The Forgotten Rookie: Sean Rodriguez and His Contact Issues

After watching John Jaso and Reid Brignac play for an extended period of time, it can be easy to forget that not all rookies transition seamlessly to the major leagues. In fact, most rookies take time to adjust to the higher quality of play in the majors; even if they start off hot, eventually opposing teams cue in to a rookie's weaknesses and exploit them, requiring that rookie to make some adjustments in order to stay afloat. All players are constantly making adjustments as the season goes along, reacting to how opposing teams are playing them, but that first adjustment is a very important one for rookies. Once you make it, you've proved you can stick at the major league level and your risk at being demoted decreases; however, take too long to figure things out and you could end up back in the minors, earning the label of a Quad-A player.

With all the recent attention given to Jaso, Brignac, Pena, and Zobrist, Sean Rodriguez has found himself lost in the shuffle. Our spring training hero (6 homeruns), Sean Rodriguez has been a big let down so far this year, batting .214/.263/.343 with only one homerun. He currently has a .606 OPS and a .262 Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA), both of which are second-worst on the Rays. His only saving grace has been that he's played above-average defense while serving as a super-utility guy, but we expected better from Rodriguez. What's wrong with his bat?

Delving into the number, the problem is easy to see. Rodriguez hasn't gotten unlucky - in fact, his .341 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) suggests that his batting average is higher than it should be - he's merely striking out in 41.4% (!!!) of his at bats.

If that number seems high to you...well, that's because it is. Of players with more than 50 plate appearances, only Kyle Blanks from the Padres is striking out more often than S-Rod. It's a ridiculously high number and it makes it very tough for Rodriguez to have any value at the plate. He'd have to become Mark Reynolds - strike out a ton, walk a ton, and mash a ridiculous number of homeruns. While that's technically possible, it'd be much easier for Rodriguez to be valuable if he struck out less often. The question is, how could he do that? 

The short answer is: make more contact. Despite only walking in 5.3% of his plate appearances, Rodriguez seems to have good plate discipline, swinging at only 24.2% of pitches thrown outside the strike zone (league-average: 27.6%). When he swings at pitches, though, he only makes contact 69.8% of the time (average: 80.9%) and he swings and misses 12.3% of the time (average: 8.3%). Pitchers have realized this and are throwing him a steady diet of strikes, pounding the zone early (60.5% first-pitch strikes) and often (56.6% of pitches in the zone). This has made it tough for Rodriguez to draw walks despite his good plate discipline; it's tough to walk when the pitchers won't throw you balls.

I don't know what Rodriguez needs to change in order to start making more contact, but something needs to give. Either he needs to figure it out soon, or the Rays may want him to work on his contact issues in Triple-A.

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