Carlos Rodon

Junior pitcher Carlos Rodon prepares to pitch during the first game of a three-game series against Appalachian State on Feb. 21, 2014. The No. 12 Wolfpack defeated the Mountaineers 6-5.

Chicago White Sox left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodón earned his first career All-Star selection this year, a result of his stellar first half of the season. But as the second half of the season gets underway, the Pack Pro has to tighten up his game even further to stay in the race for the American League Cy Young Award.

The current front-runner for this year’s AL Cy Young is New York Yankees right-hander Gerrit Cole, who had a potentially season-defining outing against the Houston Astros on July 10, tossing 129 pitches on his way to a complete-game shutout on the road. Cole has had a fantastic season so far, leading the American League in walks plus hits per inning pitched (WHIP), strikeouts and strikeout-to-walk ratio, while also placing second in fielding independent pitching (FIP) among qualified pitchers behind Boston Red Sox righty Nathan Eovaldi.

However, his initially solid grip on the lead in the Cy Young race has been slipping. As the MLB begins its crackdown on pitchers using foreign substances, many hurlers have suffered severe drops in spin rates, and Cole has been no exception. As a result, the field of the American League Cy Young race has expanded significantly.

The spin rates on all of Rodón’s pitches have remained relatively stable throughout his career. Given that the spin rates on his fastball and curveball sit in the 55th and 17th percentile in the MLB, respectively, it is unlikely the lefty’s performance will be affected by the foreign substance crackdown.

There are plenty of other challengers vying for the distinction of the American League’s top pitcher, including Rodón’s own teammate in Chicago, right-handed pitcher Lance Lynn. According to ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor, which has correctly predicted the AL Cy Young winner 14 out of 19 times since 2002, the other top starters contending for the prize include the aforementioned Eovaldi, Oakland Athletics right-handed pitcher Chris Bassitt and Cleveland Indians righty Aaron Civale.

Given no relief pitcher has won the AL Cy Young since Oakland Athletics right-hander Dennis Eckersley in 1992, relievers such as Chicago White Sox righty Liam Hendricks and Houston Astros right-handed pitcher Ryan Pressly will likely not be in the running by season’s end.

Among this set of Cy Young hopefuls, Rodón sits firmly in the running. The lefty has the second-most strikeouts behind Cole and the second-best ERA behind Lynn. In more advanced metrics, Rodón is still among the best of the best, leading the pack in FIP and strikeouts per nine innings, third behind Eovaldi Lynn in home runs per nine innings, second behind Lynn in ERA+ (which adjusted a pitcher’s ERA to park factors and compares it to the league average) and second behind Cole in strikeout-to-walk ratio.

That being said, Rodón still has his work cut out for him if he wants to solidify himself as the award favorite over Cole. Over his last seven games, the southpaw has posted an ERA of 3.51, a stark departure from his season ERA of 2.31. Among those seven were a poor outing on May 31, when Rodón gave up five earned runs on nine hits including three home runs in an away game against Cleveland. More recently, the lefty gave up four earned runs on six hits against the Minnesota Twins on July 1.

To be fair, Rodón also struck out nine Twins players in that July 1 game, so his swing-and-miss stuff is alive and well. He has also had his fair share of quality outings recently, surrendering only one earned run on one hit in seven innings against the Detroit Tigers on June 13. The main thing for the left-hander to focus on down the stretch is consistency, as he has been mostly hot and cold from start to start following an amazing April where he put up a 0.72 ERA over four starts, including a no-hitter against Cleveland on April 14.