Alex Rios continues to be head-scratcher for fantasy owners. Blessed with five-tool talent, Rios has shown flashes of brilliance along with extended periods of little to no production. After a poor 2009 season, Bloomberg Sports pegged Rios as a rebound candidate in 2010. He responded by hitting .284/.334/.457 with 21 home runs and 34 stolen bases.
Once again, he looked like a rare combination of power and speed that could provide value in extra-base hits, steals, and runs scored. That was until the 2011 season started. Thus far, Rios is hitting just .211 with a .573 OPS. He has been one of the worst everyday players in the majors despite hitting in an offensively friendly environment. That being said, he is a prime target if you like getting players who are worth more than their current value.
Accompanying his career-low .211 batting average is also a career-worst .224 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Far too often people will look at a player’s BABIP and make a case for good or bad luck based on that one metric alone. In this case, it does appear Rios has been unlucky. Here is why…
In terms of batted-ball data (line drives, groundballs, flyballs) Rios is largely the same hitter he has always been. Looking at line drives – the type of balls that fall most for hits – he is actually hitting more liners this year than he did in 2010. This could be some classification bias as liners are sometime misclassified as flyballs and vice versa; however, all of his rates are within career norms.
In addition to the batted-ball information, Rios is showing similar plate discipline. His walk rate is in line with his career number and he has actually cut down his strikeout rate quite a bit. He is also making more contact and whiffing on fewer pitches.
According to the pitch values listed on Fangraphs.com, Rios has struggled with fastballs this year. As a player hits the other side of 30, this could be a concern. Meanwhile, Rios continues to make contact with heaters so it doesn’t appear as if his bat has slowed up enough to be a legit concern right now.
Like 2009, there is a chance that Rios’ slow start turns into a season-long slump. On the other hand, there are signs to point in the direction of positive regression. If you can get Rios at his lowest, the potential reward of that batting average regression – which also means potential increases statistics like steals and runs – outweighs whatever little value you have to toss back to his current owner.