By Tommy Rancel
For the first five years of his career, Alex Rios was a productive hitter. From 2004 to 2008, he averaged .288/.338/.455 (AVG/OBP/SLG). But after a slow start in 2009, he was placed on waivers by Toronto, then given away to the White Sox for no compensation other than the amputation of his bloated contract. Overall in 2009, he hit just .247/.296/.395. His batting average was just .199 after moving to Chicago.
Despite the dip in those slash numbers (AVG/OBP/SLG), Rios still hit 17 home runs and stole 24 bases, providing continued value for fantasy owners.
Obviously, the most alarming loss for Rios came in batting average. In 2006-2008, his batting average was .297. His 2009 average of .247 represents a 50-point drop. For a speedy player who was only 28 years old, this was odd.
Sure enough, when we look at his batted ball data from last season — notably batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and his percentage of line drives hit (LD%) — we see some outlier numbers.
Thanks to his speed and ability to hit line drives (more on that in a minute), Rios has a slightly elevated career BABIP of .319. The league average is around .300. Last season, his BABIP dropped to .273.
Digging a little deeper, Rios has maintained a career LD% of 19.8%. In 2009, that number dropped to 16.4%.
Going even deeper into the numbers, Rios saw a tremendous drop in LD% against right-handed pitching (RHP). In his career, Rios owns a LD% against RHP of 19.8%; in 2009, that number sank to 14.7%. This is significant because Rios faced a right-hander 72% of the time last year.
Some studies, like the one here, suggest career BABIP is the best predictor of a player’s BABIP going forward. If this is the case for Rios, expect a healthy regression in batting average, and on-base percentage, towards career marks near .280 and .330.
After hitting 24 home runs in 2007, many expected Rios to become a 30/30 player; however, he is not that type of hitter. A big chunk of the balls he hits into play are line drives or groundballs (42.8% career groundball rate). This leaves little room for fly balls (37.4% career fly ball rate). Because of this, he’s averaged 19 home runs over the past three years; Bloomberg Sports projects a modest 18 homers in 2010, despite the homer-friendly climate of U.S. Cellular Field.
Meanwhile, Rios set a career-high in steals with 32 in 2008, followed by 24 more last season. Over the past three years, his success on stolen base attempts is a strong 81% (56/69). Bloomberg Sports projects 26 steals for Rios in 2010.
Although he had a down season in 2009, Rios narrowly slides into the top 100 players ranked by Bloomberg Sports; his B-Rank is exactly 100. His average draft position (ADP) is just 146.
Assuming a mid-round draft slot in an averaged size (12-14 team) mixed league, you could start your outfield with a combination like Ryan Braun, Bobby Abreu, and Rios. This trio would give you a well-rounded, durable outfield, despite using just one premium draft selection. All three players have averaged at least 620 plate appearances in the past three seasons, and provide a blend of average, (decent) power, and speed.
If we tweak the 30/30 projections on Rios down to 20/20, and add in the potential for batting average regression, we are looking at a productive third or fourth outfielder in many mixed leagues. Target him with other bounceback candidates in the middle of your draft.
For more on sleepers like Alex Rios, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.