Alex Rios finished the 2010 season as one of the biggest fantasy bargains. Though he was nearly a 20-20 player in 2009, his average and OBP dropped to unacceptable levels, making him an afterthought in most drafts. Last season, he rewarded those patient enough to believe in a bounce-back; hitting 21 home runs and stealing 34 bases. Due to that versatility, Rios established himself as a five-category producer. Expected to produce at a similar rate this season, Rios was drafted much earlier. He “rewarded” owners by hitting just .163 through April. While Rios has improved somewhat in May, he’s still not meeting expectations. For owners looking to take advantage of slow starts, that also makes him a prime trade target.
Rios’ current slash line of .200/.264/.297 doesn’t exactly scream “player you need to acquire.” Thankfully, nothing in his stat profile says we should expect Rios to continue struggling. Though he’s produced very little value this season, his walk rate remains solid and his strikeout rate is actually the lowest of his career.
Both of those rates seem sustainable when you look at Rios’ contact and swing rates. Rios has been more selective this season; swinging at fewer pitches both inside and outside the zone. When Rios has swung, he’s made contact at a career rate. His current swinging strike rate is the lowest of his career; meaning he’s swinging and missing much less than usual.
As Jason Catania explained a few weeks ago, much of Rios’ struggles can be attributed to luck. His line has been dragged down by a .211 BABIP; a far cry from his .313 career average. His low BABIP is particularly puzzling when you realize that Rios is currently posting his highest line drive rate since 2008. Rios has also hit more ground balls this season, which should lead to a higher BABIP. This has come at the expense of fly balls, however, which could explain why Rios is currently posting the worst HR/FB rate of his career.
Outside of his poor HR/FB rate, there is another aspect of Rios’ performance that warrants concern. Rios has been absolutely terrible against fastballs this season. Though he has hit fastballs well over his career, Rios currently carries the fourth worst pitch value against fastballs this season. When a hitter suffers such a drastic decline against fastballs, it’s typically due to reduced bat speed as a result of age. Rios is only 30, and it would be surprising if he lost his effectiveness this early in his career. This is purely speculation, but it’s possible something was off with Rios’ swing early in the season. That could be an explanation as to why he has really struggled against fastballs this year.
Rios has rebounded a bit in May; posting a more acceptable .277/.306/.426 slash line over 49 plate appearances. That’s not a great line, and it’s an extremely small sample, but at least Rios has shown some signs of life after an abysmal April. So long as the struggles against fastballs don’t become a trend, Rios should rebound nicely. The fastballs issues are a legitimate concern, and shouldn’t be taken lightly, but every other rate stat tells us that Rios is going to perform much better as the season progresses. He’s still a great buy-low option, so grab him before he heats up.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.