Alex Rios: Rebound or Dead to Me?

Seeing Alex Rios lumped in with uninspiring names like Brennan Boesch and Jason Kubel in the fifth outfielder keeper ranking tier reminds us just how much this recent five-category contributor has fallen. There seemed to be something in the water in Chi-Town this season, as there were quite a few offensive busts this year. With a new manager in town, does Rios lead the Sox offensive rebound or has the Windy City swept his fantasy value under the rug for good?

During his career, Rios’ performance has truly been a roller coaster ride. Before the 2011 season, his ISO had fluctuated between .096, during his rookie year, and .213, which came just two seasons later. His BABIP has ranged between .273 and .355 and in his 500+ at-bat seasons, he has stolen as few as 17 bases and as many as 34. This past season, he officially set new career worsts in ISO, BABIP and steals, while posting a putrid .266 wOBA. That tied him with teammate and fellow bust Adam Dunn for the third worst mark in baseball among those with a minimum of 350 plate appearances. Those who owned Rios this year have likely swore him off their rosters, but is that a smart decision?

Interestingly, even though he hit just .227, he actually made contact at the best rate of his career. Although this is complete speculation, could it be that for whatever reason Rios altered his approach to make more contact, and as a result, it hurt his power stroke? It is no coincidence that power hitters strike out more frequently than the Punch and Judy hitters, and it makes intuitive sense. All else equal, the harder one swings, the further the ball is going to go, but it also increases the likelihood that you are going to miss the ball.

Though Rios hit just 13 home runs, his HR/FB ratio was not too different than what he posted in 2005 and 2008-2009. His lowest at-bat total since 2006 makes it appear that Rios lost more home run power than he really did. Aside from his rookie season, his HR/FB ratio has ranged from this season’s 7.0% to last year’s 11.5%. That really isn’t too large a range and looks like rather normal statistical fluctuation.

Rios posted a terrible .237 BABIP, which resulted in his awful batting average. Though, his batted ball profile was right in line with past seasons, so the only possible explanation, besides poor luck of course, would be that the loss of power prevented additional hits from falling in as he was swinging with less authority. Even if that at least partially explains it, that BABIP has got to jump next year. Rios remains a .275 career hitter, even after the .227 mark he posted this season, and he has contributed in the category in five of his eight seasons.

The speed is another big question mark as he stole 34 bases (albeit with 14 caught stealings) in 2010, but just 11 in 17 attempts in 2011. A possible explanation here is a toe injury he was dealing with earlier in the season that may have lingered all year long. He will be 31 next year so he’s no spring chicken, but it’s still not an age where you would expect a sharp decline in speed. Ken Williams recently blamed injuries for some of Rios’ offensive struggles and it is possible he was hurting a little more than we were made aware.

Rios’ perceived value is very possibly at an all-time low, but this provides fantasy owners with an opportunity. There aren’t many hitters who offer 20-30 potential with a good batting average to boot. Rios’ struggles could probably be summed up by injuries, normal statistical fluctuation and bad luck. I would be surprised if he didn’t earn a nice profit in most fantasy leagues.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Zic
Guest
Zic

While I agree that all of those likely had an impact, the numbers that jump out to me are Rios’ 2011 O-Swing % and O-Contact %. His O-Swing % was a career-high 32.1% (career: 25.2%) and his O-Contact % was an astronomical 76.7% (career: 62.5%).

Rios is swinging at more pitches out of the zone and is making a lot more contact on those swings. The result is (presumably) worse contact, which could help explain the dip in power and BABIP. It would make sense that he is not hitting the ball with as much authority. Whether this is a change in approach or just statistical noise, I don’t know, but if he keeps hacking away and making contact with poor pitches, I don’t think the future is quite as bright.

huisj
Guest
huisj

The naked eye test (not particularly reliable, but whatever) from watching tons of Sox games this past season says Rios hit about 6000 slow speed easy grounders on pitches outside the zone with a pathetic half-effort swing. He looked terrible all season. It would be really hard to say with confidence that his low BABIP was primarily luck driven after seeing his swing look as bad as it looked all season.