Ubaldo Jimenez isn’t the only star of 2010 that has struggled this season.
After a year in which Alex Rios hit 21 HRs, swiped 34 bases and hit .284 in the middle of a potent White Sox lineup, the 30-year-old center fielder has slumped through the first two months of 2011, posting a pathetic .201/.253/.306 slash with four HRs and four steals in 225 plate appearances.
A look at Rios’ advanced stats, however, suggest that now is a great time to buy-low on the 18-HR, 30-steal, .275 three-year average player.
Rios has never walked or whiffed much, as made evident by his career walk and strikeout rates of 6.5 and 17.8 percent, respectively. His walk rate this season (6.2 percent) is identical to his 2010 total, and his strikeout rate (11.0 percent) is the lowest of his career. Rios’ contact rate of 86.8 percent is also a career best, and is well-above his career average (83.1 percent) and the major league average (81.0 percent).
So if he’s taking walks at the same rate as last year, striking out much less, yet making much better contact, how can his numbers be so Alcides Escobar-like?
Rios’ BABIP is just .208, third-lowest among qualified batters. Simply put, he’s experienced a great deal of poor luck. And this isn’t one of those situations where his BABIP stands alone in support of bad luck. Rios’ line-drive rate is 18.7 percent (16.9 percent in ’10, 19.3 percent career), suggesting that he’s hitting the ball hard, it’s just not finding the outfield grass.
This isn’t likely to last long, however. Once Rios’ hard-hit balls start dropping in for base hits, his batting average will skyrocket. When that happens you’ll want him on your team, especially at his current trade value.
Another stat that jumps off the page is 60.9, which is the percent of first-pitch strikes he’s seen this season, compared to 52.7 percent in 2010. After hitting primarily third in the White Sox lineup last season, Rios has been relegated to the sixth and seventh spots in the lineup. Obviously, the bottom of the order isn’t protected as well as the top and middle, but it does tend to yield better pitches to hit, and Rios is experiencing that. Given his aggressive nature at the plate, his turn-around should be multiplied by the fact that pitchers are giving him pitches to hit early in the count.
If there’s a case to be made against a Rios turn-around, it would be supported by his career first and second half splits. In 2,301 at-bats before the All-Star Break, Rios has posted a .282/.333./451 slash with a HR every 32.8 at-bats. In 1,692 at-bats after the Mid Summer Classic, his line drops to a measly .271/.318/.422 with a HR every 43.3 at-bats. Not a particularly promising sign for someone who tends to struggle in the second half, but Rios’ advanced stats this season are more relevant to the topic, and suggest a change in luck is on the horizon.
If you own Rios, stick with him. Put him in the lineup against lefties (.255 vs. southpaws, .184 vs. righties), and monitor all other matchups until he can put together a consistent hitting streak. If you don’t own him and can afford the bench spot until he gets hot, send a feeler trade offer out to his undoubtedly frustrated owner; he’s likely to come very cheap.
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Tags: Alex Rios