So, Uhhh, Remember Alex Rios?

Title: So, Uhhh, Remember Alex Rios?
Date: May 17, 2010
Original Source: The On Deck Circle
Synopsis: A year after the jays had let Alex Rios walk to the White Sox via waivers, I took a look at Rios’ hot start to the 2010 season to show that, while grossly overpaid, he had resurfaced as a valuable baseball player.

Hey, remember Alex Rios? He was one of the Jays top prospects for several years, burst onto the scene with a frustrating one-home-run rookie season, and then spent the next four and a half seasons tormenting Blue Jays fans by showing glimpses of superstar potential but never figuring “it” out? He of the crippling 7-year, $70M contract? He of the infamous revocable waiver placement, claim by the White Sox, and lack of revocation by the Jays? (Read: they gave him to the Sox to be rid of his contract.)

Remember him? Pretty good looking guy? Jerk to fans? And that unfulfilled superstar potential?

Well, uhh, shame on you, J.P. Ricciardi.

While Rios is unlikely to ever be “worth” his monstrous contract, he has been a revelation on the field so far this year, turning into exactly what Jays fans had always hoped he’d become. And yes, this could be yet another tease, but we’re now dealing with a 140-plate appearance sample size, and the production is not altogether unexpected (again, that potential!).
 More after the jump!
To be fair to Rios, too, he was never an awful player for Toronto. It was a situation where the team realized his contract (in concert with the contract of Vernon Wells) would handcuff the team while rebuilding over the next few seasons. The fan base had grown frustrated with Rios after his OPS+ dropped to 81 in 2009 after a 3-year average of 118. The combination of power (15-25 HR) and speed (15-35 SB) was tough to lose, but for a player with declining skills (UZR had fallen to league average after a well-above-average 2008, already-low walk rate declined, strikeout rate increased, and he essentially went from being an All-Star to a replacement-level player), getting out from a mammoth back-loaded contract was an acceptable move for the franchise.

Boy, are our faces red.

.318/.360/.581/.941, 7 HR, 12 SB, +20 UZR/150, already worth 2.0 wins above replacement.

Again, this is a small-ish sample size, but the skill set was always there anyway. Maybe now it’s coming together. Whether it’s due to Ozzie Guillen’s confidence in him, the friendly confines of The Cell, or his leash on the basepaths being loosened, Rios has put it all together so far in 2010.

While he’s swinging at more pitches outside of the zone (29.2%), he makes contact on 69.4% of those swings. He swings plenty in general (47.4% of pitches), so it’s possible his added aggression is helping him. It hasn’t hurt, as his swinging strike rate is a career-low 6.4% and his contact rate is a career-high 85.8%.

After a dip in 2009, his line drive rate is back up to 20.4%, and his HR/FB rate is by far his highest career mark at 14.6%. Basically, the homers are being aided by better contact, not more fly balls (not far off his career average at 42.5%).

His BABIP is an above average .321, but you wouldn’t expect it to normalize to the league mean much, as his career rate is .319. The added contact and returning line drive swing are responsible for his up-tick in batting average, and ZIPS is only expecting his average to regress back to .289.

So far this year, Rios has an OPS+ of 150, is 6th in the AL in steals, and has been the 6th best outfielder in the AL according to UZR/150. He’s also been the 11th most valuable fantasy player in Yahoo.

There was no doubt that Rios had talent. He’s been an All-Star, got paid obscenely well, and then nearly went Andruw Jones on the baseball world. But by all appearances, he’s back, and “back” doesn’t necessarily do his 2010 season justice, as he’s performing at a level beyond what he’s done in the past. As a final indication of just how good Rios has been, see the table below.

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