Wilin Rosario Is Not Just A Product Of Coors Field

Wilin Rosario was one of my flag players for 2013, so to speak. I owned him in a lot of places and thought he could reach 30 home runs.

While that didn’t happen, I and other Rosario owners certainly walked away happy after the 2013 returns. That’s because, even with just 21 home runs, Rosario ranked behind only Mike Napoli and Yadier Molina.

With Napoli set to lose eligibility, Rosario seems a safe bet to hold a top-five preseason ranking for 2014.

But as with any value jump (he was fifth in catcher value in 2012, so in this case it’s a modest one), it’s worth looking at how it came about.

Rosario tied for second in home runs with 21 and RBI with 79, sure, and we’ll get to the viability of his home runs shortly. But the key to his value was that he had the highest average of any catcher with more than 15 home runs. Jonathan Lucroy (18, .280) and Jason Castro (18, .276) were the only ones within 20 points of his .292 mark.

Now, Rosario isn’t slow – he stole four bases, tied for fourth among backstops – but he’s not the type of guy you expect a .344 BABIP from, especially after a .289 mark as a rookie. His batted ball profile looks good though, with more ground balls than fly balls and an appreciable line drive rate. His xBABIP is actually about .337, so perhaps we can stop right there.

Rosario seems like, with his batted ball profile and non-zero speed, to be a guy who can sustain an average-or-better BABIP. While his 23.4 percent strikeout rate limits some of the average upside, it’s not unreasonable to believe Rosario is a .275 hitter.

…as a Colorado Rockie.

Yes, that caveat applies with many a Rockie batter. Take a look at Rosario’s splits through two seasons (and a 16-game cup of coffee in 2011):

Home 5.9% 21.80% 0.251 0.311 0.288
Away 5.0% 20.20% 0.202 0.320 0.265

Wait a second; Rosario doesn’t have extreme home-road splits. They’re there, but they don’t jump off the page.

Perhaps that explains how, even though the stat is park-adjusted, Rosario still ranked eighth among catchers (with at least 400 plate appearances) with a 107 wRC+.

In fact, of Rosario’s 21 home runs, all but four would have left at least 20 parks. His average “true” home run distance was 397 feet, which wasn’t far off the median for players with 18 or more home runs.

This is a player who benefits from his home park but doesn’t thrive only because of it. And for fantasy owners, it doesn’t really make a difference, anyway, since he’ll be back there for 2014.

For him to improve on his 2013 (which isn’t necessary but is entirely possible at age 24, 25 when the season starts), he’ll need to juggle a few tasks:

*Play more: he’s had 426 and 466 plate appearances the past two seasons but it’d be nice to see him cruise north of 500, if only to further the counting stats.

*Hit more fly balls: his HR/FB rate dropped from 25.5% to 17.1%, which is why he lost seven homers off his 2012 total. He lost about 20 feet per fly ball this season, some of which he may get back and some of which can be made up for with more fly balls (and thus, more home run chances).

*Strike out less: this would be especially prudent if the fly ball rate climbs. If the fly ball rate goes up, the BABIP should come down, and cutting down on strikeouts could help the average stay at a respectable level.

Of course, if we could just tell players to go out and do three things differently and have it work, fantasy baseball would be easy.

Anyway, pencil Rosario in for a top-five preseason rank, with a .275 average and 25 home runs as a baseline.

Blake Murphy is a freelance sportswriter based out of Toronto. Formerly of the Score, he's the managing editor at Raptors Republic and frequently pops up at Sportsnet, Vice, and around here. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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“In fact, of Rosario’s 21 home runs, all but four would have left at least 20 parks.”

If those parks had the same atmospheric conditions of the place he hit them, which they certainly would not.

I actually believe in Rosario, especially at Coors, but Hit Tracker online simply looks at where HR would have landed, it doesn’t account for elevation or humidity changes. Coors isn’t a great hitters park because it’s small…it’s actually bigger than most parks. It’s a great hitters park because of nearly 0% humidity and thinner atmosphere from altitude.