but he's way closer than he's ever been. His average fastball is brushing up against 91 mph, and he's throwing his cutter harder than he did at the start of 2012.

He was jubilant on Aug. 1 after seeing 93 on the radar gun ("I wanted to throw confetti out there"), and while he's backed off it in the two starts since, the line he's maintaining is a cut above his previous post-surgery best.

I don't know what this means, except that it's neat that there's something I don't know about Danks. I know the limitations of 89-mph Danks, because we've seen it the last two years. He has practical value over the course of a 162-game season, but he doesn't have trade value, and so his contract is still a burden.

I'm not optimistic that 91-mph Danks is going to hang around -- he's on pace for 185 innings this year -- but I didn't expect to see the 91-mph Danks in the first place, so don't take it for granted. He's finally leaving something to the imagination, and while his spot in the rotation would be more useful for Johnson in terms of evaluation, it's admirable that Danks keeps hammering away during the interminable interim to make his own starts more meritorious. If he can ride this newfound velocity into a new ERA stratum by the end of the year, it's not so crazy to talk about things like trade value after all, modest as it may be.

Has Been implies failure --
Not so!
Has Been's history
Has Been was
Has Been ... might again...