Is Sean Rodriguez on the Verge of a Breakout Season?

ST. PETERSBURG - JUNE 11: Infielder Sean Rodriguez #1 of the Tampa Bay Rays fouls off a pitch against the Florida Marlins during the game at Tropicana Field on June 11, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

The Rays offseason has been spent upgrading the offense and reinforcing the bullpen but they still have several questions that remain unsettled in 2012 such as what will the middle infield look like and more specifically who will get the majority of playing time at shortstop? Recently I wrote a story about Reid Brignac and how 2012 would bring new hope. There was a poll attached to the story that asked the question "Who will be the Rays shortstop come opening day" (based on the poll answers the question should of been how will Joe Maddon handle shortstop in 2012). Of the 213 votes Reid Brignac received 66 votes (30%), Sean Rodriguez 61 votes (28%), and a platoon between Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac received 68 votes (31%).

The Rays have Ben Zobrist entrenched at 2b where he started 118 games in 2011 and Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac, Elliot Johnson, and Will Rhymes in competition for the starting shortstop and the utility infield role. Out of the remaining four players it would reason that only Sean Rodriguez is assured of a roster spot in 2012. Is it possible to make the argument that Rodriguez could handle being an everyday shortstop in 2012 and are there indications that Rodriguez could be in for a breakout year in 2012?

Although Rodriguez played in 59 games in 2008 and 12 in 2009 with the Angels I'll be looking at his 2010 and 2011 numbers with the Rays.

In 2010 in 378 PA Rodriguez hit .251/.308/.397 with an wOBA of.316 and in 2011 in 436 PA he hit .223/.323/.357 with an wOBA of .303. His BABIP in 2010 was .324 but was only .268 in 2011. His walk rate increased from 5.6% in 2010 to 8.7% in 2011 and he reduced his strikeout rate from 25.7% in 2010 to 20.0% in 2011.

Rodriguez has been very good at hitting left handed pitching. In 2010 in 136 PA he hit .292/.375/.442 with an wOBA of .360 and in 167 PA in 2011 he hit .273/.389/.475 with an wOBA of .377. His BABIP in 2010 vs LHP was .407 and in 2011 that dropped to .312. His BB% increased from 10.3% in 2010 to 12.0% in 2011 while his strikeout rate decreased from 27.2% in 2010 to 16.2% in 2011.

In 2011 a total of 70.5% of the Rays plate appearances came against right handed pitching which would seem to work against Rodriguez as the full time shortstop in 2012. He has struggled in his career in against right handed pitching. In 2010 in 242 PA he hit .229/.270/.372 with a wOBA of .283 and in 269 PA in 2011 he hit .192/.280/.286 a wOBA of .259. His BABIP in 2010 vs RHP was .280 and in 2011 that dropped to .240. His BB% increased from 2.9% in 2010 to 6.7% in 2011 and his K% decreased from 24.8% to 22.3%.

What we do know is that Rodriguez is a very versatile player. In the last two years he has started 118 games at 2b, 50 games at SS, 19 games at 3b, 8 games in the OF, and 5 games at 1b. We know that he can hit left handed pitching and we know that he struggles against right handed pitching. Is the increase in walk rate in each of the last two seasons and decrease in strikeout rate a sign that he is becoming a more patient hitter at the plate? Will this patience pay off in a breakout year at the plate in 2012?

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