There have been an innumerable amount of variables which have not exactly gone according to plan during the Texas Rangers 2014 season. Among the myriad of disappointments, injuries, and perpetual fan weeping has been the subpar performance of right fielder Alex Rios. Rios was supposed to be one of the formidable hitters in a revamped Rangers lineup featuring Shin-Soo Choo, Prince Fielder, and Adrian Beltre, but like Choo and Fielder, Rios has largely been a non-factor as his wRC+ currently sits at 90 due primarily to a so far miserable second half. PECOTA’s preseason projection foresaw Rios generating 2.0 WARP in ’14, while ZiPS and Steamer predicted 1.2 and 1.3 fWAR, respectively. Oliver was more bullish as the projection system prognosticated 3.4 fWAR. Instead of producing like a league average player as two of the projection systems believed he would, Rios has performed like a replacement level player, yielding 0.2 WARP and 0.0 fWAR in 117 games.
In his eleven big league seasons, Rios has switched teams twice in the month of August. The first such occasion was in 2009 when the Chicago White Sox selected Rios off of waivers. Rather than trying to receive any compensation, Rios’s former club, the Toronto Blue Jays, allowed the White Sox to take on Rios and the remainder of his seven year $69 million dollar extension he had recently signed with Toronto.After five seasons with the Pale Hose, the Rangers traded for Rios last August to replace Nelson Cruz in right field after Cruz was suspended for his role in the Biogenesis scandal. All the Rangers had to surrender for Rios’s services was utility man Leury Garcia.
As one has probably already determined, Rios has not exactly netted his former teams much value in past August barters. This is not to say Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels could not obtain something with more luster, but with Rios’s lack of consistency and propensity to yield underperforming seasons, teams are hesitant to sacrifice potential young, cost-effective talent for a player who might not generate surplus value after being acquired.
Daniels stated there were offers for Rios before the July 31st trade deadline, but nothing enticing enough to part with the 33 year old outfielder. The rationale behind this thinking could be the Rangers belief they are contenders in 2015, and the baseball version of the Black Plague in 2014 was more of an anomaly. With underperforming teams such as Boston and Tampa Bay desiring and trading for established big league veterans last month to help them contribute in 2015, the Rangers might feel Rios is a player who will rebound and help them contribute in ’15.
Should the Rangers be willing to part with Rios? Should they expect Rios to yield surplus value for what seems like a reasonable $12.5 million dollar option next season? We will now delve into what has gone wrong with Rios in ’14, and whether or not his lack of production portends a rebound in ’15.
These are the numbers Rios has generated the last three seasons. As one should be able to determine, his overall offensive production has decreased quite dramatically the last few years. Rios is striking out the most he has since 2005, and his walks are down too, which has caused his OBP to drop from .324 in ’13 to .313 in ’14. What is even more concerning is the nearly 100 point drop in isolated power since 2012.The athletic Rios has provided value with his speed on the base paths in the past, but the ankle problem which has been bothering Rios in ’14 has sapped that area of production as evidenced by his 0.5 BsR, his lowest career total in that area. For a player whose power appears to be diminishing, speed is critical in taking extra bases to help elevate one’s ISO.
Rios has also been less aggressive on the bases as his extra base taken percentage has fallen from 49% last season to 43% this year. If one is a fan of counting stats, Rios has already been thrown out more often in steal attempts in ’14 than in ’13, and his stolen bases have dwindled from 42 to 16. Again, this could be due to the ankle issues Rios has had, but this is still concerning for a 33-year-old outfielder whose value is partly dependent on his base running ability.
The preceding graph represents the direction of Alex Rios’s batted balls since 2007. What is most disturbing is Rios has made an effort to pull the ball more than he had in the previous two years, but has still seen his power disappear. Making an effort to pull the ball for power is quite common for aging players as driving the ball the other way for power becomes more difficult as players get older, but it appears Rios attempting to pull the ball has had an adverse effect on his power numbers. His HR/FB% of 3.3% should regress back to somewhere near his career average of 8.9% next year, but this is something worth keeping an eye on.
This most recent graph displays the fly balls per balls in play hit by Alex Rios since 2007. After lifting balls in the air against hard stuff with more regularity in ’12, Rios has suddenly lost the ability to hit the ball in the air. As previously mentioned, Rios has been battling injury issues, but if he is going to hit for more power, he is going to need to hit the ball in the air more often than he currently is.
What is encouraging is Rios is actually squaring the ball up with more regularity, but his current 24% line drive percentage has elevated his BABIP to 30 points above his career average at .341. The 24% is probably not sustainable, and to put this number into perspective, Rios’s line drive percentage is currently equivalent to Robinson Cano’s, and higher than Jose Abreu’s. Rios has never yielded a line drive percentage higher than 21.8% in his career, so unless this is a mechanical adjustment Rios has made in ’14, one would expect that number to regress next season, and for his BABIP to normalize.Rios is also swinging the bat more often as his O-Swing% and Z-Swing% have both increased this year, while his swing straight percentage has also risen from 6.5% in ’13 to 7.3% in ‘14. For a player so heavily reliant on contact, the fact he is whiffing more often and hitting for less power when he does happen to make contact is rather perturbing.
Finally, I decided to use the handy Baseball Reference Play Index to search a list of players who produced similar numbers to Rios from ages 29-33, and then looked at what these players did in their age 34 seasons (the age Rios will be next year). I set the search for players who have accumulated more than 8.0 rWAR, yielded an OPS+ of 100 or higher, and stolen more than 110 bases from ages 29 to 33. The list includes many notable players including Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson, and Barry Bonds. However, I decided to arbitrarily only include the list of players with 13.5 rWAR or less because Rios actually has the fewest rWAR among all of these players and comparing Rios to some of the players high on this list would be both redundant and hilarious.
Underwhelmed? Yeah, I know. What is even more disconcerting is that Rios played in more games during this time period than all of these players by a substantial margin, and still accumulated less rWAR. I also found it rather funny and depressing that the bottom three on this list have all been Rangers. Now that we have found players with similar production, let’s find out what these players did in their age 34 seasons.
Lonnie Smith had far and away the best age 34 season, and expecting Rios to produce a similar season is probably unrealistic, but McGee and Javier’s years seem fairly reasonable. The average season among these six players also would not be considered an outlandish expectation for Rios.Before I decided to author this piece, I was an advocate of keeping Rios and picking up his option for next year. I was not exactly strident in my belief, but now I am more ambivalent. If the Rangers do decide to hold on to Rios, his recent numbers and other comparable players to him do seem to suggest Rios does not offer a ton of upside in 2015. While Rios can be traded to any team which desires his services, to expect much in return by trade at this point is silly.
The list of available free agent outfielders during the offseason is not very appealing, and I am not sure Michael Choice can be trusted. If trading for another right fielder is not a possibility, and with teams coveting established big league veterans to help them contend in the future, holding on to Rios does make some sense. With wins being worth $6-$7 million dollars, Rios yielding surplus even at $12.5 million in salary is not outrageous, but his recent production is concerning enough to consider other alternatives.