Any list of the biggest failures in 2011 has to start with Adam Dunn (.159-11-42 in 496 at-bats. I still can’t believe he was that atrocious). However, a teammate of Dunn’s also has to be in the top-10, and he is the topic of my piece today.
Alex Rios was an elite performer in 2010 in his first full season with the White Sox. Rios hit a solid .284, socked 21 homers and knocked in 88 runs. He also managed to record 89 runs scored, and for good measure he tossed in 34 steals. Those numbers left him as the only man in baseball to go .280-20-85-85-30 in 2010. So how in the world did he go from being an elite option in 2010 to an embarrassment in 2011 as he produced a line of .227-13-44-64-11? The knee jerk reaction is that he played over his head in 2011 and that he simply sucks. However, that’s far too simplistic a look for me.
Rios has hit .275 for his career. From 2006-08 he hit at least .291 each season, and four times in five years from 2006-10 he hit at least .284. So how in the world did he fall to .227 in ’11? Did he fail to square up the ball? In fact, he did a decent job in that category. Rios posted a 18.4 percent line drive mark that is just 0.8 below his career rate. It was also a 3-year high. Did he have problems with pitch recognition? Well, he did walk at his worst rate (4.7 percent), but since he also struck out less than ever before (2.5 percent better than ever before actually) his 0.40 BB/K mark was right on his career average of 0.39. Was his ground ball to fly ball ratio jacked up? No it wasn’t. Rios posted a 1.08 GB/FB mark, right in line with expectations given his 1.14 career mark. So why the hell did his average dip .050 points in 2011? Can you say bad luck? Rios produced a .237 BABIP despite pretty much everything else looking “normal.” That BABIP was a career worst, it had never been below .273, and was light years removed from his .306 career mark. What I’m saying is that, honestly, Rios didn’t deserve the batting average he produced in 2011.
I mentioned Rios’ GB/FB rate above and how it was stable when compared to his career rate. The same could be said about his fly ball rate. Rios owns a mark of 37.7 percent in his career an in 2011 he posted a 39.3 rate. So if he hit as many fly balls as normal, why the dip in his homer rate? Well, he undershot his HR/F rate of 8.7 percent with a mark of 7.0, a seven year low. That certainly had a large part to do with it.
It’s pretty easy here. When you don’t get hits, it’s hard to knock in runs. When you don’t get hits or take walks to get on base, you just don’t score runs. Just think of it this way. Rios posted a .265 OBP in 2011. His career batting average is .275. Makes no sense right? For the record, his career OBP is still a poor .323, but it’s vastly superior to the embarrassing number he posted in ’11. For the record Part II: from 2006-10 Rios averaged 81 RBI and 85 runs scored a season.
Rios swiped a career best 34 bags in 2010 and he also stole 32 bases in 2008. Moreover, from 2008-10 he averaged 30 steals a year so he’d clearly established himself as a fantasy force in that category. So what happened in 2011? You do remember that his OBP was .265 right? He just wasn’t ever on base to steal a bag, and even when he tried to run his success rate was awful at 64.7 percent (his success rate the three previous years were 80.0, 82.8 and 70.8 percent).
Alex Rios will be 31 years old in February, so he’s certainly not at an age when skills erosion seems the likely culprit for his 2011 failures. Rios though has always run hot and cold, it’s just how it is with him, and it’s something you have to be prepared to live with if you roster him. Unfortunately, his cold streak last year lasted almost the entire season. Still, there seems to be little reason to doubt that 2012 should produce better numbers because, if truth be told, he really wasn’t that far “off” in 2011 despite the horrible numbers he ended the year with. Buy him on the cheap, cause he will be cheap, and you’ll likely reap the benefits of a player who will enjoy a nice bounce back season.
By Ray Flowers