The Sean Rodriguez Rollercoaster

ST. PETERSBURG - APRIL 25: Infielder Sean Rodriguez #1 of the Tampa Bay Rays bats against the Toronto Blue Jays during the game at Tropicana Field on April 25, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

There were certain expectations put on Sean Rodriguez coming into the season. He was expected to win the starting shortstop job and did so. He was expected to flash excellent glove work and has thus far. He was expected to be league average with the bat, which isn't a high bar to reach for a shortstop. That bar looked out of reach in April. However, the month of May has been a different story.

It's not a stretch to say that Rodriguez was one of the worst hitters in baseball in April, putting up a line of.190/.274/.238 with a .238 wOBA in 76 plate appearances. He had one (!) extra base hit. His walk rate was a decent 10.5 percent but he struck out 25 percent of the time. When the calendar turned over so did his game, hitting .300/.329/.486 with seven extra base hits in roughly the same number of plate appearances. His current May wOBA of .354 is good for ninth overall for shortstops and seventh among third basemen. In April his .238 mark was seventh and fifth worst respectively. In months in which he's had more than 50 plate appearances his wOBA of .354 is the highest of his career, narrowly edging last May's .351. How has he turned it around?

There's no one answer to point to specifically. He's begun hitting fastballs better which certainly helps. Look at the pitch result data from April and May.

April:

Type

Count

Selection

Strike

Swing

Whiff

Foul

In Play

FF

75

29.90%

57.30%

40.00%

9.30%

16.00%

14.70%

May:

Type

Count

Selection

Strike

Swing

Whiff

Foul

In Play

FF

79

34.30%

73.40%

58.20%

2.50%

29.10%

26.60%

He's seeing a higher percentage of fastballs, swinging at more of them and making more contact. A seven percent decrease in whiffs is significant, allowing him to put more balls in play. Balls put in play have a better chance of becoming hits than ones that don't, you know.

His average against right handed pitchers, below .200 in April, has risen to .260 in May. That's good. However he's in the unusual situation of having an on base percentage -- .255 -- lower than his batting average thanks to not walking once and having a sacrifice. That's bad. The biggest reason for his success this month has been his production against left handed pitching. He's always hit southpaws well, sporting a .282AVG/.382OBP and a .363 wOBA against them over the past two plus seasons. While he has just one extra base hit off them - a double -- this month his average is .421 and OBP .458. It's a sample of under 30 plate appearances, but if you're looking for a way to explain his month the success against lefties is a good start.

Rodriguez is more important to the Rays now than he's ever been. Without Longoria, Jennings or Keppinger in the lineup he and B.J. Upton are the only right handed threats. He's a better hitter than April showed and not quite as good as May is turning out. If he's able to provide league average offense or above it would go a long way in solidifying the Rays' lineup going forward.

*All numbers current as of 5/23

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